23Nov

The Befuddled Turkey

Anyone, especially someone who has worked in radio as well as fans of pretty good TV, will remember the show WKRP in Cincinnati, which ran from 1978 until 1982. A classic episode was called “Turkeys Away.” Mr. Carlson, AKA the Big Guy, decides to create a big Thanksgiving Day promotion.  He gets a helicopter with a banner attached to it saying "Happy Thanksgiving from WKRP” and drops live turkeys from the helicopter. This obviously created a less than celebratory reaction on the ground as the turkeys plummeted earthward. A classic line from that show is uttered by Mr. Carlson who confesses he thought turkeys could fly.

This year another misguided effort related to Thanksgiving is taking place—a movement comprised of people against shopping on Thanksgiving, supposedly out of deference to employees who would have to work that day.  While I totally agree with supporting the employees who want to stay home with their families, I’m pretty sure not all employees want that day off.  I have worked for the hourly wage (which will go to $9 an hour on Jan 1 in Massachusetts, a raise from the current $8 an hour), and being one who would have missed the money by not being paid for a day, I worked. Many employers, especially in retail and hospitality, are open on holidays and conduct business as usual. Workers are expected to work holidays and are typically paid their normal pay rate, but it is pay they would not get staying home. Instead of a shopping “strike,” the real focus should be on these workers getting paid and paid fairly.

Kmart offends me. Kmart will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day (if local blue laws don’t prevent it) and remain open for 42 hours, meaning that many employees will have to come to work. The company says it tries to fill shifts with volunteers or seasonal hires, but workers report that the reality is very different. Kmart has said that any employee who doesn’t come to work will be fired. If you were struggling to support a family or a student with a $100,000 loan to pay off, what would you do? You would work, and after Thanksgiving, deal with all the seasonal mayhem (or should I say turkey and ham?) that continues for employees on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and throughout the holidays that pad the pockets of the CEOs.

As for the protesters, I wonder how many of these non-shoppers will go to restaurants, buy gas, go to a movie, or pick up something at a convenience store on Thanksgiving? If they’re going to avoid shopping, they should also refuse to patronize other establishments with, perhaps, the exception of mom and pop stores, each of which can choose to be open if these owners wish to work.

I don’t know how to fix this situation, but while the protestor’s heart is in the right place, I do know Joe and Mary Worker will have to work on Thanksgiving. Somehow companies like Kmart need to be brought down and retail workers need to be treated fairly, but I’m afraid this “Don’t Shop on Thanksgiving” knee-jerk initiative won’t do it. Like the elections, which attracted only 40% of voters, nothing will change with this effort and some, like a mom working to feed her children, might actually be hurt if they can’t work.

There are more thoughts on this and other things on the shores of Rambling Harbor.  Join me there and give the podcast a listen.

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16Nov

Kim Kardashian’s Ass and Internet Neutrality

Let’s start with the “butt” of many jokes. There is a magazine called Paper whose recent goal was to break the Internet, the one assignment they had for the Winter issue.  How do they hope to achieve that goal?  Here’s what they said: “There is no other person that we can think of who is up to the task than one Kim Kardashian West. A pop culture fascination able to generate headlines just by leaving her house, Kim is what makes the Web tick.”

I can only “ass”-sume that Kimmie is trying to keep up with Kanye, who is so good at making an ass of himself. So what’s the fuss all about? Mrs. West has bared her bottom for Paper, and the magazine’s intent is to try and overload the Internet with hits. I might suggest a good spanking, instead.

There is, however, a much more sinister plot to break the Internet than any involving the ass Kanye or his wife’s ass, and I first blogged about this on May 11. The issue is Net Neutrality, and push is now coming to shove. 

At stake, potentially, is the freedom of podcasting to exist as a category of personal publishing unburdened by a licensing cost for the basic platform of downloadable audio.  An organization called Personal Audio,  which apparently operates out of an empty office somewhere in Texas that no one ever goes to, has already sued Apple and others claiming it held patents on the concept of playlists, and it has actually scored some victories. Personal Audio, whose process is to get in, cause confusion and chaos, and grab all the money it can, is at it again, suing podcasters, including giant Adam Carolla's ACE Broadcasting, HowStuffWorks, and Togi Entertainment. Personal Audio claims it created a system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence, which later became the industry standard for podcasting, and it has the patent to prove it. In terms of the field of communications, it means broadcasting a message to the public without direct feedback from the audience.

All podcasters depend on the number of hits they get to generate revenue. Even a radio station website generates revenue from the number of hits coming in from readers and listeners. A podcaster can also create a network of suppliers, so to speak:  Dan Sanders talks about everything under the sun, but on that same website, Gordon Geek has a blog about the latest video games. Gordon may get 500 hits, and Dan may get 500 hits, but together they and the website have a thousand hits, which advertisers pay more for because of the exposure. This is how you build a podcasting network.

Now enter the leeches claiming to hold the patent, Patent  8,112,504 (check it out), which Personal Audio LLC itself refers to as the podcast patent.

If you’re a podcaster who has been hit with a letter from Personal Audio, contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, a non-profit digital rights advocacy group.  EFF is offering legal and support services to podcasters.

There are more thoughts on this and other topics on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Give a listen.

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9Nov

Rock the Stockings…

…the Christmas stockings, that is (although I can think of much prettier stockings to rock).

I spent some years of my life working in the wildly unexciting, leg killing, brain numbing world of R...retail. I bet you thought I was going to say radio, but radio is not as bad on your legs, and unless you worked for the now long-gone WODS radio station in Boston, which seemed to start playing nothing but Christmas music beginning in June, the worst hazard was those call letters, which were very hard on the tongue and might sound like W-odious, if you weren’t careful. (Say it loud and proud and quickly, and you’ll hear it.)   Anyway, with the demise of WODS, retail has the market on Christmas music. I have a friend who loves Christmas and works in retail, and she has already told me she will go nuts if she hears “Blue Christmas” one more time.

