Thursday, November 27, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

Wired has an oral history of the best movie ever about the US space program, "The Right Stuff," with quotes from writer/director Philip Kaufman, stars Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, and Fred Ward, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff. It includes info on casting, how they did some of the low-tech special effects, and how they ran into some obstacles with the federal government...
WINKLER: We had trouble getting permission from the Pentagon and NASA to use their facilities. John Glenn was a senior senator and didn’t like the way he was depicted. They were talking about him running for president. He tried to stop the government from giving us cooperation. He went to the Pentagon and told them not to give us permission.

CHARTOFF: A month before we began, NASA withdrew their permission for us to shoot at their facilities. It was a disaster. I flew to Washington and met with the head of NASA. I called John Glenn’s office and arranged a meeting with them, as well. At NASA, I went in and argued that pulling our access wasn’t fair—we’re American citizens and should have the right to use the facility, and no one individual should be able to stop us. That was the only argument I could think of. The guy said, “Call me back tomorrow morning, 10 o’clock, I’ll give you an answer.” I had an appointment at noon the next day with John Glenn. The next morning I called NASA. They said, “We have no right to deprive you of use of our facilities, you’ve got them.” Then I called John Glenn’s office and canceled my appointment.

CALEB DESCHANEL: When we were at Edwards Air Force Base, we really had the run of the place. We'd be right along the runways. Some pilots would get ticked off because we were too close. But Yeager was with us a lot of the time. One pilot landed and was like, “Who the hell are you?! What's going on?! Who's in charge?!” Finally Chuck Yeager turns around, and the guy's face suddenly fell. He said, “Oh, General, I'm really sorry, I didn't realize that you were with these guys.” You could do anything you wanted at Edwards as long as Yeager was around.
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Infrastructure Idiocy

On Sunday, "60 Minutes" ran this piece about how America's infrastructure is falling apart, and no one in Congress (or the White House) has the political will to do something about it. The problem is that fixing all the bridges that are on the verge of falling, all the roads that need repair, and the railroad tracks and shipping ports that need to be upgraded -- they all cost money, and the Federal Highway Fund is virtually gone.

The answer, which business and labor leaders agree on, is to raise the gas tax, which hasn't changed in over 20 years -- making the people and companies that wear out the infrastructure pay for its repair and upkeep -- but you can't put "raise" and "tax" in the same sentence around a politician without them breaking out in hives. If there were any true visionaries in Washington (I'll pause while you laugh yourself silly), this wouldn't be hard, because it's a bipartisan issue that's easy to frame for the public. The bottom line is that unless we want disasters to occur soon, we have to launch preventative action now. And there's a positive byproduct of taking such action -- it will create tens of thousands of jobs.

Sure, it would mean a decade of driving around orange cones, but I'd rather have that than have to avoid a section of major roadway because it fell down. Considering how reliant our entire economy is on our infrastructure (not just for moving people to work, but also for moving all the goods by truck, rail, and ship), this seems to be a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, so is Congress.

Changing Minds, One At A Time

This is the best e-mail I've received in a long while, from listener Matt Johnson:

Paul, just read your comments regarding Manson and the sanctity of marriage.

Several years ago I was listening to your show as you discussed gay marriage. At the time, if pressed for an answer, I guess I would say I was more or less on the fence when it came to gay marriage. As part of your show, you invited listeners to call in and give you an example of how their lives would be different if gays were allowed to marry. Of course, absolutely no one could come up with anything resembling a valid answer.

Listening to you and the callers, I started to question myself as to why I even had any doubts about it. And again, I couldn't come up with any real valid concerns. I was a little ashamed of myself for having harbored any doubts. From that day forward I have always been a vocal proponent of gay marriage.

