Sunday, March 30, 2008

WTJU and the Dream Babes

Wednesday morning I'll be hosting a special program for the WTJU fund-raising marathon. Why share this in a blog that's read far beyond the Charlottesville, Virginia broadcast area?

Simple. WTJU is also online. Folks from all over the world can listen through WTJU's website -- and pledge as well. So this invite's for everyone.

For the WTJU Spring Folk and Rock fund-raising marathon, I'm presenting "Dream Babes," three hours of mid-60's female Brit-pop. If you like Petula Clarke, Lulu, or Marianne Faithful -- well, you won't hear much of them on this program, but you will hear many others who were active around the same time.

I'll definitely play this Vashti Bunyan song (penned by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger).

And Sandi Shaw's classic, "Girl Don't Come."

And some groovy songs from the Paper Dolls.

So if you're ready for trip down memory lane (or in this case, Carnaby Street).

And don't forget -- this is fundraiser. I'm looking to raise $3,000 between 6:00AM and 9:00AM (Eastern Time). Thirty listeners pledging $100 each out of the thousands listening will handily do the trick. Will you be one?

- Ralph

After the show, I'll do a followup post with a complete playlist, and how close I came to reaching my goal.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Non-NPR Public Radio

Yes, there is such a thing. Around the time I began attending public radio conferences regularly, National Public Radio began their push to solidify their brand. "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" were already the "tent poles" of most public radio station listening (that is, the two places where audience -- and pledging -- peaked).

NPR started by pushing stations to have their announcers emulate the NPR style of delivery, providing a seamless transition from the national feed to the local news segments and back again. Stations were glad to ride the NPR bandwagon. NPR programs brought in the big pledge dollars, and it was easier to schedule a syndicated program with high production values rather than trying to put together something on their own.

Affiliate stations always assumed that NPR's goals were identical with theirs. But different organizations, like individuals, by definition have different goals. In time the blending of local station with national network became complete. Many people today use the terms "NPR" and "public radio" interchangeably -- NPR's branding mission is now complete.

Folks will talk about NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion" -- a program produced and distributed by American Public Media (not NPR), or talk about a classical music selection Seth Williamson played on NPR (Seth's the local host of mid-day classics at WVTF, and his program is not distributed by NPR).

The first hint of trouble with this close association came when NPR fired popular "Morning Edition" host Bob Edwards. Listeners responded with howls of protests -- ire aimed squarely at the local affiliates. For most of the public, the local station was NPR, and many canceled their pledges in protest. That lost revenue hurt the local stations, which meant they had less money to meet their budget (a good chunk of which were NPR carriage fees -- according to Time Magazine, as much as $1.3 million). As for NPR, no station dropped "Morning Edition," and they collected the same rates from the affiliates they always did while the controversy raged on. In the end, Bob Edwards went to XM, some listeners went away, and NPR continued business as usual.

NPR has been moving more and more content onto satellite radio, into podcasts, and finally onto their own audio server. For this organization that derives revenue from the programs it produces, the moves make sense -- this is where the audience is going, and that's where they need to be.

For the radio stations, though, it's a disaster. If you contribute to your local station to support "Fresh Air," why would you continue to do so once you realize you can get it free as a podcast? Stations with strong local content have very good reasons for their listeners to support them. Those who rely almost exclusively on NPR are in for a tough time.

The recent firing of Ken Stern can be seen as an attempt to put the brakes on NPR's abandonment of its affiliates. But it's a temporary slowing, at best. Listening patterns are changing, and eventually NPR and public radio stations may come to a serious parting of the ways.

Here in Charlottesville, Virginia we have four non-commercial radio stations. Two are NPR affiliates, which means you can often hear the same programs on two different stations. Two run local programming almost exclusively.

Coincidentally, both of these stations (WNRN and WTJU) are currently in the midst of their spring fund drives. While WVTF and WMRA run "Morning Edition," WNRN gives its listeners "Acoustic Sunrise," which airs acoustic folk and Americana music. WTJU has classical programming in the morning, locally (and sometimes eccentrically) hosted. WNRN plays a healthy dose of local music throughout the day, while WTJU airs genres (serious classical and jazz, folk, world, non-Top 40 rock) other stations never touch.

All non-commercial radio station depend on some measure of direct public support. In two cases, a bulk of that support will be turned over to NPR to pay for programming, In the other two, the money stays "in house."

