Monday, July 25, 2022

It's Not the Same

There's little argument that in the current internet environment that our population is more informed than ever. However, being informed and being educated are totally different things. Information is coming at everyone from everywhere. Unfortunately, most of it is not worth much. It takes an educated individual to be able to determine what part of that information has value. 

One sees many others calling for more young people to go the trade school route. There's nothing wrong with that. We need more trades people. And many high-school graduates are cut out for something less than a college degree. But you also hear voices discounting the need for a formal education. They essentially are saying that many degrees, after years of heavy investment, are worthless. Let's pump the brakes on that for a few minutes.

If we, as Americans, want our country to continue to be a world leader, we had better have folks educated in all of the various disciplines provided by a college education ready to lead. If, instead, we want people who have no background in the various core-curriculum offerings of a college bachelors degree to be our leaders...well, you will get what you get. We are bombarded every day with information provided by "every day experts" online. Do they consider themselves experts? Maybe. Are they? Not unless they've put in the time and study to be one on the topic. 

The concern I have in writing this is that we are becoming increasingly influenced by information that is more emotional expression than scholastic. If one involves themselves in social media in almost any form, you see it constantly. One sees memes and statements of political position that are entirely based on a one-sided, and usually uniformed, view of the world. Opinion-based information is dominant online, and becoming more prevalent in traditional media as well. A strong background of widely-accepted knowledge is necessary to evaluate these presentations. 

Short of a college degree, those who are voracious readers, or seekers of expertise in a field, certainly have the capacity to be intelligent consumers of information as well. We all have highly-intelligent friends whose life experience, and/or appetite for knowledge has separated them from the crowd. But the standard way for young people to be exposed to the humanities, social science, natural science, the arts, math, and other knowledge important to a well-rounded and capable individual, come from more than experiences and family-and-friends fed opinions.  

The dumbing down of America is happening. All we have to do is compare ourselves to the achievements of those in other countries in almost every field. The lack of emphasis on effective teaching and learning at the elementary and secondary level is frightening. This, in my opinion, leads to the vulnerability of the population to radical influences and underachievement of our youth. Being an intellectual consumer of the vast amounts of communication presented in 2022 is important to whether we will have children who can, and will, lead America effectively in 2042. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Journalism Death Spiral

When I took a journalism course at SIUE, as part of my mass-communication program, there were many reasons to study it and many legitimate uses and outlets for the knowledge. Things are changing...and not for the better of our country and society in general. 

Google journalism and you will get this definition- the activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or preparing news to be broadcast.

Newspapers? Nobody younger than 70 reads them anymore. Magazines? Pretty much the same story there. Websites? There is precious little actual journalism that matters going on there. Broadcasting? News broadcasts on radio and TV are foreign territory to people under 40. As we say frequently in the mass-comm classes I teach at SWIC, "The internet changed everything." As part of that..."Social media changes everything even further." 

Commonsensemedia.org says--Teens get their news more frequently from social media sites (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) or from YouTube than directly from news organizations. More than half of teens (54%) get news from social media, and 50% get news from YouTube at least a few times a week. 

So, it doesn't take much to believe traditional media is in big trouble. Small town newspapers are going out of business every day. "Mom and pop" radio stations that actually cover local news can't make money and most have been sold off to some church or gone dark long ago. Websites that offer an attempt at journalism like the New York Times and Washington Post are owned by big media conglomerates and usually fall into presenting a liberal or conservative agenda to carve out a profitable audience. The television networks, both cable and broadcast, are bending to the same approach. More locally, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (StLToday.com) and Belleville News-Democrat (bnd.com) have pay-walls, low subscription rates, and awful staffing issues that make it difficult to find anything approaching journalistic excellence. 

Part of the mission in journalism, and this is no revelation, is the watch-dog function. Keeping an eye on the government goings-on and activities of elected officials is key to how we operate in America. How many people have you heard lately say.."I'm going to the city council meeting because I'm interested in making my voice heard and watching my city council person vote when it comes to making decisions." Not many I'll bet. So having reporters (print and broadcast), columnists, and show-hosts, involved in the process is vital to shining light on it all. 

