Monday, March 15, 2010

oveur and out

Tonight's planned television viewing was interrupted by 1967. While "Chuck" and "24" were still recorded by my DVR, I chose to fire up the DVD player and watch a couple of episodes from season 2 of "Mission: Impossible." My daughter gave me the discs for Christmas in 2008.

The inspiration for my retro-viewing party was the death of Peter Graves, the one, true Jim Phelps. I was too young to stay up and watch M:I when it first aired but I got hooked on the show during high school when one of the local New York stations showed reruns of it every night. The episodes from season 2 that I watched tonight are ones I don't recall seeing before.

The teamwork of the IMF and the intricate plots renewed my displeasure with the way the Tom Cruise movies abused the franchise. Martin Landau was quoted in an article about Graves' death. The original stars also smelled a rat and refused to sully their characters by appearing in Cruise's vanity project.

On "World News," Diane Sawyer reported Graves' relation to his brother, James Arness, like it was news. I think her exact words were, "here's something we didn't know..." Huh? I've known that piece of TV trivia for as long as I can remember.

Peter Graves died just outside his home as he was returning from a Sunday brunch to celebrate his upcoming birthday. Is it weird that I am incredibly curious to know which restaurant served his last meal? Get me Dearly Departed Tours on the phone!

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Friday, March 12, 2010

great future in plastics

along I-24 in Nashville The concept of plastination was more shocking when I first heard about it on "60 Minutes" or some similar newsmagazine. In the years since, I have learned a little bit about people who donate their bodies to science thanks to my conversations with Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. When I saw a billboard along I-24 promoting a display of plastinized bodies in Nashville, I knew I had to see it.

appetite suppressant? I had assumed that the exhibit was part of Gunther von Hagens' Bodyworlds although the fact that it was in a shopping mall instead of a science museum should have tipped me off. My son and I went to RiverGate Mall before I took him to the airport the other day. After lunch in the food court, we headed to a storefront next to Sears.

the ticket seller looks thrilled The show we saw was called Bodies Human, which appears to be a second class version of the original. Bodyworld solicits and accepts donated corpses. One of the employees at Bodies Human told us that the humans in their display were unclaimed corpses from morgues in Thailand. The thought of a tourist recognizing one of the cadavers as a missing friend or relative saddened me somewhat.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

so many contenders

One of the friends we visited in Saugerties over the summer didn't plan on buying me a second Christmas present this year. However he couldn't resist the item he saw at an auction house. He had read my blog post about the late, great Ed McMahon and knew I would love an autographed picture of the legendary broadcaster.

The salutation reads "For the gang at S.M.C., All the best!" I wonder what S.M.C. stands for. Considering that the photo was purchased in New York State, I think a likely candidate would be SMC Stone. It could also be from SMC Furnishings, the Systems, Man & Cybernetics Society or the Snowsports Merchandising Corporation. Maybe Ed supported either an organization called Single Mothers by Choice or the Sacred Music Chorale of Richmond Hill. How could I forget the Black Irish chapter of the Shamrocks Motorcycle Club?

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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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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.

View more news videos at:

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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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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ober reaction

Comedian Ken Ober, best known as host of "Remote Control," was found dead Sunday. I had the good fortune of knowing Ken when he worked at the Comedy World Radio Network.

In the mid '90s, Ken co-hosted a show on KLSX with Susan Olsen. A few years later, they both worked at Comedy World although on different shows. While most of the programs needed time to find their legs, "The Ken Ober Radio Hour" sounded good from day one. He surrounded himself with funny people like Lou DiMaggio and Charles Zucker.

When news of Ken's passing first started popping up on the Internet, some debunked it as a hoax. Sadly it turned out to be true. My friend Susan was distressed by the conflicting reports. After the death was confirmed she wrote several things on Facebook, including: "Most agree it seems Ken Ober was in a good place in his life before passing. There's some consolation in that. He was a great guy to work with, I'm so glad I saw him recently." A little later she posted: "Well maybe Kenny is having a cocktail with Ed McMahon and busting his chops for introducing him on Star Search as 'Can Opener.'"

On the day of the O.J. Simpson verdict, Susan brought a camera to work. She put together a 9½ minute video of what went on in the KLSX studios and hallways. Like most of us, Ken's reaction was pure outrage. His language on the tape is definitely NSFW. In our current times, it is amazing to see that so many people once worked at a single radio station. You might recognize the Regular Guys, Kato Kaelin and Mother Love.

There are many comments on the web about how Ken was as nice as he was talented. I can tell you from first hand experience that it was a genuine pleasure to be around him.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

belly of a whiskered beast

The recent death of Vic Mizzy had many TV critics reminiscing about the good old days of TV theme songs. I saw one website with a list of the best current themes, which included some of my favorites, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Office" and "Dexter."