Which station is worthy of your support? Whichever one you listen to on a regular basis. Just remember that when you make your pledge, you're supporting the station, not NPR (at least not directly).

- Ralph

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Citizen Fact-checkers

The recent dust-up about the difference Hillary Clinton's recollection of her 1996 visit to Bosnia and footage shot at the time is a good illustration of citizen fact-checkers at work. As I've previously posted, I think we're seeing more and more people responding to political rhetoric with "Yeah? Says who? I'll just check that out for myself."

But it's important to make sure you're really getting the facts when you do so. The Bosnian incident is a good example of that. My goal isn't to make you think one way or the other about what Clinton's claims mean. That's for you to decide.

In this case, it took a little digging to get to the original sources (about 20 minutes of work). Here's Senator Clinton talking about her trip on February, 29, 2008.

And here's the March 17, 2008 version most often excerpted by the media for stories about the controversy.

Finally, here's the original report filed by CBS covering Clinton's landing at the Tuzla airfield.

The video from the 1996 CBS report and Clinton's March 17, speech have been edited, remixed, and re-presented many times, both by individuals posting to the Internet and mainstream media broadcasts. On YouTube alone there are currently over 70 different versions of these clips. The ones from Fox, CBS, MSNBC and other mainstream media programs often include various pundits and talking heads giving you their take on the edited clips.

In detective fiction, after the red herrings have been eliminated, the evidence always points in just one direction, leading to a single inescapable conclusion. Realty -- especially the political kind -- is far different. The evidence is seldom dramatically clear-cut, and even when it is, interpretations can vary.

In the comment field for all of these clips (and their multiple variations), the posters run the full range of opinion. There's plenty of partisan responses, both for and against. Some of them read as if the writers didn't really watch the video -- they came with their opinion already set, and were there just to denounce the opposition.

So the Internet isn't the cure-all for partisan politics.

But it does provide an opportunity for those with open minds to cut through the clutter and get to the information they need to form their own opinions. After all, as Thomas Jefferson said, "An informed citizenry is the bulwark of a democracy."

(Oh yeah? Says who? While the sentiment of that statement ring true, the attribution to Jefferson is spurious.)

- Ralph

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Cussin' the Comics" by John Amos

I’m no fan of the “dark” comics. Every now and then, I’ll turn to the funny pages and check out “Blondie” or “Beetle Bailey” or some such nonsense. But I never bother with the dark serious ones, the ones printed with lots of black ink, like “Rex Morgan” and “Judge Parker” and “Mary Worth.”

Dark comic "Judge Parker" (click image to enlarge)

That’s not to say I don’t know about the dark ones. Between my wife and my father, two real comic-crazies, I manage to keep up. I get it all second-hand by overhearing their weekly phone calls.

I’m puzzled sometimes at how two extremely intelligent people can take this stuff seriously. My wife graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Slavic languages. My father is one of the most well-read people I know. And yet, to hear them on the phone, talking breathlessly about the latest happenings in “Mark Trail,” you’d think they were two teenagers discussing hot gossip.

At least once a week they call each other to yap about the villain stalking Mary Worth or whether Mark Trail is going to catch the poacher with the really bad sideburns.

That'll tell you something: These two actually missed “Apartment 3-G” when it disappeared from The Washington Post a few years ago. And they can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Prince Valiant, Dick Tracy, or Winnie Winkle. Go figure.

When The Post temporarily dropped “Mark Trail” awhile back, they both flew into a righteous rage. High, high dudgeon ensued. How dare they!

My dad has been a comics fanatic for as long as I can remember. His love-hate relationship with “Brenda Starr, Star Reporter” tended to dominate our breakfast table conversation when I was growing up, especially on Sunday mornings when Brenda was at her most syrupy. This was the strip he loved to hate. I can still hear him, toast in one hand and coffee in the other, ranting about “the frustrated old biddy” who drew the red-headed reporter with the beauty mark on her cheek. He hated the strip’s sappiness and the melodrama. But he kept on reading.

I thought he’d finally give it up when Brenda married Basil St. John, the mysterious guy with the eye-patch. (They named their first child Starr Twinkle). But he stuck it out. He thought it utter tripe, but he read on faithfully.

My wife has been a comics fan since childhood. I’m not sure when she got hooked on the “dark” ones but hooked she is.

We get The Post delivered daily, and I read the sports and the op-eds, and even the Metro section on occasion. But the real reason we subscribe is that my wife needs the comics page. It’s her pressure valve.

