Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Alarming News

Brian Williams had a rough time on "NBC Nightly News" last night when a fire alarm in the studio went off just seconds into his broadcast -- and continued through most of the next half-hour. Williams, who can ad-lib his way through anything, explained to viewers what was happening as he continued to anchor the newscast despite the alarm's piercing tone. I don't know how many other broadcasters could have pulled that off without losing it.

Watching the clip below, I wondered two things. First, how many viewers tuned out to avoid the sickening sounds and how many stuck with Williams, if only to make sure he was okay (or the sickos who hoped it was a real fire so they could watch him burn up on live TV)?

Secondly, just moments after the alarm starts sounding, Williams announced that everything was okay and everyone was safe. How did he know that for a fact? Yes, it turned out to be a false alarm, the kind that happens in businesses all over America on occasion, but shouldn't a serious news anchor take a couple of minutes to investigate before coming to that conclusion? Obviously, Williams couldn't leave the studio to look around, but there are plenty of people behind the scenes and in the Nightly News control room who could have at least checked to make sure a piece of 30 Rock wasn't going up in flames. I'm just saying.

I was also surprised that such a noisy alarm is allowed to exist in that studio in the first place. At all of the radio stations I've worked at (including at NBC in the mid-1980s), any such notification was always muted. Of course, that did lead to a problem that I wrote about in this column earlier this year.

Here's a montage of Williams dealing with the sonic intrusion, as seen on "Morning Joe" today...

Digital Flying

Next time a flight attendant tells you to turn off your iPhone or Kindle during takeoff or landing, think of this Nick Bilton piece...

According to the F.A.A., 712 million passengers flew within the United States in 2010. Let’s assume that just 1 percent of those passengers — about two people per Boeing 737, a conservative number — left a cellphone, e-reader or laptop turned on during takeoff or landing. That would mean seven million people on 11 million flights endangered the lives of their fellow passengers. Yet, in 2010, no crashes were attributed to people using technology on a plane. None were in 2009. Or 2008, 2007 and so on. You get the point.

Surely if electronic gadgets could bring down an airplane, you can be sure that the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, which has a consuming fear of 3.5 ounces of hand lotion and gel shoe inserts, wouldn’t allow passengers to board a plane with an iPad or Kindle, for fear that they would be used by terrorists.
Here's the quote I love, from FAA spokesman Les Dorr, who wants to err on the side of caution:
"There was no evidence saying these devices can’t interfere with a plane, and there was no evidence saying that they can."
That's a horrible basis for policy. There's no evidence one way or the other regarding the effect of cotton on aviation either, but we don't limit passengers to polyester pants.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Final Table #148: Greg Mueller & Jamie Gold



Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we squeezed in two guests, plenty of news, and full details on the schedule and structure of the tournaments that will make up the Gateway Poker Classic series beginning this Thursday (December 1).

We began with two new kinds of tournaments Dennis encountered at Bellagio, each of which requires some novel strategic thinking. In one, you can buy-in to Day 1a, 1b, and 1c -- and keep all the chips you've accumulated going into Day 2, rather than just your biggest stack. The other was a "position poker" tournament, in which the person who wins each hand then gets to act last (after the button!) on each betting round of the next hand.

In our news segment, we discussed Tobey Maguire, Gabe Kaplan, and other Hollywood celebrities settling a lawsuit filed by victims of a Ponzi scheme operator looking to recoup huge amounts of money lost in a Hollywood home game. And we debated whether Barney Frank's impending retirement from Congress will hurt the effort to get online poker legalized, licensed, and regulated in the US.

Our first guest was Greg Mueller, winner of 2 WSOP bracelets and over $1.7 million in tournament winnings. We talked with him about his hand analysis work on ESPN's coverage of the World Series Of Poker this fall, a famously classy play he made in this year's Main Event, how he controls his inner maniac, and -- since he was a Full Tilt pro -- his thoughts on the indictments and possible sale of that online site.