At the screenings of the no-budget horror film "Fish Bait" over the weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a theme song over the closing credits. Jeffrey Joslin, son of director Jeff Joslin, is a singer-songwriter based in Murfreesboro. Jeffrey appears in the film, entertaining at a party scene. For the end credits, he composed a song called "Fish Bait" that mentions the fictional Fear Hollow Marina and the big catfish my character hopes to catch.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

body farmville

There's no room at the Body Farm. The shocking news was in The Tennessean this week. The Vanderbilt School of Medicine has also stopped accepting cadavers. The increased demand is attributed to a larger number of people who can't afford a traditional burial or cremation.
A publicly funded burial isn't the only option for families faced with insurmountable funeral expenses. Donating a body to scientific or medical research is free and, in the age of forensic-sleuthing shows like CSI, somewhat glamorous.
The forensics program is attempting to raise $400,000 to build a new research building and add another acre to the Body Farm, which would allow space for even more cadaver donations in the future.
Until the expansion, what should they do with all the people who want their bodies to skeletonize naturally? Here are a few comedic suggestions to get us started. Add your own funny ideas in the comments section.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

a matter of life and death

Capital punishment has been the main topic of discussion in Knoxville recently. The first of the trials of the accused killers of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom concluded today. The disgusting, horrific crimes have grabbed the attention of East Tennesseeans to such a degree that jurors had to be selected from the Nashville area. Letalvis Cobbins was eligible for the death penalty after being convicted of first degree murder. The jury sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Social networks are buzzing with news updates and opinions on the trial. I couldn't help but notice that many of my Facebook friends were very vocal about their desire to see Cobbins sentenced to death. On more mundane political issues, I usually agree with their views. However I was moved to post the following status update: "My unpopular opinion: glad for the guilty verdicts for Cobbins but still opposed to the death penalty. My FB friends want an execution."

I found out that not all my Facebook friends support capital punishment. While the jury was deliberating the sentence, I received several great comments from both points of view that are worth reading now and re-reading as each of the other defendants face their juries. I will refer to the author of each comment by first initial only. However if any of them contact me and ask that their names be used, I will happily revise the post to identify them.
A: The death penalty is not something to be taken lightly. I don't side with you on this one (well, glad for the guilty verdicts), but I can respect anyone with a different opinion on an execution. That's a touchy subject.

R: The government can't manage to run a car buy back program effectively. Why on earth should we trust them with the power of life and death?

N: The Government does not have the "power" to execute this trash, the jury and judge do. And they are us.
Frank, look at it from another angle, with children and good people going hungry, why waste the thousands upon thousands of dollars, housing this animal? Compassion is not "babysitting" this animal for the next 50 to 60 years, it is taking that needed energy and money and helping victims of them.

J: If a person commits a crime and is caught and convicted they forfeit their liberty. If the crime is truly horrific they forfeit their life. The state may be the instrument of their death but the responsibility lies with the perpetrator of the crime. That's how I see it and I think this crime certainly qualifies for the death penalty.

S: Count me among the FB friends that do NOT want an execution. Do you have a link for the back story on Cobbins? I don't know the case.

Frank: The details of this horrific case will turn your stomach.

R: Do judges and juries get things wrong? Do prosecutors engage in misconduct? Are cases pushed or dropped for political reasons? If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes," then our criminal justice system does not perform to the standard required to allow it to take a life.

N: No, the judge and jury did not get THIS case wrong!

T: Well, the problem with your argument is that it costs far more to exhaust the appeals process than to simply house a convict. Also, it's disingenuous to not recognize the jury and the judge are merely arms of the state.
The US Constitution, however, clearly contemplates the death the penalty ("no person shall be deprived of life ...."). Of course, the US Constitution is a floor, not a ceiling, so each state can decide the issue. Still, the death penalty is an ancient and barbaric practice that provides no deterrence and should be abolished.

S: No offense to N, I don't know you.... But one of the fundamental flaws with humanity is the ability to allow a desire for revenge to cloud judgment. If you didn't sit on the jury and hear all of the evidence in the case, you are making an opinion based judgment rather than a fact based judgment. While he hasn't stated such as yet, I would guess that Frank's opposition to the DP is that only God can truly judge the actions of man. Only God has all the facts and only God can claim the right to judge who should live or die.

R: I supported the death penalty for a long time. I reasoned that if I'm willing to take a life in order to defend my own, then the state should be allowed to do the same, take a life to defend the group.
Then I realized that was a flawed comparison. For example, I have the right to use lethal force to defend myself when attacked, or to defend another who is being attacked. I don't have the right to kill somebody because they attacked me yesterday, or might attack somebody tomorrow. And if I don't have the right, then why should I give it to the state?
Particularly when the state has not demonstrated the level of competence required to handle such an imposing responsibility.

N: Disingenuous? Lets read the rest of the sentence together. "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of the law". Also, Sometimes the appeals process is used to stop justice from being completed.
S, I am sorry that you think justice is revenge. I assume that like me you are not on this jury, correct? Then your opinion is also not a fact based judgment? That is why it is called a discussion. God? God did not take Channon's life, this man did.
I am not arrogant enough to suggest what Frank believes, I merely suggested another view. Frank is a good friend and I will stand by him.
What is breaking my heart is that there is more disdain for me in my beliefs than the monster that committed this unparalleled crime.
I must now go back to work so I can help feed this trash for the next 20 to 60 years, so I will be unable and unwilling to comment any further, so say what you will.

