Thursday, September 22, 2005

Back to the Rink

It was strange and surreal.
It was uncomfortable, but fun.
It was the return of hockey last night at Savvis Center.

I've been doing the Blues public address announcing since 1987. And last night's first pre-season game against Nashville was one of the more unusual nights of all of the 900 or so games that I've been around.

It was the new game, and the old game.
It was new people, and it was the usual people.

I had to work hard at remembering the policies and procedures that govern my job and the presentation at Savvis. Nothing was fresh in my mind, and nothing was easy. In a lot of ways it seemed like my first night on the job back in '87 except I was re-learning most things while learning some new things. After all, it's been a year-and-a-half since anyone was involved with an NHL game at Savvis. Many of the same people were around to run the show...but at the same time there were enough new and different people involved...and a few of the old guard make for a "first day of school" type feeling.

The hockey itself? I think it will take some getting used to. When all is said and done, I think most people will enjoy the changes made to the game. Especially the shootout that ensures that no game will end in a tie. A lot of the hockey purists are dead-set against this addition to the game. And, I understand why. It's like the soccer shootout. You play a team game for a couple of hours...then the outcome is decided by a series of man-to-man challenges. Not perfect by any means. But, professional sports is a form of entertainment. And there's certainly not been enough entertainment value in hockey over the past several seasons.

When I announced, after the regulation game was over, that there would be a shootout to demonstrate to the fans how it would work during the regular season, many of the fans who were headed for the exits returned to their seats. As a demo, last night's shootout was perfect. The score of the shootout was tied after the first three shooters from each team took their shots. Then it goes to a "sudden death" shootout. Each team sends out another shooter. The first time one team scores, and the other doesn't, the game is over. Nashville missed their first shot, the Blues didn't. So, it was a great practice run.

The Blues have sold just over 10-thousand season tickets. That's down from around 14-thousand. I'm thinking, before next season rolls around, that the new rules, and the excitement that they bring to the game, will bring enough fans back to hockey to replace the missing season ticket holders, and then some.

It was weird.
But it was wonderful to be back at the rink.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Slaten The PR Machine

By now, you've probably heard about yesterday's "dust up" between Kevin Slaten and Steve Savard at the Martz press conference at Ram's Park. I have to laugh. Before Monday was over, Slaten was calling for the Rams, and Channel 4, to fire Savard, and Savard was calling for a boxing match at Guns 'n Hoses.

As I said yesterday, I don't really know Steve Savard. But I do know, and despite his checkered past, like Kevin Slaten. I've worked with him at KTRS and found him to be a fun person to be around. Oh, Kevin likes for people to agree with him, but generally I had no problem with Kevin as a co-worker.

My slant on yesterday's fracas? Kevin is being Kevin. But he is also no dummy. He, I believe, is doing his job by generating publicity for himself as he has done many times in the past. To be sure, some of his past exposure has been negative. We all know about his Steamers p.a. debacle and some of his public, domestic problems. But, I think Kevin realizes that to command the big bucks in any market, you have to be in the spotlight. And he goes to unusual lengths to be noticed, and get his name in the paper. Dan Caesar cooperated nicely in this morning's Post-Dispatch.

Yesterday's tensions started out with Kevin, unusually, showing up at the Martz press conference to ask "tough questions" which, he claims isn't done often enough by other members of the St. Louis media. Apparently it escalated when Savard sniped at Slaten about never showing up at these events before. Savard, used to being the top rooster around Rams park, apparently couldn't stand another rooster being in the coop.

Not many of us would find a way to get into an "almost fight" with a guy who is obviously as big and in shape as Savard. But, I believe Kevin's mindset at this thing was to get himself some attention. And, if it means having to sling insults back and forth with Savard, so be it.