She works two jobs, hauls kids from here to there, manages the family finances (such as they are), quilts and knits in every spare minute, and generally keeps our family on an even keel. She’s a woman with a busy life.

A voracious reader, she watches very little television, preferring instead to get her entertainment from books and comic strips.

For her, the dark comics are a sort of soap-opera substitute. She hasn’t got time to lounge around eating bonbons and watching As the World Turns every day. So, it’s ten minutes in the morning over breakfast with Mark and Mary and Sam Driver.

I can’t really account for the fact that I’ve never caught the comics-bug myself. As a kid, I spent hours reading Richie Rich, Archie, and Superman. I love old pulp fiction and even the new, cutting edge graphic novels. Though I try to teach quality literature, I’m a big fan of cheesy, plot-driven stories as well. You’d think I’d be a prime candidate for following the funny papers.

Maybe it’s just that, as an adult, I’ve had no reason to read them. I can get the scoop just by listening in from the fringes.

You hope when you get married that your parents will love and accept the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with. You don’t really know, but you hope.

What you could never predict is that a buzz-cut, tough-guy cop and a brainy girl with a passion for needlework will have a mutual love for “Mary Worth,” “Mark Trail,” and “Spiderman.” I don’t pretend to understand. I just listen in, smile, and shake my head.

It must be a father-daughter sort of thing.

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

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Political Talkback

Recently I wrote about how the Internet users had become defacto fact-checkers for the claims of political spin doctors. Cameron, who I used as an example, recently responded to my post.

So consider -- even though I'm here in Virginia, my commentary about Cameron came to his attention in California. I know that "CE Conversations" has a fairly modest readership compared to many blogs, but that didn't matter. Cameron found out and responded.

And that's the point I don't think many comprehend. Online, everyone's accountable -- even me. I'm sure if I had seriously misrepresented Cameron's post I would have been called on it (and rightly so).

Take the recent flap with Barack Obama and his pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. A short clip from one of Rev. Wright's sermons started the uproar -- a clip that's been endlessly repeated on the news channels.

But what's the context? If we heard more of Wright's sermon would it change our impression or simply confirm it?

I'm not going to tell you what I think -- because a good portion of that sermon is readily available online. You can watch the entire segment and judge for yourself.

And in the wake of Barack Obama's race speech, there's been no end of opinions from the pundits. Some point to this section of the speech and say it shows racism, others point elsewhere and say it shows statesmanship. This phrase means Barack's clueless, that phrase shows he has his hand on the pulse of America, and so on. No, I'm not going to provide any links to those sites, because unlike the last election, we don't have to rely on talking heads and looping sound bites.

Again, I'm not going to tell you what I think about the speech and what it means. Rather, I encourage you to watch the video, read the transcript and judge for yourself.

We're just at the start of this 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.

Thanks to Cameron for responding to my post. You help keep me honest!

- Ralph

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Comics Playoffs - Round Three

The past few posts I've been comparing and contrasting two comics: Gil Thorp and Funky Winkerbean. Both recently featured story arcs about girls basketball teams and the differences in execution have been remarkable.

In case there's any doubt, I'm not trying to say one artist is inherently better than the other. Tom Batiuk (Funky Winkerbean) has a very cartoony style. His characters tend to have very simple and stylized faces, economically drawn with dots for eyes, and a single oval (or line) for the mouth.

Frank Bolle (Gil Thorp) draws much more realistic figures. He uses a thinner line which allows for more detail in his faces. His character's eyes usually consist of two or more lines to depict the outline of the eyelids as well as the pupils. Mouths usually have lower lips, and other facial features (such as cheekbones) are drawn in more often in Bolle's work than they are in Batiuk's.

The purpose of these playoffs is to look at how each artist uses the conventions of the comic strip to tell a story -- and in the process bring those conventions to the fore so that you, dear reader, can better appreciate this artform so many take for granted.

In today's example, each panel depicts a basketball team in the throes of victory (click on the image to enlarge). Which one does a better job?

Bolle shows four girls, pairing off to give each other hugs. Two are looking at each other, and the other two are looking.... um (This Week in Milford has an interesting theory). Well, one's looking right at us, the other a little off to the right.

There are some strange motion lines present that give one pause. Is the girl in the back bobbing up and down? And what's happening with the two in the front? The girl on the right is wobbling her head while the one on the left appears stationary (save for her hand which also seems to be going up and down).