AB: The only reason I oppose the death penalty is because we cannot guarantee that no innocent life will be lost. As soon as one innocent person is killed, the whole system has/is failed.

S: I didn't say that justice was revenge. I said that the desire for revenge can cloud judgment (clear reasoning). I also didn't make a statement about the outcome of the case, you did. My point was that people who aren't involved intimately with the case don't have enough information to say if the defendant is guilty or innocent. Your statement that the jury didn't make a mistake was an overstatement because you didn't have the same information as they did.
As for Frank, I was merely extrapolating on his previously expressed Catholicism. I would never say that I spoke on his behalf. I was just pointing out that for some people (like PERHAPS Frank) this is a religious issue and should be respected as such.

T: The purpose of the appeals process is to, hopefully, ensure that the law, including procedural issues, is followed and applied correctly. You either agree to adhere to our civil liberties or you don't. I'm unclear why your being pissy with me. While I disagree with the death penalty, clearly, the US Constitution contemplates that someone can be put to death. What you were being disingenuous about was saying the "government can't put someone to death." Of course, the government -- more appropriately the State -- can put someone to death. The Constitution says so.

L: With the exception of self-defense or defense of another, it is not the province of man to mete out decisions of life or death. That said, I think those that perpetrated the horrific torture on those two kids deserve to have the same treatment done to them. But it is not our place to make it so.

Frank: I appreciate and respect all your comments, on both sides of the issue. Obviously my Catholicism is a big factor in my opposition to the death penalty. To me, capital punishment is the Old Testament way of thinking.
However, I used to feel differently. It changed when Ted Bundy was executed. I got a sick feeling in my stomach and realized that his death would do nothing to bring back the victims he killed.
The arguments about the cost of death row legal appeals and the possibility of executing even one innocent man are powerful to me. Ultimately I think killing is wrong, whether done by a criminal or by the government or by a doctor.

AB: The Catholic Church does not consider the death penalty to be intrinsically evil, nor limited to any particular era or dispensation. However, it does not support the death penalty in a society that has other means to effectively suppress the offender. So according to the Church, it isn't a proper option in the vast majority of cases, if not all cases, in the western world.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

long division

Fr. Gary Braun was kind enough to visit with my wife and me when he was in Knoxville last March. He attended the ordination and installation of Bishop Richard F. Stika. In fact, when one of the local TV stations showed file footage of the ceremony during the Bishop's recent hospitalization, Fr. Gary's face turned up on screen.

We've gotten to know Fr. Gary a little bit over the past year. He seems as morbidly interested in the Body Farm and other aspects of death as I am. Knowing that I would attend his parish in St. Louis this weekend, I couldn't wait to ask him about an unusual funeral.

A young man in his 20s passed away unexpectedly. His body wasn't found for a few days. His parents, who are divorced, decided to have him cremated and to have a Catholic funeral. At the funeral, there were two regular size urns and two smaller ones. The deceased's ashes had been split amongst the four containers. Each parent was going to put an urn in a columbarium and keep a little one at home as a souvenir. I was curious to ask Fr. Gary about the Catholic teaching on such a case.

Fr. Gary was surprised that a Catholic priest would allow such funeral to take place. The remains are supposed to be kept together and given the same respect as a body. I speculated that maybe the priest didn't know about the separated ashes until after the funeral director showed up at the church with the four containers. I imagined a more strict priest going to get a big funnel to reunite the ashes before continuing with the funeral.

I wonder what percentage of people realize that the cremation itself reduces you to brittle bones that still look a lot like a skeleton. As I learned in a lecture by Dr. Bill Bass, the bones are run through a pulverizer to create the dust we think of as "ashes."

At least the family in question used traditional receptacles. I recently read about some horrific urns shaped to look like the dead person's head, without hair. All they need is a couple of photographs from different angles. The eyes are disturbing. The sample shown online stares blankly through you. Perhaps most troubling is the obvious line that separates the lid from the rest of the cookie jar urn. If your dead loved one isn't attractive enough, you can put their bone dust into a replica of a celebrity's head.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

focus on the family

The recognizable voice of John Waters was on NPR this afternoon when I got in my car. I knew that I knew the voice but it still took me a minute to identify it. When I tune in to the middle of an interview, I like to play "guess the guest," a game made possible because so many of us in radio are bad about identifying interviewees once the conversation has begun.

In today's case, it was a trifle more challenging because Waters was not talking about himself but about the Tate/LaBianca murders. Apparently he has befriended Leslie Van Houten, a member of the Manson family who was convicted of the murders of Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca. Waters says that Van Houten has been rehabilitated in prison and should be paroled.

The broadcast was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the murders, which took place August 9 and 10, 1969, a mere three weeks after a much happier event. While looking online for another link, I found a blog that commemorates the murders. It has a lot of recent entries because of the anniversary but was actually started over four years ago.

