Monday, June 30, 2008

The Long Tail of the Italian Spiderman


One of the more exciting things about the Internet is how it expands a potential audience (and market) from the local to the international. In pre-Internet days, only companies with the resources for extensive marketing could hope to break into other markets.

These days, almost everyone can. Especially if what they're offering is some kind of data -- audio, video, text. Take the case of the "Italian Spiderman."

This five-minute video was created as a project by some Australian film students at Flinders University. "Italian Spiderman" pays homage to Italian action movies of the late 1960's and early 1970's.

In the pre-Internet world, the video would have been shown once or twice at Flinders University, and that would have been it. And perhaps a few others that the director, Dario Russo, would have sent the video to as a demo.

Instead, the "Italian Spiderman" was placed online -- and it found an audience.





The example above I pulled from YouTube, where it's been viewed almost two million times. It also has a MySpace page (250,000 views) and is available at many other sites. So now this student film has turned into something else.

Russo and his company Alrugo Entertainment have starting filming the movie in installments, and posting them weekly YouTube. And the soundtrack is now available for sale.

Now the really remarkable part of the story is that "Italian Spiderman" only appeals to a very small niche audience. Most of the people I've talked to who've seen "Italian Spiderman" don't like it (many didn't make it through the first few seconds). The few who did appreciate it were fans of Italian late 1960's cinema, such as spaghetti westerns or spy movies.

How well does "Italian Spiderman" nail its subject? As you can see from the trailer for the real 1968 Italian spy film "Danger: Diabolik," they come very close. The quality of the film stock looks right, the gestures are right, the closeups on the eyes are right, -- even the Euro-groovy soundtrack is right.



Statistically, people who are familiar with late 1960's Italian genre cinema make up a small part of film fandom. And if "Italian Spiderman" had only been shown in Australia, it would have faded into obscurity. But because Alrugo Entertainment could make "Italian Spiderman" available internationally, they've been able to connect with enough of that niche audience to start monetizing their creation.

I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't offer a DVD of the film once they post all the installments.

I'd buy it.

- Ralph

Day 16 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another view of the Rowling Harvard speech

NPR recently ran a story on J. K. Rowling's commencement speech at Harvard. Apparently, some of the graduating seniors were less than enthusiastic about the choice of speakers. Taken at face value, the comments of the graduates may seem like those of callow youth (or the excessive snobbiness of newly-minted Harvard alumni).

"I think we could have done better," shrugged computer science major Kevin Bombino. He says Rowling lacks the gravitas a Harvard commencement speaker should have.

"You know, we're Harvard. We're like the most prominent national institution. And I think we should be entitled to … we should be able to get anyone. And in my opinion, we're settling here. "

I think there's something else going on here, though. I've noticed an increasing preference among my colleagues to read non-fiction rather than fiction. Alex Lindsay, host of "This Week in Media" has said several times that he reads for information, and watches video for entertainment.

While I can't find any specific citations for it, my perception is that fiction is considered inferior, and perhaps irrelevant to today's society. After all -- it's just made up stuff, not concrete information that has practical value.

Look again at the quote above -- and the major of the speaker.
"It's definitely the 'A' list, and I wouldn't ever associate J.K. Rowling with the people on that list," says senior Andy Vaz. "From the moment we walk through the gates of Harvard Yard, they constantly emphasize that we are the leaders of tomorrow. They should have picked a leader to speak at commencement. Not a children's writer. What does that say to the class of 2008? Are we the joke class?"
For Mr. Vaz, et al. that "A" list would include political leaders, captains of industry and perhaps a Nobel prize winner or two (there's some overlap with the first two groups). It's not a unique viewpoint.

It's funny that I should get this story from NPR. Over the past decade, public radio has been abandoning music for increased news/talk programming, catering to the audience's preference for facts over fiction -- or rather the creative. NPR itself has undergone quite a transformation. At one time it produced many quality music and arts programs. Those departments have long been dismantled, the programs canceled or handed off to other companies.

And the focus of NPR news has shifted as well. Arts coverage continues to decrease, while political and business coverage expands. Don't blame NPR -- it's what the audience wants.

So I wonder if the reactions of the Harvard students was just another example how we value (or don't) the creative. It's pretty cavalier to dismiss J. K. Rowling as just "a children's writer." She's sold over 400 million books worldwide and went from poverty to amassing a personal fortune of about 1.1 billion dollars purely on her skill at her profession. If that's not "A" list material, then I don't know who (outside of God) would make the cut.

And the importance of the creative in one's life was at the core of Rowling's address.
And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.
I wonder if Kevin Bombino and Andy Vaz chose to listen.

- Ralph

Day 16 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cantor Responds!

Back on May 20, I wrote Eric Cantor, my representative about the Internet Radio Equality Act. I received a response today, in a letter dated June 17 (I can't say anything -- when I get slammed my turn around time tends to slip, too). As promised, here's Rep. Cantor's reply to my correspondence.

Dear Mr. Graves:

Thank you for contacting me in opposition to increased royalties imposed on internet radio by the Copyright Royalty Board. I appreciate hearing from you and having the benefit of your views. [Good start -- it's not a form letter.]

The Copyright Royalty Board is composed of three Copyright Royalty Judges [that would be Moe, Larry and Curly] within the Library of Congress who determine rates and terms for the copyright statutory licenses. On March 2, 2007, the Copyright Royalty Board announced its decision to increase the royalties internet radio broadcasters pay to copyright holders for the use of their songs. [I know -- that's why I wrote. But I'm glad Cantor's up to speed.]

The Internet Radio Equality Act (H.R. 2060) would nullify the CRB's decision to raise rates for webcasters and would establish a royalty rate-setting standard for all radio. This bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Judiciary Committee. To date, no further action has been taken on this matter. You may be assured that I will keep your opposition to increased royalties in mind should this legislation come before me in the House of Representatives. [Well, not quite. I don't disagree that the rates should be raised -- just not higher than anyone can possibly pay. Close enough, though.]

Again, thank you for contacting me. For your convenience, you can receive further information from me on issues important to the 7th District at http://cantor.house.gov. [Yep. And I can do so through OpenCongress.org as well.] Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.
And there it is. Of course, there's one thing I'm still not quite sure about. And that is where does Rep. Cantor stand on the issue? Hmmm. Perhaps it's time for another e-mail.

