Thursday, December 31, 2009

ring out the old

A major component of my voluntary submission to caffeine addiction is the readily available supply of free coffee at work. Rather than use the Styrofoam cups at the office, I chose to bring in my own coffee mug from home. I went through a process of choosing the right mug. It had to be one that would not be mistaken for anyone else's and I had to be willing to accept the fact that it would eventually get lost or broken.

The breakage came a little sooner than I expected. On Christmas Eve, my mug slipped out of my hand and broke. As you can see, I had chosen a mug with my name on it that I had received as a gift many years ago.

The broken cup meant I had to go through the selection process all over again. I had amassed surprisingly large collection of mugs during my non-coffee days. The ones that I saved have some degree of sentimental value for me. A cup from the Discovery Channel has an unusual elephant-shaped handle. I kept a souvenir from a listening party for a Bruce Springsteen live album because it reminds me of one of the first "cool" things I got to do in my radio career.

A George Mason University Alumni Association mug would be easy to identify as mine but I wouldn't want to break it. A huge cup from the short-lived Marvel Mania store at Universal City Walk is too big to be practical.

The newest addition to my collection goes nicely with one of the oldest. While enrolled in the FBI Citizens Academy, I got a mug from the Office of Counterintelligence at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. I keep it next to a mug I got from the FBI when I worked in the D.C. area at WAVA.

The mug I ultimately chose is kind of boring. It has a lot of aphorisms on it and I honestly haven't bothered to read any of them. I suppose I should do so before the thousand words break into a thousand pieces.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

need to venti

As a coffee novice, I was surprised and a tad disillusioned by what my daughter told me. We were sitting in a booth in the Market Square storefront shared by Knoxivi and The Lunchbox after watching Internet sensation Julia Nunes perform on Eleven o'Clock Rock. You might recall me mentioning her appearance three weeks ago. I borrowed my daughter's camera to grab a picture while Julia was singing.

My daughter bought herself a coffee, which came with one of those cardboard wraparounds that had the Seattle's Best Coffee logo on it. While it's old news to most people, I had no idea that Seattle's Best is owned by Starbucks. It seemed weird to me that Starbucks didn't change their subsidiary's name to "Seattle's Second Best Coffee." When my wife and son asked why I looked so confused, I said it was like finding out that Coke owned Pepsi or that McDonald's owned Burger King.

So if Seattle's Best is not a competitor of Starbucks, who does truly compete with the coffee giant on a national scale? The best my family and I could come up with was Panera Bread and Dunkin' Donuts. I remember a place in L.A. called The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf but it's not national. My son said there's a place called Kaldi's in Missouri and my daughter mentioned a joint called Caribou Coffee, which has stores in 16 states. Where do you like to get your caffeine?

Meanwhile, my free coffee quest continues. I scored freebies from Starbucks and from Seattle's Best this fall. Tonight I got a coupon for a free cup at Pilot just by becoming their fan on Facebook. Hey Weigel's, couldn't you do the same thing on your page?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

stingray sold separately

The challenge in finding a Christmas gift for my friend Bean is getting something unusual that he doesn't have. One year I was at the Post Office and saw a CD of Christmas music he would enjoy. He already had it. Last year I saw a unique Santa figurine in a wig shop on Gay Street. It was perfect.

A few weeks ago my family and I went out to dinner with a friend on Market Square. Afterward, we browsed in some of the shops. A certain package in Earth to Old City grabbed my attention. I don't know if the Steve Irwin action figure was made before or after the adventurer's death but I couldn't resist buying it for Bean.

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Monday, December 28, 2009


Somebody needs to tell James Cameron that two and a half hours is too long for a cartoon, even a fancy-looking one like his "Avatar." Yet, I was disappointed that he cut it off right before we got to see the Ewok Na'vi celebration at the end. Just because it took him twelve years to make it, doesn't mean we should have to take all day to watch it.

The excessive running time didn't seem to hamper the crowds at the Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18 today. Because the 3:20 p.m. IMAX screening was sold out, my family and I went to a regular 3D show at 3:50. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't pay the extra $4.25 per ticket. I had to struggle not to fall asleep during the early scenes on Pandora. The excitement picks up toward the end.

The environmentalist subtext had a save-the-rain-forest feel to it. Rich Hailey discusses the obvious parallels to Native Americans with a surprising twist on his blog. None of that matter to me. After two hours, all I could think about was visiting the lavatar.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

monster of the midway

The Christmas gifts from my daughter made me proud of her ingenuity and thoughtfulness. She gave me a stack of books she knew I would like and paid nothing for them by using PaperBackSwap. When she heard that I had seen a simply wrapped package arrive in the mail last week from a PBS member in Saucier, Mississippi, she sent me the following email:
So, I was just going through your blog, your Facebook, your Twitter and your Amazon wish list. Even if I had never met you in person, I would know a lot about you and your personal tastes. If you love someone and actually take an interest in their life, wouldn't you be willing to take 5 minutes on the Internet to find a simple and cheap gift that they would love?