I remember reading "Helter Skelter" while in grammar school. Years later when I met Vincent Bugliosi at KLOS, I told him that I still had a vivid memory of a crime scene photo in the book. In it, Leno LaBianca's body was whited out but a fork was still visible protruding from his abdomen.

My friend Lisa Burks, who writes "Adventures in Grave Hunting" among other blogs, sent me a DVD titled "The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter." It is hosted by her friend Scott Michaels of Dearly Departed Tours and Scott serves as tour guide and takes the viewer to the crime scenes, the homes of the other victims and more significant locations. The most effective parts of the film are when he retraces the steps of the murderers.

I found Scott's trip to Barker Ranch in Death Valley to be especially creepy. I was also surprised to learn that Sharon Tate and her friends ate their last meal at El Coyote, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants during the time I lived in California. It wasn't until I moved to Tennessee and started watching "The Beverly Hillbillies" reruns that I appreciated Sharon Tate's talent as an actress.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

the way it was

Walter Cronkite defined the role of anchorman. The iconic newsman died tonight at 92. When I see clips of his career on TV or the Internet, I wish that my parents had watched him more often. They were partial to John Chancellor on NBC and the Huntley-Brinkley Report before that.

Cronkite will always be most associated with his coverage of President Kennedy's assassination and of Apollo 11. As the 40th anniversary of the historic lunar landing approaches, I've been thinking about that night. We were on vacation and the only channel we could get happened to be an ABC affiliate.

I got Walter Cronkite's autograph twice. One year, my father took us to the Robert F. Kennedy Pro-Celebrity Tennis Tournament at Forest Hills. I asked several famous people to sign a program. Somebody else, who got more signatures than I did, is selling a signed program for $3,500.

When I was in college at GMU, a friend and I waited in line at a record store in Georgetown to get Cronkite's signature on a vinyl album set he had released. I remember that he advised my friend to major in something other than journalism if she wanted to be a journalist. Many network correspondents have law degrees or other areas of expertise.

CBS will air a tribute to Cronkite on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. I'll be setting my DVR to record it, how about you?

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Monday, July 13, 2009

east ender

Because we had a reservation, we had to make sure we got from Newport to New London in time to catch the 6:00 p.m. Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point. The boat was almost exactly the same as the ferry we took from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson on our road trip two years ago. This time we also took two smaller ferries to get us from Greenport to Shelter Island to North Haven. From there, it's a short drive to Sag Harbor and Noyac.

Once we were on Long Island, I tuned the car radio to the so-bad-it’s-good WLNG, which does stream online if you want to hear it for yourself. Rusty Potz would ask a TV trivia question, start a song and then interrupt the song a moment later to say "we have a winner, no more calls please."

I was saddened to hear of the passing of 92.1 WLNG's legendary Paul Sidney. Somehow I find it appropriate that he died on April Fool's Day. Or, depending on who you ask, April 2, which was the 92nd day of the year.

When my wife and I honeymooned in the Hamptons, Paul gave us a tour of Broadcast House and then gave us a ride in their newest mobile unit. He drove us to Main Street in Sag Harbor where Alan Alda was filming a scene from "Sweet Liberty." I had a chance to tell Alda that my father knew him when they were both enrolled at Fordham University. In subsequent years, we would vacation in the Hamptons and go see Paul at the Southampton Fourth of July parade. Long Island won't be the same without him.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

the rain in Maine stays plainly on the brain

Quick, who was Knoxville named after? I thought I knew and should have stuck to my guns when I was told I was wrong.

Rain and a cold wind dampened our plans to visit the Maine beaches on Tuesday. Instead we drove along Route 1 toward Rockland, looking for interesting stuff. I saw in the AAA Tourbook that we would be passing by Montpelier, the General Henry Knox Museum. Why not stop there and learn about the man our city and county were named after, or so I thought.

The museum is a replica of the Knox family home. It was built around 1930 to house the family's original furniture, which was donated by the general's great, great grandson. During the tour we learned that General Knox weighed about 300 pounds and died three days after swallowing a chicken bone. He was only 56. The docent said the bone punctured his insides.

A second tour guide, who resembled the late Burt Mustin, seemed especially knowledgeable about the Knox family. He said that he sat at home in his recliner thinking about what he would tell his tour groups that day. I asked what he knew about the general's connection with Knoxville. The Revolutionary War general had never been to Tennessee, he said. That sounded familiar to me. Then the guide said that Knoxville was named after John Knox not Henry Knox. He also claimed that John Knox was the first governor of Tennessee, which isn't true either. Now unsure of myself, I left dejectedly.

It was hours before we got to our next hotel and I could check the Internet. I tried not to wake my wife as I excitedly showed my son the Wikipedia entry for Henry Knox. Just to be sure I checked the City of Knoxville website too. Both agreed that K-Town was named for big Hank. You can be sure that I will contact the General Henry Knox museum in Thomaston to set them straight.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

dying to get in

The recent spate of celebrity deaths has me thinking about two segments I did on the Comedy World Radio Network. I had the first interview with Tony Orciuoli about his then-new website, Tony wrote a program that will automatically email you when news of a celebrity death crosses the wire. Longtime blog readers might recall me writing about this in February, 2006. I sent a copy of the interview to Tony right after it aired. He put the mp3 file on his website, which I downloaded so I can post it here for your convenience.