So is Cantor for or against the Act? Vote in the poll on the left. Maybe collectively we can correctly parse this correspondence.

- Ralph

Day 15 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

John Dickson Carr - Man of Media

I started this series about John Dickson Carr by sharing a conversation I had with a colleague. She didn't care much for Carr's "locked room" mysteries -- they're decidedly not au courant.

And it turns out that Carr can't get respect in any media.

In addition to being a prolific author, Carr also wrote a number of radio dramas in the 1940's. Some were adaptations of his short stories, and others original to the media -- and I've been hard pressed to find any recording of them.

In 1956, his series of short stories about Colonel March and Scotland Yard's Department of Queer Complaints (as in "unusual," OK?) became a syndicated TV show starring Boris Karloff. I shared the single episode available at Archiv.org with a friend who's a real video enthusiast. He didn't like it -- he prefers videos he can watch while doing other things. Mysteries that require some concentration aren't for him.

And that's too bad -- because "Colonel March" is a very entertaining show. And a darned good mystery that's true to Carr's love of impossible crimes.

The series makes Colonel March a little less serious than he is in Carr's stories. Here's the opening with an unusually jovial and friendly Boris Karloff.

video

And while March is an astute detective, he's not quite as suave as he likes to think. Here he tries to engage a gambler in conversation -- twice.

video

The crime is pure Carr. A young American wiped out at roulette in a French casino, is promised money if he goes to the address he's given. It's a doctor's house at the end of a blind alley. As he approaches, he sees his mysterious benefactor standing at the door. A fountain in the alley momentarily blocks his view (the "Silver Curtain" of the title) as he walks, during which time his mysterious friend is stabbed with a knife. The door is unlocked and opened when the man screams. Two policemen hurry down the alley. And another impossible crime has happened.

No one was behind the American -- the gendarmes who blocked the alley's entrance can attest to that. The door was locked, so the killer couldn't have stood in the doorway (and the woman who opened the door is not the murderer). So how was the man killed? And why?

As a favor to Garon, the inspector in charge of the case, March offers to go undercover to investigate. The results aren't quite as March anticipates.

video

As with Carr's books, I found the Colonel March program enjoyable, although for slightly different reasons (Karloff's performance slightly against type is really good). All the clues are presented to the viewer, who's challenged to solve the mystery.

So if you're interested in a story that requires a little engagement, Colonel March (in either print or video incarnation) might be your man. He's never let me down.

- Ralph


Day 14 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

John Dickson Carr - Man of Mystery

In my last post about John Dickson Carr (one of my favorite mystery writers), I conceded that I didn't really do the author justice. The concept of the "locked room" mystery has somewhat fallen out of favor, and so many potential readers may not know quite what I'm talking about.

While almost all of Carr's novels center around some sort of impossible crime, I think his novella, "The Third Bullet" would be the one I'd suggest a prospective reader start with. Over the course of this 80-page story (in the paperback edition), Carr throws out a dizzying array of plot twists and curves that keep the reader guessing. And yet, in the end, all is explained in a logical, straightforward fashion.

Gabriel White, recently released from prison, vows to kill Judge Mortlake who put him there. Since he used to date the judge's youngest daughter, there's a question of the judge's motivations in sentencing him. Inspector Page and another officer are called in and arrive at the estate mere minutes after White. He's seen charging towards the little two-room pavilion where the judge regularly retires to work on his memoirs.

Mortlake, hearing the commotion, comes to the window. White enters the room and shuts and locks the door. The policeman is right behind him, begins breaking down the door. Page makes for the open window. Two shots ring out seconds before he comes through the window.

The door gives way and the other officer rushes in. White stands in the middle of the room with a smoking gun. The judge lies dead, felled by a single bullet. There's only one door into the room (which the police came through). Two of the four windows are locked and shuttered, rusted shut and undisturbed. The other two face the front. Page came through one and had the other under observation the entire time.

The small room is immediately searched, and there's no one hiding anywhere (such as behind the door), nor are there any secret panels. With the only two ways out being physically blocked by police, the room is effectively sealed.

And yet the gun in White's hand didn't kill the judge. White says he heard a shot behind him, and a second recently fired gun is found in an urn next to one of the boarded up windows. A reenactment confirms for the police that someone could have stood in the corner unseen -- but how did they get out?

The coroner confirms that Mortlake died around the time of the shooting (so he couldn't have been murdered earlier -- besides, the officer saw him come to the window).

And then things get complicated.

The first bullet from White's gun is nowhere to be found. The second bullet from the discarded gun is buried in the wall. And then the topper -- the third bullet (of the title) that killed the judge came from the gun that Mortlake kept in his desk.

Who fired the second gun? And who killed Mortlake? And how did this impossible crime happen?

There's a lot more to this story then I've outlined (because I don't want to spoil it), but hopefully, you get the idea. The surprises and plot turns come fast and furious until the very end. And by the third page, you have all the information you really need to solve the crime yourself. If that is, you can find it amid everything else that's going on in the story.

With Carr, the puzzle's the thing.

Old-fashioned? Perhaps. But great fun, nonetheless.

To me, the real mystery is why any mystery lover wouldn't want to give Carr a try.

- Ralph


Day 13 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Monday, June 23, 2008

WJMA and the RSS Morning Shows, Part 2

Friday I shared some thoughts on Jerry Del Colliano's idea of a station serving niche audiences with RSS morning shows (or podcasts, if you will). Over the weekend I spent some more time thinking about the idea, and how the average station with limited resources could produce such programming.

The great thing about podcasts is that they can be anything you want them to be. And because they're not live, a podcast morning show has many more options than a live show. For example:

Topical programming -- just because its canned doesn't mean it has to be stale. A local issues/news podcast could work very well. Just produce it in the afternoon working off of the morning news. Listeners could call or text with their comments (calls going to a dedicated voice mail box). Mix commentary with call playbacks, and/or text commentary. Naturally, all the text messages would be shown on the show's website page.

Music programming -- there's more to indie music than shoe-gazers and sullen post-punkers. There artists making great music in all genres from jazz, folk, country and bluegrass to rap, heavy metal and electronica -- and everything inbetween. Pick the genre you want the music morning show to be in, and go to it. Many indie artists make their music readily available for podcasts. And all of the earmarks of a music show -- artist interviews, listener requests, battle of of the bands, even in-studio performances -- could all be part of the mix.

