Sunday, February 07, 2010

blizzard treats

For the most part, this weekend was spent waiting for the Super Bowl and experiencing the DC area snowstorm via social media. Since Friday, my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been filled with photos of the Snowtorious B.I.G.

Aspiring TV writer Mike Nelson is currently working as a production assistant on "The Real World Washington DC." He posted pictures on TwitPic of his car before and after digging it out of the snow.

My wife enjoys weather maps and forecasts. She has been going to the websites for the Washington television stations to get the latest. Thanks to her efforts, we saw lots of great viewer pictures, details of the Facebook-organized snowball fight and the amusing tale of "Sandwich Girl." WRC-TV reporter Pat Collins spoke with a young woman who had decided to walk three miles to a Giant supermarket because she wanted to redeem her coupon for a free sandwich. No wonder I like her story.

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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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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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Thursday, November 12, 2009

live like you were Mayan

The preposterous new movie "2012" has some good parts. However I am baffled about why they put the worst scenes in the trailer. Surely you've seen the limo racing just ahead of crumbling streets or the plane dodging falling buildings and the 10 Freeway. Those sequences reminded me of the old "Back to the Future" ride at Universal Studios.

Willing suspension of disbelief is required for an audience to accept a work of fiction. I was fine with the big picture stuff about the inside of our planet melting and the earth's crust shifting. I liked their take on the government's secret mission for the survival of the species. It would have been nice to see more of their plans to save civilization. All I got were brief cameos by famous artworks and some zoo animals.

What almost ruined the movie completely were the many, many narrow escapes by John Cusack's character. He launches a limo through a collapsing building, among other implausible events. Some small details are equally irksome. Although the movie is set three years in the future and even has the year 2012 as its title, the filmmakers forgot about the digital TV transition of 2009. There are several shots of televisions with the type of analog static that was eliminated by the switch.

I wondered if the producers have a real problem with two of my former homes, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. As the trailer shows, they destroy both cities on film. They also show the Vatican demolished in a way that must have made the crew of "Angels & Demons" jealous.

As for the good, Woody Harrelson steals every scene he is in. He plays the crazy host of a conspiracy-theory radio show who has all the answers about the world's impending doom. I wish the syndicated overnight show on the local talk station was 1% as interesting as Woody.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

dream a little stream

If money were no object (but it is), I would drop a hundred bucks or more on one of the fancy new WiFi clock radios I've had my eye on. In addition to receiving AM and FM, they can receive any radio station that streams online. One model can even record audio, like a DVR does with TV.

For years I had gotten along just fine with a regular clock radio. I would awaken to the audio simulcast of WATE. Before the digital TV transition, any station on channel 6 would bleed through onto the FM band at 87.7. I learned in college that the entire FM band sits between channels 6 and 7 on the old VHF dial.

At 4:00 each weekday morning, ABC World News Now gave me a good dose of news that helped prepare me for work. Plus listening to talk helps me wake up whereas music puts me back to sleep. Now that WATE has gone digital, the 87.7 simulcast is no more. Obviously I could put a TV in my bedroom, but I really don't want one in there.

Since June, I've been trying different stations searching for something I like. Because I'm not a conspiracy freak or a believer in UFOs and the paranormal, I find the the overnight programming on the local news talk station to be unlistenable. I tried listening to Fox Sports Soup on the sports talk station but didn't like the way all the hosts yell, including Matt Smith who used to work with me at KROQ. The NPR station is still playing classical lullabies at that hour. Even the uptempo music on Star 102.1 didn't wake me. I needed a talk fix.

As I started thinking about how much I could use a WiFi clock radio, an alternative idea came to mind. I realized I could save $100 or more by leaving my laptop in sleep mode on the nightstand. In the morning I could pop it open and listen to a radio station online. But which one? Perhaps I should try some stations from the places where I used to live.

When I first started working the early morning hours at WAVA, I would wake up to Larry King's overnight radio show. I especially loved it when he had showbiz old-timers on as guests. When Larry gave up the radio show, I started listening to Bill Mayhugh on WMAL, not so much for him and the cheesy Roger Whittaker album he often played, but for the rambling live news reports phoned in by Larry Krebs on the police and fire beat. When I moved to California, I tried a few options before settling on KNX.

The CBS streaming player works well. I can choose a station before bed, start streaming, close the laptop and it resumes when I open the laptop in the morning. WTOP in DC uses the Microsoft Silverlight player which failed to restart when I opened the computer. In my sleepy haze, I don't want to have to navigate around a website to find the "listen live" button.

One night I started streaming KFWB and really liked the way they have shifted their focus to include a heavy dose of entertainment news. They now use the slogan "Hollywood listens to KFWB." However during the 4 o'clock hour (Eastern time) they air a refeed of "Doug Stephan's Good Day." I switched to KNX that morning.

I also tried WINS in New York and will sample other CBS stations. Listening to WINS was a little disconcerting. They play most of their commercials individually rather than in a cluster. Each on-air commercial is replaced by a different commercial on the stream. Unfortunately the transition isn't smooth. It wouldn't be as bad with a cluster of spots.