My interview with a guy named Death Pool Dave helped me land a job in Knoxville. Of all the airchecks I sent to my potential future bosses at 100.3 The River, the one they mentioned to me was my conversation with Death Pool Dave. He would register with several death pool websites including the Lee Atwater Invitational. Dave won quite a bit of money by guessing which celebrities would die in a calendar year. The younger the star, the more points they were worth in the game. To determine the point value, subtract the celebrity's age from 100. I looked through some old discs last night and found a copy of the CD I had sent to The River. Here's the interview with Death Pool Dave from late 2000 or early 2001.

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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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Sunday, June 28, 2009

busy as Bourke Street

With all that happened lately, I didn't have an opportunity to share a photo of my birthday lunch. We'll get to that after a quick update on some of the things from last week. Deacon Patrick-Murphy Racey has posted a slide show of images from the funeral for Nancy and Peter Feist. It's impressive for me to see four bishops at my home parish.

Both Jack Lail and Michael Silence linked to my blog post about Michael Jackson and Elvis. Silence also linked to the picture of my birthday cupcakes. The photo turned out fairly well, if I say so myself.

Now that we're back on the topic, it's a family tradition to have lobster on my birthday. On Monday, I had a "cold water lobster tail" (probably Australian) and some sugar snap peas at Connor's.

While it was still very good, it wasn't from a true Maine lobster. Fortunately, I'll be able to get one of those when I go to Maine.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

two kings

Someone should write a book comparing the lives and deaths of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. The early news reports I heard failed to see the obvious similarities. Both were the absolute biggest things in all of music and all of pop culture during their heyday. Both fell into a weird, isolated decline. Both looked completely different in their later years. Both deaths were originally said to be "cardiac arrest." CNN is reporting that Michael, like Elvis, had problems with prescription medications.

Former Jackson publicist Michael Levine issued the following statement via his LBN E-lert: "As someone who served as Michael Jackson's publicist during the first child molestation incident, I must confess I am not surprised by today's tragic news. Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. His talent was unquestionable but so too was his discomfort with the norms of the world. A human simply can not withstand this level of prolonged stress."

Although he had already died, Elvis was technically Michael's father-in-law for a while. I was sitting in the audience at Radio City Music Hall during the MTV Video Music Awards when Michael and Lisa Marie Presley walked on stage and kissed. I got to go to the VMAs each year when I worked at KROQ.

In the late '80s, I had an even closer encounter with Michael Jackson. He came to the D.C. area to accept an award. I don't recall exactly how I got an invitation to cover the event. I was told to rent a tuxedo and bring a tape recorder. I drove to a multi-million dollar home in McLean. I parked off-site and took a shuttle to the party. The members of the press were ushered into a smaller building that was probably a garage or carriage house. A large room had been set up as if for a press conference. I was told to plug my tape recorder into a mult box, which provided an audio feed to the camera crews. While we waited for Michael to arrive, I struck up a fun conversation with Ann L. Trebbe, who was then a reporter for The Washington Post. She later went to work for USA Today. Michael stepped to the podium and made some brief generic remark like "I love you all, thank you very much." Don & Mike would play that audio for years anytime Michael's name came up.

After the worthless press event, the media representatives were allowed to go next door to the party. We were all dressed in formal wear, after all. The room buzzed when Michael made his entrance. He walked through the crowd, saying hello in his shy way to party goers who had paid top dollar to be there. As he got close to me, I reached out my hand and told him that I was with the local top-40 station, WAVA. I saw a change in his demeanor as his gloved hand shook mine very firmly and he said in a normal voice, "Thank you for your support."

I was working the afternoon shift at Star 102.1 on Thursday when reported that Michael had died. When I turned on the microphone, I wasn't totally sure what I was going to say. I said the date a couple of times and then said that the news I was about to deliver was as big as the death of Elvis was to the listeners' parents or perhaps grandparents.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

higher than the sky, deeper than the ocean

The double funeral for Nancy and Peter Feist on Wednesday was one of the most impressive I've ever attended. One archbishop and three bishops were present in addition to dozens of priests and religious. Nancy was the executive assistant to both the current and the previous bishop of Knoxville.

Nancy collapsed on Friday at the Concord Farragut baseball field while her son was at bat. The CPR they performed on her may be what kept her unborn baby alive long enough to be delivered at the hospital. Fr. Augustine Idra gave the child an emergency baptism. Little Peter died shortly thereafter. Fr. Ragan Schriver held Peter's body as the family dealt with the tragedy.

