Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ho, Ho, and more Ho!

I'll be taking a few days off from blogging as I wrap up the year and enjoy a little down time with my family. I hope you'll remember the reason for the season, as I will try to do, and will be blessed with a special moment or two in the next ten days.

If you have enjoyed any of my ramblings during the year, I'd appreciate you spreading the word about my efforts here. Just tell your friends to visit:

Happy Holidays my friend!


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Better, Worse, or Just Different?

During the holidays I often have moments of melancholy when I wish today's young people could enjoy the type of life I had as a young boy. And yet, I wonder if they would. I savor memories of my "good ol' days", but I tend to wonder if they really were any better than any other era. Let me explain.

When I was a tike:
-We had black and white TV that usually only got three channels. No TiVo. No satellite dishes. No DVDs. No video games. We listened to a lot of radio and found other things to do with our time. Lives weren't centered around TV nearly as much as now.
-We could leave the doors to our house (and just about anything else)unlocked. People respected one another's property. There was little crime, or fear of it, at least where I lived.
-People were not all in a hurry. They couldn't be. Transportation was not nearly as efficient. You walked a lot. You rode bikes. The bus. You had one car, if that.
-The only mobile phones were in cartoons and movies. Telephonic communication was more a matter of necessity than convenience.
-Most, not all, but most families had stay-at-home moms. Usually, the mother's job was to raise the kids, teach them right from wrong, feed them, and keep them out of trouble. Most people lived a life not too far off from the old "Leave it to Beaver" or "Ozzie and Harriet" shows. (I realize young people reading this might not know what those shows were like either)
-People were more into the lives of other people. You knew about the neighbor's sick aunt. You were sorry when your cousin's, friend's dog died. You were excited to see an old friend in church. Parents seemed to be more like leaders and teachers than friends and admirers. Grandparents were more a part of the family. Family members usually all had the same last name.
-Being a sports fan was simpler. By that I mean the basketball hero in your life was more likely to be the kid down the street who starred on the high school team than Shaquille O'Neal. Your baseball hero was "Stan the Man" or Mickey Mantle, and you could expect them to play their whole career on the same team. You wouldn't miss the "big game" between the high-school football rivals. You showed up at a playground basketball game because it featured two guys who could "really play".
-There was a lot less gray area between right and wrong. And if you weren't sure about it, any convenient adult was more than willing to straighten you out.
-A best friend was a constant companion and you didn't do anything without each other knowing about it.
-Life was simpler, safer, slower, warmer, fuzzier, centered around family, friends, school, church and love.
-Special moments seemed to be fewer and farther between. But they were really special.

By now, you're probably thinking this sounds a lot like an Andy Rooney piece on "60 Minutes".

I tend to think this would be a life and time that everyone would want. But then, the more I think about it, I really don't know. Maybe I'm just thinking that way because it's part of my history, and so many fond memories of people and places that I have enjoyed are found there. So, I tend to think of it as idyllic.

Would someone born in the last twenty years really want to go back to that time? If they could, would they want to stay? A better question is, would I be willing to give up the many conveniences and interesting technological aspects of living today? Cell phones? Cars that rarely break down? Computers and the internet? Interstate highways? Air travel? High definition TV? Surround sound? Drive-up windows? Automatic dishwashers, clotheswashers and dryers? ATMs? Pay-at-the-pump? Cordless drills? Should I keep going? Of course, noone would want to give all these things up. But, I didn't miss them as a kid, because we didn't know any better. They didn't exist. We did just fine without them. Different, but fine.

One thing is for sure, there's no going back. I tend to think that today will be the "good ol' days" to my sons; which is kind of a scary thought. I don't know how much more things can advance. Will they be thinking of the days when you actually had to pay for gas? When cars only drove on the ground? When you didn't have retinal-scan on every bank transaction? When everyone needed insurance to fix their car or their broken leg? When you had less than a thousand channels on your TV? When you couldn't transport yourself to another place in less than 5 seconds?

Who knows what living 50 years from now will bring? But could today (with all it's crime, hustle and bustle, people seemingly not caring about each other, "instant gratification is everything"-mentality and political correctness) possibly be thought of as "the good ol' days"? I think not. But then, I wouldn't think of my dad's, or grandpa's, time as the "good ol' days" either.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Pre-Holiday Notebook

Time for a bunch of random thoughts on the Monday preceding Christmas.

-How eerie is it to drive past the new stadium and see that big, rubble-filled hole in the ground that used to be Busch Stadium? As I was driving home from the hockey game Saturday night, I drove by on the south side of the Pavillion hotel and looked south into the construction dust that was illuminated by the lights on the new stadium. I got goose bumps. Very strange, and very cool at the same time.

