Friday, December 29, 2006

Sports Story Of The Year

For St. Louisans, the Cardinals winning the World Series was the top sports event of the year. But I'll always remember Jason McElwain's story...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jon Macks

Today on KMOX, I joked with TV comedy writer Jon Macks about the funniest stories of the year, the winners of the annual Ollie Awards for celebrities who've done and said stupid things, and much more. Listen.

Mark On Movies

Today on my KMOX show, Mark Reardon announced his Top Ten Best Movies Of The Year, and a few nominees for Worst Movie, too. Surprisingly, "Basic Instinct 2" wasn't on either list. Listen.

Marc Cuban on GooTube

Mark Cuban was skeptical about Google's purchase of YouTube, but now raises some other interesting questions about whether the YouTube concept can even stand up under its own weight, considering how little of the content is user-created.

He also makes an important point about social networks like MySpace and FaceBook:

Social networks are not new. Go back 20 years to CompuServe and UseNet groups and even chat rooms. They all cycled through the same way. They were fun and exciting when you found people with like interests. People found the forum, group or room usually via referral. People involved learned, were educated, were entertained, whatever the forum offered. Then if the forum grew, as in any group, some participants became more popular than others, and others tried, but failed to become popular. They tried to dominate conversations, and when they couldn't they tried different ways to game or sabotage the system. That pushed out the "purists" and original posters. Then the spammers came. When the forum reaches the point where no one has a strong connection, the spammers and people trying to game the forum take over till the forum dies. It's what has become "The Ecology of Forums." When a forum is open to everyone, eventually everyone shows up and the original attraction of the forum is lost.
When I bought my first PC in January, 1986, when most everything online was text-only, I used CompuServe for internet access and discovered some of their forums, such as the Broadcast Professionals Forum and the Consumer Electronics Forum. I quickly became a regular visitor and occasional contributor, and met some really smart and clever people there (one of those was Mark Evanier, whose tremendously popular website is still a must-visit everyday -- Mark was the one who tipped me in April, 1993, to the industry secret that an unknown named Conan O'Brien had been chosen by NBC to replace David Letterman as the host of "Late Night").

Unfortunately, as Cuban says, the forums' importance and relevance dwindled as the membership became tainted by bitter people desperate for more attention or those with an ax to grind. Like many others, I visited them less and less often, and eventually gave up on them completely, opting to maintain contact with some of the better contributors privately, rather than stick our necks out on that public guillotine.

Stephen Colbert


Entertainment Weekly lists its Entertainers Of The Year in this week's issue. Stephen Colbert is #9, but his picture is the best.

Seinfeld's "Bee Movie" Trailer

Jerry Seinfeld has an animated feature coming out in 2007 called "Bee Movie." The trailer, however, has no animation -- just some of the voice actors (including Chris Rock) in their characters' costumes, trying to work out a scene.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bob Greene On Gerald Ford

Several thoughts crossed my mind last night after hearing about the death of Gerald Ford.

One was that he was the first President of the 1970s. You ask how that's possible, since he didn't move into the Oval Office until Nixon resigned in August, 1974? It's because that event marked the end of The Sixties for many of us, just as that decade had started with the assassination of JFK and the arrival of the Beatles. Then the 70s lasted until the hostages came home and the Reagan Era began the 1980s.

The other was that I had to invite Bob Greene back to my KMOX show to tell some of the stories of the time he spent with Ford while writing his book, "Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents." Fortunately, Bob made time in his schedule to talk with me about Ford as everyman, how he handled himself in his post-presidential years, and how he dealt with his image as a bumbling stumbler. Listen.

Ford Angles

Every media outlet is trying every angle they can on the Gerald Ford death story, with a twist that fits their specific news niche.

CNBC just found theirs, with a Wall Street connection, of course. They put up a graphic showing that the Dow was at 777 when Ford took over the presidency in August 1974, and rose to 968 by the time he left in January 1977. At the moment they had that graphic up this afternoon, the current quote for the Dow was 12,510, a new record high.

So, if you'd had the insight (and the intestinal fortitude) to invest in those 30 stocks right after Nixon resigned, you would have made a 1,600% return on your money as of today.

Customers You Can't Service

When you call a corporate customer service or technical support number, you'll often be told "this call is being recorded for quality assurance purposes and to ensure better service." Yes, and so they also have a record of some of the more bizarre requests and calls they receive.

Here are a couple of those, as compiled by the British newspaper The Mirror, that I mentioned yesterday on my KMOX show:

Caller: "Can you give me the telephone number for Jack?"
Operator: "I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand who you are talking about".
Caller: "In the user guide it clearly states I need to unplug the fax machine from the wall socket and telephone Jack before cleaning. Can you give me his number?"
Operator: "I think you mean the telephone point on the wall".


And this:

Tech Support: "I need you to right-click on the Open Desktop."
Customer: "OK."
Tech Support: "Did you get a pop-up menu?"
Customer: "No" .
Tech Support: "OK. Right-Click again. Do you see a pop-up menu?"
Customer: "No."
Tech Support: "OK. Can you tell me what you have done up until this point?"
Customer: "Sure. You told me to write 'click' and I wrote 'click'."