The Rose Mortuary was packed with people on Tuesday night. The line to get into the chapel snaked through every hallway. Inside the chapel, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz led a rosary service from a podium behind the open casket containing mother and son. There were pauses between decades for Archbishop Kurtz and others to offer reflections on Nancy's life. Fr. David Boettner told how Nancy would edit letters and speeches for the priests, always changing the text into the Footlight font. Fr. David said the font, like Nancy's editing, gave the text "a theatrical sparkle." Fr. Peter Iorio said Nancy had named him one of her "apostles of joy." He read some messages she had written on the religious calendar she gave him.

Bishop Richard Stika was the main celebrant of the funeral Mass. Archbishop Kurtz, Bishop James Vann Johnston of Springfield and Bishop David Choby of Nashville concelebrated. The highlight was a poignant, eloquent, articulate reflection by Nancy's daughter. Hope Feist brought almost every mother in the church to tears with her recollections of her Mommy. She spoke directly to her siblings, her father and her grandparents about the boundless love her mother had for all of them. She told each of them that "Mom will never stop loving you." Bishop Stika said it was the best eulogy he had heard in his 24 years of priesthood.

Considering how big a deal this was in the Catholic world, I was surprised that I didn't see any cameras or reporters from the mainstream media at the funeral home or the church. Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey took pictures, which I hope will be posted online soon.

After Mass, Archbishop Kurtz told me that my blog entry about Nancy had turned up in the Google Alert he has for his own name. I told this to Bishop Stika and suggested that he too sign up for a Google Alert. I think it's a helpful tool for everyone in this day and age, but a necessity for public figures like them.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

if you look up sidekick in the dictionary...

When Johnny Carson retired, Ed McMahon still had to work. Some of that may have been for the money but much of it was for the love of doing it. With Johnny stepping out of the limelight, Ed had a chance to be the center of attention as host of "Star Search," a show he tirelessly promoted.

Ed's financial problems and health problems inspired me to express my best wishes for him in previous blog entries. Now that he has passed away at age 86, I am again filled with thoughts of the good times he brought to us at KROQ in the '90s.

In those days at KROQ, we had the chance to feature a few entertainers who didn't fit the format. Johnny Cash got some attention from the alternative rock audience when he came by to plug "American Recordings." The lineup for the 1993 Acoustic Christmas concert included Tony Bennett. Six months later, we invited Ed McMahon to the 1994 Weenie Roast concert. We asked Ed to dress in the grunge attire of the day and come onstage to introduce Rollins Band.

Ed had been a morning show guest enough times that we could ask him to do almost anything. I could pick up the phone and call him or his wife Pam to see if he was available. I will always remember walking into Ed's house with a digital tape recorder and having him record the intro to Kevin & Bean's Christmas cassette in his memorabilia-filled study. Another time we needed him dressed in a suit on the beach for a video shoot with Jenny McCarthy. She wore a bikini.

After doing all these favors for us, Ed still felt like doing more. He invited Kevin & Bean to appear on "Star Search" as guest announcers. The show was recorded at Walt Disney World. They flew several of us and our wives to Florida to do the morning radio show before the TV taping later that day. After the show, Ed took us all out to dinner with that week's celebrity judges. My wife and I sat at a table with Martha Quinn and "Weird Al" Yankovic.

My wife and I had the chance to sit at the same table with Ed and Pam at another event. We were all guests at Kevin Ryder's wedding. I think that was the same year that Ed invited us to his birthday party. To this day, I still regret being so sick with flu-like symptoms that I had to stay in bed and miss Ed's party. It was a milestone year for him. As I recall, he had reached the age at which his father died and was thankful to still be around. We would have all been thankful to have him around even longer.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

home to Your dwelling place

The sad news about Nancy Feist's death hit hard for my wife and many others throughout the Diocese of Knoxville as they helped to plan her funeral Mass. Nancy was Executive Secretary to the Bishop. The 43-year-old collapsed at a ballgame on Friday. Even more heartbreaking was the fact that she was seven months pregnant. Doctors delivered her son Peter but he died shortly after being baptized. Nancy and her husband David have five other children. David teaches at St. Mary's School in Oak Ridge.

I had heard that Nancy moved to Knoxville from Pennsylvania to work for then-Bishop Joseph Kurtz. When he was elevated to Archbishop of Louisville, Nancy and her family stayed in East Tennessee. In 2007, the East Tennessee Catholic published a photo of Nancy with Bishop Kurtz as he prepared for his farewell Mass. During the time we were without a bishop, Nancy worked for Diocesan Administrator Fr. Al Humbrecht. Archbishop Kurtz will lead a recitation of the rosary on Tuesday night at Rose Mortuary on Kingston Pike.

When I interviewed newly ordained Bishop Richard Stika, I made the arrangements with Nancy. She wanted to know what I planned to discuss and asked for some background information about the public affairs show. Bishop Stika will be the main celebrant for Nancy's funeral Mass at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday at All Saints Catholic Church. Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop James Vann Johnston will concelebrate, along with several other priests of the Diocese.

They have set up an online CareCalendar to organize offers of meals and housework for the Feist family. Thoughts and prayers can be expressed online too. Monetary donations for the children can be sent to the "Nancy Feist Fund" at the Diocese.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

plate off

Paul Oscar Anderson passed away on Friday. Like many, I learned of his death from Knoxville Radio History 101. During his radio career, he was on the air at dozens of stations from Knoxville to Portland to Los Angeles.