Themed programming -- just mix the appropriate elements from all of the above. If, for example, a station decided to produce a local morning show for females 25-34, then it could be a mix of news, features and music all of interest to that audience. Work with a local hospital to provide an expert for women's health issues, for example, answering text and voice mail questions. Feature the music of Alice Peacock, Gum, and other appropriate indie artists (with interviews, etc.). Talk with organizers of the Breast Cancer Walk and highlight other local events and issues that would be of interest to that audience.

And remember -- it's not live. The expert for the women's health segement could come in once a week (or perhaps every other week) and record all of her segments in one sitting. The same is true for interview subjects. Have a day scheduled for back-to-back interviews. And take those finished interviews and spread them over a couple of shows (if appropriate).

Most indie bands do their own recording, so if you can't get them on the phone, send them an MP3 of your questions, and let them record their answers. Then mix it down for a seamless interview.

And here's another advantage of this kind of format -- segments can be stretched. Here's an example from the Chris Moyle's Show podcast from BBC Radio 1. Now this is a weekly "best of" podcast, but the concept still applies.

The Moyle's Show team brought a male massusse into the studio to work on Chris' back. Live, this would have been just one long segment. But in the podcast, it's broken up into smaller chunks, which do two things. It maintains interest with its brevity, and because the segement ends unresolved, it compells the listener to keep going to hear the next part.

In the excerpt, we hear part 1 of the massage, followed by something different, then we get part 2. And two other members of the Moyles team get massages as well, interspersed with other bits from the show.

This is a golden opportunity for stations to unlease their creative talent. And if they already haven't fired them all, now would be a good time to start.

- Ralph

Day 12 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Friday, June 20, 2008

WJMA and the RSS Morning Shows

While we continue our vigil of WJMA's "under construction" website, I'd like to offer up to the folks laboring away at Piedmont Communications another idea (and to any other broadcaster reading this).

Inside Music Media's post today has an incredibly brilliant idea for radio stations. I encourage you to go to Jerry Del Colliano's blog to get all the details, but the essence is simply this:

Create several different morning shows. These programs would not be aired, but would be available through RSS feeds -- in other words, podcasts. These podcasts would be designed for the morning commute, and only run about 45 minutes.

Here's the brilliant part: Each morning program would serve a different niche market.

So why not have a morning show just for 20-somethings? Or one for 34-50 females? Or one for political conservatives? Or -- well, you get the idea.

And as Del Colliano points out, music isn't a problem. Sure, the major labels are being manger dogs (Aesop reference), but there's plenty of independent artists who are glad to let podcasters use their music -- and often for free. And younger audiences like indy music.

Let's go from the general to the specific. In the WJMA listening area, most people have a fairly long commute, to either Fredericksburg or Charlottesville. A 30-45 minute program would be great (case in point: when I drive to Charlottesville, I listen to the "Best of Chris Moyles" podcast -- the BBC Radio 1 morning show).

WJMA's a country station, but there's plenty of underserved demographics they could reach. Many listeners lodged protests when the station killed their bluegrass programming. Why not have a bluegrass morning show, hosted by a local musician?

As Del Colliano says, ads can be placed with each of these programs, and the station can deliver to the client a highly focused demographic. That opens up the pool of potential advertisers from general interest businesses such as car dealerships and fast food chains to beauty parlors, bike shops, children's clothing stores and more.

And because the progam is shorter with lower overhead (no music fees), the ad rates can be lower, and that means more of these specialized businesses can afford to run ads. The full range of morning shows could also be posted on the station's website (giving people a reason to go there -- it's the whole valuable content idea), and ads could be placed around those pages as well.

It can also answer the demand for localism. Why not have a morning show that just talks about Orange County? It's not of interest to everyone int he WJMA listening area, but they're not going to hear it anyway -- only the people who get the RSS feed will. And who's going to sign up for that feed? Why the people who are interested in Orange County, of course (note to sales staff: the Orange Review needs to have ads on this podcast).

Don't have enough staff to produce all this content? Well, Del Colliano suggests not using current air staff, anyway. Draw the host from the demographic so they're in sync with the audience and what the audience wants.

Locally, a good place to start for WJMA might be a third-party producer such as Wordcast Productions. For other markets, Station managers should look around and see if there are personalities with stature in the populations they're trying to reach. And don't worry so much about the cost.

WTJU manages to stay on the air year-round with an all-volunteer air staff. For this kind of morning show podcast, maybe WJMA could start with volunteers to do a run of pilot shows.

If they work, then offer the hosts part-time employment, and a share of the ad revenue. If the talent starts generating serious revenue, then they get more money -- and the hosts have a solid reason to make their morning show podcast as successful as possible.

And remember -- although we're talking about local morning show podcasts, these are going to be on the web. Which means anyone anywhere can start listening. So there's a potential of such a morning show gaining a national or even an international audience. And who wouldn't want to try for that kind of success?

- Ralph


Day 9 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An appreciation of "Head," the Monkees movie

I don't own many DVDs (relatively speaking). The movies I want to own are the ones that I know I'll be revisiting often. "Head," the 1968 film starring the Monkees is one of them.

Many people will probably stop at that last sentence. They might agree that the Monkees' TV program was pleasant fluff, entertaining to tweens, perhaps, but not of any value. And besides -- wasn't it basically a ripoff of "Help?" and "A Hard Day's Night," anyway? Wouldn't a Monkee movie just be more of the same?

One would think so, but "Head" turned out to be something totally different. Individually, the Monkees were more than ready to shed their bubblegum "Pre-fab Four" image, and "Head" was how they were going to do it.

The film is a stream-of-consciousness series of surrealistic vignettes that not only strip away the teenybopper image of the group, but examines what young people considered to be the core issues in 1968. Police brutality and authoritarianism are lampooned, as well as the pervasiveness of the media (remember, this was the age of Marshall McLuhan) and how it distorts reality.

Eastern philosophies come into play, and the absence of causality is a major plot point. At the very least, "Head" is a time capsule of late 1960s attitudes, culture and fashion. But it's more than that.

A segment leading into an anti-war skit begins with news footage of South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in the street. The sight of this very real execution pulls the viewer up short -- it's not played for laughs. The murder is meant to shock and it does. And it colors what follows and the rest of the film as well. This is not a movie for preteens.