You'll find a few more here.

Ford Headline


With all the obits of Gerald Ford playing up how he "healed the nation" after Nixon and Watergate, here's a moment from his presidency that he never lived down. In fact, this headline in the NY Daily News on October 30, 1975, may have ruined his chances of re-election the following year when he lost NY, and thus the presidency, to Jimmy Carter. Editor & Publisher has the story of how that headline came to be.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Worth A Link

  • Aaron Barnhart on Frank Stanton and the CBS "Tiffany" label.
  • Howard Mortman on part of the James Brown story you probably haven't heard -- he performed at Richard Nixon's inaugural, along with such other R&B greats as Dinah Shore and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
  • Christine Brennan looks back at a bizarre year in sports, from Ben Roethlisberger ending up "as a hood ornament on a 62-year-old woman's Chrysler New Yorker" to Terrell Owens photo-op non-suicide-attempt to the World Cup head-butt and on and on.

Movie Weekend


Our holiday weekend included a couple of trips to the local multiplex.

I was surprised my wife wanted to see "Rocky Balboa," but we went and weren't disappointed -- probably because we had such low expectations and the movie exceeded them.

The guy's still a likable character, and Stallone was smart enough to remember that what was initially appealing about Rocky all those years ago was the small world he inhabited and how he negotiated life's littlest problems. He keeps the flash and razzle-dazzle to a minimum until the final fight sequence, when we enter the over-the-top world of Vegas, televised boxing, and extreme product placement.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a great movie. Stallone pulls on the heartstrings so many times you'll have rope burn by the end, and the fight is another one of those brutal slugfests that no real fighter could endure, particularly if they wanted to shoot a final scene without a broken face. "Not as bad as it could have been" isn't much of an endorsement, but it'll have to do.

We also went on Christmas morning to a 10:50am showing of "Dreamgirls," figuring the theater would be empty that early on a holiday. Wrong! The place was packed. I guess by that point, plenty of people needed a break from the family get-together thing, and the only places to get away on Christmas Day were the movie theater or Walgreen's.

I had seen "Dreamgirls" on Broadway in the early 80s, and was interested in how well it transferred to the screen, and whether its heavyweight cast helped or hurt.

The buzz is about Jennifer Hudson, the "American Idol" loser who gets the showy role of Effie, the Dreamgirl who is tossed aside on the ride to fame. She gives the same scenery-chomping performance that earned Jennifer Holliday standing ovations on Broadway, and her two big songs earned a lot of applause from the crowd (an unusual and uncommon phenomenon in a one-way medium like a movie theater, where the performer isn't present -- I wonder if they do that at home in front of the TV, too).

The problem I've always had with Effie is that the script wants us to have sympathy for her, but she's really an unpleasant person, a total diva with lots of talent but no discipline and no interest in anyone else. Of course, there's the irony of her singing her big song, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," followed immediately by her leaving, though not of her own volition.

"Dreamgirls" succeeds when it sticks to its ersatz Supremes success story, with Beyonce as Diana Ross, Foxx as Berry Gordy Jr., and Murphy as a combination of Wilson Pickett and James Brown (who, coincidentally, had died that morning). There's also solid work from Danny Glover and a few people you've never heard of.

I'll bet I wasn't the only one who felt a little squeamish watching the group obviously modeled after the Jackson Five doing their number on a TV special. What made me smile the most was the shot at Pat Boone and all the other safe white acts that stole and covered songs by early black performers.

Unfortunately, "Dreamgirls" is guilty of the same sin. The movie is about Motown music, but what we get is pure Broadway -- the raw sound and appeal of those R&B classics stripped away and replaced by lush orchestrations and arrangements that the real Gordy would never have allowed. In the end, you walk out of the theater remembering the personalities and performances, but none of the songs that were supposedly The Dreams' big hits -- they are merely devices to drive the plot, unable to stand alone. That's not what you want from a musical.

Foot In Mouth Awards

Wired magazine's list of Foot In Mouth award winners for 2006 includes this classic from Senator Ted Stevens, who at the time was chairman of the Commerce Committee, which oversees regulation of the internet, about which he is positively clueless:

"The internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material."

Beyonce Does Tina

After seeing Beyonce in "Dreamgirls," I flashed back to this performance she gave at the Kennedy Center Honors last year (12/4/05), in tribute to -- and in the style of -- honoree Tina Turner, doing John Fogerty's "Proud Mary." She and the backup dancers work up quite a sweat...

Monday, December 25, 2006

More Movies You Might Not Know

The Movies You Might Not Know list has now grown to over 150 titles. Thanks to Archie for these suggestions, which I've just added: "2 Days In The Valley," "Taking of Pelham One Two Three," and "Smile."

James Brown

While the media is full of stories about James Brown today, there's an entire generation of young Americans who know him for only one thing -- the worst mug shot picture this side of Nick Nolte:

Friday, December 22, 2006

Blacked Out Rams

Thanks to the NFL's insane blackout rule, the Rams-Redskins game won't be on TV this Sunday because 3,000 tickets weren't sold by noon yesterday. This isn't the Rams' fault (or rule), it's the league's.