I just wanted you to know that the simple little exercise you carried out on the air that day changed at least one mind on the issue. And I am grateful.
So am I, Matt. Thanks for writing, and for listening!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Live Tweeting Ferguson

After the announcement by St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch that the grand jury had decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson three months ago, I began live tweeting while things quickly went sour as the peaceful protesters lost the spotlight to thugs making trouble:

  • As predicted, instigators are doing exactly the opposite of what Mike Brown's parents requested.
  • Because of them, peaceful protesters with valid complaints get no TV attention. Fire + smoke = media coverage.
  • I'll bet that the looters and people attacking the police car are NOT Ferguson residents. Wish TV would show the quiet locals protesting.
  • TV outlets so predictable: Look, fire! How about zooming out on the copter cam to show us the whole area that's not aflame?
  • I don't understand why McCulloch made the announcement tonight instead of tomorrow morning. Visuals would be SO different.
  • Watching looters breaking into stores on CNN, I wonder what they would say to Mike Brown's parents. That's not protesting, that's stealing.
  • Authorities promised to protect lives and property in Ferguson. Why no Nat'l Guard along those storefronts?
  • I'll never understand how looting and destroying businesses in your neighborhood helps make anyone's case. What's that message?
  • To protestors shutting down I-44: congrats -- by inconveniencing innocent drivers, you're going to change what again?
  • Once again, I return to the requests for peace by Mike Brown's parents being ignored by looters and arsonists in Ferguson. Shame on you.
  • A lot of Ferguson residents will be out of work now that their businesses have been burned or looted. Happy Holidays from the instigators!
  • Ferguson and StL County police had months to plan for tonight, but have proven again they have no idea how to protect their small town.
  • FINALLY, TV outlets are showing footage of PEACEFUL protesters marching down the street in Shaw area. No violence, no looting.
  • Squirrel!!! And, just as I typed that, the cameras went right back to something on fire.
  • Mayor of Ferguson now asking Gov. Nixon to deploy Nat'l Guard in his city. What the hell took so long?
  • At least six businesses have been set on fire in Ferguson tonight. Why would their owners ever want to re-open there?
  • My last tonight: imagine what it'll be like for parents in Ferguson to explain tonight to their kids. Can a new day dawn there? We'll see.

In Case You Missed It

You can follow me on Twitter @PaulHarrisShow. This afternoon, I posted my 10,000th tweet:

  • Prediction: if anyone is arrested after the grand jury announcement tonight, they will NOT be Ferguson residents. (Update: of the 61 people arrested in Ferguson, 85% were not residents).

Grand Jury Media Memo

Joe Rozier e-mails:

Paul, to go with your Thanksgiving Media Memo list, how about another one for the day the Darren Wilson (not the Michael Brown) Grand Jury decision is announced? Here are some of my ideas:
  1. Interrupt regularly scheduled programming to announce that the decision has been made but you don't know what the decision is or exactly when it will be announced. Be sure to only cut in AFTER the commercials have played and the program is about to start.
  2. Cut to an on-site reporter so they can say the decision has been made but he/she doesn't know what the decision is and doesn't know when the accouncement will be made.
  3. Cut back to the studio and have the weather person tell you about schools that have closed because of the impending announcement. This has nothing to do with the weather but meteorologists are prone to getting bored unless there is a really bad storm happening.
  4. Cut back to the anchors so they can confirm a decision has been made but they don't know what the decision is or when it will be announced.
  5. Go back to the regularly scheduled programming just in time for the commercials to run.
  6. Once commercials complete, break back in and go back to step #1 above.
One alternative would be to insert a field reporter on the scene of past protests between steps 2 and 3 so the viewer can see you are covering all of the angles. Maybe a cut to a helicopter view would fit nicely in here somewhere as well. Be sure to show plenty of the exact same pictures we have seen of Michael Brown and the ONE of Darren Wilson (blurry and smiling) while you are telling your audience that you know absolutely nothing and have nothing else to report.
So far the media are carrying out Joe's instructions to the letter!

Do Podcasts Make Money?

In today's NY Times, David Carr writes about the success of "Serial," a podcast from Ira Glass and his colleagues behind "This American Life," which has become a runaway hit in terms of downloads and listeners. But Carr doesn't address the bottom line -- is it making money?