Then we spent a few minutes with 2006 Main Event champion Jamie Gold, who's promoting a poker seminar he'll do this Friday at the Peppermill Casino in Reno, where he and Dennis and other pros will play in a Heartland Poker Tour event this weekend.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, November 28, 2011

First Amendment, Kansas Style

If I was doing a talk-radio show today, I'd be ranting about the high school student who was punished for tweeting some negative comments about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. It's a clear case of the grown-ups overreacting. The governor's staff should apologize to her, not the other way around, and the school should use it as a teaching opportunity instead of reprimanding her.

Updated at 4:34pm...I say it here, it comes out there: Brownback apologized to the student (Emma Sullivan) this afternoon, admitting that his staff "over-reacted." And the school district issued a statement saying that she wasn't required to apologize to the governor and that the matter had resulted in "many teachable moments concerning the use of social media."

The Pizza Is A Vegetable Song

Congress' recent decision to classify pizza as a vegetable for the purpose of healthy school lunches inspired Jonathan Mann to create this one-minute ditty...


*Yes, I know this only runs 52 seconds, but on Capitol Hill, that qualifies as a minute.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Space Science

As a child of the dawn of the space age, I still get a little excited seeing a NASA launch, like yesterday's liftoff of the Mars-bound Curiosity rover.  How cool is that we're sending a a nuclear-powered mobile laboratory to gather and analyze the Martian soil, with a drill to dig into the planet surface and a laser to zap rocks in its way?

Endorse Race

I've never had anyone tell me that they voted for anyone based on an endorsement, yet much is being made this morning of the Manchester Union-Leader endorsing Newt Gingrich instead of Mitt Romney. Part of the reason is that it's the largest paper in the state where the first primaries will be held, but the choice shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone who knows the U-L's conservative history.

I'd like to see some intrepid media reporter (hello, David Carr?) analyze whether any newspaper's endorsement carries real weight these days, as well as checking past elections to determine whether those endorsements: a) helped candidates gain votes; and b) served as any kind of predictor of who would win. In the case of the Union-Leader, they haven't had much effect. Only twice in the last 40 years has it endorsed the eventual Republican nominee -- Ronald Reagan in 1980 and John McCain in 2008. In other presidential elections, the paper threw its weight behind also-rans Steve Forbes (2000), Pat Buchanan (1996 and 1992), Pete Dupont (1988), and John Ashbrook (1972).

While you're at it, how about researching the endorsements made by politicians themselves? Does getting the thumbs-up from an incumbent (or former) office-holder do anything positive for a campaign? I'd bet the impact is much less than that of big donations and Super PAC special-interest money.

A Vacancy Among Occupiers

Most Occupy Wall Street sit-ins across the country have been dismantled, leading some to ask whether the movement is over.  I doubt it, but it is unlikely to return in the form it took for the last two months.

The problem with OWS wasn't a lack of support for the income-inequity argument, it's that it had no spokespeople who could focus the message enough to garner consistently positive media attention.  A revolution doesn't run on crowd-think, drum circles, and finger-waving consensus-building.  Someone (either singular or plural) has to take the reins, make the speeches, set the agenda, organize the voices, and galvanize popular opinion.  That's how you grow crowds from a few hundred to tens of thousands, and it's only at that volume of humanity that attention will be paid.  OWS resisted having any of its "leaders" take on that role -- even when invited to sit down in front of cameras and microphones and make the sale to the American public.

They must now retreat, but only long enough to chart and implement a new path towards change, one that includes a more effective way to spread the message and encourage others to take part.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • If my daughter had her way, we'd be having a Congress-approved vegetarian meal for Thanksgiving -- pizza for everyone!
  • A piece from Ante Up poker magazine on the Big Game that I organized (and played in) at the end of last month -- the biggest cash game in Missouri history.
  • Something to read while waiting for a delayed flight: why your pilot can't always "make up time" and get there faster. 
  • Comedian Jimmy Pardo remembers the worst gigs he ever played
  • I don't know how to explain this Knuckleheads In The News® story about a couple naming their baby after a videogame to my daughter, Ms. PacMan.