When I first moved to Knoxville, Don Barrett of put me in touch with Paul. We exchanged emails and had several phone conversations while he still lived at home. His health continued to deteriorate and he moved into a nursing home.

I went to the Highland Memorial Funeral Home last night to pay my respects. Paul's widow Bobbie told me that radio was his first love. As a child, he would play with a microphone instead of a toy gun like the other kids. She also said she had heard that a radio station in California was going to do an on-air tribute to Paul that morning.

The service began as four men wearing white aprons processed into the chapel. They recited the Last Masonic Rites and placed an apron on Paul's coffin. I think they called it a lambskin. The light blue casket had the words "Going Home" on the inside of the open lid.

Paul's daughter Teresa sang one of the songs at the service. In his remarks, Preacher Guy Milam of North Knoxville Baptist Church said "our paths lead not to, but through the grave." Another song included the lyrics "though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow."

When I got home from the funeral I powered up my old laptop to see if I had saved any of the emails Paul and I exchanged. Here are a few of the things he wrote to me in 2003 and 2004:
Hey Frank,
Thanks for the note. It seems that the best and brightest broadcasters at least came through the South and Midwest. I'm sure that you were one of them. Thanks the offers of goodies, Frank, but I am a diabetic and on a very strict diet. I have myriad other medical hassles which keep me homebound.

Sorry about WOKI. I knew a number off your compadres, including Johnny P. It saddens me to say it, but broadcasting, especially radio, is a ball-busting, low paying job, which takes and rarely gives. I say that after having worked at 37 radio/TV stations over a period of almost 40 years. I let the job take four wives and my self-respect. I wound up in a treatment center for boozers at The Hazleden Foundation in Minnesota. I am a native of Knoxville and have been back home with my childhood sweetheart for almost 29 years. I worked at almost every station in town. Ask Phil Williams about my work here. Despite it all, I still have goose bumps when I think of radio. I really miss the mic, although I have been retired eleven years.

Let me know what's happening at WOKI now -- if you know -- and what your plans are. If I can be of help in any way, let me know.

The best,
POA (Paul Brown)

What a pleasure talking with (AT) you this morning. I could tell within a minute that you were a real broadcaster, kicked in the stomach enough, and been around the horn enough times to have earned the title.

I apologize for talking so much. It is rare that I get to talk to anyone who knows radio like you do. Once in a while I hear from Neil Ross, Tom Murphy, Buzz Barr (KISN) and a couple of others.

If we don't get a chance to meet in person, don't forget me, and remember that I am praying for you. I feel that you will be glad that you were booted at WOKI. You sound like you have the experience and smarts for ANY market.

I know it doesn't often work like this, but I never sent a tape or resume in my long and checkered career. I got the program director or G.M. on the telephone and that worked for me. I really hope for you the very best. I know right where you are. I was there a great number of times and always came out better off than I was when the travails descended upon me. I know that you will do well.

God bless

Hey Frank,

I had already read in the local scandal sheet that you had connected. And then, you were on the LARP. I just cleared my e-mail, some of which was a week old. I had 73 when I got busy this morning.

Hang in there, pal. Instead of moving every time I was offered a bigger market and a couple of bucks more than I was earning, I would have been dollars and serene times ahead had I stayed put. Can't tell yourself the truth when it WOULD have set you free.

You are smarter than I. Good luck to you and your family. If I can ever be of service, please call or write.

God bless,

I am just going through my old e-mail and ran across one you sent when first I was out of the hospital. I have just now returned from another open heart operation, and the addition of a defibrillator to my pacemaker. I am hanging on -- barely. I now have diabetes (the worst of my ailments, I feel), prostate cancer, heart failure to the point that I stay in bed most of the time. No energy. I fell perhaps a couple of dozen times, leaving me with several visible skull fractures. Other than a couple of other minor ailments, all is well with me. I am too damn mean to die.

Speaking of which, I thought of the good guys who were with me in the sixties at KISN who have passed in recent years. Tom Matthews, Don Kennedy, Bobby Simon, Whitey Coker, whom I spoke to just a couple of days before his throat cancer took him away. (God, I loved him.) I guess we are too tough to buy the farm just yet.

I am 73 last October. I don't sweat it, since I have not control over when and where I will go. I am ready whenever the Big Guy calls. I have lived a hell of a life, so I can't complain if I go today. I have done everything I thought I was big enough to do. Can't ask for more in one life.

God Bless,

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

sudser dud

Can anyone explain soap operas to me? I have never watched one for more than a few minutes. Last week, I made a point of tuning in to "All My Children" to see Jeff "Fish Bait" Joslin's appearance as an assistant district attorney. He was on within the first couple of scenes and I shut off the TV after he was done.