Here's why I ask.

I'm still on KTRS every Friday and occasionally fill in for other hosts when they need a day off, but have no desire to return to doing a show five days a week, fifty weeks a year. Since leaving full-time radio, I've been approached by several people asking why I don't launch a podcast. I have a home studio and the necessary equipment and could certainly come up with enough stuff to talk about -- but how much can I make? The fact is that I've been in the radio business since 1978, and have always received a paycheck in return for my work.

After all these years, I have no interest in continuing to do any form of radio as a hobby. I do offer podcasts via this website, or via iTunes etc., but those are from the over-the-air radio shows I've done (and been paid for). When I did The Final Table Poker Radio Show a few years ago with Dennis Phillips, we had a lot more listeners downloading the podcasts -- a million a year! -- than listening to the live radio show, but as soon as the sponsorship evaporated, we couldn't keep it going.

I also view this from the consumer side. I listen to several podcasts regularly, but I don't pay a dime to support them. Like radio itself, I'm willing to put up with the advertising messages necessary to keep those podcasts available for free -- but once they go to a pay model, I'd more than likely stop downloading them. I know several people in the radio business who, after losing their on-air jobs, tried to go the paid podcast route, but it didn't last long.

As for the advertising in podcasts I've heard, much of it is made up of per-inquiry commercials, in which the host gives you a special discount code to type in on a website when you order a service, akin to "Tell them I sent you for 5% off!" That's not some special deal the host worked out for you. It's a metric an advertiser uses to see how many listeners are converted to purchasers (i.e. does the commercial work?). It's the audio equivalent of click-and-buy-rates on website banner ads. I have no idea whether or not they work, but those per-inquiry commercials always sound cheap and cheesy to me, about as classy as the banner ads that expand when you don't want them to, or automatically start up some video and audio every time you open the page. In other words, they're more annoying than effective.

Some people who do podcasts are in it for brand extension. For example, they're already paid to write for a news outlet (e.g. Slate,, the Post-Dispatch), and get to do podcasts or videos, as well, probably for no extra pay. With the company name and distribution platform already set up, they podcast away and develop an audience. But would they survive without that platform? Unlikely.

There are a few podcasts which run spots for bigger national sponsors, and those might be making money, although I don't know how much of it filters down to the talent producing the shows. As a career-long content provider, I've never worked the other side of the business as a salesman who goes out and sells commercial time, and I'm not interested in doing it now.

So, that brings us back to David Carr's unasked question: "Is it making money?" If not, how can "Serial" or any other podcast survive?

Three Things

When you do a daily radio show, you wake up every morning hoping someone somewhere has done something stupid. I hosted morning radio shows in DC in the 80s and 90s, which meant I smiled every day I opened the Washington Post to see plenty of stupidity in headlines about one local scandal after another: from Oliver North and his assistant Fawn Hall to the regular antics of then-mayor Marion Barry. They all became fodder for our comedy and commentary mill -- especially Barry's arrest in a hotel room, caught smoking crack with Rasheeda Moore, followed by his explanation: "Bitch set me up!" But, bizarrely, he got the last laugh. After being driven from office, he was re-elected mayor a few years later and then spent several more on the DC City Council. His death this weekend reminded me of those crazy years, and that you can never count some people out.

I've been watching "Homeland" since episode one, making it through the weak second season and into this stronger third season. But I can't help but wonder if anything will ever go right for Carrie Mathieson et al. Week after week, they either blunder into another corner, or lose another battle at some level against the terrorists. By my score, there hasn't been a single victory this season, making them analogous with the Oakland Raiders -- except they actually won a game last week. When will Carrie?

When I heard that a 26-year-old woman, Afton Burton, is going to marry 80-year-old convicted murderer Charles Manson, I wondered what all those homophobes who argue against gay marriage thought. They didn't seem to have a problem with the legality of Britney Spears' 55-hour Vegas marriage to Jason Alexander a few years ago, and haven't raised their voices about a convicted murderer's right to marry another crazy young woman -- but when a gay couple that's been together for two decades wants to make it official, that's what hurts the sanctity of marriage?