Natalie & Larry & Jerry

I'm not sure why Natalie Wood's death re-appeared in the news a few days ago, but it made me think of this conversation between Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld in season 7 of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in the midst of a discussion of doing a "Seinfeld" reunion...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Final Table #147: An Online Poker Update


Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we covered the latest developments in the online poker story, from the Full Tilt/Department of Justice agreement to when players can expect to get their money back from that site (and Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet) to whether last week's congressional hearings are bringing us any closer to legal, licensed, regulated online poker in the United States. Rich Muny joined us for updates from the Poker Players Alliance's perspective.

Also on the show:
  • We previewed the first-ever Gateway Poker Classic coming up December 1-11;
  • We considered whether any poker pros are properly bankrolled to take part in Guy LaLiberte's $1,000,000 buy-in tournament benefiting his One Drop charity next summer at the WSOP;
  • We got some help from listeners on the math from last week's amazing hand;
  • Dennis recapped his trip this weekend to the Hollywood Fall Classic.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

More Quirky Science Stunts

Professor Richard Wiseman is back with his third set of quirky science stunts you can try at home...

Sam Donaldson

This morning on KTRS/St. Louis, I asked Sam Donaldson if, in all his years covering Washington, he has ever seen a Congress as dysfunctional as this one. The ensuing conversation touched on the failed super committee, whether Americans' dislike of Congress will lead to a "toss the bums out" effect in next year's elections, the attack ad Mitt Romney launched against President Obama today in New Hampshire, how Newt Gingrich keeps putting his foot further into his mouth, and some thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

It's The Politics, Stupid!

Michael Moran has a good piece in Slate this morning about why voters (or more specifically, non-voters) are to blame for a Congress that can't compromise and forge real economic solutions. He argues that in non-presidential-election years like 2010, we abdicate our responsibility by trusting our nation to:

"the hands of political hacks representing fringe minority factions within each political party whose primary incentive is to avoid providing ammunition to the other side. Thus has our political system turned a simple question of accounting into an economic version of the Arab-Israeli conflict -- a conflict for which the solution has been clear for 40 years if only either side were willing to deal with reality."
I agree with Moran, to a point. The problem isn't just that voters, who give Congress an approval rating of 9%, keep sending these hacks back to Washington. It's that we rarely get a real alternative, a non-incumbent who would make a difference without falling into the money-fueled corruption that drives our political class. Only on rare occasions can a newbie break through, and even then, it's tough for them to make a difference when surrounded by what Mad magazine used to call "the usual gang of idiots."

KTRS Tuesday


I'll be back on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis today from 6am to 10am CT. You can listen live here.  Among the guests scheduled to join me:
  • World Series MVP David Freese on the DVD of the Cardinals championship that's being released today;
  • Scott Turow, whose novel "Innocent" has become a movie that will debut on TNT one week from tonight;
  • ABC's Jake Tapper, live from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Is A Winning Strategy?

If you're a Jeopardy fan, this is must-hear audio of Roger Craig explaining to NPR the strategy behind his Tournament Of Champions win last week.

Will Durst


I have been a fan of political comedian Will Durst for more years than either of us would like to admit, so I was happy to have him join me on KTRS/St. Louis this morning. Even though we haven't done radio together in years, we fell into an easy rhythm as we joked about the failed super committee, the GOP presidential candidates, his thoughts on Obama, and more.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News®


Here's the Knuckleheads In The News® story behind this picture, as I told it on KTRS/St. Louis this morning. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

KTRS This Morning


I'll be back on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis today from 6am to 10am CT. You can listen live here.

My guests will include political comedian Will Durst on the not-so-super-committee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch TV critic Gail Pennington, St. Louis Beacon Media Critic Dick Weiss, and a roundup of Knuckleheads In The News®, including the story behind this picture...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • If you haven't been watching America In Primetime on PBS, you've missing one of the best-ever documentaries about TV.  
  • Kudos to Paul Shaffer for the song he played as Herman Cain walked onto Letterman's show Friday night: "I Keep Forgettin'."
  • In a perfect world, Demi Moore would announce she's replacing husband Ashton Kutcher with Charlie Sheen.
  • A good profile of Bill Maher by Lloyd Grove in The Daily Beast. 
  • One of the best campaign-opening TV spots I’ve ever seen, from Elizabeth Warren. The calm before the attack-ad storm. 
  • It's The Small Things: someday I hope to have a hotel room shower that drains properly before I'm ankle-deep in water.