Today on KMOX, I told Bob Wallace, executive VP of the Rams, that the NFL should change the rule so that, instead of demanding that 100% of the seats be sold before risking the game not be televised, they lower the threshold to 90-95%. That way, they'd still have a huge crowd, but wouldn't risk alienating the hundreds of thousands of us who watch the games on TV. Wallace explained the team's view, why the Rams didn't buy up the leftover tickets, and the chances of the NFL changing the blackout rule for next season. Listen.


Several e-mailers are curious why KTVI-2, the local Fox affiliate, didn't buy those tickets, thus guaranteeing they could carry the game. It would have meant an expense of some $150-200,000, and I'm guessing they ran the numbers, gauged the small number of local spots they get during the game, the loss in revenue from switching to the Saints-Giants game, and determined that it just wasn't worth it. I'm told that there were a couple of games earlier this season when Channel 2 did buy up some tickets (as did Claire McCaskill a couple of Sundays before Election Day), but they weren't willing to do it again.

Now that the Rams have had a couple of lousy seasons, fan interest seems to be waning, but the blackout rule won't help that -- it will hurt, as history proves. Ironically, the rule was partly responsible for the Rams being in St. Louis in the first place. When they were in LA, they never sold out, so the games were never on TV, so they never developed a real fan base.

It's also entirely possible that the fan base here is of the fair-weather type, loving the team from 1999-2003 when it made the post-season regularly and won a Super Bowl, but just not caring when it has an under-.500 season. Even Steven Jackson calling them out didn't help. This is Cardinal Nation, after all, not Ram Nation.

The NFL is usually better than this at keeping its image polished. No other sport is more TV-friendly, yet no other league has a blackout rule. It might have made sense when they imposed it in 1973, when pro football was less popular and not as big a deal on television. But now, there are only two teams in the NFL that have averaged less than 90% attendance this year, so who would be hurt by lowering the blackout threshold?

Keeping it intact hurts the fans, the teams, and the league. Time to dump it.

Now That's A Knife

It's the biggest Swiss Army Knife ever.

It weighs more than two pounds -- making it a little unwieldy for a game of mumblety peg -- and includes 85 devices, including the usual blades and screwdrivers, plus one to clean the face of your golf club, another to tighten your bicycle wheel spokes, another to disgorge fish hooks, and (of course) a toothpick. I'm fairly certain you can also do several different kinds of dental work with this thing (anesthetic not included).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sally Russell's Valley Girl Weather

Believe it or not, sometimes I screw up on the air. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by some talented people who make the show work anyway. One of those is our meteorogist, Sally Russell, who stepped up today when I made a mistake on a routine format element -- by doing the forecast in her Valley Girl voice.

By popular demand, you can hear it here.

Principal Mightier Than Sword

A high school in Rhode Island won't let Patrick Agin use this photo as his official yearbook picture. They say the chain mail and sword violate their zero tolerance policy. We'll talk about it on my KMOX show this afternoon, so get your comments in now.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cannon Fodder

As heard on my KMOX show today, the story of the teenager whose life has been threatened by people in his community, after the ceremonial cannon they use before football games exploded and nearly blew his leg off. They're more interested in preserving the tradition than making sure he's okay -- only three people in the whole town of Snohomish, Washington, have gone to visit him while he recovers. But many more have sent him threatening notes and phone calls, warning him not to cooperate with an investigation into the incident which might lead to banning the use of a cannon at the games.

Baby In Aiport X-Ray Machine

As heard on my KMOX show today, the story of the woman who put a one-month old baby through the x-ray machine at an LAX screening checkpoint. Best part is the TSA spokesman saying it's not their fault, because they don't have enough personnel to keep on eye on what goes into the machine, which is funny, because every time I fly, there's someone checking to make sure no one's getting through with more than 3 ounces of Head & Shoulders. On the other hand, what kind of woman doesn't understand what the machine does, but puts an infant inside it anyway?

Best Bowl Game Bets

Michael Konik was back on my KMOX show today with tips on the best bowl game bets, which teams the biggest bettor have put money on, and why they have an edge over the average fan who bets here and there. Listen.


Konik's book is "Smart Money: How The World's Best Bettors Beat The Bookies Out Of Millions."

You can also hear my previous conversation with Michael, when we went into a lot more detail about the book and how The Brain Trust made so much money in Vegas and at sports books around the world.

Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?

Dr. Billy Goldberg and Mark Leyner were back on my KMOX show today with more odd questions and answers from their book, "Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?"

We talked about those charley horse cramps that wake you up with a knot in your leg, whether athletes should abstain from sex before a big game, whether cockroaches would survive a nuclear blast, and much more. Listen.