I know that you were good and did not open the gift that arrived for you, but you will be proud to know that I paid $0 for it. That's right, I paid nothing for the gift, I paid nothing for the shipping and I only had to research for about 5 minutes to figure out that you would enjoy it.
The books from PaperBackSwap turned out the be "Give Me a Break" by John Stossel and "The Last Days of Dead Celebrities" by Mitchell Fink. I had put them on my Amazon wish list when they were new but never got around to buying them.

The book pile grew even higher because my daughter gave me her own gently used copy of "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. She had mentioned it to me when we visited a bookstore together on Labor Day. My wife also recalled my curiosity about H.H. Holmes that day and gave me a copy of "Human Monsters" by David Everitt, which is billed as an "encyclopedia of the world's most vicious murderers."

In addition to all the free books, my daughter gave me a 2½ ounce bag of Starbucks House Blend. A non-coffee-drinking friend of hers had received it in a gift basket at work. It's a re-gift I look forward to opening and brewing the next time I have a day off from work, so probably Friday during the Tournament of Roses Parade.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

neg nog

The plan for my simple after-dinner treat turned into a bit of a science experiment tonight. A while back, I had received an email from LA Weight Loss with a recipe for "Guilt-Free Egg Nog." I decided to try it on the second day of Christmas. Here's the recipe:
5 cups of skim milk
1 package of sugar free vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp cinnamon
a pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp of vanilla extract (optional)

Blend for at least 2 minutes with wire whisk. Makes 5 servings. 1 serving (8 ounces) equals 1 Dairy
As I gathered the ingredients, I realized that the container of skim milk from Weigel's had less than the requisite five cups. It was time to call in the reinforcements. My son and daughter are both smarter than I could ever hope to be. It didn't take long for them to figure out that the 1¾ cups of milk I had left was 35% of what the recipe called for. All we had to do was use only 35% of all the other ingredients to make a smaller batch of diet egg nog.

My son measured the package of Jell-O Sugar Free Vanilla Pudding mix and found that it contained about 70 cubic centimeters of powder. 35% of that would be 24.5 cm³. A little bit of the leftover mix was lost during the transaction. We eyeballed the amount of cinnamon and vanilla extract by partially filling a half-teaspoon.

A good whisking created a frothy mixture that I poured into my Christmas in the City mug. Although it had a consistency similar to skim milk, the taste was a close approximation of the real thing.

I was reminded to look for the email in my inbox by a blurb in Friday's free News Sentinel. The weekly Web Watch column listed three sites. I remember one was and another was an egg nog page. I couldn't recall the exact URL so I turned to Google. It gave me the "Eggnog Recipe Collection," which didn't seem quite right. I found the Knoxville.Com section of yesterday's paper and saw that the site was actually "Eggnog World." My blog entry from last month has almost as many links as these relatively simple sites.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

cold turkey

After playing holiday music for the last month, or in some cases two months, the all-Christmas radio stations across America will cut us off tonight. For one station in Knoxville, it's a good thing. For another, it's too soon for me. I even went so far as to suggest via Facebook that Love 89 keep Christmas hymns on the air for another twelve days, mixed in with their regular playlist. It might keep more seasonal listeners around for their "30 Day Challenge."

For Catholics like me, Advent, the season of anticipation, ended yesterday. The Christmas season started last night and runs until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. When the choir at All Saints Church wanted to repeat last year's Christmas Cantata during Advent, our pastor said no, it had to be during the Christmas season. You can come hear it for free on January 8 at 7:30 p.m. and January 10 at 2:30 p.m.

Love 89 normally plays Christian light rock. During Advent, they mix in a lot of secular tunes by Christian artists, which is how I discovered that I loved "Sleigh Ride" by Relient K and "Jingle Bells" by Denver & the Mile High Orchestra. Starting tomorrow those secular songs will get a rest until next year. I wish Love 89 would continue playing their versions of some traditional carols like a new favorite I heard for the first time this year, "O Holy Night" by Point of Grace.

Nationwide, Christmas airplay is dominated by non-religious songs. It's been that way for years. The list that ASCAP releases annually changes very little from year to year. The only religious entry on list of the top holiday songs of the decade is "Little Drummer Boy."

My love of Christmas music is connected to my enjoyment of cover songs. It's fantastic to hear an artist improve upon a previous recording. Even "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" can be re-done brilliantly, as it was by Poe. The Brian Setzer Orchestra regularly updates Christmas classics. The one good cover song I "discovered" on our local commercial holiday station this year was "Feliz Navidad" by Jon Secada. Yes, Mr. Deejay, that was me calling on the request line to ask for the artist's name.

Unfortunately, cover songs can also go horribly wrong. One of my favorite songs, "Baby It's Cold Outside" was ruined by the clash of Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton's voices. Porky Pig's version of "Blue Christmas" might be funny once but it does not hold up to repeated airplay. Because of the atrocious lyrics, I doubt any artist could salvage "The Christmas Shoes." Only Patton Oswalt's hysterical but very R-rated deconstruction is worth a listen.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

let's go to the pearly gates

George Michael was George Michael before the Wham! guy came along. Like the singer, the George Michael I knew had a real last name that wasn't radio-friendly. Because I remember how mad he got when The Washington Post printed it, I will respect his memory and omit it here.