Ricky Jay Hits The Wall


That's a photo that Teller posted on Twitter of a portrait of Ricky Jay, the magician/actor/author known for this card-throwing abilities. I don't know where it was taken, but the portrait consists entirely of thrown playing cards.

If you're not familiar with Jay, he has appeared in many TV shows and movies, including at least a half-dozen David Mamet productions, written several books, and done two solo shows on Broadway. In his first, "Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants," he showed off his card-throwing talent, as well as his sleight-of-hand skill and his knowledge of the history of magic and con games. That stage show was filmed for a 1996 HBO special which has yet to be released on DVD, but here's a clip in which Jay demostrates how to use cards as weapons to defend yourself from threats like plastic ducks and watermelons -- accompanied by brilliant patter in his unique style (no one else would ever use the word "pachydermatous" but Jay)...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mark Cuban on Corporations & Taxes

A few months ago, I wrote a column on The Job Creation Myth, targeting the GOP's claims that if you lowered taxes on higher-income Americans and corporations, they would create more jobs. Now, one of those higher-income corporate CEOs has written a piece supporting my argument.

Mark Cuban, one of the 500 wealthiest people in the world, owns the Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theaters, Magnolia Pictures, and HDNet -- so he knows a little about creating jobs. On his blog, he recently wrote that companies don't hire more people based on their tax rate; they hire people because they need them to do a job and keep customers happy:

It is incredibly expensive to hire people. You hire people because you need them. You don’t hire them because your taxes are lower. You don’t hire them because you just repatriated cash from a foreign country. You hire them because you have a specific need for them. They are going to help you become more profitable, more productive, more competitive, whatever the reason. No one hires people simply because they have some more cash in the bank.
Read Cuban's entire piece here.

The Regis Finale Irony

How ironic that Regis Philbin, the king of spontaneity and stories, had to stand virtually silent as a parade of people and video clips saluted him on his final show this morning. He did get a couple of minutes at the end to say goodbye, but the rest of the hour was hokey and over-produced. Even co-host Kelly Ripa only got a couple of minutes to speak about how important Regis had been to her, and how he comforted her on the first show they did together 11 years ago.

Regis always insisted (and was right) that he was best in a live, unscripted setting -- yet most of his finale was pre-recorded and below him. Judging by the look on his face through most of the proceedings, he knew it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jewish Musicals

Someone started a stream on Twitter with the hashtag #JewishMusicals, and the funny show titles have been rolling in all day. A sample:

Katz
Again With The Noise, Again With The Funk?
Murray Poppins
Little Shop of Horas
Goys and Dolls
Spider Man, It's OK, I Can Sit In the Dark
The Music Mensch
Who Died And Made You Lion King?
My Feh Lady
B.C.E. Superstar
Beauty And The Bris
Camelatke
Oy-klahoma
Seven Brides For Eight Nights
Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well But Never Calls His Mother

See the others that are being added in real-time here.

And if that's not enough for you, how about this song from "Spamalot," sung by David Hyde Pierce and the original Broadway cast...

Final Table #146: Lon McEachern + Barry Greenstein



Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we welcomed back Lon McEachern, the voice of ESPN's World Series Of Poker Main Event broadcasts, and Barry Greenstein, the newest member of the Poker Hall Of Fame.

First, we talked about our travels this weekend to a couple of poker events, and Dennis revealed the story of an amazing hand he was involved in at a Venetian Deep Stack tournament that ended up like this:


We talked with Lon about the challenges he faced in anchoring the unprecedented near-live coverage of the November Nine finale last weekend. He explained how he and Norman Chad and Antonio Esfandiari filled the time despite having two players who barely spoke at the table, whether they purposely withheld information about tells they spotted to keep it from getting back to the players via supporters in the stands, and how they'll compress those 18 hours and all those hands into a two-hour highlights show that will air on ESPN for the next year.