On Friday I clicked onto WMAL in DC. From 3 to 5 a.m. they air The Midnight Trucking Radio Network. While I expected a lot of talk about carburetors and such, what I heard would have fit nicely on any conservative-leaning talk station, such as the news talk station in Knoxville. At 5:00, I heard a few minutes of The Grandy & Andy Morning Show before I had to leave for work. In case you were wondering whatever became of actor-turned-congressman Fred Grandy, know that he sounds like he's enjoying himself as one of the very few live and local hosts on a station full of syndicated programs.

When I got home from work on Friday, it was still early enough to catch some of the Kevin & Bean show. In the 11:00 a.m. (Eastern) hour, I empathized with Bean's anxiety over his wife wanting him to take a dance lesson with her. I doubt that he will cave in like I did. At least my wife doesn't expect me to attempt the super-difficult Argentine Tango.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

mr. everybody

Shows like "America's Got Talent" and "Last Comic Standing" provide a showcase for two art forms that were more popular when I was a kid than they are today. Ventriloquists and impressionists also each got a tongue-in-cheek tribute week on the "Late Show with David Letterman."

Impressionist Fred Travalena died on Sunday. He appeared on Letterman's show a few years back. While on the surface he appeared to be one of those cheesy "luv ya babe, I mean it" celebrities, his actions proved he was a genuinely good guy. I always enjoyed seeing him when he would stop by WAVA to plug a gig in D.C. He was a gracious guest who managed to not step on the toes of co-host Mike O'Meara, who is a talented impressionist himself. Fred even came by the station when he had a private gig that didn't need any radio promotion.

At some point yesterday, they removed the "upcoming appearances" from Fred's website. It had previously listed gigs on July 31 at the Hoover Auditorium in Ohio, an Alaskan Cruise in September and a concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Florida on December 14.

I got the feeling that Fred would have liked to be in the Rat Pack but he was about 25 years too young. Instead he did impressions of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. among others. A lot of Fred's other impressions were of his elders, like George Burns and Groucho Marx.

The sad news about Fred's passing was announced by his long-time publicist, Roger Neal. Roger is a good guy too. When I was between jobs, he would have me do some odd jobs around Hollywood for him. I will always appreciate his kindness.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

pink ribbons

The silent auction items are starting to arrive for the charity event my friend Maureen is co-chairing. She owns Fox Chase Farm in Middleburg, Virginia, which will host the Ride for the Cure Virginia to benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The media sponsor for the October event is WJLA-TV in nearby Washington, DC. Maureen is thrilled that Greta Kreuz and Suzanne Kennedy are planning to ride horses at the function.

Susan Olsen has promised to send an autographed copy of her upcoming book "Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour." Maureen sent me photos of two autographed items that have already arrived. Melissa Etheridge sent a copy of her greatest hits CD. My pal Jimmy Kimmel sent a personalized basketball jersey.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009


A bootleg DVD caught my daughter's eye this past weekend. As she told me about it, I was reminded of the bunch of bootlegs I saw at a well-known knife store in Sevierville about three years ago. She knew that "Song of the South" is permanently locked away in the Disney Vault and shouldn't have been on display at the Capital Home & Garden Show at the Dulles Expo Center. However it was another title that made her think of me and take a picture with her camera phone.

For years I have been futilely awaiting a DVD release of the 1960s TV classic, "Batman." As far as we can tell, there seems to be either a stalemate between Fox and Warner Bros. or there are too many guest stars and others whose estates deserve royalties. Apparently some people have given up waiting and have been making and selling their own DVDs on the circuit. My daughter saw at least three volumes of "Batman" episodes for sale at the Expo Center. While I wanted it, I would still rather wait for the real thing.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

absolut gouda-ness

Today's mail had something my wife knew I would appreciate. Mixed in among the bills and catalogs was a padded envelope from our friend Richard Cheese. He sent along a copy of his new CD, "Viva La Vodka: Richard Cheese Live." It goes on sale in April however fan club members can get it earlier.

Dick's shtick is incredibly useful to parents. He takes popular songs and sings them lounge style, often making the unintelligible intelligible. Perhaps, like me, you never knew or cared exactly how filthy the lyrics of "Me So Horny" actually were. I can't un-ring that bell, but at least I got a laugh out of it. One of the best tracks on the disc is the Pussycat Dolls' song "Don't Cha." During the performance, Richard slips into vocal impressions of Bob Dylan and George Takei. TV tunes fans will like hearing the themes from "Three's Company" and "WKRP in Cincinnati" and KROQ fans will get a kick out of hearing a cover of Weezer's "Hash Pipe," which was recorded live on the Kevin & Bean show. By the way, check out the great lineup for Kevin & Bean's April Foolishness comedy show.