George died today after a two-year battle with leukemia. He was one of the best deejays ever to grace the airwaves, most notably at WFIL. I remember hearing him at WABC when I was in high school. He was also the best local sportscaster I've ever seen. I'm not talking about play-by-play or color commentators, I mean the guys in the trenches squeezing as many highlights as possible into their allotted time on the evening news.

George moved to the Washington area a month or so before I did. For me, he always was the face of sports in the nation's capital. His enthusiasm is also partly responsible for my conversion to being a Redskins fan. My friends who interned at WRC confirmed all reports that George was a tough but fair boss. His off-air perfectionism is what allowed him to seem relaxed on the air.

My first full-time job in broadcasting was at WAVA. Our general manager, Alan Goodman, knew a good thing when he saw it and signed George to provide sports reports three times a week during the morning show. It was my job to call George and tell him that we were ready for his segment. He had a microphone in his house that was connected to our studios via a dedicated phone line.

Once a year, I think around Thanksgiving or Christmas, George would come in and play deejay. We would toss our morning zoo format and play oldies not normally heard on WAVA. And by we, I mean George and me. Unlike most deejays, George did not run his own board. He was major-market all the way and was accustomed to having a board op. I would load up the tunes and wait for George to point at me to hit the button. He had a hand signal for me to turn on his mic and another to start the next record. I'm using the old-school term but I actually played his oldies off CD.

There was one particular song that George insisted on playing every time. He would call me a couple of times in the days leading up to his appearance to make sure that I would have "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone. Excuse me for a moment while I listen to the intro that George loved talking up.

WRC-TV has posted a retrospective, much of which was also shown when George retired from his nightly duties in 2007. I found several other good links on the @redskinsblog Twitter feed. As you gather with your family this Christmas Eve, take a moment to say a prayer for the repose of the soul of George Michael. Rest in peace sir, rest in peace.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

once was lost, now is found

Each December, the news is full of stories about baby Jesus figures that have been stolen from nativity scenes around the world. The phenomenon is so common, it has its own Wikipedia page!

Today I received a phone call from a listener who had discovered a plastic Jesus close to her home. It was abandoned in the Kings Gate subdivision, near the Ingles in Farragut. She said it has a hole in the back for a light bulb. I asked her to send me a picture so I could post it online and perhaps find the rightful owner. You can help by forwarding this blog post to anyone you know in the area.

PS: I did not ask why her bedsheets resemble a Twister board.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

blood relative

Pomegranates have been my favorite fruit since I was a kid. Nowadays, I use them as a salad garnish. Before dinner tonight, I put one in a large bowl of lukewarm water and plunged a paring knife into the stem. As I twisted the knife and cut through the white membrane on the inside, my son started humming a familiar tune. He even activated the mp3 player on his phone to play the theme from "Dexter." I peeled away the skin and accidentally broke an aril or two, which reminded me all the more of the show's outstanding opening sequence.

The show was top of mind for both of us. It's been a favorite of mine since it debuted. When my son got home for Christmas break, he expressed an interest in catching up on the exceptionally good season 4. So far we have watched four episodes in high def via video on demand. I don't usually rewatch shows that I've already seen but with the advantage of hindsight after the shocking season finale, I am interested in looking for clues and subtext.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

sync or swim

The technological challenge of presenting the Living Christmas Tree in a basketball arena is mind-boggling. I was impressed with the professional caliber of the performance. It's as good a show as you would expect to see at a theater in Nashville or a theme park in Orlando. Was it too good to be true?

As I watched the program yesterday, I wondered where they placed the microphones for all the singers in the enormous, tree-shaped riser. Some of the soloists had flesh-colored headset mics on their cheeks. I thought about how many wireless channels it would take to collect the sound from the hundreds of cast members.

My suspicions were confirmed today by someone who attended the matinee performance on Sunday. She has a friend who played in the sizable live orchestra. The friend told her that the acoustics of Thompson-Boling Arena would make it impossible for all the musicians and singers to play and sing together. The distance between the orchestra pit and the singers in the tree would create an audio delay. As a result, the musicians and most of the singers pre-record their parts in October. A few of the soloists sing live with the recorded track. The rest of the singers and musicians aren't just mouthing the words or playing air guitar. They do actually sing along and play along with themselves but without microphones.

Armed with this information, am I surprised? A little. Am I disappointed? No. Do I regret going to the show last year or this year? No. Will I go again next year? Absolutely.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

under (-utilized) the tree

Christmas is the second most important celebration in Christianity. The annual Living Christmas Tree performance recognized that fact as their nativity pageant turned into a passion play. I had a great time at last year's show and was anxious to see it again.

Imagine that your church decided to put on a nativity pageant and that it grew in popularity over time. It relocated from the church to a theater that still wasn't big enough. Eventually it found a home at a large basketball arena. The demand for tickets is so great that five shows are scheduled each year. That's what happened at Sevier Heights Baptist Church, which works all year to prepare for their annual festivities at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The show started with a series of songs that would fit right in on a secular all-Christmas radio station. A huge group of kids sang about toys and Santa sang that he was "back in town." They segued quickly into a reenactment of the first Christmas. My son wondered how they chose the real baby who played Jesus. Rehearsals for the Living Christmas Tree begin each July. They must put out a casting call for pregnant women who are due around Thanksgiving.