I'm not seeing a victory celebration here -- I'm seeing some bobbleheads hugging.

Batiuk, on the other hand, shows us all five girls of the squad. There's a flow to the positioning of them, too. There's a group of three, and then two -- every girl is connected to another, suggesting the connection of a team. If you look at the faces, your eye is pulled along in a straight line and then rises at the end of the panel.

The game announcer's word balloon begins "Moore gets the three!!!" Is there any doubt which player is Summer Moore? Right. She's the one jumping up, her hand signifying "we're number one." If you look at the faces, your eye is pulled along in a straight line and then rises at the end of the panel for Moore. That eye motion reinforces Moore's leap. We not only see it, we feel it.

Bolle uses motion lines to create action. Batiuk uses the reader's eyes to provide it.

Which artist is the better storyteller? After three rounds, IMHO, Tom Batiuk is the new conference champ.

- Ralph

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Comics Playoffs - Round Two

Yesterday I compared the comic art of Tom Batiuk and Frank Bolle. Both currently depict high school basketball action in their respective strips, at significantly different levels of effectiveness (in my option).

Today we look at the extended action sequence (click on images to enlarge).

In this sequence from Gil Thorp, a key Milford player gets injured. This is the entire sequence -- the strips the day before and after have different scenes. Bolle attempts to show action with motion lines. Speed lines might be more effective. To my eye, it looks like everyone's wobbling like a Weeble.

Look at the first panel. We know that the basket is further away than the girls, but where's the ball? Is it directly over the girl at left? Slightly behind her? Almost to the basket? I'm not sure.
Also, is the Oakwood player really tall, or did she just jump up? The motion lines suggest side-to-side motion (which suggests she's just tall), but the tilt of her body and her waist at the other girls' chest level is more in line with a jump.

I don't know -- and because I have to puzzle over it for a second the dramatic flow of the narrative stops.

And the second panel's similarly confusing. The motion lines make a little more sense, but it still looks like wobbling.

In the third panel, we get the fateful fall -- and the first appearance of speed lines. And that's unfortunate, because they're straight and long, suggesting fast motion and a long fall. To me, it looks like she was dropped from the ceiling! But she still wobbles some.

Fortunately, these pictures are captioned -- otherwise I might be hard-pressed to figure out what the heck's going on!

Now let's look at Batiuk (click on the image to enlarge). In this sequence, Summer Moore makes a game-winning shot right at the buzzer. The event is stretched out over three days, heightening the dramatic tension.

The first day sets the stage. We see Summer running down the court in the first panel. In the second, she's surrounded by the other team (we can tell because they're in the foreground, background, and next to Summer). The third panel shows the shot. The angle places the ball in the foreground (so we now it's important), and shows us Summer throwing it up and out of the ring of opposing players.

The second day's sequence freezes time. The first panel serves as a mini-synopsis. And notice that the angle is different. Batiuk uses speed lines to show the arc of the ball, helping us see that it's further down the court than any of the players. The game announcer's word balloons have served as captions for the panels, and in the first day's strip took over a significant amount of the panel space.

In the second panel of the second day, the narrative stops. The last two panels have no sound at all. The second shows the crowd as they follow the ball. The last panel, the players. Time stands still.

The third day we see the result. The ball goes in just as the buzzer sounds. No caption's necessary. The second panel explains the importance of the shot (for those who came in late), and the third winds down the action with Summer's dad and a little comic relief.

When all the elements work together, sequential art can be a powerful narrative medium. Although Batiuk's depiction of people is less realistic than Bolle's, it engages the reader more effectively. Which means we care more about the Westview win than the Milford loss.

- Ralph

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Comics Playoffs - Round One

Funky Winkerbean's recent story arc involved a high school girl's basketball team going to the playoffs -- something the sports-related Gil Thorp comic strip does as a matter of course.

Previously I compared how then-current Gil Thorp artist Frank McLaughlin and prospective replacement Steve Bryant drew the same panels. The difference in story-telling technique was remarkable and generated some good discussion in the post's comments.

This time around, it's Gil Thorp stand-in artist Frank Bolle and Tom Batiuk.

Here are two panels depicting game-winning (or losing) shots made just as the buzzer sounds.

In both cases there's no long sequence building up to the shot, so the panels have to stand on their own.