And the music is more sophisticated, too. Here's a good example from the opening. "The Porpoise Song," a Gerry Goffin/Carole King composition is quintessential psychedelica.




"Head" also has the strangest supporting cast of any movie. In addition to the Monkees, there's also Victor Mature playing, well, Victor Mature. Annette Funicello parodies the kind of roles she was famous for, and football great Sonny Liston appears as an odd version of a football player.

Bob Raphelson and Bert Schneider, who produced the Monkee's TV show, produced the movie, along with their friend Jack Nicholson (who also makes a very brief cameo). Terri Garr's in "Head," along with Dennis Hopper, and character actors Timothy Carey and Vitto Scotti.

And if the woman dancing with Davy Jones in "Daddy's Song" looks familiar, there's a reason. It's Toni Basil, who not only appeared the film but did the choreography (yes, the same Toni Basil who sang "Micki" in the 1980's and choreographed "That Thing You Do" in 1996).



And that really was Frank Zappa, offering his critique of Jones' number at the end.



 Some of what "Head" is about remains locked into 1968. But not everything. Consider this quote from an industrialist/scientist giving the Monkees a tour of a state-of-the-art factory.
Leisure, the inevitable byproduct of our civilization. A new world, who's only occupation will be how to amuse itself. The tragedy of your times, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want.
The trailer doesn't do the film any justice, but since it wasn't released until 1971 it didn't really matter. No one knew what "Head" was about, everyone had moved on from the Monkees, and from the aesthetics of the late 1960's in general.



It's a movie that yields additional insights and surprises every time I watch it, which is why it's a DVD I own. And truth to tell, sometimes when I take a jaundiced look at the world around us, I have to wonder if perhaps we aren't living in that new world, who's only occupation is how to amuse itself.

- Ralph

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A few tips from the Beeb


While I'm waiting for the WJMA website to come back online, I've been thinking about features they could add to improve the integration of the site into their core business. As Mark Ramsey recently wrote:
The challenge for Radio in general and your station in particular is to create a bona fide digital strategy that allows us to realize the potential value of the zillions of ears (and eyes and clicks) that radio can so effectively move on a moment's notice.
A digital strategy is not a collection of new media toys affixed to your web page with the digital equivalent of masking tape.
So how do you do that? I hold up the BBC as an example. I've listened to a lot of BBC radio thanks to the Internet, and their usage of it just continues to grow their reach. Here are some specific BBC tricks any station can use.

1) Text messaging -- many of the BBC Radio One programs use text messaging as the primary avenue for listeners to talk to the hosts. Questions are thrown out by the presenters (announcers/DJs on this side of the Atlantic), and the audience texts in their responses. The DJs provide a running commentary on how many messages they're receiving, and from where. They also call out the most interesting ones and read them on air.

It's exciting, interesting, and engaging. It is NOT the same as having listeners call the station. When someone calls, someone has to answer the phone -- and that person can't really be doing anything else (like talking on the air). Texting can be done with a minimal staff -- you just need a computer monitor in the control room to display the texts as they come in.

And it's instant gratification for the listener. They can fire off a comment immediately, instead hanging on the phone listening to a busy signal. And note to the radio biz: texting skews young.

2) Repurposing air content for podcasts (quick and dirty) -- BBC's Radio 4 has a daily podcast based on the 8-10 minute interviews they do in the morning. It's timely content, but there's not a lot of time spent in post-production, so the podcast can post as soon as possible. Basically, they have a pre-recorded opening and closer, and they just drop the segment -- warts and all -- into the middle.

This is podcasting anyone can do. WJMA's owners talk about the quality of their local news reporting (really). OK, so make the 8:00 newscast a daily podcast. It's fresh content, and it's a way to get the word out about this feature. Plus, there's an opportunity for ad sales.

Sell the middle of the newscast in two parts: the on-air and the podcast. For a little more money, the ad stays in the podcast, which means the advertiser's message is going out to a potentially bigger audience. The opener and closer of the podcast could also be sponsored (as long as it wasn't too intrusive).

3) Repurposing air content for podcasts (extended production) -- I don't have time to listen to the Chris Moyle's 3-1/2 hour morning program everyday on Radio One. But I do have time to listen to the half-hour "Best of Moyles" podcast once a week. And I'm now a fan of the Moyles program.

Now part of the program is just like the concept outlined above. The best bits of the morning program are pulled out and run basically intact. But the difference is that the Moyles team goes into the studio on Thursday after their show and record new openers, closers and a middle section for the podcast. So even if you've listened all week, there's some original content to sweeten the pot. And because it's not broadcast, the humor can be a little more raunchy than it could on-air.

This obviously requires more work, as you need a producer to decide what bits are going to be used, and the morning team has to come up with some additional material for the podcast. But if a station really thinks their morning team is that good, then this is a great way to get the word out. And again, there's no reason ads can't be sold for the podcast.

And it doesn't have to be a big production. Podcasts can be as long or as short as you like. So if you just want to do a three-minute "Joke of the Week" (as heard on the Morning Zoo) podcast, then do it.

4) Blog about it -- The Chris Moyles Show also has a blog that's worth checking out. The morning team all share writing duties, and goofy pictures and videos of the pranks pulled in the studio get posted to the blog. For smaller stations, a single blog featuring all the air personalities might be appropriate.

One more thing -- when something visual happens during the show, Chris Moyles usually says "we'll have pictures of it on the blog (or website)." So people who listen to the radio have a reason to go online. Now if the BBC was a commercial enterprise (like WJMA), they could sell ads on that destination site.

It's not rocket science. The BBC understands that it's in the content business. Some of it goes over the air, some of it goes over the Interwebtubes. I wonder how many stations understand that over here?

- Ralph

Day 7 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Case for Aesop

John Amos wrote recently about how Bible ignorance (from a literary standpoint) weakens reading comprehension and the public discourse. I followed with a similar observation about Greek mythology. And now I've got to add Aesop's fables to the list of things people should/used to be familiar with -- but aren't.

This past week during a conversation with a colleague I mentioned belling the cat -- and got a blank look.