-I've always thought one of the weaknesses in the whole scheme of things at KTRS radio is the lack of a clearly defined marketing plan. Many combinations of peronnel that have been on the air there since 1996 have been capable of taking the station to a dominant position in the market if only there were a professional effort put into advertising what the station offered. It's always amazed this little punkin' head how people in the advertising and communications business expect people to spend their ad budgets with their station, but have no clue about budgeting for, and creating, strong ad campaigns of their own. Duh?

-It seemed to me that the President made a rather strong attempt to connect with those who question the Iraq war policies of the administration in last night's address. His usual mechanical and distant delivery was replaced with a more personable and caring approach that should help him. He obviously has received some different coaching since his approval numbers dipped. I also think he's right when he says he can't say when we're going to pull out until the time is right. A pitcher doesn't tell the batter what pitch is coming.

-This will be the first Christmas that my oldest son spends away from our home. He has accepted a full-time position in Colorado ski country that will require him to work through the holiday season. It will be strange. And it makes me feel old.

-I will miss John Spencer. I've always thought he was a teriffic actor. His portayal of Leo McGarry on "West Wing" was, in my humble opinion, brilliant. It will be very interesting to see how the producers of that show deal with his loss. It looked as though he was destined for several more years as the Vice President to Jimmy Smits' character Matthew Santos, who observers expect to win the presidency in the current story line.

-The current battle over whether to say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" is very amusing. I think most intelligent folks understand when each is appropriate. Christians shouldn't force Christmas down anyone's throat. But, at the same time, shouldn't be castigated for wishing someone a Merry Christmas at the wrong moment. Just because you're thoughtful enough to say "Happy Holidays" doesn't mean you're dissing Christianity, does it?

-I'm a little less than "jumping-up-and-down-excited" about the latest group rumored to be trying to buy the Blues. MattlinPatterson Global Advisors, from what I've been able to find out on the internet, is a group of people that specializes in taking over a company, infusing cash and different strategies, and then when the company is profitable again, selling their shares at an enormous profit. More than once I've seen the company referred to as "vulture investors". Interesting term. Kind of makes me wonder if they'd be in it for the love of hockey and/or St. Louis. They may be just what the doctor ordered, but I need to know more about the actual people who might run things.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Black Friday Afterthoughts

I'm surprised by...
-the thouroughness of the house-cleaning
-Randy and Jim being included, and Hadley not
-the way FOP came off on TV
-"Farmer Dave" not knowing until late Friday afternoon
-the fired people being allowed to continue through January 6th
-all of the new people being unknowns in this market
-"the Redbirds station" wanting to take on this new,"shock and awe" tone
-Tim Dorsey having to "lower the boom" when it wasn't really his call
-how radio execs always fall for the "out-of-town-host will work here" mindset

If it were my station to run...and I was going to clean house...I would have considered bringing in some people to replace them who have some cred in St. Louis. Maybe Guy Phillips, J.C. Corcoran and John Ulett, Dave Glover, anybody that St. Louis people could have some connection to, and might know something about sports. Corcoran does the baseball shows in Chicago during the summer already. He's been a proven ratings getter and seems to be able to "get along" at this stage of life. Phillips is a sports-oriented guy too. These people do mostly talk shows on music stations anyway and would bring with them something that none of the people coming in will have..."a built-in following".

Its like KTRS hiring all of KMOX's Cardinals salespeople. They have an existing relationship with their clients and could expect the money to follow them. I suppose they (Corcoran, Phillips etc.) wouldn't bring the "Holy Grail" of being strong enough in the 25-54 demo. These new people had better be REALLY good to get the under-35 crowd to actually listen to AM radio.

All of these out-of-towners have no existing audience and credibility and will be starting from scratch. As I stated before execution day, St. Louis listeners will be very slow to warm up to "outsiders". They could ask McGraw how long it took him to become "a St. Louis guy" over at KMOX.

I'm thinking about the future of all of the ex-KTRSers, but the guy I worry about the most is my good friend Jim Holder. As most everyone knows, he is one of the nicest people you will ever have the pleasure of knowing. And, like me, he's not a young gun anymore. I'm concerned about where, in this market, he will find work. Good luck "Holder-Man".

Friday, December 16, 2005


Many times over the years I've been asked to give advice to young people eager to enter the field of broadcasting. Where should I go to school? Should I go into radio or TV? How much money do you make? Isn't it cool to be on the radio and play your favorite music? Isn't it fun being around sports all the time? ...they ask.