Then Barry was back, to talk about his Poker Hall Of Fame induction last Tuesday (you can see video of his acceptance speech here). He also explained his role as captain of the US team in the Nations Cup matches that will be played later this week in London against poker teams from around the world -- and one unusual team that's part of the mix. Then we discussed Nevada's plans for licensing intrastate online poker, his thoughts on the Full Tilt fiasco, and his advice for why young players should not skip college to play poker fulltime.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Herman Cain Shovels It

Remember those times in life when you've been asked a question you were completely unprepared to answer? Perhaps you were in school and didn't read the book or study for the test. Perhaps you were at work and your boss asked for an update on something you were supposed to do but didn't. You couldn't admit that you were unprepared or didn't know anything about what you were being asked, so you went into bullshit mode.

That's what Herman Cain did when he met with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and they asked him if he agreed with the way President Obama handled Libya. First he's befuddled, then realizes he's dug himself into a hole and asks them to repeat the question so he can stall until he comes up with something -- anything -- to say. Then he falls back on "I'm a businessman, and I want to know all the options before I make a decision," as if Obama didn't. To their credit the newspaper editors keep asking Cain to clarify and answer the question, but he never does.

Frustrating as hell, and not exactly presidential. How do Cain's campaign advisers let him go into any press appearance without repeated rehearsals of Q&A on important issues beforehand? Monday night, they claimed that Cain had only had 4 hours of sleep, but that's no excuse. If your candidate's not up to it (and has already showed his lack of ability to think on his feet after a good night's sleep), you don't send him to the meeting at all. When you want to become the most powerful man in the world and handle myriad daily crises, "I've got all this stuff twirling in my head" doesn't cut it.

Towards the end of this grimace-inducing clip, I couldn't help but think of how horrible it must be for a Godfather's Pizza employee to go to Cain for a decision on a new idea. It's unlikely that he'd give a quick decisive answer ("Let me get back to you on that"), or an actionable, understandable response of any kind ("We'll have to study this at length to assess the impact of the variables").

Reporter Above, Traffic Below

Airborne traffic reports are a mainstay of large-market radio stations, but the people who do them don't get nearly as much credit as they deserve. Most of them work split-shifts, getting up well before dawn to get to the airport, spend several hours flying circles around town, then landing, spending a few hours on the ground, and then back at it for the afternoon rush hour. It's a grueling five-day-a-week schedule that takes its toll, especially in cold-weather cities in the winter in planes or helicopters that are rarely heated.

The airborne reporters have to know the landscape of the city and its suburbs so well that they can tell which road is which and how long a backup is just from a quick glance down. Meanwhile, some of them are also the pilot, so they have to stay in contact with local air traffic controllers, broadcast the traffic report, read the appropriate commercial copy, and keep an eye on a digital clock so they hit the hourly newscast right on time. Try doing that 18-20 times over a 3-hour span and -- oh, yeah -- watch out for other aircraft in the area!

Most of the reports last about a minute, with talk of slowdowns in the usual places, an accident here or there, construction alerts, etc. But there are occasions where things get so bad, or the reporter sees something so major, that additional time is required.

Such an incident occurred last Wednesday in Phoenix, where KTAR's morning news duo threw it to "Detour Dan" Beach for what they thought was going to be a standard report, the kind he's been doing on that station for 20 years (!). But as soon as Dan keyed the mike and declared, "Oh, my god, I can't believe what I'm watching," everything changed. He went on to describe a horrific accident he had just witnessed, involving two tanker trucks that collided on I-10, closing the highway for 2 hours. Wisely, the morning team threw out the formatics and kept Dan on the air to describe the scene at length and be their eyes in the sky. You can hear his compelling and chilling audio here.

A Regis Finale

Regis Philbin starts the final week of his morning show today, the end of a remarkable half-century of television broadcasting that puts him near the top of the medium's all-time greatest performers, perhaps right behind Johnny Carson. In addition to being the Guinness record-holder for most hours in front of a TV camera, he may also hold the record for the person who most often referred to himself in the third person.