Notice the workmanlike execution of the Bolle panel. The narrative has to do all the heavy lifting here. Imagine the panel without the caption -- we see a ball bouncing off the rim, period. Without the narrative, there's no context for the picture. The caption without the picture still tells the story -- but not the other way around.

Now consider the Batiuk panel on the left. All the elements come together to pull the reader into the story, and the narrative is moved forward by all the elements.

First off, the importance of the shot is told by a word balloon (instead of a third-party narrative caption) -- the announcer's calling the game, and we're listening in. Then there's the sound effect of the buzzer. Gil Thorp tells us it's the last second. Funky Winkerbean lets the sound speak for itself (in a graphic way).

Finally, the image tells us everything we need about the shot. In addition to showing the ball going in, we see members of both teams. The expressions on their faces give us both the elation of victory and the sadness of defeat.

Take away the word balloon, and we still have most of the story.

But not all of it. The word balloon gives us the background information, the sound effect the drama, and the image the emotional context of the action. Having all those elements seamlessly work together to tell the story is the art of comic strip narrative.

Tomorrow -- action on the court!

- Ralph

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Soul Masters and WVTF

Connie Stevens continues her series spotlighting forgotten Virginia bands in her "Captive Audio" segment on public radio station WVTF. This morning she profiled the Soul Masters, a 1960's racially mixed band from Danville Virginia.

Of course I like the series for professional reasons -- we carry Arcania International's reissue CDs which provided the framework for the stories on our DCD Records website. But I'm also excited personally. I've discovered some great tracks on Arcania International's releases that I would have never have found otherwise. And the "Captive Audio" reports are helping a wider audience discover them as well.

The segment this morning was particularly well done. Stevens not only had interviews from the band members, but also supporting commentary by a member of Gene and Teen/Team Beats (who were featured the previous week) and the head and chief bottle-washer of Arcania International, Brent Hosier.

I don't know how long the series is going to run, but I'm very much looking forward to the next installment -- for all the right reasons.

- Ralph

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Pillow Talk

Ken's post really brought back memories for me as well. In the Washington area WOWO Radio from Fort Wayne, Indiana was the far away AM station that I listened to (check out their 1960's coverage area at right). I'm not sure the songs they played were any different than those of our local Top 40 stations, but mixed in with commercials and announcements that referenced Fort Wayne streets and landmarks, it seemed more exotic and somehow, more special.

And sometimes those late night sessions were with WEAM and WEEL, two local stations. WEEL had to sign off at midnight, and for one summer that final song WEEL played before sign off was the last thing I heard before turning off the radio and drifting off to sleep...

- Ralph

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pillow Talk

Maybe it's a sign of my advancing age, but I find that the oddest things pique my nostalgia nerve.

I came across the this great collection of vintage transistor radio pictures on Flickr and I was instantly taken back in time to nights spent with my transistor radio tucked under the pillow, listening to the sound of distant AM radio stations as I drifted off to sleep.

I wish I still owned one -- bonus points for me if I had the leatherette case and earphone to go with it. Maybe it's time for a trip to eBay...



Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Core Costs of Radio

William F. raised a good point commenting on my recent post about the firing of WMAL radio personality Chris Core. He wrote:

I'd still like to know how much Core was paid. I'm sure a great deal of income came from his too many commercials that were constantly on his program.
I'm sure that Chris Core, holding down the morning slot in a major radio market (and delivering a good-sized chunk of that market on a daily basis) received a very large (for radio) salary. We get the barest hints of just how good his salary was in Mark Kaye's interview with Core.

But Core's salary alone didn't account for the high spot rate during his show. As Jerry Del Colliano recently pointed out,
Stations rely on morning shows to produce 40-50% of a stations revenue
So Chris Core was responsible for generating far more than his salary. Actually, the annoying amount of commercials William F. endured demonstrates -- as does Citadel's Bloody Friday -- another way current radio station owners fail to understand how radio functions.

In most business, there's a direct link between customers and products. For commercial radio, the link is indirect.

A store has products for sale; customers come in (either brick-and-morter or web) and buy them. The more the store serves the customers' needs either through selection or location or service, the more customers come in and the more they buy. The money flows from the person served by the store to the store.

For radio, the customer isn't the listener -- it's the advertiser. The listener is the product. The more listeners (products) a station has, the more advertisers it can do business with. Just like a store, bigger quantities (market share), wider selection (demographics) and/or customer service (ways in which stations can make spots more effective) all lead to increased ad revenue.