Now, about Christmas, don’t get me wrong (which I have learned is easy to do—sometimes I even do it). I like a few Christmas lights, a nice artificial tree, and a few bobbles, but I have seen houses so lit up that Rockefeller Center pales by comparison, and all I can think of is their electric bill, which alone would buy some nice gifts for a poor child.

I’m sure almost everyone has a favorite Christmas song, as well as one they hope to never hear again.  If forced to choose I would pick “The Little Drummer Boy” as my favorite, and if I never hear “Oh Tannenbaum" again that would be just fine with me.

I was driving a friend to work the other day, and I saw a young man maybe 18 or 19 sitting by a deserted building.  He was dirty, wearing a hoodie and backpack, and was playing with his phone. I had to wonder what his Christmas past, present, and future were.

‘Tis the season to spend wildly, and retail wants you to so badly. I know it’s a time of stress, but be kind to your retail workers, and try to give a little less to yourself and more to the kid on the block with the dirty hoodie and backpack and an uncertain future.

More thoughts about—well, who knows?—on the shores of Rambling Harbor.  Give a listen.

 



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2Nov

My Blogs and Podcasts Are What?

In last week’s podcast I promised to try and explain what my blogs and podcasts are about. Now sitting in the dark for hours, my monitor the only light, I hear a familiar voice whispering the word free.  Free. There was another word after that, and it took a while to understand it.

I remember sitting in my dad’s car at night, with the soft glow of the car radio. The car was some type of big Buick, big as all cars were in 1961. The car was parked by the side of our house, and a group of friends and I would gather there. We were all too young to drive so the car never moved, but we traveled for miles by listening to the radio. My dad’s car, the radio on, was our hangout and all we needed.

On Staten Island where I came of age, Cousin Brucie, Bruce Morrow, on WABC and Murray the K, Murray Kaufman, on WINS, pretty much owned the air waves. Less known was Douglas "Jocko" Henderson, a guy I liked, and his show was called Jocko’s Rocket Ship on WADO and WOV. All of these guys were mixing the many musical genres of the time, including Motown, pop, hard rock, surf music, and novelty tunes, which gave birth to something else, just under the surface, taking hold in college radio stations and picked up in some places like KMPX in San Francisco.  And again I heard the word free.

Now I knew the other word was form, so freeform, and the voice was that of my longtime friend Larry Miller.  Then I knew the answer. I earned my chops listening to Cousin Brucie and Murray the K, and I found a way to play freeform music even when I had a playlist (more on that in the podcast). (If you want an explanation of freeform radio, there’s a 3-minute video at http://youtu.be/oY-OxKagM-w, and my friend Larry Miller is a part of it about 2 minutes in.) So there it was, what I was I doing without thinking about it, and what I’m doing now with blogging and podcasting.

What form do my blogs and podcasts take? The answer is none at all.  In some way they are shapeshifters. I approach each podcast as if it were live. Sure, I could go back and edit, slice and dice and cook it, but I don’t. Frequently, I have an idea in my head for one thing, and just as I open the mic, I think of something totally different. That becomes the podcast, and it’s often unrelated to the blog.

So now you know, and I hope you’ll join me for freeform podcasting on the shores of Rambling Harbor.


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26Oct

The Lunatic Asylum

For the last episode of a scary Rambling Harbor this Halloween, I want to tell you a true story that happened to me.

Sometime around 1974 in the spooky month of October, on a clear cold night around 1 a.m., I was driven up a narrow winding road in a rural, out-of-the-way location. The road led up to what I later learned was called Hawthorne Hill. I wasn’t sure why I was being taken up this hill, and I have to say I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. The driver remained completely silent, a small smile escaping from the corner of her mouth. Had she been sealed in secrecy by some demon? Oh, the power of one’s imagination on a haunting New England night!

Nearing the top of the hill, I could see the twisted figures of leafless trees dancing against the sky, old abandoned buildings hiding not just their past but their present, a dim light coming from a smaller building still in use—but for what demonic purpose?  With that thought, as suddenly as cold wind chills the body, a feeling of death covered me. I knew people had been brought here and died horrible deaths, buried in the woods with nameless markers. Still I had no idea why I had been taken here.

My driver was a woman I had known for only a few weeks who had come to America from Sweden as a stowaway on a tramp steamer, and what did I really know about her? Did some horrible death await me as it had others she may have brought here?  Again, the power of imagination on a cold clear haunting New England night!

My friend, knowing my part-time fascination with the supernatural and macabre, had driven me to see “The Lunatic Asylum.”

Danvers State Hospital was a place so scary that the 2001 movie Session 9 was filmed there.  (If you want to see a good scary move for Halloween, Session 9 is it!) Danvers State Hospital has gone by many names over the years—the State Lunatic Hospital, Danvers State Insane Asylum, and even Hell House on the Hill. There were reports that inhumane shock therapies and lobotomies were used on humans—Danvers Lunatic Asylum is known as the birthplace of the lobotomy—and experimental drugs and straitjackets were used to keep the crowded hospital under control.  How many people are buried on the grounds and what horrible deaths brought their lives to an end will never be told but are perhaps reflected by the dancing trees and the walls of the old buildings. I can tell you that the feeling I had about the place that night had nothing to do with my imagination.

 After being closed for many years, the Danvers State Hospital site has been redeveloped as luxury apartments, but stories are still told about unexplained voices and images, and the only thing left of the asylum is the cemetery and the nameless markers.

Join me on the shores of Rambling Harbor as we wrap up our tribute to Halloween.

 

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