Text Me Merry Christmas

I'm not a big fan of most Christmas music -- I completely avoid the radio stations that play nothing-but between Halloween and New Year's. About the only one I can stand is "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses, but this new one by Kristen Bell and Straight No Chaser is pretty cute (particularly the line "I'll be right here waiting for my pants to start vibrating")...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Media Memo

I wrote this in 2007...

To: All News Outlets
Fr: Media Control Central
Re: Stories That Must Be Done During Thanksgiving Week

Monday: Do's & Don'ts of Holiday Travel. Include important things that the public can't figure out on its own, like a reminder of how to pack clothes neatly in a suitcase.

Tuesday: Deep Fryer Turkey Scare Stories. Dig up video of that guy from last year who burned down his house and ruined the family get-together.

Wednesday: Live Shots From The Airport. Start this at 5am, and keep doing it until there actually is a crowd of anxious travelers lined up out the door. Do not mention that a great deal of their anxiety came from getting around the many live trucks blocking traffic outside the terminal.

Thursday: Parade. Include not just the local Thanksgiving parade, but also interviews with a few people who have to make a last minute run to the supermarket because they forgot cranberry sauce. Also report on how much more this year's average Thanksgiving meal costs, and interview the Butterball Hotline lady (who has likely been outsourced to Bangalore, India).

Friday: Busiest Shopping Day Of The Year. It doesn't matter that today is not the busiest shopping day of the year -- that's always the last Saturday before Christmas, because that's when men finally remember they have to buy something for their wife, who bought gifts for the rest of the family back around Halloween -- play up the hype, especially for your advertisers.

Saturday: Retailers Report. Based on exactly one day of shopping, but hundreds of analysts making predictions, report that retailers are having a tough holiday shopping season.

Sunday: Back To The Airport. Remind the public that if they haven't left for the airport already, they're screwed.

Monday: They're Dead. Report the number of people who died on the road during the holiday weekend, and how high gas prices didn't seem to keep Americans from traveling long distances to eat and argue with their families.

Future File (Upcoming Stories To Work On):
  • Fire hazards of Christmas trees.
  • Increased popularity of online shopping.
  • Find a Jewish family that can explain Hanukkah.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Random Thoughts On Ferguson

As I write this, no announcement has come from the grand jury about whether it will indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown on August 9th in Ferguson, Missouri. But that doesn't stop the rumor mill. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who heard this or that or whatever. It's like a game of operator, with help from social media and the usual fear-mongering media. Truth is, no one knows anything, and hasn't all week. That may change tomorrow. Or it might not.

Brown's father and mother have repeatedly called for calm, asking that there be no violence or looting if Officer Darren Wilson is not indicted by the grand jury. Even for people who hate the police, why would you disrespect the parents of the dead man who you're supposedly protesting on behalf of? Then again, I've never understood looting. It's a misdirected way to express your anger, taking it out on some mom-and-pop business -- that you often patronize in your own neighborhood -- that had nothing to do with the perceived miscarriage of justice you're pissed off about.

As for the "protesters" who have been out there every night since August 9th, there haven't been a lot of them -- 15 to 20 most nights, about the same as the number of media keeping an eye on them outside Ferguson police HQ. The other night, five people were arrested there. None of them were from Ferguson. They were from other municipalities in the county or from out of state. Media reports say that every night, they shout profanities and epithets at the cops, trying to entice a response so they can capture it on video and make it public. That has yet to happen, thankfully, but if that's what they're up to, they should be called instigators, not protesters. Their actions are counter-productive to any effort to get real changes in the system in Ferguson. Moreover, they have not affected anyone's opinion to the positive.