The trick is this: in a retail store, product is easy to stock. Place an order with the distributer, and if you can pay for it (and its in stock) the product arrives in the quantity you want.

Radio stations can't order audiences. They have to persuade people to listen. That means they have to offer programming and air personalities that people want to listen to. While radio programming can be quantitized to some extent, some of it remains an art. You can train someone how to be an on-air announcer. You can't train someone to be Chris Core.

A radio station's audience is its asset -- the value of that asset determines how successful it will be attracting advertisers (its customers) and how much they can charge for access to that asset (ad rates).

Currently, radio owners seem to have forgotten about the listener. If four ads in a break bring in X, then eight ads should bring in twice as much. By that logic, running commercials 24-7 should be like printing money. But as ad frequency increased, listenership declined.

And firing popular air personalities because they're highly paid simply accelerates audience decline. Imagine a store that scaled back both the quality and selection of its stock -- what direction would you expect their sales to go?

So how much did Chris Core make? We don't know.

A better question might be this.

How much revenue did he generate? When the next ratings come out, we may know the answer to that one.

- Ralph

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Arcania International On the Air Again (sort of)

Another installment of "Captive Audio" ran on WVTF's "Morning Edition," featuring music from the Arcania International label. Reporter Connie Stevens is using Arcania's CD reissues of 1960's soul and garage band records as a starting point for a series about forgotten Virginia artists.

The latest installment is an interview with Gene Brumley of Gene & the Teen Beats from Martinsville, Virginia. Stevens did an excellent job, and Brumley shares some great stories.

Gene & the Teen Beats (later the Team Beats when the band started aging) have tracks on Arcania International's "Ol' Virginia Soul, Part 1." And although Brent Hosier's liner notes are pretty extensive, there's not a lot of overlap between his entry for Gene & the Teen/Team Beats and what Connie Stevens presents.

Which is great.

I admit that I have a vested interest in this series (we carry Arcania International's releases), but just as a listener, I'm really excited about this oral history chronical "Captive Audio's" creating.

Can't wait for the next installment!

- Ralph

BTW - The other band mentioned in the segment, Captain Darby and The Buccaneers, can be found on "Aliens, Psychos & Wild Things, Volume Fore (sic)."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Political Pushback

Yesterday I offered up an example of how one can make a reasoned case for a candidate with supporting documentation using the Internet.

There's another use for this new media as well -- it can provide an opportunity for rebuttal.

(I'm deliberately not commenting on the current state of the campaign -- my goal isn't to support a particular candidate, but to look at how new technology is impacting the process)

Ron Paul's supporters early on started populating the web with video documentation supporting their claims that mainstream media marginalized their candidate.

In today's example, "Cameron," a lawyer from California strongly disagreed with assertions Representative Jack Kingston made about Barack Obama on Bill Maher's "Real Time" TV show.

Now in the olden days, Cameron might have talked to friends and coworkers about how Kingston's allegations were wrong, and perhaps he might have persuaded a few folks with his rhetoric.

More people would have heard the senator on the television show than Cameron, though, and Kingston's allegations would have just spread through the political zeitgeist as fact -- or perhaps almost-fact, for who could prove otherwise?

Thanks to the Internet, Cameron could. In his blog Cameron addresses each of Kingston's points and provides solid documentation to refute each claim.

Obama doesn't say the Pledge of Allegiance? Here's a clip from C-Span showing him leading the Senate in a recitation. Obama lacks bipartisan credentials? Here're links to two bipartisan legislation he's worked on.

Cameron, like GM, offers source material for the reader to support their position. You don't have to take Cameron's word about what Obama did or didn't say about Pakistan. You can watch the clip and judge for yourself. You can look up the legislation Cameron points to and decide for yourself if these are good examples of bipartisan cooperation.

The point here isn't about Obama and what he is or isn't.

The point is this: in this new world of the Internet political discourse is not only open to debate, it's open to fact-checking. For every politician or supporter that tries to spin the facts, there's someone who's more than willing to post the documentation that proves otherwise.

Mainstream media won't report it, but thanks to linking and reposting, Cameron's rebuttal reached many more people than the immediate friends and family it would have pre-Internet. And Cameron's rebuttal is not that hard to find.

A private citizen, voicing his opinion and offering facts to support it in a public forum? Now that's democracy in action!