The story didn't stop with the infant Jesus. It picked up with John the Baptist (duh) who sang a solo before he immersed Jesus in a pool of real water. Jesus cast out demons, cured a blind girl and raised another girl from the dead during an upbeat musical number. During the Last Supper, they sang "I Am the Bread of Life," which I recognized from the Catholic hymnals. It was a little odd to see the giant Christmas tree as the backdrop for scenes of the crucifixion and the resurrection.

There is one more performance of this year's Living Christmas Tree. In addition to everything I've mentioned, there is also a good sermon from evangelist Jose Zayas. The only thing I don't understand is why they ask people to leave the arena for one-on-one counseling before the much-hyped grand finale featuring the Hallelujah Chorus. As usual, the audience stood.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

once bitten and twice shy

Playing Christmas music on the radio is still a thrill for me. It might be different if I worked at one of those all-Christmas stations but I have only worked at places that mix in holiday tunes with the regular format.

I loaded three new Christmas songs into the system the other day, one at the request of my boss and two of my own picks. I had downloaded Lady Gaga's "Christmas Tree" while it was available for free on I got a copy of SpongeBob SquarePants' "Don't Be a Jerk (It's Christmas)" in the mail from a publicist. My boss added both to his holiday playlist.

The new song that came across his desk was "Last Christmas" by the cast of "Glee." The Wham tune has been covered by hundreds of artists in the past few years. I put the "Glee" version in the system and got a chance to play it on the air this weekend. As I talked over the intro, I realized it reminded me of an older, equally campy song. Listen to the beginning of "Last Christmas" and then compare it to an excerpt of "White Christmas" by the Partridge Family.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

to light and guard

One of the best Christmas traditions in East Tennessee is the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra's 23rd Annual Clayton Holiday Concerts at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. My wife sings with the Knoxville Choral Society, which is featured in 12 of the 16 numbers on this year's program. There are four performances, the first of which was tonight.

Aside from my obvious bias toward the KCS, the star of the show each year is Santa Claus, who has one of the finest baritone voices you'll ever hear. He sings a couple of songs about angels, including "An Angel Gets Its Wings," which is inspired by Zuzu's famous line from "It's a Wonderful Life." The Sound Company Children's Choir and the Appalachian Ballet Company also performed during some of the songs.

One of the Symphony's musicians writes a blog about their concerts. She wrote about how it's the best week of the season and gave some behind the scenes reports from the rehearsals this past week.

The audience oohed and aahed during a slide show of dogs, cats and rabbits available for adoption from the Young-Williams Animal Center. My contact at the KSO, Stephanie Burdette, got a nice shout out from the Maestro for the work she did compiling a slide show of angel drawings by local schoolkids.

My wife drove herself to the concert while I waited for our son to arrive home from college. He and I left the house less than five minutes after he arrived. We used the pair of press tickets I had obtained. After intermission, my son asked why we all stood during the "Hallelujah Chorus." I explained that there was no good reason except perhaps that King George once needed to stretch his legs.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

hear the angels' voices

Logan Murrell's performance of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" wowed me and everyone else at the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra's Clayton Holiday Concert three years ago. I wrote a blog post about it in which I predicted that Logan will someday be as famous as Leann Rimes. Her rendition of "O Holy Night" was fairly spectacular too.

About two months ago I received an email from Julie Murrell, Logan's mother. She said that a family member had discovered my blog post and shared it with Logan. Our conversation continued a month later when I met the Murrells at the March of Dimes Celebrity Chefs Auction. She said it was one thing for grandparents and relatives to praise Logan but even better to receive positive feedback from an outsider like me.

Julie had also read on my blog that I am a fan of Christmas music. She thought I might enjoy Logan's Christmas album. She gave me a copy, which I put in my car's CD player.

A week or so ago, I was talking about Christmas music with the program director of the country station in the cluster where I work. I had noticed that he's been playing Taylor Swift's cover of "Last Christmas." As the conversation progressed, I mentioned Logan Murrell and he remembered seeing her perform at the March of Dimes event. I retrieved her CD from my car and skimmed through the tracks with him. His programming "ears" perked up when we got to "I'll Be Home for Christmas." He agreed with me that it was hard to believe Logan was only 11 when she recorded the album. The good news is that he plans to give the song some airplay. Even though I don't normally listen to country music, I plan on tuning in to Q93 with the hope of hearing Logan on the radio.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

skull and bones

Groucho Marx once said that he would never want to belong to a club that would accept him as a member. Unlike Groucho, I am thrilled to have joined a group that made me feel welcome. On Monday, I attended my first meeting of the FBI Knoxville Citizens Academy Alumni Association.

The alumni group and the class that preceded it offer great opportunities for networking. I recognized a fellow parishioner at All Saints who had taken the class in 2008. I also made arrangements to interview Special Agent in Charge Rick Lambert and Public Affairs Specialist Stacie Bohanan on the half-hour interview show that I take turns hosting.