Man vs. Snowman

Matt Williquette had a 12-foot inflatable snowman in front of his house. Two weeks ago, he noticed that someone had slashed it. He patched it up, and a week later, saw that it had been slashed again. This time, after another patch, Matt set up a video camera to keep an eye on the snowman, just in case the vandals came back a third time. They did, he got them on tape, and the cops got 'em. Matt still wonders what these guys had against Frosty.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Highways, Freeways, Expressways

After talking to Mark Evanier this afternoon, he posted a link to the audio on his site, and added:

I'll tell you how stupid I can be at times. When you do these by-phone interviews, they call you and as you wait to go on, you're usually listening to the station. Waiting for Paul to introduce me, I'm hearing a traffic report that the 270 Southbound is jammed due to heavy holiday traffic and an overturned vehicle...and I think, "Ooh...better stay off the 270 Southbound." Of course, two seconds later, I realize that I'm not likely to be travelling the 270 Southbound in the next hour or so since it's in St. Louis and I'm in Los Angeles. I don't know why I keep falling for this...only that I do.
I laughed as I read that, not just because it was funny, but because Mark referred to "the 270." Only in California are highway numbers preceded by "the" -- "the 5" or "the 101" or "the 405" -- while here, it's simply "270" or "55" or "44."

Similarly, I've had to train our new KMOX sports guy, Kevin Wheeler, who just moved here from Chicago, to stop saying "freeways." We don't have any of those in St. Louis -- they're all "highways," as in "highway 40." Of course, I spent my childhood in a state with "expressways" and "parkways."

Any other road-naming quirks around the country?

Mark Evanier on Joe Barbera

As soon as I heard that Joe Barbera had died at age 95, I went to my friend Mark Evanier's website, where I knew he'd have a lot to say about Barbera, half of the legendary animation team Hanna-Barbera, who gave the world The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Tom & Jerry, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and many more. Mark was involved in several H-B projects and has been highlighting their work for several days, since word broke that Barbera was sick.

I had Mark on my KMOX show to talk about Barbera's work and legacy, and about those ever-repeating backgrounds that were always part of H-B cartoons, like Quick Draw McGraw running by the same rock and tree over and over again.

Listen.

Hypocrite Du Jour

When Mark McNaughton was a Pennsylvania state representative, he voted against allowing slot machines and opposed gambling for years. Guess who won $15,500 between 2003 and 2005 in casinos? Guess who has just been named to a position on the gaming board, at a salary of $145,000/year?

That oughta get him comped at the casino restaurants for awhile.

Plenty of Pot

How's the War On Drugs going? A new report says that marijuana production has increased tenfold over the last 25 years, making it the largest cash crop in the US -- more valuable than corn and wheat combined.

Today on KMOX, I asked Jacob Sullum (senior editor at Reason magazine and author of "Saying Yes") to help put this into perspective and explain whether legalizing pot would mean an influx of tax revenue. I'm not in favor of that, but I do favor decriminalization -- there's just no reason to treat hundreds of thousands of pot smokers as criminals, or to treat marijuana on the same level as coke, heroin, and meth.

Sullum also disputed statements by Tom Riley of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, such as the claim that more American teens are in treatment centers for marijuana dependency than for all other drugs combined, and this:

"Coca is Columbia's largest cash crop and that hasn't worked out for them, and opium poppies are Afghanistan's largest crop, and that has worked out disastrously for them. I don't know why we would venture down that road."
Listen.

Whale Vomit

What better gift to get from your sister than a 4-pound hunk of greenish yuck that may or may not be whale vomit?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reporting From Iraq

Laura Bush thinks she knows more about what's going on in Iraq than the reporters who are there, and blasted them for not showing more of the "good news" in that country. Today, I talked to USA Today media columnist Peter Johnson about whether that criticism is valid. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

I called upon Johnson because of his piece on just how hard it is to be a journalist in Iraq, putting your life on the line to try to tell the story. He quotes ABC's Dan Harris:
There are "plenty of bad guys who would gladly and quickly kidnap or kill you," Harris says. "I said to my driver casually the other day, 'If I get out of this car, take off my flak jacket or get rid of all my security and walk down the street, how long would I last?' He said, 'Four or five seconds.' "
Then there's the problem of endangering the lives of everyday Iraqis by telling their story:
Simply being seen with a foreigner is now enough to get an Iraqi killed by insurgents, reporters say. As such, normally talkative Iraqis are now more reserved. Many want nothing to do with the media.
Or maybe Mrs. Bush should read the Iraq Study Group report, which says that when it comes to telling the truth about what's happening during this war, the Pentagon and the Bush administration have been the ones who have tilted and spun reality:
There is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases… For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.

Recipe For Radio Disaster, continued

Several months ago, I wrote about the problems at Air America and noted that they all stemmed from one central problem -- the conceit that they could run a radio network without anyone who had been successful doing radio. In that column, I said:

If you were starting a new restaurant chain, and hoping to have outlets in every major city in America, you probably wouldn't hire a staff of people whose only experience was eating out on a regular basis. You'd want chefs and waiters who had not only worked in the food service business before, but were good at it. So why would anyone believe that model could work in radio?
In a NY Times piece today, Douglas Kreeger (former CEO of Air America, who may be part of a group that will take control of it again) admits their mistake:
I have come to understand very clearly that the radio component of this requires a radio professional.