- Ralph

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Politics as (un)usual

Back on February 20, "Grassroots Mom" posted a blog entry titled "I Refuse to Buy into the Obama Hype." During the course of the post she laid out her basic premise:
...the "empty rhetoric" v. "history of accomplishments" arguments have prompted me to check it out on my own, not relying on any candidate's website, book, or worst of all supporters' diaries, like this one. I went to the Library of Congress Website.
Now my post isn't about what she discovered, or whether Obama's a better choice than Clinton (or the other way around). What I want to focus on is how the Daily Koz post represents something refreshingly new in the political dialogue.

Grassroots Mom (GM), going back to the original sources, looked at every bill each of these two candidates authored, sponsored, and/or supported. She also looked at how many of those bills passed, and the scope of the legislation covered in each.

Based on her research, she decided that Obama had more political experience than she had thought, and also preferred the political character demonstrated by the bills he supported rather than Clinton. But this post isn't about who's better.

GM thoroughly documents all of the bills she looked at, and walks the reader through her thought process to get to her conclusion. The important thing here is that no one has to blindly accept her assessment.

Thanks to the Internet, we can look at the sources for ourselves and determine for ourselves if the conclusion is valid. And that changes the nature of political debate.

An early example of this change occured in the Virginia senate race between George Allen and Jim Webb. The fallout from Allen's "Macaca" incident played out far differently that it would have just a few years before, thanks to the Internet. In the past, candidates could spin events and keep reiterating their interpretation until it was accepted as fact by the public. Anyone with an Internet connection could go to the video and judge for themselves what Allen actually said, and the spirit in which he said it.

The same with GM's post. Anyone look at the bills and decide for themselves if they indicate what she says -- and reach their own conclusions about the candidates' qualifications.

There is not a chance that you'll see this kind of analysis anywhere on TV. It doesn't fit well into the soundbite format, and its not visual enough. Yet GM asks a valid question -- and gives us all the information we need to form our own answers.

- Ralph

Monday, March 03, 2008

Three Takes on Citadel's "Bloody Friday"

Yesterday's post I talked about the firing of long-time radio veteran Chris Core from WMAL. In it, I tried to make three points:

  1. Long-time successful air talent connects with an audience and builds brand equity.
  2. To callously dismiss such talent to improve the bottom line is shortsighted and ultimately damaging.
  3. Although the decision for such firings comes from the corporate offices, its the local stations that have to live with the consequences of such bone-headed decisions.
Interestingly enough, it seems I'm not alone in my opinions...

  1. "Brands and reputations will matter more than ever. Familiar call letters, program names, personalities and institutions will have countless new ways to leverage their incumbent advantages, and to relate to their listeners and viewers." Do you think recent and pending industry restructuring will promote and foster our content-creation capabilities? - Mark Ramsey
  2. [Citadel CEO] Farid's first response to each financial crisis at Citadel is to fire the staff. He shows a total lack of understanding on how to create and market content. That's why he's shown little sensitivity to the fact that Paul Harvey is his biggest star at 90 years old. The bean counter will try to slash that expense when his contract is up soon. Unable to grasp the business he is in -- programming and marketing content -- Farid does the only thing he knows -- playing with his -- numbers. - Jerry Del Colliano
  3. WMAL is doing everything possible to let their angry listeners know where the decision came from. In addition to posting a letter from the fired DJ on their site, they also addressed it on the air in the Grandy and Andy morning show. They were much more candid about the process than I suspect corporate would have let them be -- had the suits been within broadcast range to hear.

- Ralph

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Radio Nowhere and Chris Core

Friday morning WMAL announcer Chris Core finished his airshift as he had for the past 33 years. Only this time management was there to tell him that he was dismissed, and was no longer employed by Citadel Broadcasting.

Now this isn't a new story in the world of radio, but let's look at this in the light of John Amos' essay "Radio Nowhere."

The crux of the essay was this: listeners long for air personalities they can identify with.

And Core had that in spades. I remember listening to him when he first came to Washington, and after 30+ years, he built up a rapport and credibility with the DC Metro audience that was invaluable -- save to the number crunchers at the parent corporation.

Citadel isn't doing anything new. When times get tough, many businesses let their oldest employees that draw the highest salary go first. Now if you're manufacturing widgets or involved in some other business that requires a minimal skill set perhaps that's feasible. I think for most companies, though, employees aren't interchangeable. There's a trade-off between experience and overhead.