All of the answers to all of these questions make no difference unless you're willing to live through a day like a group of talented people did today at KTRS. Because one of those days will undoubtedly come. Not once, but likely several times during a career in radio or TV. The person who gets to the top quickly and stays there is a rarity. It's very likely you'll get caught up in sweeping format or personnel changes like today's "Black Friday" at the Big 550. Or you might just happen to have a boss that doesn't like the way you pronounce "Wednesday". Or you might make too much money for the big boss in Dallas. Or your ratings (which many times are bogus numbers) are down. Or you might just be the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong place.

I'm not saying that these kinds of things don't happen in other professions. It's just that in broadcasting it's such a public "execution". And in broadcasting, many times, it seems so personal. You're work is out there for thousands of people every day, and when somebody passes negative judgment on it, it's a hard thing to live down within the business. Many times you must re-locate to an entirely different market and start over to keep working. Especially if you specialize in a certain format. How many talk stations can there be in a given market. St. Louis is actually quite different than most markets. Here there are two major talk stations where you can actually make a decent...if not

I knew it was coming today at Westport. But I feel very badly for each of the professionals sent into broadcasting oblivion by the management people who felt the necessity to purge KTRS of it's short-lived "tradition". Oh, the philosophy behind the change is understandable. But that doesn't make it any easier for the people who were handed the pink slip and thought they had a promise of employment they could count on.

I hesitate to discourage any young person who envisions a broadcasting life for themselves. But I also urge them to understand what they might be getting into. So, I tell them... before you choose that career in the sexy, glamorous, "out there", edgy, and not-as-lucrative-as-you-might-think world of radio or TV, make very, very sure you have what it takes, and can take what it gives. Either that, or buy your own station.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Why I Got Out

From all the indications I'm getting, and the words of some people I trust to know what they are talking about, we might not recognize what station we're listening to when we turn to 550AM after December 31st.

"The Big 550-KTRS", as it has been billed for several years, may be getting ready for a pretty thorough house-cleaning. Of course, I don't work there full-time anymore. I haven't for almost two years now. But, all the signs point to a "blow-it-up-and-start-over-again" format change. Talk will stay. People will come and go.

The signs?
The ownership change when the Cardinals came over with the baseball broadcasts.
There is a new man in place calling most of the shots. Bobby Lawrence was put in place by the Cardinals people.
There is a new Program Director. Al Brady Law, who's been all over the country at other stations, was hired on. Usually that's an indication that upper management wants to do something different with programming but would rather bring in someone to "put new ideas in place". Of course, implementing change in radio programming inevitably means lost jobs for those currently on the air.
On-air auditions by people unknown in this market. Several times over the past month, Scott St. James and Meme Wolff (9am-Noon) have been inexplicably absent with individuals, and teams, heretofore unheard of taking their place. There have been other strange appearances in other dayparts, including evening sports programming. So far, there have been no unusual personnel switcheroos in morning or afternoon drive, but I wouldn't take that to mean there is no possibility of change there either.

Wendy Wiese and Bill Wilkerson (morning drive), Brian Kelly (News Director), Jim Holder (Sports Director), St. James, McGraw Millhaven (Noon-3), Randy Karraker and John Hadley (evening sports)all could have targets on their backs because of their one-time employment at KMOX. I understand that Brian Hartmann, an excellent voice and commercial production talent, has already been jetisoned. It would seem that the new regime is not necessarily interested in the best talent available, but is interested in new, different, energetic and "non-KMOX/KTRS tainted" individuals.

I would not expect the Frank O. Pinion show to be tinkered with, unless the new management is prepared to deal with an all-out revolt. Frank's show has carried the mail at the station for a long time. His show, even without the recently departed Terry Dailey, not only has huge numbers on a consistent basis, but obviously has connected with a fiercely loyal group of regulars. He could take "The Large Morning Show in the Afternoon" to about any other station in the market and blow a big hole in 550's good lead-in to Cardinals baseball in the Spring, if the management at KTRS doesn't deal with him carefully.

My opinion? The new management team had better be very thoughtful, careful and professional with how much they clean house. It's been proven time and again that St. Louis market radio is a different animal than that of the rest of the country. Listeners here have grown up on a different brand of radio because of the influence of KMOX...and the competition that has grown out of that station's one-time overwhelming dominance. People here get to know, like and trust certain personalities and don't like it when someone "messes with their people". The radio hosts here aren't "plug-in parts" like they are in other markets. People here expect someone who knows how to pronounce Gravois road and understands life in the Midwest. Hosts here, much more so than elsewhere, become members of the family. Throwing in a syndicated show because of it's success in other markets has only worked in the case of the most popular syndicated show of all time, Rush Limbaugh. And Limbaugh is from Cape Girardeau, something not lost on the local populous either.