And that's really a shame, because Aesop was a keen observer of human behavior, and his little stories about animals (and people) so perfectly illustrate human foibles and conditions I really feel that I'm deprived of a rich means of expression when I can't use them in conversations (like I did in this post). But of course, unless the person I'm talking to also knows the fable I'm referencing, the full meaning is lost.

As a child, I was given my grandmother's copy of Aesop Fables. It was an early 1900's printing, filled with Gustave Doré engravings (like the one that accompanies this post for "Belling the Cat" -- click on the image to get the full impact). I fell in love with the engravings as well as the stories, and I read the book repeatedly.

While some of the stories, such as "The Fox and the Grapes," "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse" and, of course, "Belling the Cat," also appeared in contemporary children's literature collections, there were many other fables that I didn't find elsewhere (yet were in common usage nevertheless). And as time went on, I began to appreciate the wisdom of those other fables.

The Fable of the One-Eyed Doe is a good example.

A doe, blind in one eye, watched the forest as she drank at the lake. She expected danger to come from the woods and so turned her blind eye to the lake. One day two hunters in a boat, seeing that the doe didn't react to their presence, silently floated close enough to shoot her. Trouble had come from the direction she least expected.

Now who couldn't benefit from the moral of that fable? And notice how it colors the meaning of the phrase "turning a blind eye."

If it's been a while since you've read a collection of Aesop's Fables, I contend it would be a worthwhile investment of time. And if it's something you've never done (or have only read a children's version), then I encourage you to do so. You'll be surprised at how many common expressions have their origins in these tales (such as "sour grapes") -- and how a Greek slave from 500BC could so accurately describe life in the 21st Century.

- Ralph

Day 6 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Monday, June 16, 2008

How to Sink a Swift Boat

In my post "Political Talkback" I posited that

We're just at the start of [a] new paradigm. The source material's readily available online. In the past we've relied on mainstream media to pick out what they consider important and to tell us why.

Now we can simply say, "Yeah? Says who? What's your source?"

And once the majority of the electorate starts saying it, we're into a whole new ballgame.
And that's exactly what Barack Obama's done. Part and parcel of old school politics are the smear campaign. Start slinging mud, and hope enough sticks to drag the target down. In former elections, it was enough just to get a soundbite out there and let it take a life of its own. The victim was seldom allowed the opportunity to refute the claim (long, well-reasoned explanations are borrrrrrrrrring -- especially for TV news).

But as I pointed out in "Citizen Fact-Checkers", the Internet has changed the effectiveness of that tactic. And now the web-savvy Obama campaign has taken the lead which may further defuse this kind of politics.

Their sub-site "Fight the Smears" takes on five of the most prevalent attacks against Obama. And just like Cameron (who I've mentioned before), the campaign doesn't respond with counter-chargers, character assassinations, etc. -- they respond with documentable fact.

Say Obama wasn't born in America? Here's his birth certificate. Say he doesn't recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Here's a C-Span clip of him leading Congress in the pledge. Say he was sworn in on a Koran? Here's the Time magazine photo of his swearing-in ceremony with his family Bible.

Most impressive, though, is the refutation of misquotes that will never be heard or seen in mainstream media (too long, too borrrrrring). The site presents the misquote and then provides the several paragraphs of text where the quote was extracted from, so readers can judge for themselves if the extract was accurate or not.

Of course, it's extremely unlikely that many of the folks who are enthusiastically spreading the smears will visit this site -- or that other who want to believe the smears will be persuaded. But for people who want to decide based on all the facts -- well. That's a different story.

It's going to be a lot more difficult for something like the infamous Jane Fonda/John Kerry photo to have the same effect this time around.

- Ralph

Day 5 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Radio rediscovered


The big news in Los Angeles is that public radio station KUSC has given up on the crack-brained syndication service they were running with Colorado Public Radio, and returning to local (and live) announcers.

As in Washington DC, a long-time commercial classical station flipped formats, and KUSC picked up some of their audience. But according to the LA Times article, that doesn't fully account for KUSC's new-found success. In commercial radio, the trend is to fire talent and increase automation because it's cheaper. And they wonder why listenership continues to decrease.

At KUSC, they traded generic syndication for local announcers with real personality (like Rich Capparela -- I've known him for almost 15 years now, and he's an interesting, articulate witty person both on and off the mic). It's live and it's local, and listeners are responding -- which is only news to the bean counters.

But there's another part of the story that's worthy of attention -- and I hope our friends at WJMA (whose site is still under construction as of this posting) are paying attention.

Internet streaming of classical radio has made access to the genre more widely available than ever, offering anyone with a computer the chance to tune in WGBH in Boston, WQXR in New York or, for that matter, purely online services like Classical Music America or SKY.fm.

"We want to stand out on the Web by offering something unique," [KUSC General Manager] DeWeese says, "by promoting Southern California's fine arts scene -- the Phil and the opera. Outside of London and New York, you don't see that."

"As local as we can make it," [KUSC President] Barnes says.
KUSC gets it. In order to stand out online (the future of radio), you have to be unique. And being local is the best (and most authentic) way to do that.

Program locally, broadcast internationally. It even works for classical music.

- Ralph

Day 2 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pardon our mess

A friend of mine e-mailed me today. He thought that perhaps WJMA-FM, our local radio station, had been reading my posts on their site. The old site is down, and there's an "under construction" placeholder at the URL.

Well, perhaps.

I'm looking forward to the new site will look like -- but I still have some trepidation. If Piedmont Communications read the commentary about their site, they didn't read very carefully. Back in November, I explained why "under construction" signs were not professional.
that page [on WJMA's website] is still under construction. Which is a real web design no-no. Keep the freakin' page offline until the content's finished. An "under construction" notice is like asking someone if they want a soda, and when they say yes, responding that you don't have any.
Well, it's not the first time. In October of 2001 WJMA still had the "under construction" sign that promised the site would be ready by May 2001. In 2006, there was another "under construction" sign that hung around until April of 2007. It promised they were "in the process of developing a site that will complement our radio broadcast." Um, well.

In the early days of the Internet "under construction" signs were common, but not now. For the past several years the use of "under construction" signs for long periods of time have not been considered good professional practice. Have to take the site off-line? Have a backup ready. If that's not possible, make the switch at the lowest traffic times (around 2:00 AM). And it's not just me.