Social media is just that...social. It has no mission when it comes to truthfulness in disseminating information or investigating government activity. You get what you get...and usually from totally unreliable sources who are attempting to influence the consumer in some way. 

The person, or company, who finds a way to re-invent journalism in a way that's profitable will be a hero in the 21st century. Factual and valuable information written or broadcast in a way that raises the level of public consciousness and awareness is drowning in a sea of worthless messages thrown around on cell-phone apps. Somehow our younger population must also be educated to believe that constantly staring at Tik Tok or other short-burst entertainment options on their phones only makes them more vulnerable to the vultures who would influence them and provides little in the way of societal value.

Some might say the days of 3 television networks, a handful of TV stations per major market, and thousands of local radio and newspaper operations were no bargain. They might say people are more informed than ever with internet information available at one's fingertips all the time. My response would be, "But what is the real value of that information? Has it been vetted for credibility? Did anyone bother to get the other side of the story? Did the source of the information actually do some homework...or just offer a personal opinion?" 

Real journalism matters; otherwise those with evil intentions and personal agendas have the upper hand. There's a reason freedom of the press was given constitutional protection in the early days of this country. My fear is there is a dwindling "professional press" to enjoy that freedom and provide a valuable product to America. 

Sunday, October 03, 2021

A Shooting Star

Back in May, Barb and I were excited to make the drive to the Kansas City area to pick up a new addition to our Chihuahua group. After the pandemic pause, and the fact that we didn't really have any dogs suitable for showing anymore, Barb had indicated to our breeder friend Kathy Hulstein, of Sioux Center, Iowa that we would be interested in one of a litter of puppies that she was expecting. 

Kathy has the resources to go beyond the normal selection process when it comes to breeding matches. So she had acquired some Chihuahua stock from a line in Russia that was beginning to produce for her. The Russian line tends to have a bit of a different look, and features a sturdiness to the body that we rarely see in the U.S. When Kathy's latest match produced puppies in March, she informed Barb that there was a female in the group that she was willing to send our way. When we saw the puppy photos, Kathy didn't have to do much sales work.

When we picked up this little girl, it was love at first sight. We kicked around a number of different names that we thought might work given her Russian background. We settled on Sacha....(Sah-shuh) Many people of eastern European heritage use Sacha, as a unisex nickname or given name. Often it is a nickname for Alexander, Alexandra, or Alexa. The AKC registration name for the tiny one would be Victory Sacha Joy at Wee Scotch. Victory-for Kathy's kennel designation...and Wee Scotch for our kennel. Sacha Joy...get it? 

This mostly black with white markings little one fit into our group at home right away, after a short "get acquainted and comfortable" period. We quickly realized that she was constucted a bit differently than our other Chi friends. She was also more quiet..and wouldn't bark at just anything like the others. She grew quickly to be the most sturdily-built Chihuahua that we had ever had in our group. Like most puppies, she was curious, adventurous, and anxious to explore and learn about the world she was in. 

Beginning in July, Barb started working with her as a show dog. She went to some training classes put on by the Jefferson County (MO) Kennel Club in Arnold. This was not her favorite activity. But, after a while, she grew less nervous, and started to come around to the behaviors important to performing well in the show ring. Barb did some patient work with her in our open driveway area at the house as well. 

Barb then entered Sacha in some late Summer/early Fall all-breed shows at the Purina Event Center in Gray Summit, MO. This happened as soon as she became eligible to show at 4-6 months old. The little one did OK...but not great. It seemed she also would have to fight the battle that dark-colored Chihuahuas face. Show judges seem to prefer light-colored Chis even though there is no standard in the breed that indicates they should. To us, it seems there's a prejudice there that the dark-colored animals have working against them. But, to us the show experience is almost more of a social event than something to get all competitive about anyway. 

The plan for Sacha was to have some fun showing her, hopefully develop her show ring skills to the point of acquiring her AKC championship, and then perhaps pair her up with a boyfriend to produce some puppies and a legacy for her, us, and Kathy's venture into Russian breeding.