Question: is it possible -- just possible -- that two things are simultaneously true in Ferguson? One is that the police don't treat blacks equally because the laws aren't fair to the poorer members of the community. The other is that Michael Brown wasn't exactly a saint, considering he had just stolen cigarillos from a convenience store, shoving the owner aside on his way out. That's not a crime we punish with the death penalty, of course, but is it possible that when Wilson came upon Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson and told them to stop walking in the middle of the street, that Brown thought the cop knew about the shoplifting and attacked Wilson, who then overreacted by killing him? I don't know what happened that day, but it seems possible that the protesters in Ferguson, while they have valid reasons to be unhappy with the treatment of their community by law enforcement, may have chosen the wrong guy to get behind.

We now return to normality -- until someone hears something from someone else.

He Reported On Cosby's Accusers 7 Years Ago

Mark Ebner is an investigative journalist and author who wrote about sexual assault and rape accusations against Bill Cosby in 2007 -- but no one paid attention. At the time, news executives refused to run the story because they were worried about being sued for tarnishing Cosby's pristine reputation.

When Ebner joined me on KTRS, he revealed the information he had gathered seven years ago from three of the victims, and we talked about why the media wouldn't publish it, despite other complaints about Cosby (and a legal settlement) becoming public before then. We also talked about Camille Cosby's role in covering up -- or, at least, sitting by doing nothing about -- her husband's alleged attacks on women.

I asked Ebner what will happen to Cosby's career going forward, as the list of venues that don't want to be in business with him keeps growing. After NBC and Netflix killed projects they'd planned with him, his gig at Treasure Island in Las Vegas next weekend has been canceled, as have upcoming dates in Oklahoma, Illinois, and Arizona.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Here's a complete list of women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault (as of last night). Their stories are remarkably similar, and I won't be surprised when other alleged victims become emboldened to come forward with their own sordid tales.
My friend Mark Evanier has been thinking about Cosby's fans, particularly the ones who showed up at his concert in Melbourne, Florida, last night and gave him a standing ovation when he walked onstage:

I have no doubt what he did on that stage was very, very funny. Rape charges aside, no one's better at that than William Henry "Bill" Cosby, Jr. and before this new flurry of charges, he always got standing o's.

But I do wonder what, if anything, was on the minds of those who showed up that night, laughed and stood to clap. Presumably, they all purchased tickets before they heard about the fifteen or eighteen (or whatever it's up to now) women who say Cos drugged them then had his way with them and I do understand the feeling of "We paid for these, we might as well use them." Some of those people might even have thought, "Hey, this could be our last chance to see Bill Cosby on a stage."

Still, you can think all that and not give the guy an enthusiastic round of applause that would be interpreted as, "We don't care, Bill. We love you." One does wonder if Cosby hears that and thinks, "Hell, the public still loves me. All I need to do is stonewall and press on and this damn thing will blow over."
Read Mark's full post here.

On that subject, Variety's Brian Lowry tweeted:
Anybody surprised that Bill Cosby could perform a sold-out concert amid scandal clearly hasn't been paying much attention to the NFL lately.
But I doubt that Ray Rice would get a standing ovation if he returned to football.

Previously on Harris Online...

Glyn Johns, "Sound Man"

Glyn Johns helped create some of the seminal classic rock albums, including "Let It Be," "The Who By Numbers," "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out," and the first releases by The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and the Steve Miller Band -- plus hundreds of others, which is why he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2012. Johns joined me on KTRS to tell some of the stories from his memoir, "Sound Man," including:
  • how the process worked when a band came into the studio with a song;
  • how difficult it was to record The Beatles' final concert on the rooftop of a building in London;
  • how George Harrison and Mick Jagger reacted when he played the first Led Zeppelin album for them;
  • why he didn't like The Eagles the first time he saw them in concert.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 11/21/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Mike Nichols Movies," "Multiple Choice Thanksgiving," and "Who You Calling Turkey?"  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 11/21/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include some odd objections to Winnie The Pooh, two angry Saudi divorces, and revenge on a traffic app.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!