All good web pages are always under construction, but some web designers still insist on placing a under construction icon on their site. This graphic comes from the designers feelings of insecurity. They know their page is incomplete or not functioning, so they put up a little sign that is supposed to excuse them from any problems their site may have. Problem sites are recognizable with or without under construction signs. Good web designers should not put up a site until they feel comfortable enough to display it without the under construction warning. [emphasis mine]

Yes, the Apple store always goes offline before Steve Jobs talks, but that's deliberate. It's down for less than a day, and its back online with the new content the minute Jobs has finished his presentation.

A site that's "under construction" for any length of time suggests poor organization and understanding of how the web works.

Oh. And one more thing.

The current "under construction" sign has a copyright date of 2006! Didn't we talk about that already?

- Ralph

Day 1 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

One out of three

I heard back from one of my elected officials today. You may recall that I wrote my representative and both my senators recently to ask for their support for the current Internet radio bills that would dial back the 1200% increase in royalties netcasters are required to pay to the SoundExchange to a more rational and reality-based level.

Here's Senator Jim Webb's response:

Thank you for your recent electronic mail message to my office in Washington. I am pleased that because of the Internet, more than 100,000 Virginians will send their ideas directly to me this year.
[Well, yeah. That's why I'm concerned about keeping the Internet as regulation-free and open for everyone to use as possible.]
Please be assured that your views are very helpful to me and my staff.
[And those views would be....? Relax, I know this is an automated response.]

As the Senate addresses crucial economic, domestic and foreign policy issues facing our nation, we will be sure to keep your comments and ideas in mind.
[Not sure how the Save Internet Radio bills fit in with foreign policy, but it's certainly a crucial economic issue to netcasters.]

I encourage you to visit my website at http://webb.senate.gov for regular updates about my activities and positions on matters that are important to Virginia and our nation.
[Yep, I have -- I'm also tracking your Senate activities, voting records, large contributors, et al. at OpenCongress.org. ]

If the subject of your communication is time sensitive, involves a personal issue relating to the federal government (such as help with a passport, claim for veterans' benefits, or immigration) or requires more detailed attention, please visit my Assistance/Casework page or contact my office directly toll free at 1-866-507-1570.

Again, thank you for contacting my office, and I hope you will communicate with me often in the future.

Jim Webb
United States Senate
OK, it's a canned response, but at least it is a response. I'm sure my letter was mixed in with a bunch of CIA-microwave-mind control rants and black helicopter emails. I'm hoping in time a real person will read this and I'll get a more genuine reply.

In the meantime, I'll continue to follow this issue, and take note of how Senator Webb supports or blocks the passage of the bill.

- Ralph

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

WJMA and the Missing Round Tuit

I checked in on the WJMA website yesterday and discovered (not to my surprise) virtually no change. I've been using our local radio station's website in a series of blog posts as an example of how not to work the web.

Regardless of where you live (and we do have some international readers), I've tried to make these posts about WJMA relevant. The issues with this station's website are not unique -- they can be found in business sites all over the Internet. And as more revenue moves to the web, potential customers are increasingly less forgiving of sites that simply "don't get it."

So what can we learn from WJMA today? Nothing's really changed from our last visit -- and in fact, not much as really been done to the site since we started looking at it in detail last November.
I strongly suspect that the person in charge of the site isn't a full-time employee -- or if they are, this isn't their full-time job. And that's a huge mistake.

Even brick-and-mortar storefronts need constant maintenance. Imagine the impact on a business if a roof leak went unattended for years -- or if shelves, once stocked, were never touched again, so most of the merchandise had a fine layer of dust coating it.

An unattended website makes the equivalent impression. WJMA's site still bears a 2006 copyright date. Content remains static -- save for the ever-cryptic "headlines." Today we learn that "If you live in the town of Culpeper, you'll be receiving a survey from the Culpeper Police in the next two weeks."?!?

WJMA finally turned off the snow advisory scroll on their homepage but haven't replaced it with anything, so there's now a big blank lozenge in the upper right corner. I'm sure the web person (not sure "master" is the appropriate term here) will get around to it eventually, but in the meantime there it sits. And what's out there on WJMA's site -- not what they're eventually going to put out there -- is the first impression potential advertisers have of the station.

Smart retailers know the value of maintenance. A store that's cleaned daily and continually restocked maintains a healthy customer base. The same's true online. And any business with an online presence needs to staff it properly in order to grow. A Round Tuit isn't the answer -- if you're serious about your business.

- Ralph

Monday, June 09, 2008

I Love a Mystery

A colleague (who has a master's in English lit) and I were discussing mystery writers. One of my favorite authors is John Dickson Carr, but my friend didn't share my enthusiasm. "He's somewhat old-fashioned," she sniffed, " Dickson writes puzzles. I prefer stories with fully-developed characters."

Ouch! I have to admit that John Dickson Carr is old-school. His first novel was published in 1932, and his final book came out in 1972, five years before his death.

Apparently, puzzle mysteries are far too quaint for today's readers -- although I suspect it's more a case of a change in reading habits.

In the 1920's and 1930's, the mystery was the thing. One had to read carefully, follow the provided maps and charts, and diligently work out the timetables to deduce the culprit before the end of the story.

Carr's specialty was the "locked room" murder. His "impossible" crimes took place in hermetically sealed rooms or other locations where the question of "how" was as important as "who." I have nothing against more modern mysteries, but Carr's work is (in my opinion) unsurpassed in ingenuity and logic.

Unlike other writers of the between-war years, Carr doesn't rely on complicated timetables or the reader knowing arcane bits of information. Instead, Carr simply uses his mastery of misdirection.

By the third chapter of a typical John Dickson Carr novel, the reader will have already been introduced to the killer(s) and have been presented with all the information they will later need to solve the crime. And in most cases (at least with me), they will have missed it all.

There's more to John Dickson Carr than I can cover in a single blog post. He was also a master at characterization (despite what my colleague said), often had wild comedic elements in otherwise serious stories, was an extremely knowledgeable historical fiction writer, and also was successful in other media.

I've always found his books worth a read -- and perhaps, if you enjoy a well-crafted tale or two -- you may, too.

- Ralph

(Give yourself some bonus points if you recognize the source of the post title).

Friday, June 06, 2008

That Reminds Me...