Most of "Viva La Vodka" was recorded at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. I remember going there back in the days when the club was actually at 930 F Street. Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine return to the 8:15 Club 9:30 Club on April 15.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

the homecoming queen's got a gun

George Mason University's homecoming game was televised last Saturday. I watched it, in high definition no less, on Comcast SportsNet MidAtlantic. So why has it taken almost a full week for me to find out that this year's homecoming queen is a dude? There was no mention of it during the telecast. The Washington Post finally had the story today. WTTG-TV and WRC-TV aired reports last night. I got all three links this morning when my daily Google Alert for GMU arrived. I suspect that the mainstream media got their news from Broadside, the weekly student paper.

Reann Ballslee, the queen in question, has previous royalty experience as a drag performer at Freddie's Beach Bar. When not in character, Reann is a popular student named Ryan Allen.

Oddly enough, this is not the first time I've mentioned GMU and drag queens in the same blog post. Please see the last paragraph of my May 18, 2006 entry. It tells you that I knew of the Queen Mary but not that I've also been backstage. The Queen Mary is the same club that Tobias Fünke referenced on the "Arrested Development" rerun I watched yesterday on HDNet.

Tobias would be jealous to know that Maximilliana had me hold his falsies as he dressed as a she. Max has posted video from that night on YouTube. It was part of the infamous Mark & Brian Show football bet punishments.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

radio ga ga

The message I got yesterday from David Edgar said, "Well, you know we always have some sort of contact around February 12th!" He is referring to the anniversary of WAVA's last day as a Top 40 station. I'll be sure to make time tomorrow to listen to the final hour that David produced in 1992.

Two years ago I wrote about WAVA on the 15th anniversary of the end. In the time since then I've kept in touch with some former co-workers, made contact with some and lost contact with some others. Knoxville readers know that I work with another WAVA alumni, Marc Anthony. It's also obvious to regular readers that I keep in touch with Bean, who was known on WAVA as "Flash Phillips."

Sandy Weaver met me at a Waffle House on her way through Knoxville last year. Loo Katz sent a nice holiday card with a photo of his kids. Mark St. John comes to Knoxville a couple of times a year in his capacity as the consultant to the cluster of stations where I work. By coincidence, Mike Beach turned up on today's installment of Knoxville Radio History 101.

Last year I got several invitations to join Facebook, including one from Don Geronimo. I signed up and have also connected with Janet From Another Planet and Susan Raider. The message I got from David Edgar was through Facebook too. I will try creating a WAVA alumni group and I already made an event listing for the anniversary. The social networking site has helped me communicate with some co-workers from KPWR, KROQ and KLOS too. However I have been ignoring friend requests from about ten people I don't know. No offense, of course.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

serious name dropping

The History Channel has been running presidential-themed programming all day. Earlier I watched a segment about James Madison on a show called "The Presidents." Tonight I was completely drawn in by a show called "Secret Access: Air Force One." As nice as the plane is, the couch that converts into the president's bed made me think that the customized 747 is actually the world's fanciest R.V.

Air Force One delayed my flight in April, 2005. President Bush was supposed to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park for Earth Day. Bad weather kept him at McGhee Tyson Airport instead. While he was here, I was waiting to go to the Washington, D.C. area via the late great Independence Air, which I still miss.

In all the years I lived in the D.C. suburbs, I only had two presidential encounters. Jimmy Carter waved at the box office staff when I worked at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts. I later met Mr. Carter a couple of times when I booked him as a guest on KLOS. He came in at least twice to promote books he had written.

I've already written about the time my friend Bean and I broadcast from the White House lawn for a Redskins victory celebration. We saw Ronald Reagan throw a pass to Ricky Sanders. Yes kids, there was a time when the Redskins were that good.

I shook hands with George H.W. Bush, but not while he was president and not while in D.C. He made a campaign stop at Villanova University. I foolishly spent two semesters there as a math major and soon realized that I fit in better at the student newspaper and student radio station. Mr. Bush had a luncheon with student leaders in the Connelly Center as many of us looked on from an upper level. He made some remarks and acknowledged the people he was with, including Villanovan editor Marianne Lavelle. I started a chant of "Marianne, Marianne," which prompted Mr. Bush to call her to his side for a hug. Cameras flashed and a big picture of the two of them was splashed above the fold on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer the next day. That's when Marianne told me that her family members were leaders in the local Democratic party and that she now had a lot of explaining to do.

Bill Clinton came to Los Angeles after his term to speak at the Radio & Records convention. I was working at the convention for my friend Pam Baker. She assigned me to be the liaison for "Access Hollywood" anchors Nancy O'Dell and Pat O'Brien. I had known Pat for years from his frequent guest appearances on KROQ. He felt comfortable telling me that he really wanted to be introduced to Mr. Clinton, which wasn't on the official agenda. I was aware of the path that the former president would take through the kitchen to the ballroom so I positioned Pat and Nancy in the corridor until the time was right. As Mr. Clinton was chatting with some people in his entourage, I saw my opening and took it. "Mr. Clinton, I'd like you to meet Nancy O'Dell and Pat O'Brien," I said. He quickly turned to greet them, as I thought he would, especially since Nancy is gorgeous.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

leapin' lizards

Like the guy in the Verizon commercial, Christmas isn't over for me yet. Today is only the tenth day of Christmas. I found a film blog that is also celebrating the tenth day today. Each of the related entries are fun, especially the eighth day.