What's interesting to me is that Kevin Slaten is not really a candidate for a boxing match...or, for that matter, any other type of physical contest. Besides recently having shoulder surgery, Kevin is not as young a man as he would have you believe. Notice, when he's on the air, that Kevin always deflects or dodges questions that come up about his age...or anything that might indicate how long he's been in broadcasting. Many will remember, like me, that Kevin was doing TV sports at Channel 4 back in the mid-70's. You do the math, Kevin Slaten is at least as old as me...and I'll be 55 in December.

I wonder if Steve Savard knows that he's challenging a man to a boxing match that's been eligible for his AARP card for several years. Would it solve anything if the ex-NFL player who is maybe 42?, beat up on a guy who might be pushing 60?...even if it were for the benefit of Backstoppers. I don't think so.

Savard said last night on KTRS that he would continue to conduct himself with class. Well that's admirable. But I've always been of the opinion that if you have to say you're conducting yourself with class, you don't really have the right idea of how it's done. That's for someone else to say, not you. He would have been better off, in my opinion, to tell Randy Karraker, Jack Snow and John Hadley...who were doing the show on let it go, and not comment at all on the Slaten deal.

Anyway, both guys should take a deep breath. But my belief is that Kevin is getting what he set out for, more attention for himself and his radio show.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Radio Sports Announcing 101

As a young radio broadcaster, aspiring to do sports play-by-play for a living, I was taught a valuable lesson once that I would like to share with anyone who is of a mind to listen. The actual instruction will come at the bottom of this post. In the meantime let me explain what got me thinking.

My wife and I, and our oldest son, spent the weekend in Chicago visiting my youngest son who attends DePaul University. While there, we did a lot of shopping, eating at restaurants, and looking around. We even spent some time in the Wrigley Field area at the conclusion of Saturday's Cardinals-Cubs game. What an interesting synergy when St. Louis and Chicago fans stuff themselves into a small area. We spent about a half-hour at the Cubby Bear to "drink in" the post-game hijinks of the Cards/Cubs rivarly on the day the Redbirds clinched the division. Lots of fun.

But I digress. We headed back for St. Louis mid-afternoon Sunday. After clearing the Windy City suburbs and post-Bears/Lions traffic, I decided to try to pick up the Rams/Cardinals game on KTRS. Just south of Joliet, we were a good 260 miles from St. Louis, and the 550am signal came booming in. So, I was able to listen to almost the entire broadcast by Steve Savard and Jack Snow as we headed south on I-55. For the most part, a decent call of the game. But I was frustrated at times by the effort that I had to put into it.

What do I mean by that? Steve Savard seems like a nice man. But he exhibits a play-by-play style that many younger broadcasters, especially those who are also TV sports anchors, have. They do radio play-by-play as if it were a television broadcast. I mean, they describe the action as though the listener can also SEE the game. This is an understandable habit as we all are video animals these days. When you see highlights, or play-by-play on television, there is no need for the announcer to do a good radio play-by-play description. Such as:

-The weather.
-The color of the uniforms.
-The direction the team with the ball is going.
-To what side of the playing field the ball is thrown.
-The type of formation the offense displays.
-The size of the crowd.
You get the idea... All of the things the listener CAN NOT SEE FOR HIMSELF!

Often, this manifests itself with the announcer saying things like:

In baseball-- "That one's hit deep to left field" That what? Was it a pitch down the middle? Was it a curve ball? Is it a line drive? Is it a high fly or a beach ball?

In football: Out of nowhere--"There's a pass to the sideline" Where were they on the field? What down is it? How many yards for a first down? What formation were they in? What's the defense doing? Who are the wide receivers? How many are there? Which sideline? etc. etc.

I could go on and on. But the announcer operates under the assumption that his audience sees what he is seeing.

This is the area where Mr. Savard's technique...and that of many of his current colleagues... falls short in my book. It's a common problem among the current generation of broadcasters who have grown up with video. Back when some of us "old dudes" were learning the business, very few games were actually on television. The occasional baseball "Game of the Week" was televised. NFL games were not nearly as plentiful. ESPN, and the constant stream of video highlights, was way off in the future. So, the radio broadcast was our primary exposure to sports. The current crop of guys has grown up with the mindset that every piece of audio is an accompaniment to some video. But, as with the Rams-Cardinals game that I was tuned to yesterday, that's certainly not true. I was begging for someone to "put me at the scene".