Audio Graphics did an extensive post on the SoundExchange/Internet radio fight. I've talked about it at length in this blog, but as one of the players in the drama, Ken Dardis brings some real insight to the issue. As he so succinctly puts it:
The whole issue from the webcasters' perspective is that they don't want to pay performance royalty rates which far exceed what satellite radio, cable, and online music services pay.
And that reminds me -- I haven't yet received a response from either my senators or representative who I wrote about Orphan Works act. I'll send them another e-mail and see what shakes over the weekend.

After all, isn't eternal vigilance the price of democracy?

 - Ralph

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Podcast Payday

Sean Tubb's comments on my recent post continues to inspire. He wrote:
My conclusion has been it's not cost-effective as a for-profit model at this time because the potential audience at this time is so low.
And he's right, for the most part. Many podcast as an avocation, and keep their day job to pay the bills. A few, however, have made the transition. And in every case, it's been about the audience size. (If you're into podcasting, none of this will be news -- if not, though, pay attention).

Leo Laporte, "This Week in Tech"
Leo Laporte is arguably the biggest name in podcasting. He's a professional TV and radio broadcaster, with the pipes and delivery to match. In addition to his syndicated radio program, he's managed to parlay his podcasts into a virtual media empire. "This Week in Tech" is the flagship program, attracting half a millions listeners, but several other TWIT.TV programs have sizable followings as well.

As circulation has climbed, Laporte's been able to sell advertising across his network and increase the quality of his productions. He's also taken advantage of his (rather specialized) celebrity status, and is often the go-to guy for opinions about tech on other programs (such as "Regis and Kelly").

Mignon Fogarty, "Grammar Girl"
The meteoric rise of the "Grammar Girl" podcast made mainstream media news. Within a few months, this short podcast about grammar rules had racked up over a million downloads. Like Leo Laporte, Fogarty used the opportunity to create a network of similar programs. Now the Quick and Dirty Tips Network offers podcasts with tips about manners, sales techniques, parenting and more. Fogarty's long since quit her day job as a technical writer and editor.

She's published a Grammar Girl book that's doing very well, thanks to support from the podcast, and the Quick and Dirty Tips network is now generating a nice amount of ad revenue as well.

Brian Ibbott, "Coverville"
Ibbot's highly specialized podcast dealt with only one form of music: covers. Nevertheless, he's built an enthusiastic international audience for the podcast, with a circulation large enough to allow him to quit his day job. But Ibbott does more than just "Coverville." Like Fogarty and Laporte, he's the center of a small network of programs, In addition to his lead program, Ibbott also produces and hosts two daily music podcasts for the Denver Post, and a showcase podcast for Not Lame Records.

So what do all these highly successful podcasters have in common? As I see it, four basic things:
  1. Compelling content. Leo Laporte makes tech understandable and interesting -- and his panel usually has great chemistry which makes for lively and informative discussions. Mignon Fogarty provided information in an entertaining and understandable fashion that people were hungry for. Brian Ibbott presents a fascinating mix of music and themed programs that entertain music geeks and newcomers alike.
  2. Consistency. All three podcast networks maintain a dependable production schedule. TWIT always comes out on Monday. "Coverville" gets posted three times a week. "Grammar Girl" comes out once a week. Each of the three programs maintain a consistent show length, and all have a set structure that they follow.
  3. Lots of sweat equity. I talked about this in a recent post about music. All three podcasters put in long hours to ensure the quality of their work remains high. They also are on top of the latest trends in new media, and quickly exploit them to further promote their networks.
  4. They're all doing what they love. And that's something you can hear in their voices.

So even if Sean Tubbs and I haven't hit the big time yet, I suspect we've at least got #4 locked up.

- Ralph

So who else is working full time as an independent podcaster? Let me know!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Seeding with Podcasts

My post yesterday about how the spirit of radio personalities have migrated to podcasts prompted an interesting (albeit slightly off-topic) response from Sean Tubbs of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network (CPN).

I created [CPN] three years ago as a place to give my public radio pieces their own archive, but also to expand into other kinds of programming.... My conclusion has been it's not cost-effective as a for-profit model at this time because the potential audience at this time is so low.

But check back in 5 years or so.

My day job at Charlottesville Tomorrow, however, allows me to make a living while using blogs, podcasts, and all of these new communications tools to advance our mission

Right on, my brother.

That's exactly what I use my podcast for, too. The "DCD Classical 'Cast" is a promotional podcast for our label, DCD Records. Since we're selling sound recordings, it makes sense to present the merchandise in an audio format. (Why not just send promo copies to radio stations? We'll discuss the glacial speed of song rotation in the classical music format another time.)

We can see a correlation between the titles that sell well and the ones we feature on the podcast, but it's not a one-to-one match. Unlike a radio broadcast, a podcast is forever. There's a bump when a new episode first gets released, but there's no way to predict which episodes are going to downloaded at any particular time, and therefore when you can expect the sales they generate.

Someone just discovering the "DCD Classical 'Cast" may subscribe, and automatically download all the past episodes to get caught up. Others might be looking for a specific performer, composer or label, and just download just the one episode they're looking for.

Our very first episode
, for example, was most recently downloaded June 1, 2008 -- yet it was released February 7, 2006. If we only looked at the February/March 2006 sales of the titles featured in that episode, we might conclude that our podcast was a failure. But over the course of the past two years, those releases have enjoyed an increase in sales over similar recordings not featured in our podcasts. So we have a different conclusion.

Just like with the CPN, it's all a matter of scale. A certain percentage of the subscribers to the "DCD Classical 'Cast" purchase the music we showcase. Potentially, we could reach the stage where our subscriber base (and therefore our customer base) grows large enough to account for the bulk of our sales.

It hasn't happened yet, and quite frankly I'm not counting on it to ever do so. Classical music represents about seven percent of CD/download sales, and that market share has been fairly consistent for some time now. However -- our podcast is reaching classical listeners worldwide. So even if our circulation remains modest, people who otherwise would have never have heard of the artists and labels we carry can now enjoying them.

And unlike that fleeting moment when a song's broadcast on the radio, with our podcast our subscribers can enjoy the music when they want, where they want, and as many times as they want. And that's just fine with me.

Our circulation grew by about 50% over the first year, and jumped 70% in the second. As Sean suggests, let's check back in five years and see where we are. We might not be on Easy Street, but I suspect we'll like our new location.