Many people do not understand how hard it is to do what Regis does every day. It looks like he just wakes up, comes to work, and talks. It looks so easy because of Regis' talent, and because of the prep work done by producer Michael Gelman and his staff -- lining up guests, arranging wacky stunts, providing news clippings to discuss, etc. But you can have all of those elements and still not find the magic that occurs with Regis every time the red light goes on.

A true broadcaster, he's proven himself not just as a host, but as a guest, too (has anyone appeared with David Letterman more often?), not to mention acting as emcee for game shows, parades, pageants, commercials -- the man even saved primetime for ABC with the original "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" phenomenon. He's also a very generous broadcaster, more than happy to share airtime with co-hosts like Kelly Ripa and Kathie Lee Gifford, who he turned into stars. That's a rarity in a business where stars rarely like to see the spotlight on anyone but themselves.

I was always happy to have Regis as a guest on my radio shows. He never wanted to know ahead of time what we'd talk about, but could wing it on any subject I threw at him. Sometimes, he'd just make a cameo appearance to announce the prize for some contest we were doing. Others, he'd come on to promote yet another new project he was involved in. But most of the time, he just wanted to be part of the fun.

In today's Newsweek magazine, Regis sat down to chat with Jerry Seinfeld, who knows a thing or two about ending a successful TV run. And here's Regis giving a tour of the memorabilia-filled office he's about to vacate after 28 years at WABC/New York, the flagship station for his "Live!" show...

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

This Is Only A Test -- Followup

Grade for this afternoon's federal test of the Emergency Alert System: a big fat F.

I punched around on the St. Louis radio dial at 1pm and heard all the radio stations relaying the EAS test, but there was some confusion. At least two of them didn't know the exact hard start time, others didn't (or couldn't) explain what was going on, and they were not all synchronized, possibly because some stations run on delay (particularly those that take listener phone calls), while others do not.

Even so, the test audio was absolutely horrible -- you'd sound better on a five-dollar Radio Shack walkie-talkie, in a tunnel, underwater. Worse, the tones that should have run only at the beginning and end of the test were audible throughout. Brian Stelter at the NY Times reports on some bizarre problems in some markets, including some DirecTV subscribers hearing a Lady Gaga song instead of the test and others suddenly having their TV sets switched to QVC (an ironic throwback to the days after the attacks of 2001, when President Bush made an emergency plea asking Americans to go shopping).

The FCC and FEMA claim that the test was to help them determine how well the system works, and fix any problems so that, in a national emergency, the President could address the American public en masse. But that system already exists through the machinery of the White House press corps. In such an emergency, all the President's staff would have to do is notify the reporters who cover him day and night that he wants to make some kind of address. It would take mere minutes for the technology already in place -- phone lines, satellite and microwave transmissions, etc. -- to put the President on the air. Most stations would carry it, and it would be much more audible than the soup-cans-and-string setup the EAS used today.

Here's my original piece on the history of this fiasco.

This Is Only A Test

At 1pm CT today, there will be a test of the Emergency Alert System, carried by every radio and television station in the country. It's a waste of time and money.

If there's one thing we don't have a shortage of in the USA, it's information. When there's an emergency somewhere, word gets out pretty quickly via traditional media, online outlets, and social media. Should a government agency have official details to pass along to the public, the various platforms already exist.

The EAS system replaced the EBS system, which was best-known by the public for the annoying test announcements that played weekly on broadcast stations, but were never taken seriously by the people who ran them nor those who heard them. Both systems relied on a network of lower audio quality than the speakers at a McDonald's drive-thru, relayed by the biggest stations in a market and then repeated by the smaller ones. That put the smaller stations at the mercy of the 50kw behemoths, who could fit the test announcements into their usually-talk-intensive formats but forced their rivals to air them at awkward times. Some of that changed through the years, but the connections never made sense.