All of that seemed in order until Thursday, Barb's birthday. 

Sacha had occasionally threw up at night. We didn't think that unusual as puppies tend to do that until their systems mature. But Thursday she began to throw up more frequently to the point of Barb scheduling a vet appointment for Friday morning. But Thursday night, as we were trying to sleep, the little girl started throwing up or retching every 10 or 15 minutes. Barb suggested we get up and take her to Veterinary Specialty Services, a 24/7 emergency clinic that we are lucky to have nearby in Manchester, MO. So at around 2am we packed up Sacha for the trip just to be sure nothing major was amiss. Little did we know it would be something very major.

Without going into all the details, the doctors determined that Sacha had developed a blood clot in her intestines that was creating a blockage. What caused the problem? The vets had no explanation except that it was probably some sort of unknown blood disorder. We were asked if we wanted to have surgery performed to take out the clot and that part of her intestine that was dying because of it. Of course, we did. The doctors kept us informed every step of the way as the surgery was being performed. And, at one point, it seemed like she would come through and be fine after a few days at the animal hospital. It would be a costly, and scary, time for a while. But we would get through it.   

But then came the awful news in another call that she had thrown a blood clot that went to her brain and stopped her breathing. As you might guess, we were devastated that our little star was not going to come home. The vets said they would keep her alive artificially until Barb and I could make the 45 minute drive to VSS to say our goodbyes. Sacha had come into our lives only a little over four months ago...taken hold of our hearts...and now was gone. It all seemed so unreal...and unfair.

Obviously, I can't write a happy ending to this story. I wish I could. This should not happen to precious little animals who are so loved and cherished. This should not happen to people like us who so fiercely love our little Chihuahua friends. But, as this episode in our lives makes so abundantly clear, there are no guarantees in life. And we must learn to treat each day with people and animals we love as a special blessing...and not take for granted that they will be with us the next day. 

Sacha's legacy is that for us...every day, every person, every special little friend will be loved each day to the max. She was Sacha joy! Our only consolation is that we did the best we could for this little star who shone very bright for us, but for a much too short time. Run and play in heaven little Sacha until we meet again. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Bright Hockey Future

In recent days I have thought a lot about how far St. Louis has come with its hockey presence in the world since I became involved with the Blues. I started thinking about it while working the PA for the PWHPA (Profession Women's Hockey Players Association) Dream Gap Tour games that were played May 16 & 17 at Centene and Enterprise

Those rosters were dominated by women from the northern U.S., but Jincy Dunne, who played for Ohio State and the women's national team, represented O'Fallon, MO. And goaltender Alex Cavallini has relocated to St. Louis to work with her goaltending coach. Not all that long ago, women's hockey was barely a blip on the sports radar. Now, with good reason, it has advanced to the point of being thought of as a viable professional-level sports offering. And you can bet that St. Louis girls will become prominent as women in this sport before long. 

In taking a brief survey of the extended rosters of the 31 NHL teams, I found not only the obvious names connected to St. Louis but several I was not aware of who are under contract. I might have missed a few. For that I apologize in advance. But here are the players who have obvious connections to St. Louis and youth hockey in our region-- 

Columbus- Josh Dunne, Ryan MacInnis / Dallas- Ben Bishop / Detroit- Chase Bradley / Nashville- Luke Kunin / Tampa- Jack Finley, Pat Maroon, McKade Webster / Arizona- Clayton Keller / Minnesota- Dakota Mermis / Blues- Luke Opilka / Boston-Trent Frederic / Islanders- Scott Mayfield / Rangers- Austin Rueschhoff / Calgary- Matthew Tkachuk / Ottawa- Brady Tkachuk / Toronto- Joseph Woll / Winnipeg- Adam Lowry (born here-raised in Calgary), Paul Stastny 

When I started with the Blues in 1987 the NHL was totally dominated by Canadians. There were a few U.S.-born players around and a few Europeans. Having someone at the professional level from anywhere south of Chicago was extremely rare. Now we have high-level pros who call sunbelt cities their hometown including Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs who was born in California but grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona watching Coyotes games.  