Since we still have a little time left, let's take a look at three of the newsletters that were enclosed with Christmas cards we received this year. Like last year, the names have been redacted to protect the indulgent innocent.

These first excerpts are from some married friends of mine from college who like to travel. A lot. There are a few of their trips I'm leaving out, including their annual Thanksgiving cruise to the Caribbean.
While we didn't have gymnastics this year for S., we were indoctrinated into the world of competitive cheerleading. In January we traveled to Indianapolis and in February we were in Atlanta where S. was one of 22,000 cheerleaders competing in the Georgia World Convention Center. There was lots of glitter! S. is also back on the pageant circuit and in May she was crowned as Miss Junior National Teenager [from our state].

Spring break arrived in March and we actually thought about not going anywhere. At the last minute however, we decided to book a trip to St. John and had a fabulous time on this very beautiful island. Next, in April, we were off for a quick weekend to New York to see "Wicked," a great Broadway show. This little excursion included a stop in Philadelphia for dinner at a really cool Italian restaurant in South Philly; yes, we're nuts.

In May we went on a 12-day Mediterranean cruise. It was a fabulous vacation and we visited ten amazing ports. In Florence we spent the day touring the medieval villages of Sienna and San Gimignano. We loved the Tuscan countryside (although unlike last year, not by bike). The next day brought us to Rome where we had arranged a tour of the Vatican. Even though we had been there just a year before, there was still so much to see. This was the best vacation ever and we saw so many wonderful sights and had a truly amazing time.

Within a week of our return from Europe and barely over the jet lag, we were off to South Carolina for K.'s orientation at [her new college]. Not long after that we were all back in South Carolina for our annual vacation in Hilton Head Island, this time with four additional friends and the dog! Tiki loved her first trip to the beach. This Hilton Head vacation turned out to be quite memorable as we took advantage of the attractive real estate market and ended up buying a house. For now it will be a vacation home but we plan on moving there permanently when S. graduates from high school.
This next excerpt is from one of my wife's friends:
J. has now passed the 24 year mark at IBM. As his responsibilities have grown, he keeps thinking more and more about hanging up his cleats and moving to Hawaii... but then he wakes up from his dream and realizes we only have 7 more straight years of paying for the kids' colleges.

Our rental rates are very reasonable for those of you interested in coming to DC in late January. Desperate times mean desperate measures - we've got to do something to make up for the 401Ks.
And this last short paragraph is my favorite. It comes from a relative:
December highlight was a visit to the Governor's Mansion at the invitation of the First Lady, who is also an AXO. It is a restored 1871 Victorian mansion. The lunch was elegant and served by incarcerated workers dressed in tuxes and white gloves. An occasion to remember, for sure.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

sing in exultation

The piece of music that makes it feel like Christmas for me is the "Christmas Festival Overture" by Leroy Anderson. The composer took several popular Christmas carols and songs and arranged them in a medley. The best parts of it were clearly influenced by Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." My favorite segment is a mashup of "Jingle Bells" and "O Come All Ye Faithful." There's a new BBC recording of Anderson's holiday works that includes the overture. I literally got goosebumps when I heard the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra perform the opus on Saturday night.

The SLSO's home is the beautiful Powell Symphony Hall, a former vaudeville and movie house. Prior to the concert, they projected messages on a screen reminding the audience that photography was prohibited and that ushers would provide cough drops before the show started. Coughing must be prohibited too. I was impressed that at one of the refreshment stands they sold slices of cake and pie, egg nog (spiked and regular) and hot cocoa. Meanwhile on stage, soloist Doug LaBrecque put the broad in Broadway as he sang to the rafters. He thanked his arranger Wayne Barker for working up some nice orchestrations to include the excellent St. Louis Children’s Choirs on "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

All the songs we heard at the concert and the songs we heard on the weekend's long car trip got me thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas music. Relient K's version of "Sleigh Ride" is a favorite this year. I also still enjoy The Blenders singing "The First Noel" and the Brian Setzer Orchestra doing "Angels We Have Heard On High," which is downloadable for free for a limited time on Look up pop perfection and you should get "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey. It is flawless both as a song and as a record. Ask the Grammys if you don’t know the difference between the two.

I've come to realize that "Baby It’s Cold Outside" is really a woman’s song. I don’t like versions in which the female part is a throwaway, for example when Dean Martin sings it with some anonymous chorus girls (sorry, Bean.) I loved the version on the Mark & Brian Christmas album, not because of Barry Manilow but because of the great voice of listener Pamela Holt. Even better is the cover of the song on the "Elf" soundtrack, sung by Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone. When Zooey sings the line "my sister might get suspicious," how can you not think of Bones?