During a conversation as the meeting at Calhoun's was breaking up, I realized that I need to connect the dots between my two back-to-back Mondays at Volunteer Landing. The week before, I cruised on the Volunteer Princess with Dr. Bill Bass and the Bone Zones team. I must figure out a way to get the support of the FBIKCAA behind the fundraising efforts for the William M. Bass III Forensic Anthropology Building.

The FBIKCAA is involved in several activities throughout the year. The next meeting will be held at the Federal Office Building and will focus on Internet safety and security. This week, they are supporting an event at Richard Yoakley School. Although I can't do the 2010 trip, I hope that I will be able to take part in their annual trip to Washington in the future.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

called home

The death of Oral Roberts will make most people think of the time in 1987 when he said he was going to die. I am no exception. When my phone buzzed with the Twitter message from Celebrity Death Beeper, I immediately thought of my trip to Oklahoma.

After Rev. Roberts announced that the Lord would take him if he didn't raise enough money, Don & Mike began a countdown to his anticipated death date. As we got closer, someone suggested that it would be funny to broadcast live from the gates of Oral Roberts University. It sounds like something The Daily Show would do if it happened today.

Don & Mike, our engineer Chip and I flew to Tulsa and checked in to a hotel not far from the huge statue of praying hands. Chip had arranged for a satellite uplink truck to meet us there for the broadcast. That's when people started getting nervous. Our intention was to do the show from the hotel parking lot. The management refused to allow the satellite truck on their property. We were told that Rev. Roberts owned the land under the hotel.

With our fancy, expensive satellite broadcast scrapped, all we could do was phone it in. My friend Bean and Shadow Smith anchored the show back at WAVA. Don & Mike called the studio from their hotel rooms. To add some local flavor, I went to a nearby Waffle House, talked with some customers and then called in a report from a pay phone. It was the first time I had ever been to a Waffle House, a feat I didn't repeat until 15 years later when I moved to Knoxville.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

first you take a little bit of honey

Nine years ago, I hosted a weekly radio talk show with streaming video, audio and live chat. The concept of Knoxivi reminds me yet again that Comedy World was too far ahead of its time. Their studio is located in a storefront on Market Square. It shares space with The Lunchbox, and they hope people will come in, watch the show and grab a bite.

I was complimented to be invited as a guest on today's episode of Eleven o'clock Rock. The show is hosted by Lauren Lazarus and Brent Thompson. Since we would be live on the Internet, I used Twitter and Facebook to encourage people to watch. I appreciated the positive response I got from a Twitterer named Rusty.

The program was immediately archived and can still be viewed online. You may have to click on "Monday" and then choose today's date. I'm on the show twice. Brent and Lauren asked me to improv something with them for the cold open. It's on the feed at two minutes in. My interview begins at 40 minutes in to the show. I didn't know it at the time but my microphone failed within the first minute. Fortunately Lauren's mic picked up my voice reasonably well.

The segment focused mostly on my involvement with Einstein Simplified and our upcoming performances at First Night Knoxville. Don't forget to buy your admission buttons in advance to save $5 each!

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

people who need peep'll

A fantastic tourist destination has recently opened near Washington, D.C. On my next trip to Northern Virginia, I need to get across the Potomac to Oxon Hill, Maryland, home of the new Peeps & Company retail store. My thanks go to former Comedy World listener Ravin' Dave, who tipped me off to a Los Angeles Times article about it.

The store is located in the National Harbor development along with other shops, restaurants and hotels. As the name suggests, it sells Marshmallow Peeps and Peeps-related products. Many of the 850 items are not edible. They have t-shirts, plush toys, figurines, books, coffee mugs, and much more.

Of all the things pictured in video reports by the Associated Press, and by WRC-TV, I am most interested in trying the new dark chocolate covered marshmallow chicks that will debut elsewhere next Easter.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009


The actors in "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" at Dollywood are better than the material they have to work with. To be honest, the material isn't all that bad. The simple story revolves around a young girl who wishes that Santa will help her brother and sister travel home for Christmas. All the cast members have excellent singing voices, so the more music the better.

A corny subplot with some mice looking for cookies didn't work for me. The two lead mice imitated Abbott & Costello, including part of the famous "Who's On First?" routine. My other gripe was with a supporting cast member who played several parts including a mouse, a sailor and a neighbor of the main characters. He looked to be a better dancer than the others but I felt that he was trying to steal the spotlight by turning his er... flamboyance up to eleven.

My wife knows the family of gifted ten-year-old actress Amelia Bryant, who plays Grace Baxter in the show. Her acting is natural and her singing voice is strong. We sat with Amelia's parents and siblings at one of the three performances tonight. We were supposed to be there for the 5:00 p.m. show but ended up at the 7:00 show after we got stuck in traffic on Chapman Highway. Apparently the road was closed for the annual Seymour Christmas Parade. I'm kicking myself for not knowing about the parade. I could have either avoided it or volunteered to be in it.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

like you fairly well

KROQ has its annual Almost Acoustic Christmas shows this weekend. One year I was responsible for booking an unusual artist to perform at the concert. Wesley Willis had appeared on the Kevin & Bean show a few times. He was an imposing figure -- big and tall with a knot on his forehead from butting heads with everyone he met. I remember one morning when Natalie Merchant bravely accepted a head butt after her interview ended. Wesley also wrote songs about almost everyone he met, including yours truly.