Combine the existence of more ice sheets that have previously not existed and the early efforts of Blues alumni and other dedicated mentors who have worked to grow the sport in recent decades, and you have the answer to the question..."why have so many St. Louis kids hit the professional level in the last several years?" By adding Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights and Maryville Hockey Center in Chesterfield to the mix in recent years the growth among our area youth will likely explode to even greater heights.

We also have several area colleges and universities dressing high-level teams in the sport giving local players the opportunity to grow with the sport as they continue their education. This also exposes the sport to many people through their connections to these schools.  

A few years ago the Blues began calling our region The Heartland of Hockey. It's obvious that this is becoming more true with every passing day. As I head into the latter years of my life, I surely don't have to worry about the growth of the sport of ice hockey in the St. Louis region in what's left of the 21st century.  

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Pujols Return Not in the Cards

So it appears the 10-year deal that Albert signed with the Angels wasn't all that heavenly for them as it draws to a close. We kinda thought they might regret it at the time. Albert Pujols, who provided so many wonderful and amazing thrills for Cardinals fans in his earlier days, is to be out on the open market. That is, unless he somehow is claimed off waivers. 

Many fans of the Redbirds will be clamoring for the team to sign Albert back to finish out his career in St. Louis. While that sounds like a fine idea on the surface for sentimental reasons, I think some other, more business-related factors, will get in the way. And that's probably a good thing for the Cardinals team make-up. 

I can't imagine any National League team being all that interested. Albert hasn't been hitting like the Albert of old...or even close...and having him take up a spot on a Cardinals roster without the designated hitter in place just doesn't seem practical. Where would he play? The Cardinals have highly-paid stars at the two positions that seem to make any sense...third and first base. Albert as a once-in-a-while pinch hitter? Doesn't seem like the way he would want to go out. And he has said he wants regular playing time. One of the reasons the Angels cut him loose was because he wasn't being used enough to satisfy his urge to play. Some AL team might like to take a chance and see if he has anything left in the tank as a DH. But he may not want that either. He might hang up the spikes. 

Albert had a great return to Busch Stadium in June of 2019, just after the Blues had won the Stanley Cup. It was great!!! An emotional night with hugs all around and huge ovations for Albert when he came to the plate. Most everyone thought that this would be his St. Louis swan song. Let it be that. He will be welcomed back in St. Louis to get his red jacket some day. Sounds like now that day is much closer than it was yesterday. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

#1 in Our Hearts

 After learning of the passing of Bobby Plager, I thought sitting down and writing a tribute would make me feel better. I hope by the end of this I do. Because hearing of his passing in an automobile accident was like taking a Plager-brothers punch to the diaphragm. You don't get over that very quickly.  

Let me be clear, as much time as I have spent at Blues hockey games since the late 80's, I didn't encounter Bobby nearly as much as I would have liked. But when I did, it was always "smile time". He either had a joke to tell or a story that would light up your day. Getting to see him enjoy the Stanley Cup parade and celebration, and all that went with it, in 2019 will be how I choose to remember him. So, with that in mind, let me tell you a story that I think he would approve. 

Robert Bryant Plager was a very good hockey player for 14 years in the NHL. But it's my belief that his influence and impact on the sport, particularly in St. Louis, is not fully understood. I believe this because of an experience I had in 2008 north of the border. 

In January of 2007 the Blues management surprised me with an on-ice ceremony prior to a Detroit Red Wings game to recognize my 20-year anniversary as the team PA announcer. My wife Barb was invited onto the ice as John Davidson (then President) and Dallas Drake (then Captain) presented me with a few gifts to commemorate the occasion. One of the gifts was a chance to fly on the team charter to anywhere the team would play in the next season. Barb was invited to come along. 

We decided that a trip to Toronto and the chance to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame would be a great idea. It also happened to coincide with our 30th wedding anniversary in January of 2008. So off to Toronto it would be. But let's get back to Bobby. 