Billy Idol Is Billy Mack

Gayle Leonard e-mails,

Someone sent me this YouTube video of Billy Idol performing Jingle Bell Rock. It's really, really just wrong. Jamie, a 30-something girl that I work with, says it reminds her of the movie "Love Actually." Remember Billy Mack?? Here's the quote: "Oh come on Mikey, you know as well as I do the record's crap. But wouldn't it be great if number one this Christmas wasn't some smug teenager but an old ex-heroin addict searching for a comeback at any price? So if you believe in Father Christmas, children, like your Uncle Billy does, buy my festering turd of a record."
She's absolutely right, that's what this Billy Idol clip reminded me of, so I'm sharing it with you.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Survivor" Finale

Alan Sepinwall says everything I was going to say about the "Survivor" finale.

I was rooting for Yul through the entire season, thought Jonathan made the game a lot more interesting, and was hoping that Jeff Probst would ask Ozzie about his previous reality TV experience (he did a Playboy show called "Foursome" that involved more intimate physical challenges, if you know what I mean -- this site has more, but is nsfw).

Speaking of Playboy, how long before we hear that Parvati will be doing a spread in that magazine? That's perfect for a "model boxer" (???) with the last name Shallow.

One other CBS note: Bob Simon could not have been more pandering and holier-than-thou with his "60 Minutes" piece on Larry The Cable Guy. It's obvious he doesn't understand the appeal of the Blue Collar Comedy boys -- he kept comparing them to Jerry Seinfeld, as if he's the only funny guy in America -- and seemed shocked that they fill arenas, make people laugh, and bring in a ton of dough. I'm not a LTCG fan (I prefer Bill Engvall, the funniest of the quartet, but he hasn't done a Pixar movie yet and Larry has), but it's obvious that Simon hadn't even heard of him. Why Simon was assigned this profile -- there's no way he asked to do it -- when he wasn't even familiar with Larry's comedy, is beyond me.

Worth A Link

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fence Building

You know that joke about the border fence between the US and Mexico, and who's going to build it? Apparently, the correct answer really was "illegal immigrants."

Red Light Cameras

Today's Hot Topic: red light cameras.

St. Peters (MO) is about to start issuing tickets using them (they've been active for the last month with warnings, but that grace period ends today). They join Arnold and Florrisant on the list of local towns with the cameras, and the city of St. Louis is close to adding them, too.

Having lived near an intersection that had lots of problems with people running red lights, I was happy to see the cameras go in and personally witnessed a dramatic reduction in the number of incidents and accidents. Of course, it may also have been the signs they put up on every corner that made people drive more alertly.

I'll talk about this in the 2pm hour of my KMOX show today (with your phone calls), and then again on News 4 At 6 on KMOV-TV. Add your thoughts in the comments section below.

Worth A Link

Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, says a federal judge was wrong when he ruled that our paper currency discriminates against blind people:

Changes that make paper money more easily identifiable might be desirable to everyone who handles money. But the money should not be changed solely on account of the blind. We do not need such a dramatic change to accommodate us. Changing the currency only for the sake of the blind implies that we can't look out for our own best interests and are generally helpless and incompetent. If society believes we walk around not knowing how much money is in our pockets, it might also believe that we are not competent to work and do business with others. Such beliefs would make our goal of full integration into society virtually impossible.

JibJab's Year In Review

The folks at JibJab have one final animation for 2006, a look back at the year in review.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Butt-Painting Teacher

Here's video of the butt-painting teacher you heard us talking about this afternoon on KMOX. I should say ex-teacher, since the school district took action when this video got around town (even though it's from 2003)!

WKRP "Imagine"

Here's another clip from "WKRP In Cincinnati," and it's one of my favorites, from April 12, 1981, towards the end of the show's third season.

The plot revolved around Rev. Bob Halyers, a preacher (played by Richard Paul, looking an awful lot like Jerry Falwell) who claimed to represent a group that disapproved of the obscenity and indecency they perceived being played regularly on radio. He did this by issuing lists of acceptable and unacceptable songs and then threatening to boycott the advertisers of any station that refused to play along.

The episode was biting at the time, and still resonates today, when several right-wing religious extremist groups are using the exact same tactics (and a more pliable FCC, unfortunately) to impose their own morality on America's broadcasters.

What made this "WKRP" episode work was using Arthur Carlson as the voice of reason. As the station's general manager, he didn't understand the rock songs that were being played on his own station, and as a conservative and religious man, he wasn't fond of having lyrics and music on the air that he disapproved of. Yet he was torn over whether to bow down to Rev. Bob's demands or stand up for his staff's right to program the station as they saw fit. In the end, he went to Halyers' office to talk it over with him face-to-face and found that the reverend wanted to keep more than just indecency off the air, he wanted to censor ideas he disapproved of, too. The point was driven home perfectly when Carlson asked Halyers what he thought of the lyrics to John Lennon's "Imagine."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Ameren Forest

Now that a couple of weeks have passed since the November 30th ice storm, and about a week since most people have had their power restored, an interesting phenomenon is occurring regarding public perception of Ameren. While they're still being blamed for their response after the storm hit, people seem to be softening on Ameren's responsibilities when it comes to trimming the trees around power lines. It was the icing of those trees and fallen branches that contributed to over two million people losing their power, but many callers to my KMOX show today were more willing to put the blame on homeowners who don't do their part by trimming their own trees, or even keep them from being planted near the power lines in the first place.