- Ralph

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Goodbye and thanks for all, Fisher

Marc Fisher, who covered radio with the Listener column in the Washington Post, wrote his last installment Sunday. In many ways, it reminded me of Audiographics' sign-off, and of the mounting frustration of Hear 2.0 and Inside Music Media. They're all saying the same basic thing (and I'm right there with them), "We love radio, and we want to help you. Why are you willfully going down this path of destruction?"
Fisher reiterates what we've pointed out many times before:
Radio's troubles have tracked the broader national decline of locally distinctive popular culture, as big media companies sought to save money by spurning the medium's uniquely local nature and instead serving up whatever programming was least offensive to the largest possible coast-to-coast audience.
When someone talks about what they liked about radio, notice what they focus on. It's not the music they talk about, it's the personalities. As Fisher writes:
Yet the more I listened to the likes of Pandora.com, Last.fm, Slacker.com and all manner of music blogs and Web radio, the more I heard the sound of automation -- sleek, efficient recommendation engines scientifically selecting the music I am most likely to like, yet missing out almost on what radio once offered: a glimpse into the hearts and passions of personalities who knew what music was new and cool, voices that offered a guided tour of unknown worlds, and sometimes even a frontal assault of the unexpected.
I highly recommend the article -- if you haven't run across these concepts before, it's food for thought. Fisher talks about how neither satellite radio nor Internet radio answers the need for human personality. Is it gone completely?

No. It's just moved to podcasting. Now granted, there are plenty of amateur podcasts out there that are a sonic mess. But the best ones have exactly what Fisher's yearning for -- a unique voice with a strong sense of local color.

Now podcasting is a little different than the golden years of AM radio. First, the major labels won't allow their music to be used for podcasts. Not a problem, though. There's plenty of independent artists and labels who do. So if you're looking for great, individualistic music instead of bland commercial fare, then check out a music podcast, or two (or twenty). They come in all genres -- no kidding.

Secondly, the hosts are even more individualistic than any broadcaster could ever be. There are no time checks, no weather forecasts, and (for the most part) no commercials. The podcast host can talk about whatever they want, for however long they want, and play whatever they want. The most successful ones, though, are those that are interesting people in their own right and know how to keep the breaks from running too long -- just like the broadcasters of yore.

Thirdly, local is as local does. A podcast can come from anywhere in the world, yet most of them have some sense of location. The host may talk about their local area, or reference nearby landmarks. And those that don't tend to create their own little world that they inhabit that serves the same purpose. A world of blues, or classical music, or perhaps a place where even the smallest detail of Celtic music is noted and celebrated.

I'm sorry to see Marc Fisher's column go, but as I drove to work Monday listening to "BBC Introducing,"Mostly Trivial," and "AMPed," I realized that I had actually left a long time ago.

- Ralph

Monday, June 02, 2008

"And Jesus Wept" by John Amos

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
--Ray Bradbury
The assignment came from my Aunt Myrtle.

Each week she expected me, and two or three others in my Sunday School class, to begin the session by reciting a Bible verse from memory. Each week, we all did the same thing. Having forgotten to do our homework, we’d fall back on our knowledge of the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” John 11:35.

If she was disappointed in us, she never let on. Instead, she’d just continue with the class, and soon we’d be studying stories like Moses parting the Red Sea, the raising of Lazarus, or Cain slaughtering his brother Abel. “Studying” is probably the wrong word, though, because I don’t actually remember any “lessons.” I just remember the stories themselves.

This is where I first heard about David and Goliath, about Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of his son Isaac and about Jacob wrestling with the angel, about Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the whale, King Saul’s madness, Jesus turning water into wine, the beheading of John the Baptist, St. Paul blinded on the road to Damascus, and a whole host of stories that have since enriched my life beyond measure.

At the risk of sounding like an old crank, my sense is that children today have almost no knowledge of such stories. The vast majority of students I teach are really smart people, but they are also Biblical illiterates.

Not that long ago, I could assume that kids would enter my class knowing a certain stock of stories. But no longer. I recently assigned a poem that referred to Adam’s banishment from Eden. One student wanted to know who Adam was. I alluded in a recent essay to our having sold our souls “for a mess of pottage.” No one knew the source of the phrase (it’s from the story of Jacob conniving to steal Esau’s birthright). One of my best students decided to read Moby Dick on her own but found it almost indecipherable because she didn’t understand any of the Biblical allusions. I’ve quit teaching Milton’s Paradise Lost because it takes too much time to teach the stories upon which that great poem is founded.

As for references to the sufferings of Job, cherubim, and seraphim, towers of Babel, bulrushes, widow’s mites, or jawbones of asses, I might as well be speaking a different language. More and more, I find myself teaching the absolute basics to high school students who should have learned such stuff in childhood.

Actually, I’m lucky to work at a school which requires students to take a religion course that stresses stories from both Old and New Testaments, as well as stories from the world’s other great religious traditions. The course gives a good grounding in religious literature; however, students learn this material much as they learn facts about European history or formulas in chemistry class. The stories aren’t ingrained, aren’t bred in the bone. They’re learned by head, not heart. The goal is to pass a test, not to live well.

The truth is: even good schools can only compensate so much for the failings of parents.
And make no mistake. Parents have failed. We have raised a generation of people who can quote every stupid line from every stupid Will Ferrell movie ever made, but who don’t know a word of Psalm 23 and who think Moses is a character from a Disney film. It’s a generation utterly starved for the power that sacred stories can provide — not only religious stories, but mythology, folklore, legend, fable, and fairy tale, as well.

Without access to such literature, children are deprived of a kind of spiritual and psychological richness that they simply can’t obtain elsewhere.

A quick survey of my students showed that everyone in the class had seen Anchor Man, Happy Gilmore, several episodes of Family Guy, and, at least one Ben Stiller movie. Only a handful had read or heard any Greek mythology. None knew any Norse myths. A few had cursory acquaintance with Aesop’s fables and the Brother’s Grimm. As for a working knowledge of Bible stories, the cupboard was pretty bare.

It’s a sad fact: we have substituted images — idols really — in the form of silly television shows and crude motion pictures — for the ancient oral tradition of handing down our most important stories from one generation to the next.

And Jesus wept.

- John Amos
from his column "Every Now and Then"
©2008 by John Amos
reprinted by permission
"Every Now And Then: Occasional Essays"