To this day, I still remember the text of the EBS test announcement:

"This is a test. For the next sixty seconds, this station will conduct a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test."
Then there was an alert tone (maybe 1 kilohertz?) for 20 seconds or so -- which triggered equipment at other radio stations to tell them they had to run a test, too -- before the copy continued:
"This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area in voluntary cooperation with the FCC and other authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, you would have been instructed where to tune in your area for news and official information. This station serves the (name of city) area. This concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System."
The word "voluntary" was a lie. Every FCC-licensed broadcast outlet had to run the tests, log them, and send reports to the FCC detailing exactly when they had aired. And that part about being instructed where to tune for official information meant that most radio stations would have to tell their listeners to turn their dials to the bigger "primary" stations -- effectively saying, "Listen to my competition, because they're the only ones in town who know what's really happening while we sit here and play some silly records!"

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, some music radio stations decided to turn the useless EBS tests into something a little less annoying. There were a couple of different singing versions of the standard EBS text, one of which even turned the test-tone into "Mary Had A Little Lamb"...


The FCC was not enamored of the light-hearted approach, however, and banned them from the airwaves, forcing stations to go back to the bland, dry booth-announcer format that irritated listeners and broadcasters.

In the early 1980s, when I was doing mornings at WHCN/Hartford, we tried something different. The station hired a voice guy from Chicago (I can't remember his name, so let's call him Joe Balls) to do some of our imaging audio. He recorded station ID's, promotional announcements, show intros, and all sorts of other stuff. He charged one flat fee for five pages of double-spaced copy, and we could make it whatever we wanted -- if we could write it, he would read it.

I sat around with program director Dan Hayden, production director Tom Watts and a couple of other on-air guys as we came up with as many things as we could for Joe Balls to record. When we'd exhausted all of our ideas, we still had room on the fifth page. That's when someone suggested having Joe record the EBS test announcement. We all agreed this was a great idea, as long as it was done straight so as not to raise the FCC's hackles. It was typed up and sent off to Joe.

A few days later, his reel arrived in the mail (this was 30 years ago, before the advent of digital recording and instant file delivery). We gathered in the production studio to listen as Tom wound the tape onto the machine, then smiled as Joe's incredibly deep voice poured out of the speakers intoning our call letters and slogans. Every cut sounded perfect, and Dan knew he'd made the right choice in hiring Joe.

Until the EBS test.

Just a few seconds into it, we were all looking at each other with surprise. Then we started laughing. We realized that, with Joe's basso-profundo delivery, we could never put this on the air. He'd read the copy with such intensity that any listener, upon hearing it, would immediately assume that they were under attack and had only minutes to live. Although the entire EBS test concept was a joke, Dan decided to play it straight, keep Joe's version off the air, and continue with the dry version we'd used for years.

And because he knew what kind of guys he was working with -- the type who would sneak into the production room, make a copy of Joe's work, and have it show up "accidentally" on the air one day as a joke -- he told Tom to roll that portion of the tape onto another reel, which he then locked up in his desk, where it was never heard again.

To my knowledge, there has never been a national EBS (now EAS) warning issued, where a government official commandeered the airwaves to report official information to the public. Somehow, in the five decades since the concept began, Americans have managed to find out about emergencies, and we still can. There's no need for alerts or tests. We're covered.

Unless Michael Jackson's doctor kills someone else. Then we'll have to break into regular programming.

I wrote a followup after the EAS test aired today -- read it here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Final Table #145: Matt Giannetti + Main Event Finale



Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we spent the hour analyzing the WSOP Main Event November Nine, who played down to the final three on Sunday. Dennis was at the Rio for most of that day and explained what the scene was like, both in the crowd and on the stage, while I watched ESPN's near-live broadcast from home. We discussed the play, the coverage, and which of the three finalists -- Martin Staszko, Ben Lamb, or Pius Heinz -- would be best for the game of poker if he wins the finale tonight.

Our guest was Matt Giannetti, who finished fourth, winning $3 million. Matt offered a very frank analysis of two big hands he lost to Heinz and Lamb, revealed how he'd prepared for the final table, and explained the impact of friends and fans sharing information with the players from the 15-minute-delayed TV broadcast.

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When Champs Were Champs

When I heard about the death of Smokin' Joe Frazier last night, the first thing that went through my mind was Howard Cosell's classic "Down Goes Frazier!" call in the fight against George Foreman. I thought of those classic battles Frazier had with Muhammad Ali, and the sad story of Joe returning to Philadelphia, going broke, and getting into a car accident that hurt him more than any of his opponents ever did.