A couple of recent entries on the Mental Floss blog brought Wesley to mind this week. The first one had some background on him and links to several old YouTube videos. The second had news of a new DVD documentary about the outsider musician called "Wesley Willis's Joy Rides." Here's the trailer:

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

ice pick

The Weigel's across the street from Knoxville Catholic High School has reopened. I stopped in and took a look around on Sunday after the roast of Fr. Ragan Schriver.

Like many places this time of year, they are on the pumpkin spice and egg nog bandwagons. As much as I like their egg nog, I need to finish my frozen stash before buying any more.

I also noticed that Weigel's is challenging Pilot in the battle of ice choice. A new trend at convenience stores is to offer both cubed and crushed ice now that many people are used to having the same option at home.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

rocked k-town

The Brian Setzer Orchestra opened their show at the Tennessee Theatre last night with the theme from "Batman." I was in heaven as my favorite band played the music from my favorite TV show.

The musicians always do a great job. They might have been even more "on" than usual because the show was being filmed for BillboardLive. It will be streamed on Christmas Eve and repeated at some point in the future. At this point, the site has conflicting information about the time of the webcast. It will either start at 8:00 or 10:00 p.m. EST. After I thanked them profusely for the tickets, the guys from Surfdog Records told me that the concert could possibly be sold as a DVD too. I would buy one even though I already have a previous holiday disc of theirs.

State Street behind the theatre was closed to accommodate the TV truck. Fortunately my wife read about the closure on Twitter, which saved us some time and trouble on our way to the parking garage. Knoxville must be a great place to film a special. Ralphie May, among others, have used the Tennessee Theatre for the same purpose. Because of the proximity of Scripps Networks and the independent production companies that create programming for them, high-quality crew members are readily available. The cameraman focusing on Setzer from stage left was D.J. Corcoran, who was my classmate in the FBI Citizens Academy. He was part of the crew that once filmed an episode of "Ed the Plumber" at my house.

The set list mixed Setzer favorites with holiday classics. A costumed Grinch made an appearance as the band mashed "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" into the "Stray Cat Strut." I don't know if Brian really needs the sheet music for "The Nutcracker Suite" or if the roadies put it out there for a visual effect. I suspect he was actually reading the notes because he looked like a kid at his Christmas recital. The Orchestra's cover of "Angels We Have Heard On High" is one of my favorite versions of the hymn.

No Setzer show is complete without "Rock This Town." Even though I've seen their trick before, I love it every time. In the middle of the concert, Brian gives the horns a break and plays a set of tunes with just the drummer and stand-up bass player. It's obviously a nod to the Stray Cats. The last song the trio does is "Rock This Town." Before it ends, the scrim rises and the horn section kicks in to finish the tune big-band style. At the end of the show, real snow (or real shaved ice) fell on us as the band played "Jingle Bells."

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

little lambs

The Black Eyed Peas stopped midway through their performance of "I Gotta Feeling" during the Grammy nominations special a week or so ago. They asked viewers to send in videos of themselves lip-syncing the hit song. I thought to myself "eh... Julia Nunes already did that."

The ukulele-playing Internet sweetheart did, in fact, produce a music video for her song "Binoculars" using clips sent in by viewers. Julia is back on my radar because she will return to Knoxville on December 30th. I'm planning a trip to knoxivi at 11:00 a.m. that day to see her sing and be interviewed for "Eleven o'clock Rock." She'll be in town to appear on this month's "Tennessee Shines" show also on December 30th.

Earlier this year, my wife and I saw Julia perform across Market Square during a Blue Plate Special broadcast from The Square Room. We learned about her appearance from our friend Richard Cheese who had booked Julia as his opening act for some gigs in New York City.

While we're on the topic of Eleven o'clock Rock, look for me on the show this coming Monday. They are going to interview me about Einstein Simplified's upcoming performance at First Night Knoxville. I'm debating whether or not to stay downtown a little longer for a 1:00 p.m. showing of "White Christmas" at the Tennessee Theatre. Tickets are required but they are free and available from Rose Mortuary. Anyone want to go with me?

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Monday, December 07, 2009

I'm on a boat

One of the first things Dr. Bill Bass asked during his lecture aboard the Volunteer Princess was whether anyone in the audience had seen "The Blind Side." He hasn't but knew the movie has a scene that mentions dead bodies in Neyland Stadium. In the film Kathy Bates' character frightens Michael Oher by misrepresenting the UT forensic anthropology program. She tells him that there are body parts buried under Shields-Watkins Field. In reality, the bones of 7,000 individuals are stored in cardboard boxes in the anthropology department offices in the recesses of the stadium's structure. The body donors were reduced to skeletons across the river at the Body Farm before taking up residence in the stadium. Other than that one scene, the movie is amazingly fantastic.

The purpose of the book signing cruise was to help raise funds for the Dr. William M. Bass Building Fund. I attended as a guest of the Bone Zones team that organizes Jefferson Bass events.