The end of the game was a perfect example. Kurt Warner marched the Cardinals down the field on a drive for the potential winning touchdown. But I couldn't visualize whether the sun was at his back, or in his eyes, or for that matter if the sun was even a factor (many times it is at Sun Devil Stadium). He threw several passes where receivers were tackled inbounds, which kept the clock running. But I didn't know if the passes were inentionally thrown over the middle, or if they were thrown to the sideline and the receiver couldn't get out of bounds. There were times when the ball was thrown to the sideline..but I didn't know who the intended receiver was...or which sideline it was. Long pass? Short pass? Swing pass? Didn't know. On the play where Adam Archuleta of the Rams sacked Warner to essentially end the game, unless I missed it, there was no mention of whether Archie (I'm not much on nicknames either)came through the line to make the play...or from one of the sides. I'm talking about basic description of the action.

The lesson I learned about this early in my career was simply this--On radio, you describe the action as if everyone in your audience is blind, and has never seen anything, let alone a sports event.

To be an effective radio play-by-play person, describe everything you see in detail because the audience members, sightless or not, don't see what you're seeing. This lesson came to me not from Jack Buck, or Dan Kelly, or any of the broadcasters that I've been fortunate to be around. It came from a listener in O'Fallon, Illinois who used to catch my descriptions of high school and college games on the old WIBV. He had heard some of my poorly-worded efforts and decided to call me with some advice. He was blind.

His critiques made me realize that in order to be effective for everyone, a play-by-play radio broadcast must be geared to basic description for the benefit of every potential listener. Less analysis...more descriptive phrases...more atmosphere...more scores...more setting up the play...more situational description.. and attempts to involve the listener in the actual experience. It may seem elementary at times, but it's not about you being's about the listener being there.

It was a powerful lesson from a man who had no broadcast training...but was the perfect professor. Since then I always tried to become "the eyes" of my listener. Many of today's broadcasters could benefit from my sightless friend's advice. Paint a vivid picture. Radio is a medium for great storytellers.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Opportunity vs. Entitlement

The Hurricane Katrina situation has forced many of us to come to grips with the daily disaster of the poor, and their plight in this country. I include myself as someone who hasn't fully understood the scope of the problem. What's ordinarily out of out of the old saying goes. We generally aren't concerned with how the extremely poor in this country live from one day to the next. So, we don't have to be terribly concerned.

Being a part of the cycle of futility that exists below the poverty line is not a happy place to be. But, try as we might to help, some of the poor seem hell-bent on a pathetic existence. As Dickens so skillfully demonstrated in "A Christmas Carol", the poor will always be among us, and leaving their fate in their own hands, which was Scrooge's answer, is also not a solution. At the same time, their own spirit and self-determination must be at the source of anything that approaches a solution. The welfare system, which is a comfortable and compassionate approach to some in government, also robs our poor of the self-esteem needed to achieve and strive for a better life.

That brings me back to the hurricane. What is really disheartening, is the mindset that many of the affected people of New Orleans have displayed. We have seen, through their lack of action and comments to news cameras, individuals and families who have the expectation that someone else is in charge of their lives. They have submitted to futility. They assume no obligation to care for themselves, their families, or the places they live. They wait for someone to tell them where to go, what to do, and where their next meal is coming from. There can be no question that this attitude is a result of the welfare state, the way of life of the poor in this country for many years. The futility that is borne of being on the public dole has been exposed as the real human tragedy of this incredible natural disaster.