My daughter left a comment on Bean's Christmas Music Everyday blog. He posted a song called "Christmas Eve in Washington" that seems to be disliked by everyone I know. As far as I know, it only gets airplay in D.C. That reminds me. Let me air a gripe about all the radio stations that play only Christmas music for the month prior to the holiday. I've already written about the uneven ratio of sacred to secular songs. Now I want to know why you cut us off cold turkey at 11:59 p.m. on the 25th? When you go back to playing the best mix of yesterday's favorites and today's whatever, I'll be listening to Christmas music for a few more days. I think you should leave some Christmas songs on the playlist through New Year's Eve. Oh and one more thing, when you play an instrumental version of "Sleigh Ride," keep in mind that Leroy Anderson was the composer of the piece. You often make it sound like he played all the instruments on the recording by the Boston Pops or another symphony orchestra.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

putting the band back together

TNT's annual broadcast of "Christmas in Washington" has become part of my holiday tradition. I found myself looking forward to the telecast for a couple of reasons.

Julianne Hough
opened the show. Unfortunately she sounded nervous. When my wife and I saw her sing at the World Grotto accompanied only by a pair of acoustic guitars, she sounded fantastic. In front of First Lady Laura Bush and singing with a full orchestra and a choir full of backup singers Julianne was, how do you say, pitchy. My wife thought that she probably didn't have a good mix in her monitor speakers or earbuds.

My wife had recently heard about a clever version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." At first she thought her friend was trying to tell her about the old parody song, "The Twelve Days After Christmas." Instead it was a medley of different tunes by a group called Straight No Chaser, who appeared on the show tonight. When Robin McGraw read their introduction, I was interested to learn that they sang together in college, went their separate ways and reunited when an old video of theirs went viral on YouTube. They now have a record deal. I put their CD on my Amazon wish list.

In other random Christmas music news, I've been hearing a lot about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra lately. When I happened to see affianced bloggers Rich and Lissa in Gatlinburg recently, they told me that they are going to the upcoming concert at Thompson-Boling Arena. The TSO also came up in a phone conversation with a friend who was traveling in the Northeast and thought that the band was playing in his area too. During the course of our chat, I got to wondering if the Orchestra could make more money during the holidays by being in two places at once. A look at their tour schedule confirmed my suspicions. On the night that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra plays in Knoxville, they will also be in Indianapolis. The night before that they will be in both Nashville and Detroit. After they play here, they will be in Memphis and Grand Rapids on the same night. Obviously they use two groups of musicians. Wikipedia says they hire local string players in each city but it doesn't say how the principals are divided up. No offense to Indianapolis, but I hope that Knoxville gets the better show that night.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gunston checks out

Gunston, the oft-maligned mascot of George Mason University, is being put out to pasture. He looks like a giant Muppet that's missing a couple of chromosomes. Rather than disappear, he will still represent the University at some events for children.

Although Gunston was far from perfect, I'm worried that I might like his replacement less. The DC Sports Blog and the DCist report that GMU's new mascot will be more human looking. I hope the GMU Patriots don't try to copy the New England Patriots mascot. To me, the creepiest mascots are the ones that have giant human faces. I would prefer an animal mascot, like the ones competing in the Capitol One Mascot Challenge (including UT's Smokey).

When I was a student at Mason, there was no foam-covered mascot. Instead we had a face character. He was an older man who wore colonial garb, which would have been better for a candle-making demonstration in Williamsburg than for rallying a crowd of basketball fans. In subsequent years, the scary-looking Mason Maniak replaced the stately statesman.

Two of my friends have worn the mascot costumes for GMU. I emailed both George and Mike to get their take on the news of the impending change. George started in 1991 as the puffy Patriot. He also wore a gorilla suit and the Green Mask outfit before debuting the Gunston costume. George still works for the University. He went to fix something at President and Mrs. Merten's residence the day after they had attended their first GMU basketball game:
She introduced herself to me and I told her we had met last night. She looked puzzled when I told her we even danced on the court during a time out. When I told her who I was, she ran to the stairs and called out, "Alan, Alan, come here!" She was so excited to find out who I was.
Mike was the last to wear the original Gunston costume and the first to wear the new one. He overlapped with George in 1998 and continued through the school's 2001 NCAA appearance. Mike says:
Gunston was always misunderstood. I was once told that the aim of the athletic department was to appeal to families and kids, but I always thought that as the University's mascot, it should appeal to the students and alumni. It would never fail that at a game I would be asked "what are you?"

Who knows why Mason is making the change. There was talk about this back in 1998 and there will be talk of changing from whatever they chose in the future. Mason is funny like that. It longs for tradition and I think forgets that tradition takes time and stability.