The tag line for the presentation was "when your days end, our day begins." Dr. Bass told us about the history of the Body Farm, the life cycle of the blow-fly and the four stages of decomposition: fresh, bloat, decay and dry. A familiar face popped up on screen during the slide show. I saw pictures of the same man decomposing when I took the FBI Citizens Academy class on forensics. I whispered to the lady next to me to keep an eye on the screen during the bloat stage. At that point the dead man looked a lot like John Goodman.

I have interviewed Dr. Bass several times and heard many of his forensic anecdotes. A new one on me was the story of a victim in Morgan County. On the way back to Knoxville with the body in the back of the vehicle, Dr. Bass and his team stopped off at a Cracker Barrel for lunch. When they returned to the parking lot, their car was surrounded by a cloud of flies.

Dr. Bass' good friend, Dr. Al Hazari of the chemistry department, is mentioned on page two-hundred-and-something of "Death's Acre." The Bone Zones crew had the great idea to get him to autograph that page. As he signed a stack of books, he talked about the Forensic Chemistry Summer Camp for Middle Schoolers that he runs every June. So many of the parents were interested that he added a spring class for Adults on Thursday nights in April.

Speaking of the Bone Zones crew, I was amused by their use of artificial joints that had been recovered from corpses. The artificial hips were paperweights and the top part of an artificial knee made for a great business card holder.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

man of the hour

When the parish council started planning a farewell reception for Fr. Ragan Schriver, he said he hoped that it would be fun. It was more than fun, it was hysterical. This afternoon's event at All Saints Catholic Church, was inspired by the old Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.

I was asked to serve as roastmaster. In addition to the guest of honor, the dais was populated with three other priests, a local news anchor and me. Fr. Tony Dickerson and Fr. Michael Woods talked about the craziness of life in the rectory with Fr. Ragan. Former pastor Fr. Chris Michelson gave a different perspective on the story of hot candle wax spilling onto Fr. Ragan's head at the Easter Vigil. John Becker of WBIR often plays tennis with Fr. Ragan. He told a funny story about the priest's car smelling like a locker room because of all the sweaty workout clothes tossed into the back seat.

Like at the 2007 Adult Social, I did some of my own material before, between and after the other roasters. In honor of the three points in each of Fr. Ragan's homilies, here are three of the stories I told about him. I deviated from my script slightly but two of the stories are completely true!
Fr. Ragan has been at All Saints for a long time and maybe it is time to move on. After 12 years and 600 plus Sunday masses, he has officially run out of "3 Things." I hate to bust you on this but the sermon about the baby in Walmart? Heard it! In fact I heard it again last week when I went to Mass at Holy Family. I did a little research and found out that the little baby… is now 13 years old!

Last year there was a big tennis event at Thompson-Boling Arena called Rock N Racquets. They had Andy Roddick & Serena Williams plus entertainment by rock singer Gavin Rosdale. Gavin is well known in the music business for the alternative rock band he used to be in and he's fairly well known in the People Magazine world for being married to singer Gwen Stefani (she sings Hollaback Girl and a bunch of other songs you might know). Well Fr. Ragan doesn't know any of those songs. He's backstage waiting to meet the tennis players and finds himself standing next to Gavin Rosdale. He's trying to make conversation and the only thing he can think of to say is "so… you're married to Gloria Estefan?"

Fr. Ragan is well known in the community. It seems like everywhere you go, at least one person has a Fr. Ragan story. I was recently at a function with several local TV reporters. Two of them said they had interviewed Fr. Ragan in the past. One is a married woman with two kids who talked about how impressed she was with the work they do at Catholic Charities and how impressed she was with his enthusiasm about getting to know his new neighborhood in Seymour. The other reporter is a bit younger and single. She said "Oh Fr. Ragan! I could go CATHOLIC for him!" She went on but I'll stop there. Suffice to say, the phrases "if only" and "not celibate" were involved.

After the five roasters, Fr. Ragan made some remarks and thought we were finished. At that point, we told him to cut a cake that turned out to be an iced cardboard box. Under the lid was an assortment of fruits and nuts. The two ladies who organized the party closed out the festivities by singing a tribute to the tune of "We Love You Conrad" from "Bye Bye Birdie." During the song, Fr. Michael displayed props like a cup of yogurt and a box of Fiber One cereal. At the end of the song, all the roasters sprinkled soaked Fr. Ragan with some dish-washing sponges on wire handles, much the same way he overdoes it with holy water during the Easter season.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

bake and wake

The annual cookie-baking party thrown by some friends of ours has become a holiday tradition for my wife and me. The host couple provides food and drink and the ingredients for several types of treats. They also had the SEC Championship game on their big TV. The guests each bring whatever is necessary for their specialty. This year, my wife and I made Oreo Truffles, which are well-known to longtime readers of my blog.

During the party, I posted a few bon mots and pictures on Twitter from my cell phone. When I got home, I was frustrated to find that my favorite comment never showed up on the Internet, yet it resides in my phone's "sent items" list. Here it is, because I still think it's funny:
Overheard at the cookie party: "I never heard of this Lady Gaga until this morning on NPR."