So how do our poor go from being those who simply exist on the leftovers of society to self-sufficient, self-sustaining and confident contributors to a better life for themselves and those around them? When and how do they discontinue the expectation of a better life based on what someone else allows them, to assuming the responsibility for their own future? I don't have the answers. But, it is obvious that these are questions that will need to be addressed in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. The welfare system, as we know it, doesn't appear to cut the mustard.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Rams Observations

--Haven't we seen way too many games that had the same script as the Rams' loss to the 49ers today? The whole game had the feeling of an I Love Lucy re-run. The only thing missing was "Meata-Vita-Vegamin". The players change...somewhat...but the producer and script remains the same. It was all so damn predictable.

--Rams player makes stupid play on opening kick-off putting team deep in the hole.
--Rams seem to have too much offensive fire-power for the other team..they march the ball down the field giving us the feeling that they will destroy the opposition. But wait, they can't seem to get the ball into the end zone. Wilkins kicks a field goal.
--Rams seem to...(uh, just re-read the previous paragraph)
--Rams march ball down field...except for a couple of minutes of commercials when they have had to call a time out for some inexplicable reason.
--Rams defense looks all right're kidding me...the other team throws a long bomb and connects. Oh well...we're behind but we're still a better team.
--Rams play on even terms for a while with the opposition...(which seems to be vulnerable). Then, uh oh, the other team runs back a punt for a long touchdown. Oh well, we'll still be OK it's not out of reach yet.
--Rams struggle running the ball back after the touchdown again. Now I'm getting frustrated.
--Rams fall behind by a couple of touchdowns by halftime.
--After the bathroom and refreshment break...
--The re-freshed opposition takes the opening kick-off and runs it down the Rams throats for another score. Now we have to go into panic mode...shoot!
--Rams seem to have re-grouped a bit...They're moving the ball better now...but we need to score at least three times.
--Rams score a touchdown...Let's see we're going to need a two-point conversion...OK...let's surprize them even though we have three wide-receivers that nobody can cover...we'll try to run the ball up the middle behind our offensive line that hasn't been able to block anybody all day...yeah, that'll surprize 'em. Nope. good. Now we're going to have to score at least a couple more times.
--Rams manage to get the ball back late...still needing a touchdown and a field goal. Coach pulls a neat play out of the hat to baffle the opposition and score a touchdown. Where's that play been all day? Now we need to stop the opposition to get the ball back and drive for the tying field goal or winning touchdown.
--Hey..Rams stop the opposition on three downs. They punt and we get the ball back. OK we're in business now. Remember, we're playing a much inferior team.
--Rams begin last-minute, desperation drive. We are in field goal range. Jeff Wilkins hasn't missed all day.
--DOH!!! We throw and interception trying to move in closer...DOH..S%##! F#@#!..Son of a $%&*!!.

If you're a Rams could have written this whole thing for me.

For the most part, Rams football under Mike Martz has been winning football. But, for me, it's also been totally frustrating football. It more often than not seems the Rams have the better talent on the field but manage, in numerous ways, to shoot themselves in the collective foot. Some games they are able to overcome their self-inflicted wounds, others not. If the fault of that isn't poor coaching, what is it? Martz seems to always have a reasonable, if not very good, offensive team. But, rarely do we see anything to get excited about in any other phase of the game. I hate to say it, but you have to go back to the pre-Martz days and the Super Bowl team of '99 to find a team that was good in more than just offense.

Someone in the ownership/management structure of the Rams surely knows this...don't they?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Katrina Thoughts--10 Days Later

Well, it's been over a week since I posted. I've taken a little vacation time...and been very busy...but it's time to get back to it.

A week ago I paid $3.19 a gallon. Most places are at just under $3 right now. I guess not filling up last week turned out to be a good idea. Even though I had to fill up a couple of times since. I'm guessing the gas will come down another quarter or so as the summer travel season is over. But, we won't be seeing anything under $2.50 any more...just my prediction. Once they break a certain "psychological barrier" with the consumer, you rarely see them retreat very far. Competition doesn't seem to be much of a factor at this point.