The day before the game we were already in Toronto and had a chance to look around the city. Bernie Federko, already a HOFer, was kind enough to get us passes to the Hall of Fame...which is awesome by the way. Kelly Chase recommended a great steak house not far from the team hotel. It wasn't cheap...but it was worth every penny. As we approached the hotel on our walk back from dinner I said to Barb..."I wonder what's going on at the hotel?" "Why?"...she said. "Because there's a big crowd creating a commotion in the lobby for some reason." 

It turned out the reason was Mr. Bobby Plager. 

Bobby had taken some time to travel back to his home area knowing that the Blues would be in town. Bobby's home town is Kirkland Lake, Ontario in the northeastern part of the province. It's not really that close to Toronto, but believe me, the folks from around Toronto know him very well. There must have been a hundred or so people crowded around him in that hotel lobby as he held court. He told stories...most of them family-friendly it seemed...signed autographs, and generally made the crowd happy. I'm sure some were there to catch a glimpse of some of the Blues players. But Bobby was a rock star to that group on that night. You know Bobby...he was just happy to be around hockey people and talk up the Blues. You might have confused him for Gordie Howe or Wayne Gretzky based on the excited behavior of that crowd. I was amazed, and saw our Mr. Plager in a whole new light. 

So to those who think that Bobby was just a St. Louis phenomenon...think again. Hockey fans in Toronto on that night were as thrilled to be around him as we always have been in St. Louis. The Blues organization definitely did the right thing in retiring his number and raising his jersey to the rafters at Enterprise Center...as if there should be any doubt. The hockey world knew all about Bobby Plager. I would hope there's a place in that Toronto Hall for him some day.  

So...that's my Bobby Plager story. Oh there are others, but this one I thought might give him the hockey-world respect he so rightfully deserves. 

I don't feel any better about losing our good friend after writing this. I guess I knew I wouldn't. We all loved him so much....because he always loved us first. Rest In Peace Bob. And we know you'll enjoy those crowds around you in hockey heaven. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Passing of a Radio Superstar

-My thoughts upon hearing of the passing of Rush Limbaugh immediately went to a day in the mid-90s. I was working at Belleville station WIBV in the days before Tim Dorsey brought all of the KMOX folks aboard. I was working mornings and also serving as Program Director. The station had become a "minor player with some oomph" in the market with a talk format mostly geared to the Metro-East because of the station's funky AM night-time signal.

In a meeting with our GM at the time, Bill Kniesly, we discussed that the Rush Limbaugh show was available to St. Louis market stations. We agreed to give it a listen to see if we thought it would fly in this market. Rush already had a reputation for being somewhat outlandish and we weren't sure if our listeners could handle him.
I got the satellite coordinates and dialed up his show for an audition. I had not ever heard Rush before. After listening to the first hour of his show that day, I went in to get Bill. I told him..."You have to hear this. And we have to carry this show." I had no interest in, and really didn't care about, the political position presented at that time. I just told him that it was the most well-produced and entertaining radio talk show I had ever heard. There was a laugh every few minutes...some politically-based...some not. It was a talk show that sounded a lot like an old DJ-based show because of the production values. He had a music bed for all of his regular features...Clarence "Frogman" Henry and "Ain't Got No Home" for the Homeless Update comes to mind.
We signed a contract and carried it for several years until the call came one day that Rush, and his EIB network, had made a deal with KMOX. That was astonishing to us as KMOX had promoted itself in the years before as having all "locally-produced" programming in a shot at syndicated shows. Rush broke that ice.
Rush, having grown up in Cape Girardeau, knew very well how KMOX was the "big dog" in the St. Louis market. It was about this time (in my humble opinion) that Rush's show changed from a fun 3-hours to one of mostly politics spiced up with his catch-phrases and political rants.
One thing is for certain Rush, and a few others, have dominated network radio and have kept AM radio on the map for the early part of the 21st century. Who fills that void? It will be interesting to see if anyone can. RIP to Rush Limbaugh - a radio legend.