In his tele-conference with the press today, Ameren CEO Gary Rainwater tried to make that case, but added that the utility can't possibly get to all the trees surrounding those wires when they're on other people's private property, and it's not reasonable to think they can.

He also, for the first time, broached the idea of putting more of Ameren's wires underground. That would be a massive project costing tens of millions of dollars and taking a couple of decades to accomplish -- but it's about time they at least started down that road. The Missouri legislature and Public Service Commission should make it a law that all new subdivisions and other construction must include underground wiring, and force Ameren to develop a plan to move their wires off poles and underground in the areas that tend to be most vulnerable in bad weather like we experienced twice this year.

When I asked my listeners if they'd be willing to pay more on their Ameren electric bills to help underwrite the cost of burying the wires, the response was a near-unanimous "no!" The public wants that cost to fall on the shoulders of Ameren's stockholders, especially after Rainwater said today that, despite over $200 million in losses from this year's storms, the company is going to make a profit once again.

Lots of comments below -- add yours!

You can listen to the Ameren tele-conference in its entirety -- part one is here, part two is here -- via KMOX.com.

Memo To The Media

Stop already with the Barack Obama For President hype. Forget the fact that the guy has sold 400,000 copies of his book and is a real crowd-pleaser. Forget the fact that the political attack machines of his opponents haven't put him through the ringer yet, let alone played up the fact that his middle name is Hussein. Forget the fact that he hasn't even announced his candidacy yet.

Here's the most important thing to remember -- it is December of 2006! We just went through a big election last month, and there are almost 100 weeks to go before the presidential election of 2008! No one in America (outside of the Beltway Brigade) is thinking about who the candidates are for anything.

Give it a rest, please.

Lawsuit Of The Day

Pop star Mariah Carey is threatening to sue porn star Mary Carey over her name, claiming that it causes confusion with Mariah's name, which she wants to trademark. Mary's the one who ran for governor of California against Schwarzenegger, Mariah's the one who did the movie bomb "Glitter." So, on one side of the legal battle you have a woman who has used her breasts and body to her professional advantage, and on the other side you have a porn star.

Work When You Want

Imagine working for a company that didn't care if you came in late or left early or even showed up at all, as long as you got your work done. Today on KMOX, I talked to Michelle Conlin of Business Week about her story about a corporation that's found success (and better employee loyalty) with a program that includes no schedules and no meetings. Listen.

Funniest Political Quotes of the Year

Howard Mortman lists the ten funniest political quotes of the year, including:

  • “The Internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.” (Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska)
  • “This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.” (Mayor Ray Nagin, New Orleans)
  • “I always fly business class or first class. I think the people of Prince George’s County expect me to. I don’t think they expect me to be riding in a seat with four across and I’m in the middle.” (Jack Johnson, Prince George’s County, MD, County Executive)

Crazy Christmas House

Geoff George has once again set up the Christmas lights display at his home, complete with over 30,000 bulbs and several synchronized songs. I'll talk to him about it on my KMOX show this afternoon. You can see video of his display here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spy Chips

This afternoon on KMOX, I talked to Katherine Albrecht about her book, "Spy Chips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move." It's about RFID chips that are implanted in millions of products for tracking purposes, and can be implanted in humans, too.

Listen to Katherine explain what's wrong with this technology, the privacy problems, and the concerns from a civil liberties perspective.


For more, see the Spy Chips website, and this Toronto Star article that envisions how these RFID chips will become a major part of our future sooner than you think.

WKRP In Cincinnati

Yesterday, while talking to Aaron Barnhart about "WKRP In Cincinnati" finally coming out on DVD next spring, we discussed the music licensing problems that have held up that release for so long. Since Fox isn't willing to pay the huge license fees for the songs that originally appeared in the show, they have lined up some "replacement music." No word on what that is -- other rock songs with lesser fees, or generic production music they've created for this release -- but Hugh Wilson, the creator of the show, is said to be happy with it.

In that discussion, I mentioned to Aaron that, while I'm looking forward to seeing the series on DVD, it won't be the same if we don't hear "Layla" by Derek and the Dominoes as the first song Dr. Johnny Fever plays when the station dumps it format of Horrible Music They Wouldn't Even Play In Elevators and starts playing rock and roll.

Several astute listeners e-mailed to say that my memory of that TV moment was faulty, as that wasn't the first song Fever played. Apparently, it was a Ted Nugent song called "Queen Of The Forest," as you'll see in the clip below.

Two other things: in that pilot episode, Fever refers to WKRP as a 50,000 station, which would have made it a powerhouse signal a la KMOX. But later in the series, it was regularly referred to as a 5,000 station, because the creators always wanted the station to be seen as an underperforming underdog, and the lower power fit that image.

Also, after Fever starts playing that first song (and says "Booger!"), you'll notice that the needle on the record has moved all the way across and is now on the off-groove and even onto the label. That's a continuity error that should have been caught, if they were going for radio realism.