So, Lawrence, Law, and the other "programming tinkerers" in place now at Westport Plaza had better be very sure of themselves before they eject someone in favor of a less-tested, and likely cheaper, replacement from Cincinnati, Little Rock, or Tuscaloosa. The high-energy approach to talk radio is something that might be interesting at first, but it better have some substance to it if St. Louisans are to buy it on a consistent basis. I hope they realize that different, doesn't always mean better.

I do know one thing for sure, this whole situation has many very talented hosts, and quality people, walking on egg-shells during the holidays. It's the worst part of being a radio personality. I've been there...and I'm glad I no longer am. Best wishes, and my condolences to those who unquestionably will lose a job soon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ah-nold vs. the Death Penalty

The execution of Tookie Williams in Califonria early Tuesday has, like few cases lately, stirred debate on the value and righteousness of the death penalty. Some in Arnold Schwarzenegger's native Austria, where the death penalty is not an option, have called for the revocation of his citizenship as a result of his refusal to grant Williams clemency. Others around Europe have also voiced their outrage. As happens frequently with most people in high office, "The Governator" was presented with a no-win decision. One has to wonder if he went with his heart, or went with what he thought was expected, given his political positioning.

Personally, I've gone back and forth on the death penalty through the years. As of this writing, I'm leaning toward being anti-death penalty. My current thinking is that the judicial system is never going to be proficient enough to get it right one hundred percent of the time. There are too many humans involved. And, even though some defendants may be unquestionably guilty, the sanctioning of the death penalty opens the door to the mistaken execution of others. I do not have enough faith in the system to be totally confident that death is appropriate in each potential instance where it's sought. There are too many variables between the time of the crime and the eventual punishment. And executing one innocent person, ever, is too many. Ending a life cannot be un-done. That same person could be let out of prison after it's discovered they are innocent, as long as they are still breathing.

Having said all that, I have to laugh at the "holier than thou" comments of those who find fault with Schwarzenegger on this particular case. Here are a few I've seen:

Peter Pilz, a leader of the Green Party in Austria--"Whoever, out of political calculation, allows the death of a person rehabilitated in such an exemplary manner has rejected the basic values of Austrian society."

Richard Schadauer, the chairman of the Association of Christianity and Social Democracy--"Mr. Williams had converted, and unlike Mr. Schwarzenegger, opposed every form of violence."

Julien Dray, a spokesman for the Socialist Party in France--"I am proud to be a Frenchman, I am proud to live in France, in a country where we don't execute somebody 21 years later. Schwarzenegger has a lot of muscles, but apparently not much heart."

Similar statements have come from a number of the usual particpants on this issue.

What amuses, and mystifies, me about these comments is the lack of attention to the actual crimes committed by the defendant. You would believe by their words that Williams was some sort of saint being executed despite his overwhelming contributions to peace on earth and good will toward men. This guy took the lives of four innocent people. And there is no reasonable doubt about that. We can also be pretty sure that as a founding member of Los Angeles' Crips gang, he has been involved in, if not responsible for, a number of other deadly crimes. And, as Schwarzenegger points out, Williams never apologized, or took responsiblity, for anything. He just started writing childrens books in prison that made it appear he was a "changed man". We can only wonder now if he actually was.

The anti-death penalty commentators would do well to at least acknowledge the victims and their families if anyone is to accept their ideas. Standing up for the life of the person to be executed only garners so much favor. Showing an understanding of the heinous behavior that landed that person in the death chamber, and a modicum of empathy for the victims, might actually produce headway for their cause. Accusing an elected official of being a barbarian by allowing the judicial system to run it's course is not going to sway much opinion, cetainly not among those who already believe the death penalty appropriate.

I would like to hear just one of the anti-death penalty spokespeople be thoughtful enough to say--

"Obviously, Mr. Williams was guilty. God bless the victims and their families. There can be no adequate compensation for them. But no human being, or system devised by human beings, should be allowed to take the life of another human being. The lives of those taken by Mr. Williams should not be dishonored by any potentially mistaken execution. Real justice would not be served in that way. Mr. Williams should do whatever good he can, and make whatever amends with God possible, from a prison cell. Knowing that this man will never harm another person outside prison, and that he will know the hell of a penetentiary for as long as he lives, ought to be enough satisfaction for us all."