Once I was asked out for Valentine's Day by a couple of sorority girls and went on a date to dinner and a movie with them. The great thing about Gunston was that people forgot that there was a person in there. That's how I knew that I did a good job. I would surf on top of police cars in parades, rollerblade behind vans around Patriot Park and the cops would smirk and shake their heads. Orientation was always fun too. I was the first college guy that hit on many an incoming freshman. I know... kind of impure, but they needed it, Frank... they needed it.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

long distance dedication

Neither the folks at Cupcakes Take the Cake nor I realized that tonight's episode of "Food Network Challenge: Cupcake" was a rerun from 2005 when writing our posts about the show. A comment posted on their site revealed the truth, which was verified with a few mouse clicks. I was also reminded that the contestant from Knoxville's MagPies Cakes used to be in a band called The Judybats.

Two weeks ago, when I programmed my DVR to record the Challenge, I got the idea to order a half-dozen cupcakes as a surprise for my daughter. They were delivered to her today. Before that could happen, I had to search online for bakeries in the Washington, DC area. The Washington Post recently rated the best cupcakes in their area.

The currently popular Hello Cupcake doesn't yet offer delivery service. Lily Lane Cakes had a nice website but the proprietor told me she was totally booked for the weekend. Signature Cupcakes eliminated themselves from contention with their steep $13 delivery charge and one-dozen minimum.

I eventually ordered from CandyCups Cupcakes. Their delivery charge was only $5 and the cupcakes were reasonably priced. Best of all, they could decorate the tops with floral designs my daughter would like. I expected the flowers to be drawn on with icing from a pastry bag. As you can see in the photo below, they used gum paste to make some nice three-dimensional flowers instead.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

horse and chariot

While the Pope and others have been reading the Bible aloud on Italian television, the Bible Across America vehicle stopped at the Cedar Springs Christian Store in Knoxville today. 31,173 volunteers will each write a single verse to help create a handwritten Bible. Actually, we wrote our verses twice to make two handwritten Bibles.

The people who showed up at noon were given a choice between Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus. Obviously we had to write the next verse in order. Three podiums were set up under a white tent. I was thinking of the movie "The Ten Commandments" when I got in the line for Exodus. The verse I got was "The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name." (Ex. 15:3) Had I chosen Leviticus I would have gotten a verse about infectious skin disease.

I'm hopeful that some of my friends and relatives will be able to write their own verse when the vehicle hits their towns. One of the Bible Across America team members told me that they will reschedule their Washington DC visit to a time when Congress is in session. They will try to get several lawmakers to participate.

To see some much better photos of Knoxvillians writing Bible passages, check the News Sentinel for the pictures taken by J. Miles Cary. He's the same guy who photographed my makeover a year and a half ago.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

shore thing

Sean Hannity's radio show used to be on a local AM station every afternoon at 3:00 p.m. I would often hear the beginning of it while scanning the dial and waiting to pick up my son from school. One day Hannity's show was gone. Another station picked up the show and buried it in an evening timeslot via tape delay.

Last night I heard some of Hannity's show as I drove to the Maryville vs. Alcoa football game. He was extremely energized over John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate. Palin's selection has made the October 2nd vice presidential debate in St. Louis a lot more interesting too.

I wonder if Lorne Michaels has already asked Tina Fey to come back to "Saturday Night Live" just to play Palin. You have to admit there's a resemblance. My wife is hoping that the our favorite cast member, Kristen Wiig, will portray Palin. I'm sure Wiig could nail the voice, especially on phrases like "He's a world champion snow machine racer!"

As a radio guy, I get a kick out of hearing Scott Shannon voice the segment intros on Hannity's show. Almost everyone I knew in DC radio had a Scott Shannon story from his time at WPGC. Something I heard Shannon say last night made me laugh and wonder if I had anything to do with it. I think he said that the broadcast had been "Hannitized for your protection."

In February of 2007, I sent a one-minute audio clip to Sean's staff. His producer, James Grisham, wrote back to say thanks. In the clip, Kim Hansard does an inadvertent spoonerism on the words "hand sanitizer." Listen to it yourself and tell me if you think I planted an idea in the heads of the Hannity folks.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008


An article about the Smithsonian caught my attention a couple of weeks ago when the new exhibits "The Truth About Crystal Skulls" and "Jim Henson's Fantastic World" opened to the public. The writer wonders how the pop-culture inspired displays are in keeping with the museum's mission for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge."

The crystal skull is at the National Museum of Natural History, which may explain the problem the writer has with it. Usually all the pop culture stuff goes in the National Museum of American History, which is closed for renovations until November 21. That's where my daughter saw Jerry Seinfeld's puffy shirt almost three years ago.

The Smithsonian has some radio artifacts including a microphone used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jimmy Kimmel recently emailed me a link to the site for a new radio that could end up in a museum someday. It's easy to use like a table radio but has the brains of a computer that can play both terrestrial and Internet stations. The two places I listen to radio most (on my own time) are in bed and in the car. It would be great to wake up to some of my favorite stations from around the country but it's not worth spending $650 for the convenience.