While the producers of "WKRP" (including Wilson, whose own radio experiences formed the basis for the show and several of its plot lines) did get many elements of the business correct, they clearly were willing to sacrifice accuracy when necessary -- as proven by the way Fever cued up records by looking, not listening, for where the needle should go. Then again, this was a station that flipped to a rock format, but allowed Venus Flytrap to play mellow jazz and R&B during his evening show.

But enough nitpicking. "WKRP In Cincinnati" was a TV classic, one of those rare shows whose first episode was so good that, halfway through, I had already decided to watch every episode that followed. Needless to say, the DVDs are on my wish list for next spring.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mandatory Health Insurance

A task force in Illinois says every employer should provide health insurance, and every individual should buy it -- or pay a penalty. It's a plan to provide medical coverage for a million and a half people who don't have it, which costs everyone else $1,000 in hidden costs in their premiums.

I talked about it on my KMOX show today with Dr. Wayne Lerner, head of the Adequate Health Care Task Force (wow, do they need a better name!), who explained how the program would work, how it would subsidize individuals and small businesses who couldn't afford it, how many billions of dollars it would cost the state, and whether that would mean lots of tax increases to cover the expense.

Listen, then comment.

Rich Eisen, NFL Network

With the Rams playing the Bears on Monday Night Football, I talked with Rich Eisen of the NFL Network about the matchup, what's wrong with the Rams defense, what he thinks of Mark Bulger calling out his teammates for not playing better, and whether they made a mistake letting Lovie Smith go to Chicago. We also talked about Marshall Faulk, the Colts, and other NFL topics. Listen.

Warning Label Generator

Make your own. [thanks to Tom Morgan for the link]

Friday, December 08, 2006

Four For Three Sale

Moral dilemma on my KMOX show today. Carol went to Borders and bought four items, but when she pulled into our parking lot, checked the receipt and saw they had only charged her for three of them. The fourth item cost $9.99, and she plans on going back to point out the cashier's mistake and pay for it. Kevin found this ridiculous, saying he would do that if it was a mom and pop store, but since it's a big chain, he would keep the item and not say a word.

We had callers taking both sides, and a few laughs, too. Listen, then comment.

Basket-Brawl

It's always a battle when Greece and Serbia meet on the basketball court, but this brawl took place before the game, with fans fighting, ripping up chairs, and throwing flares at each other. Contrary to early reports, Ron Artest was not involved.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Barry Bonds A Cardinal?

Lots of response today to the notion of Barry Bonds joining the St. Louis Cardinals. The speculation began yesterday when Tony LaRussa approached Jeff Borris, Bonds' agent, and said he wanted to talk to Bonds. And last night on KMOX, LaRussa said he'll take anyone who fits on the team, which would include Bonds -- except that the money would be too much of an obstacle. This afternoon on my show, 60% of my callers said they would not want Bonds in a Redbirds uniform under any circumstances, but the other 40% said that if he performed on the field, that's all that would matter.

Add your comments below.

Ideas For Aaron Sorkin

Mike Wuebben offers Aaron Sorkin ideas for his next TV project -- maybe an animated drama:

The TV audience expects cartoons to be funny so the tough part will be to squeeze every last drop of comedy out of the script from the beginning. This shouldn't be a problem. Just do what you did with the fictional sketch comedy show in "Studio 60."

"Christmas Story" House

NBC's Bob Dotson did this nice story about Brian Jones, who bought the house featured in the movie "A Christmas Story," and his business selling Major Award Leg Lamps marked "fragile."

Having grown up listening to Jean Shepherd spin his tales on the radio, and attended a couple of his in-person monologue performances, the movie holds a special place in my heart. If it does for you, too, but you're not willing to go as fars as buying the house or the leg lamp, you should at least get the Shepherd books which contain the original stories that he later combined into the screenplay: "Wanda Hickey's Night Of Golden Memories" and "In God We Trust, All Other Pay Cash" (somewhere in the Talking Books program for the blind, there's an audio version of the latter that I recorded in Hartford, Connecticut, in the early 1980s).

Idiot Proof Website

Enjoy. [thanks to Steve for the link]

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rams, Honestly

Memo to Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser, and Joe Theismann: When you're calling the Rams-Bears game on Monday night, do not make the same mistake Brian Baldinger did last Sunday, and many others have made this season. When the Rams fall behind, and it's late in the game, do not say, "But remember, this Rams team can score from anywhere at anytime!"

That's not true this season. It wasn't true last season. Or the season before that.

This isn't the Greatest Show On Turf anymore, so stop referring to the team that way. This is a team that can barely get off the line of scrimmage without a penalty flag flying.

Score anytime? They'd have trouble doing that in a brothel.

These guys lost six of their last seven, including Sunday's defeat at the hands of Arizona, one of the worst teams in the league. They gave up three rushing TDs to Marcel Shipp, a guy who has touched fewer balls this season than Rosie O'Donnell.

And while we're at it, Rams fans -- and especially the rest of the local media in St. Louis -- have to give up on this fantasy that the team can still run the table and somehow make the playoffs. The Rams will be lucky if they're allowed to watch the playoffs on TV.