Perhaps if the anti-death penalty people were as caring about the lives of the victims, and able to show an understanding of the total picture, some who disagree with them may see their arguments in a different light.

The Obvious Choice

Shortly after posting my thoughts yesterday on the Blues goaltending situation, the management called a press conference and did what they had to do--give up on another highly-paid goaltender who came to the team with great expectations. Patrick Lalime is another in a line of failed attempts to remedy an on-going Blues nightmare at the most important position in hockey.

Hopefully, one of the "young guns" in the organization will grow into the position and become the steady player we've been looking for. Will it be Curtis Sanford? Jason Bacashuhua? Or one of the other highly touted youngsters toiling in the minors? Apparently the organization has already given up on Reinhard Divis as an NHL-caliber player.

At this stage of the game, I'm hoping that the team is patient with the situation and allows these younger guys some time to grow into a comfort zone. Being an NHL starting goaltender is pressure enough without the added expectation of immediate success. Sanford, 26, has shown the ability to play well at this level, maybe not as consistently as we'd like. But then he doesn't have the 1960's Canadiens playing in front of him either. He seems to have good puck awareness. Something that Lalime was way short on for some odd reason.

Bacashuhua is a 23-year-old who was drafted in the first round a few years back by the Dallas Stars. He obviously has the tools that teams are looking for in a modern goalie; more so than Sanford. Sanford is a little undersized and relies on athleticism and concentration to get him by. Bacahuhua will have the size to cover more of the goal on a consistent basis and make the saves up high that Sanford will likely let in.

Who knows if either of these guys are the answer to the problem for the long term. But we need to remember that they are young, and being asked to play a position that experts say you can not master until you approach 30 years of age. I hope we as fans, and the Blues as a team, are not going to expect immediate stardom from whoever is between the pipes after this Lalime debacle. Give someone a chance to take command of the situation by showing them some confidence, and see what happens. How could things possibly get worse?

Monday, December 12, 2005


First, let me say that I would not want to be an NHL goaltender for all the gold in Snoop Dog's teeth. Having said that, Patrick Lalime has been as far from the answer in goal for the Blues as one can get without being paralyzed.

After Saturday night's pathetic performance, in which 4 of the 5 goals scored by the New York Rangers in a 5-4 overtime loss were very stoppable, I noticed something I don't think I've ever seen before. It appeared to me, from my position next to the Blues penalty box, that nobody wanted to go out on the ice to congratulate Lalime. It's traditional in hockey that all of the skaters go thank, congratulate, or apolgize to, their goalie after the game in almost all situations. It sure looked to me like noone wanted to lead the way to do that Saturday night. And with good reason. I don't remember ever having seen a team reluctant to console, congratulate, or whatever, their goaltender in my 18 years working for the Blues. Blues coach Mike Kitchen went off on Lalime too, or at least didn't hold back from making it clear who was to blame, after the loss Saturday.

Lalime was touted as one of the better goalies in the NHL when the Blues acquired him after the '03-'04 season. He had led Ottawa to several strong regular season and playoff runs in the past. The only knock on him was that he gave up a couple of soft goals in a critical Senators playoff game a while back. It was thought that Ottawa would have kept him around had they not had the chance to sign world-class netminder Dominic Hasek when he came back out of retirement.

There is a train of local thought that says Lalime doesn't like the situation in St. Louis and doesn't really want to play here. If he's tanking his performance...or even not really caring about it...because he wants to be traded, that's about as low as a guy can sink in professional sports. If that's true, I hope he never plays another NHL game, anywhere. The poor Blues are obligated to a pile of money on his current contract though. So, if he's finished here, somebody will have to trade to get him for the Blues to be rid of his contract. Yikes, can things get any worse for Blues management right now? If they start playing some of the younger guys in the system in goal it will appear to the Blues already disaffected fan base that they are giving up on the season. If they don't do something, it will still look that way. It's a no-win.

The other question Blues fans have to ask at this point is..."Why do goalies suddenly forget how to stop a puck when they put on the Blues uniform?" There have been several others over the last number of years who have had decent reputations before playing here, only to then play like the sport was new to them. Lalime is just the last. Remember Chris Osgood, Brent Johnson, Roman Turek, Fred Brathwaite, Tom Barasso, Jamie McLennan? Is there some systemic problem that messes up these guys when they play here? Is the lack of a full-time goalie coach that important? Does Keith Allain (the organization's goaltending coach) have some kind of counter-productive effect on these people?

At this point you have to wish The Note had never traded Curtis Joseph.