Most of the time I have the TV on while I'm reading and writing on the Internet. I do it in an effort to keep up with the accumulated shows on my TiVo and my HD-DVR. I would like to make time to listen to a few radio podcasts and maybe I can now that I know how to increase the playback speed on Windows Media Player.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

pondering pachyderms

Something must be up with the elephants. My wife and son enjoyed seeing Tonka and the other elephants at the Knoxville Zoo on Saturday. My friend Bean sent me a photo of Batman on an elephant and Byron just sent me a link to see Abby Ham shoveling elephant manure at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Don't worry Ham fans, she still has her regular job on the Channel 3 News.

Abby's dung-filled day reminded me of something we did one spring at WAVA. When the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus came to town, I had the opportunity to ride an elephant through the streets of D.C. Before they left, the circus would offer free bags of elephant manure to anybody who wanted some for their garden. We got several bags of the stuff and spread them in the parking lot on top of an envelope, which we had sealed in a plastic bag. We invited listeners to come and dig through the manure in search of a buried prize. When one of the listeners finally found it, he ripped open the envelope and saw nothing but the words "April Fool!"

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Monday, July 07, 2008

what would Simon say?

"American Idol" finalist Ace Young got slammed on for performing in Pigeon Forge on the Fourth of July at StarJam 2008 while some of his castmates played nationally televised gigs. The fun would be spoiled for Harvey Levin and his crew if they knew that the crowd at StarJam numbered somewhere around 75,000. The fans were pressed in so tightly that the fire department had to hose them down. Oh yeah, Paris Hilton was there too.

As Terry Morrow mentioned in his blog, he and I talked with Ace in his tour bus. He had heard about the dig on TMZ but didn't mind because it meant that he was "on their radar."

During our conversation, the satellite TV in the bus was tuned to the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks on NBC. We saw Katharine McPhee singing "Save the Last Dance for Me" under an umbrella in Brooklyn. The fireworks were visible behind her. Earlier in the telecast Jordin Sparks sang her next single, "One Step at a Time." It was fairly obvious that Jordin's performance at Times Square was recorded on a night without rain.

When we got home from Pigeon Forge, my wife and I watched "A Capitol Fourth" on our HD-DVR. Taylor Hicks looked more like one of the congressmen in the audience than one of the performers. We cringed when he mugged into the camera like a cheesy lounge singer during a song called "Soul Thing." When he wasn't looking at the camera, we caught him looking at himself on the jumbotron several times. It got worse when he messed up the lyrics to "Dancing in the Dark" and went into the audience to select a dance partner in a pale imitation of Bruce Springsteen and Courteney Cox.

Of the four performances by Idol contestants that I saw on the Fourth, Ace's was easily the best. He won over the crowed with his original songs like "Addicted" and with one or two covers including a great version of "Dream On." Ace stuck around to meet his fans and sign autographs long after the post-concert fireworks. He is doing it the hard way by financing his own CD. I hope this nice guy finishes first, especially after what they wrote on

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

light 'em up

Like previous years, my TiVo and my HD-DVR got a workout on the Fourth of July as I tried to record as many fireworks shows as possible. I couldn't find any coverage of Nashville's display but there were plenty of other choices. Nashville, Knoxville and Washington DC used Pyro Shows of LaFollette to light up their skies.

The best part of Boston's fireworks came during the song "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" by Dropkick Murphys (no relation). The music and the green explosions were a perfect match. But c'mon CBS, that show needs to be in high definition like "A Capitol Fourth" on PBS.

The musical highlight of the DC show was the "1812 Overture" although it was also pretty cool to have the explosions start while Jerry Lee Lewis was on stage singing "Great Balls of Fire." The worst part was when they cut away from the fireworks to show Jimmy Smits standing at a podium. Why not just let him do his part as a voiceover? Plus the Clark Gable mustache isn't working for him.

Our local Knoxville fireworks were televised after a weather delay. Did it actually rain on World's Fair Park or was the wind enough to put the festivities on hold? The highlight of the telecast for my wife and me was seeing our friend Mike sit in with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. They had him play his accordion during a selection from the "Kit Kittredge" soundtrack. Mike plays keyboards at our church and has a day job in the symphony's business office. As nice as it is to have coverage of our local symphony, there's very little point in televising fireworks without the benefit of HD. I think the viewing audience would have been better served if WBIR had broadcast NBC's HD coverage of Macy's 4th of July Fireworks from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. They could have shown a tape of the KSO from 10:00 to 11:00 or even 11:30. As it turned out, the Knoxville fireworks didn't begin until 10:20 or so.

The music accompanying the New York fireworks had a very Broadway feel to it, whether the songs were early rock 'n' roll or from the big band era. On the song "Give My Regards to Broadway," they made a point of zooming in on an illuminated Macy's logo every time the instrumental version of the tune got to the point where the lyrics would have said "remember me to Herald Square." Okay, we get it. Macy's flagship store is in Herald Square. And there was a "Miracle on 34th Street," we know. Parts of the patriotic medley, they called it "The Nation's Overture," reminded me more of "Fantasmic" than anything else. Although the "Tennessee Waltz" put me in mind of Knoxville, the highlight for me was "Sing Sing Sing." It seemed the best fit for fireworks being shot in triplicate from three barges.