By the way, as I was posting this, Alex Barron was called for a false start.

Wet Paint

Bob The Painter was working at our offices yesterday, doing some wall touch-up and the frames of most doorways, and I noticed something interesting. Everyone, including me, was being a lot more careful going in and out of those doors, to ensure that they didn't get any paint on their clothes.

Most doorways are 30-36 inches wide, leaving plenty of room for a normal-sized human to pass through without a problem. For most of my adult life, I've walked through doorways with plenty of clearance -- can't even remember the last time I slammed my shoulder or hip into the door jam -- but there I was, doing the sideways limbo move, as if I was passing someone in a narrow hallway.

It's all a matter of perception and perspective, I suppose. Like when you're with your kid at the playground, and there's one of those low balance beams. It's only an inch or two off the ground, and you can walk across it with no problem and barely a second thought. But raise that beam eight or ten feet off the ground, and your confidence level drops, your legs get all wobbly, and you probably can't make that same simple crossing maneuver without difficulty.

Knuckleheads In The Newsroom

WJZ-TV/Baltimore aired a report Monday that Michael Richards had appeared in blackface at a celebrity roast for Whoopi Golberg, poured a bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup on her head, and sang "Mammy." It sounded a lot like the 1993 incident where Ted Danson (who was dating Whoopi at the time) did a blackface routine at a Friars' Club Roast.

Unfortunately, none of it is true.

The TV station has gotten the story off of DatelineHollywood.com, without noticing that it's a satirical site, a la The Onion. This would have been obvious if they had checked out some of the other headlines on the site, like "Britney Spears' Vagina Asks Press For Privacy," "Clooney, DeVito Wake Up Together After Night Out Drinking," and "Canada Outraged Over Movie About Vancouver Shot in LA."

The Consent Form

A man and woman are approaching the end of their first date with some intimacy, but not before they both sign a sexual consent form negotiated by their lawyers at bedside. This short was directed by Jason Reitman, who later went on to do "Thank You For Smoking."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Back To The Moon

Phil Plait returned to my KMOX show today to talk about NASA's plans to put humans back on the moon by 2020 and set up a permanent base there by 2024. He explained the science that can still be done there, whether the base could be self-sufficient (rather than constantly having to bring food and supplies from Earth), and how this could be a launching point for further adventures in space, including a trip to Mars.

Listen.


Phil, an astronomer at Sonoma State University, is the author of "Bad Astronomy" and has more on this story on his blog.

Bizarre Bowl Game Names

During one of his sportscasts yesterday on my KMOX show, Kevin Wheeler had me hysterical in discussing the corporate names of some of the college football bowl games, including one named after a financial institution you won't believe. Listen.

Santa's Butt Beer

A brewery accuses the state of Maine of censorship for denying it the right to sell Santa's Butt Winter Porter with this label. This is the same brewery that last year tried to market Seriously Bad Elf Ale.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rain Pryor

This afternoon on my KMOX show, I talked with Rain Pryor about her dad, Richard Pryor, and her book, "Jokes My Father Never Taught Me."

We discussed the N-word controversy that's still humming after the Michael Richards incident and the reaction of some black performers like Paul Mooney (who wrote for Richard Pryor for 3 decades) who say they'll stop using that word. She also explained how her father always had women around, whether all his ex-wives get along with each other, and how he beat all of them (and her). Then we discussed how he started out as a Bill Cosby wannabe, and turned into the comedian that others wanted to be -- from Eddie Murphy to Chris Rock and others.

Interestingly, Rain told me that she probably could have sold a lot more books by making this a tawdry tell-all, but she didn't want to go there.

Listen.

The Flying McCoys

St. Louisans Gary and Glenn McCoy have a very funny one-panel comic strip called "The Flying McCoys," and have compiled some of them into a book, "Comics For A Bold New World." They were nice enough to send me a copy, and as I looked through it with my wife and daughter this weekend, we laughed out loud -- a lot.

Here's a sample of their work that isn't in the book, but was in their nationally syndicated strip last month:




You may also have seen some of Glenn's editorial cartoons in the Belleville News-Democrat, like this one:

Sunday, December 03, 2006

How To Swindle The Suckers

Remember Miss Cleo, the scam organization that was busted in Florida a few years ago -- the one with an actress pretending to be a Jamaican who could predict your future? James Randi, who fights this sort of nonsense and flummery every day, has gotten his hands on one of the scripts the bogus psychics (I know, that's redundant) used on suckers who called in.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Movie Notes

  • New to the Movies You Might Not Know list: "Into the West," "Why We Fight," and "Into The Night" (recommended by Michele Wagoner).
  • Nikki Finke says that, if a recent list of top-earning actresses is right, then Hollywood is severely overpaying Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, and Cameron Diaz -- and underpaying Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon.
  • It's bad enough Sly Stallone is reviving Rocky Balboa, but now Eddie Murphy's planning to gag us with another Axel Foley spin in "Beverly Hills Cop 4." Once again answering the question, "Is there a drug problem in Hollywood?"