For the past several years, my wife has hoped to get the recipe for cappuccino cookies from our hostess. She would get busy or we would get distracted and leave without the recipe. We knew that instant coffee was involved but never had enough information to find an exact match online. There are enough similarly-named recipes out there to really confuse the issue. That changes today, as my wife found the recipe card at the party and transcribed it into the little notepad I carry. I had no idea that the dough had to chill for six hours before baking.

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
½ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon water
1 egg
1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate
3 tablespoons shortening

  • In a heavy saucepan, heat and stir unsweetened chocolate until melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  • Meanwhile, stir flour, cinnamon and salt together.
  • In a large bowl, beat ½ cup of shortening and butter until butter softens. Add brown sugar and beat until fluffy.
  • Stir coffee into water until dissolved. Add coffee, melted chocolate and egg to butter mixture and beat well.
  • Add flour mixture and beat until well mixed. Cover and chill for one hour.
  • Shape into 7 inch rolls, wrap in waxed paper and chill for 6 hours.
  • Cut into ¼ inch slices. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
  • Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove and cool
  • In a heavy saucepan, heat chocolate and 3 tablespoons of shortening. When melted, dip half of each cookie into chocolate. Place on waxed paper and cool until chocolate sets.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

guitar & bass

It's as if Christmas is coming a little early for me this year. Next week I get to spend consecutive evenings watching two men I admire greatly, one for his science and one for his art.

The Bone Zones team that organizes Jefferson Bass events has invited me aboard the book signing cruise with Dr. Bill Bass on the Volunteer Princess Monday night. Last month they asked me to help publicize the boat trip, which will raise money for the Dr. William M. Bass Building Fund. Dr. Bass will show some of his famous Body Farm slides while dinner is served.

I plan to ask Dr. Bass about an email I received last week. The mother of a UT anthropology student wrote to suggest that I could volunteer to process skeletal remains on campus.

For four months I have been anticipating the arrival of the Brian Setzer Orchestra in Knoxville. On Tuesday they will rock the rafters of the historic Tennessee Theatre. My wife and I have been invited to attend by the management of Surfdog Records. The opening act will be Ross Bon & the Mighty Blue Kings. Based on the few songs I've heard online, they should be pretty good.

My blog post last August even surprised the Tennessee Theatre people, who had not yet made their own Setzer announcement. However they didn't notice last month when I inadvertently scooped the local paper with news of David Keith's upcoming musical performance.

Will you be attending either the forensics cruise or the Christmas concert? I am making arrangements to borrow a camera long term from a reader who works at If I can't get it in time, I may ask you to take a picture of me while you're there.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

giving out wings

If the Old Farmer's Almanac wanted a sure thing every year, they could call the Knoxville chapter of the Salvation Army and ask for the date of media bell-ringing day. I remember each of those days being cold and raw, which makes sense for the first Thursday in December. This was at least the fifth year I have participated.

For the second consecutive year, Jonathan Haskell sent me to Sam's Club, which couldn't be more convenient. This year was better than last because the red kettle was placed near the entrance instead of the exit. Everyone entering Sam's has to reach for their wallet to show their membership card. It was pretty easy for them to grab a few dollars at the same time. When a parent let their small child put the money in the kettle, I let the youngster ring the bell a few times.

Alan Williams and Lauren Davis of WVLT had done a great job in the two hours before I arrived. I had to use my pen several times to push down the cash and make room for more. The bell ringer after me was a real ringing Bell, as in Bob Bell of a Christian talk station.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

central dark

The campaign for a new camera is going slowly. Rather than wait until I collect $150, I used my cell phone to re-create some of the photos on the memory card that was in the camera I lost.

The parking lot under the James White Parkway is my last resort when looking for a space in the Old City. I prefer to find a metered space on the street close to Patrick Sullivan's. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my wife and daughter and I parked there and noticed something odd.

Over the summer, my wife and I saw broken auto glass in one of the spaces. It was obvious that someone had done a smash and grab burglary on the isolated pavement. Last week we put two and two together when we saw the decorative projectiles rocks that surround the lot.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

think globally

Are local politicians supposed to be homers? I received an email today from an elected official in Knox County. The message suggested donating to charity instead of buying gifts for Christmas. The politician highlighted a worthy organization, the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, with a focus on their indentured daughters program.
During this holiday season, our family is looking for a different way to celebrate - instead of exchanging the usual gifts that no one really needs, we are sharing our love and good fortune with girls and families in Nepal.
As I read the five or six paragraphs about NYOF, which included a link to a PBS video on the topic, I found no fault with such a deserving cause. It was a nice sentiment which educated me about the plight of others. However the last line of the email gave me pause. If the elected official had not included it, I would not have thought something was amiss.
P.S. If you would rather contribute to an organization that helps children here in the United States, we also contribute to Share Our Strength and Remote Area Medical.
Since moving to Tennessee, I have been continually amazed and impressed by the work of Remote Area Medical. You may have seen them on "60 Minutes." Maybe that's why my knee-jerk reaction was that the local politician should be focused on the Tennessee group, perhaps with a P.S. about Nepal. Can you help me figure out why I felt that way and then felt guilty about feeling that way?

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