Here I go again being unsympathetic. My wife asked me some good questions yesterday..."If our house were flooded out, or burned up, or blown away by a tornado, would the government feed us, clothe us, and give us a place to live until we were able to make it on our own again? Is the government responsible for everyone affected by some kind of natural disaster?" Interesting queries aren't they?

Got me to thinking...What is the difference between me and a tornado...and the Gulf Coast people and their hurricane? Where do you draw the line? Do we, as taxpayers, take responsibility for them and not for someone else equally devastated? Is the government acting as a big insurance company in this case? Is it just the amount of devastation that separates this natural disaster from others? This storm is costing taxpayers many billions of dollars...and it doesn't matter where the taxpayer lives. A smaller storm here in the midwest could devastate a smaller area...but not receive anywhere near the attention or response from any level of government. Maybe someone can explain to me how this works?

Other questions...If some of the Katrina survivors had their homes blown away and then they go back and rebuild on the same spot, should they feel bad about being turned down for insurance in the future? Will they have to sign something that says the government is not responsible for what happens to them financially if they do rebuild? Looks like they will have some serious economic issues to ponder before they can reclaim anything that resembles their old life.

Regarding New Orleans...My suggestion would be to salvage the French Quarter as an entertainment district...and try to rebuild and reopen whatever historic and cultural aspects of New Orleans you reasonably can. For instance, you could reasonably open a college campus like Tulane...most of the kids aren't permanent residents anyway. But, I would not rebuild most of the business and residential areas in the low-lying areas destined to have the same thing happen all over again. It might be 10 years, it might be 100 years, it might be 500 years before another storm like Katrina comes along. But, I believe it's irresponsible to put that many people and buildings right back in harm's way, unless your damn sure the area is safe from a repeat performance. Make a giant park or wildlife area out of it...someplace where thousands of humans won't have to, or be able to hide from another giant hurricane.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

More Katrina

Everybody's talking about I thought I would too.

--I just paid $3.19 a gallon to fill up at the local quick stop. Actually I didn't fill up, I just stopped at $30 worth. I guess I'm hoping that in a week it might go back down to under $3. Probably not..but I thought it was worth the gamble. If all of this causes us to think more about how much gas we're burning, and how we're burning it, maybe there will be a silver lining to the high gas prices.

--I saw President Bush--along with George H.W.(#41) and Bill(#42)--on TV this afternoon explaining all of the steps that are being taken to ease the restrictions on the movement of gasoline. I hope it helps. I would think the environment can stand a few months of extra pollutants until we get back to something like normal. And, I don't mind that we use a Canadian, Brazilian, or Japanese ship to move some gasoline from one American port to another. Normally, only US owned ships are allowed to do that. I don't know how that got started, but I'm guessing it was something that a union (Longshoremen?), and shipping industry moguls lobbied through Congress.

--I understand that when you're hungry, and maybe thirsty, and have not had a decent place to sleep, or go to the bathroom, for a few days that you start to get more than a little testy. But, I have to go back to what I said a few days ago. All of the people in New Orleans were ORDERED to leave. Not asked. Not expected. ORDERED! Some of the people who stayed despite the order (elderly, sick, without transport) I can sympathize with. But, most of them have no right to be all ticked off or violent because someone isn't coming to their rescue in a timely fashion. I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, but they broke the law by staying behind. And, how could you not be scared out of there by the prospect of a category 5 hurricane? I would have been halfway to Canada by the time the thing got there.

The National Guard, and anyone else who will be coming in there to help, needs to have a clearly defined strategy and approach. They don't need to be rushing in there one vehicle at a time and be taken over by a mob of people who want to be the first ones out. And clearly, the people who are still in there have a mob mentality. When there is no sense of order, mob rules apply. So, the rescuers have to think about their own safety first, then go in, en masse, to provide the help that's needed. In this case, faster is not necessarily better.

--Make no mistake...we all will be paying for Katrina, in one form or another, for a long time.