Then I realized I have no idea who the current heavyweight boxing champion is. I probably lost track somewhere around Lennox Lewis, probably 7 years ago.

There was a time when everyone knew who The Champ was -- Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson, and Sonny Liston gave way to Ali, Frazier, and Foreman, and every fight was a big deal. Then came a down period in the 1980s, when no one could have named Mike Weaver or Tim Witherspoon or Tony Tubbs.

That changed in 1986 when Mike Tyson came on the scene and bulldozed anyone in his way. He gained notoriety for his story, the extreme brevity and brutality of his fights, his marriage to Robin Givens, his rape conviction, and the ear-biting incident vs. Evander Holyfield. After that, public attention began to wane as Riddick Bowe rose and fell, Lewis took over the top spot for awhile, and a series of guys from the former Soviet Union beat each other up while no one paid any attention.

Perhaps the lack of an American heavyweight champion is part of the reason our interest has abated, but I blame the lack of outsized personalities. Most of the men I named were not just great boxers, but great promoters, too. Ali set the bar pretty high and, with Don King's bluster leading the way, Frazier and others followed suit. Foreman even reappeared long enough in the mid-90's to set himself up as a grill salesman with an odd child-naming fetish.

They understood the theatrics necessary to get people out of their houses and buy tickets. There was no in-home pay-per-view in those days. If you couldn't go to the venue (you were unlikely to travel to Zaire or Manila), you had to go to a local movie theater to watch the fight on a closed-circuit feed, or wait for it to show up for free on ABC's "Wide World Of Sports" a few weeks later.

The irony in the dearth of interest in heavyweight boxing is that we're still a fighting culture. Mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting draw big crowds. Talk radio and cable news are is all about giant egos bullying anyone with an opposing opinion. Politicians are more combative than ever. Real Housewives are yelling at each other all over the place.

The current cacophony makes it even harder to break through to the public. If Ali and Frazier had a fight coming up now, they'd have to dance with Cheryl Burke, date a Kardashian, and tweet a photo of their genitalia to Nancy Grace before Americans paid attention.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Picture Of The Day

Here are two anchors at WGN/Chicago (Robert Jordan and Jackie Bange) having some fun during a commercial break before going back to business on the air...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Men Behind The Big Bang Theory


"The Big Bang Theory" has been getting a lot of press lately because of its continuing success on CBS and its launch into syndication (not to mention the myriad promos on TBS during the baseball playoffs). It seems like overkill, even to fans of the show (like me). Still, if you want some behind-the-scenes stories, you'll want to listen to this podcast of Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Star Talk Radio" show, in which he sits down with "BBT" creator Bill Prady and science advisor David Saltzberg. One of the fascinating topics they touch on is the show's connection to Nobel laureates, one of whom cited the sitcom in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech after seeing an episode in which Sheldon has a physics epiphany while acting as a busboy at the Cheesecake Factory.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Final Table #144: Orel Hershiser + Ed Miller



Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we started with a recap of the Big Game we played at Harrah's St. Louis this weekend, a $25/50 no-limit game with a $15,000 minimum buy-in and lots of action. Then we turned our attention to the big event coming up this weekend, the November Nine playing out the finale of this year's World Series Of Poker Main Event. We each made our predictions of who's likely to win, and which of the nine is likely to go out first. And we offered our congratulations to Barry Greenstein and Linda Johnson, who will be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame next Tuesday.

Our first guest was Orel Hershiser, a recreational poker player who was in St. Louis last week to work on the ESPN Radio broadcasts of the Cardinals winning the World Series (of baseball!). We talked about that exciting series, his opinion on the impact of manager Tony LaRussa's retirement, and his poker preferences, too.

Finally, Ed Miller returned to our show to discuss his new e-book, "How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold'Em." He offered some basic tips on how to put your opponent on a range of hands, why bluffing is so rare in small-stakes games, and what to do when a "scare card" shows up on the board. He also joined us in analyzing a hand that a listener e-mailed us, in which he flopped a monster but did not get all of his opponent's chips because of the way he played it.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!