HDNet ran some hi-def fireworks on the Fourth. Except that they were from the Kentucky Derby Festival in May. To make things worse, they didn't bother to pick up the synchronized music soundtrack. Instead we heard the boom of the shells, a hint of the music in the distance and the same crazy woman whooping after every burst. Travel Channel had live coverage of the fireworks in Washington but they had no music and no HD (on DirecTV). What's the point of showing that? At least the spectators near their microphone did some normal oohing and aahing instead of all that overzealous whooping on HDNet.

For me, fireworks are made better by the addition of the right soundtrack. WENS in Indianapolis used to sponsor a fireworks show perfectly named SkyConcert. Friday's telecasts gave me two ideas that, by writing this, I will drop in the cyber suggestion box known as the Internet. The instrumental parts of "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" would make a great addition to the Boomsday soundtrack. Secondly, HDNet should bring their fancy cameras to Knoxville on August 31 to record both the audio and video of Boomsday in hi-def.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

mass, public, interpersonal

One of my former professors from George Mason University was in town over the weekend. Dan Rainey was the faculty adviser for WGMU radio during the time I was station manager. In addition, he taught at least three of the 300 and 400 level communication classes I took. When I mentioned it over lunch on Saturday, Dan joked that every time he turned around, there I was.

Although he still does some teaching (now at SMU), Dan's day job is at the National Mediation Board where he is Director of the Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Dan has been interested in conflict resolution for a long time. In a previous job, he spoke about the representation of Arabs in American media. At lunch, Dan told us a little about Irish political murals. He said we should try to get to DC this summer when some well-known muralists will be in town for an art show.

We talked a little bit about some of my former classmates who were also Dan's students. I mentioned that Debby Girvan had run for mayor of Fredericksburg. Unfortunately she didn't win.

Another topic, albeit brief, was radio and the changes the business has undergone in DC and elsewhere. I forgot to show Dan the picture of a WGMU satin jacket that my daughter saw in a thrift shop. She thought it was tacky funny enough to buy it for less than a dollar. The name "Sportiette" is stitched on the front. I hung it in a closet with a blue WAVA satin jacket and a purple Carpenters satin jacket with the name "Kevin" stitched on the front. I'm ready for Halloween.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

two places at once

This story will probably be told and retold at our family gatherings for years to come. By typing it here, all I'll have to do in the future is Google it and read aloud.

My wife and I needed to be in the Washington area for our daughter's college convocation ceremony on Friday afternoon and then back in Knoxville for our son's high school graduation on Saturday morning. The convocation was like a graduation except just for the students in our daughter's field of study. We chose to miss our son's baccalaureate Mass on Friday evening and to skip our daughter's massive university-wide graduation ceremony on Saturday because of the scheduling conflict. Only one flight on the schedule left Dulles Airport after the college convocation but before the high school graduation. I booked two tickets on it months ago.

We spent the morning helping our daughter move out of her dorm room. We had lunch with several members of our extended family and got to the arena with time to spare. After the convocation, we headed out to Dulles for our 9:55 p.m. flight to Knoxville. En route, I called the airline's toll-free number and found out that the departure was delayed until 10:54. They somehow think it's better to claim the flight is only going to be 59 minutes late instead of an hour. When we got to the airport, our flight was missing from the "Departures" board. Gone. Not there. No mention. It was as if our plane didn't exist. We went to the ticket counter and waited. Another traveler was asking about the same flight. It was about 9:15 p.m. when we were told that our flight was now estimated to depart at 12:05 a.m. We needed a guarantee that the flight would not be canceled, which they couldn't give us. The clerk told us that the plane was not yet at Dulles. In fact, it had not even left whatever city it was coming from. Manchester, perhaps? The clerk told us to come back in half an hour for an update. We found some unoccupied chairs near a rest room and sat down to wait.

Half an hour later, we returned to the ticket counter. The message on the kiosk screens said that they had closed at 9:45. It would have been nice if the ticket clerk had mentioned that to me at 9:15. After a few minutes I caught the attention of another ticket clerk who was just passing by the counter. She said they were in fact closed and that she really couldn't help me but after listening to our pathetic story she would see what she could find out. She said our flight had been pushed back even more. They were now estimating that it would depart around 12:30 or 1:00 a.m.

We had to make a tough decision. Do we rent a car and start driving? It's an eight-hour drive. It would take us the better part of an hour to get a rental car. It's now 10:00, which means we could be on the road by 11:00 and home in Knoxville around 7:00 a.m. It's already been a long day and could be a very long night. Or we could put all our eggs in the airline basket and wait and hope and pray that the flight doesn't get canceled. At this point, a plane would theoretically put us at McGhee Tyson Airport around 2:30 a.m. and back home by 3:00.

To be continued...

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