Some jobs are better performed (which means done more economically) by experienced staff. Who would you rather have working on your vehicle? Someone who just graduated mechanic's school last week, or someone who's been taking cars apart and putting them together for 20 years?

How about surgery? A new surgeon's passed the same licensing requirements as a doctor who's been practicing for 30 years, so does it matter who cuts you open, really?

I remember the day the automation equipment arrived at the radio station I worked at. The owner was so excited because (and he said this in front of everyone there) now he could get rid of the biggest chunk of overhead -- the announcer's salaries. He made good his promise, and within two years the station's strong audience melted away, and all of the advertising revenue with it. He soon sold the station at a huge loss.

While there are tough decisions to be made, as Jerry Del Colliano has pointed out many times, a station's announcers are their assets. Those voices connect with the audience and build brand equity day in and day out. Every popular announcer like Chris Core that's let go simply lessens the station's chance to generate ad revenue by that much more.

And if you're in any doubt about the contempt radio corporations hold for their employees -- who they consider interchangeable anyway -- look at the method of firing. After 33 years at the same station, Chris Core did not know it was his last day until he was off the air. He was not allowed to say goodbye to his audience.

Who among us wouldn't have given this long-time employee and his audience an opportunity for some closure? Core is professional through and through, and there would have been no ugly ranting on his final program -- that's just not who he is. But corporate didn't know that, because they didn't know Chris Core, or any of the hundreds of Citadel air talent fired Friday across the country. Just another name to check off the list.

The local management at WMAL has allowed Chris Core to post a farewell message on their website, which shows that at least their hearts are in the right place.

But the damage is done. Citadel's shown they have nothing but contempt for their employees, and their actions show they feel the same about their listeners. They're assuming that the audience won't notice he's gone, and accept whatever cheaper programming they offer in his place.

John Amos wrote:
[Radio] will only survive by cultivating the human connection. Abandon that, and all you’ve got left is waves, bouncing off a satellite.
Citadel didn't value or care about Chris Core. As a result, good portion of his former listeners probably no longer care about WMAL. Now how does that affect the bottom line?

- Ralph

Saturday, March 01, 2008

WJMA - Some News is No News

Bless their little hearts. The folks at WJMA seem to be trying their best to get their website up to speed, and I want to give them credit, but still....

Longtime readers know that I've been using our local radio station's website as a starting point for several discussions on what not to do online. Even if it won't benefit WJMA, perhaps it will help some others with their business or organizational websites.

The other day I talked about the long-awaited arrival of staff info on the site, and how it missed the mark. Today, the news is that there's news!

It wasn't always this way. Until about the end of February, the local news page has been blank, save for a date of November 9, 2007.

The good news is that news is being loaded to the page Monday through Friday. The bad news is that whoever's in charge of the website at Piedmont Communications still has no idea of what to do with this Interwebtube thingy.

In our example (pulled from Friday's site), there are three stories (or "headlines" as their called on the site). The style suggests these are just the first lines from the radio news broadcast.

Why is that bad? Because they don't tell us anything. As teasers they're fine. But these are lead-ins that don't lead anywhere.

"Judge Edward Carpenter denied bond for a Culpeper man who held police at bay for 2 hours on Wednesday in the White Shop area."

This is the Internet -- where's the supporting info? Who's the Culpeper man? What happened Wednesday that held police at bay? Where's the White Shop area? Why did the judge deny bond? This headline gives me no information, and no way to find out.

Here's a web-friendly version (which took about five minutes to do):

"Judge Edward Carpenter denied bond for a Culpeper man who held police at bay for 2 hours on Wednesday in the White Shop area."

Now I have a link where I can find out:
1) What happened on Wednesday
2) Who the Culpeper man was
3) Where the incident took place
4) More details about Carpenter's ruling

And that's all it takes. The headlines on WJMA's site are only useful if they lead to more information. They don't. Which leaves us with just enough of the story to be frustrated by the lack of any further detail.

I know I've said many times that "content is king," but perhaps I should revise that. Quality content is king.

WJMA may be putting more content on their website, but it's not going to add to their traffic.

And one other thing.

I don't know when this story took place. We've gone from being perpetually stuck in November 9, 2007, to having no date at all. When did the judge make this ruling? Friday? Thursday? February? 2008?

The prominence of the copyright notice leads us to an unfortunate (and erroneous) conclusion: "copyright 2006." So first-time visitors to the page would conclude that these stories have been sitting here for two years. And with no links to provide context, why would they think differently?

- Ralph