Today I was watching one of Stacy McCloud's last appearances on the noon news. By the way, she was very kind to mention me in her blog yesterday. After the news ended, I wasn't quick enough with the remote and I saw the beginning of "The Young and the Restless." It started in a morgue, piquing my interest. Then they lost me when the lid of a cheap-looking casket opened and the old woman inside sat up and talked about her exhumation. So, is she a zombie? I thought the soaps were more realistic than supernatural. Or is it just a literary device? How did she die in the first place? Why do I care?

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

mic flag at half-staff

Paul Harvey loved his job so much that the only thing that could stop him was his death yesterday at age 90. He had been recently slowed by illness and by the loss of his wife Angel. For most of us, Harvey was on the air our entire lives and the airwaves will feel emptier without him.

I used to make a point of timing my commute home from WAVA to coincide with "The Rest of the Story." It aired during the Trumbull & Core show on WMAL. In the privacy of my car, I would shout out the name of the person I thought Harvey might be talking about. When I didn't know, I always guessed Abraham Lincoln, which was often the right answer.

The late David Haines had no problem with people thinking he sounded like Paul Harvey. Haines so admired Harvey that he recorded his idol's 8:30 a.m. newscast each day. Often Haines would be in the middle of his own newscast on WAVA but could reach over and press the record button on his AM/FM cassette machine without missing a beat.

Harvey set the standard for any announcer ever given the opportunity to do an endorsement commercial. He only spoke on behalf of products that he believed in, which meant that many potential sponsors were turned away. Don't tell me you wouldn't love to have one of those tankless water heaters he advertised.

Over the years I fell out of the habit of listening to Paul Harvey through no fault of his. The stations in Los Angeles and Knoxville didn't air his programs at a time that was especially convenient for me. In fact, I don't think the news/talk station here runs him at all. Now that he's gone, I want nothing more than to hear him again. Maybe there are some classic podcasts I can download from somewhere.

There are some assorted clips on YouTube including a "Letter from God" and a few examples of "The Rest of the Story." His Chicago flagship, WGN Radio, has an online tribute page with several audio clips available, including the classic phrase: "Stand by for news!"

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Friday, February 13, 2009

or else it gets the hose again

The security crew at the promotional screening of "The International" made it very clear that no cameras or cell phones with cameras were allowed into the theatre. They looked into purses of female filmgoers and once the movie started, they used night-vision goggles to scan the crowd in search of anyone recording it.

If someone were trying to pirate "The International" last night, their copy would be easy to spot. The first few minutes of the film on were out of frame, similar to a television with a vertical hold problem. The bottom of the picture was on the top of the screen and the top was on the bottom. The problem got fixed but then returned at the start of the second reel. Two weeks ago, at a promo screening of "New in Town," the first few minutes were out of focus and the pre-show music continued playing in the auditorium. Could these problems be Hollywood's latest anti-piracy measure?

Former News Sentinel
critic Betsy Pickle sat in front of me at both screenings. She told me that her reviews are now available on the Alliance of Women Film Journalists website.

I asked Betsy if she had attended the memorial service for photographer Clay Owen this week. It was held at St. Mary's Hospital in the room that St. Albert the Great parish uses for Sunday Mass while their church is being built. She was there and described to me the priest who spoke. It could only have been Fr. Ragan Schriver, which made sense. I recently found a Fr. Ragan fan club on Facebook and was touched to see that Clay had joined the group before his death.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

a long, long time ago

"The Day the Music Died" was commemorated at the Surf Ballroom on Monday night. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of rock and roll knows that the phrase refers to the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Most people also know it as a lyric from "American Pie," a song by the most famous alumnus of my high school, Don McLean.

When I saw the movie "La Bamba," some girls in the theatre were shocked to tears by the film's ending. I guess they didn't know it was a true story. Los Lobos, the group that provided Ritchie Valens' music for the soundtrack, performed at the Surf Ballroom on Monday as part of the "50 Winters Later" concert. Reading about the tribute show has me interested in watching the possible TV special, should it get made.

A Minneapolis TV station did a story about a woman who recently found her photos from the February 2, 1959 concert. The Des Moines Register has tons of material online about the 50th anniversary of the crash, including something with a Body Farm connection.

In a couple of our interviews, Dr. Bill Bass has described his participation in the exhumation of the Big Bopper. He and Jon Jefferson allowed the Register to reprint a lengthy excerpt about the case from their non-fiction book "Beyond the Body Farm."

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

cut short

The News Sentinel lost a great photographer yesterday. Clay Owen died unexpectedly at 47. Fred Brown and Saul Young have written tributes to their fallen comrade.

Clay's photos enhanced two fascinating articles that were in the paper recently. One was a somewhat grisly tale about cold-weather hog butchering and the other was a touching story about a friendship that developed over doughnuts.

Last fall, Clay came to Patrick Sullivan's to take my picture before an Einstein Simplified show. I was fortunate enough to have made it into the paper's East Tennessee's Best section. In our brief encounter I could easily see why Clay's friends and colleagues liked and respected him so much.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

extended dance mix

When Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson come in for an interview to promote their Body Farm books, I don't want the conversation to end. As the show we taped on Tuesday neared the half-hour mark, I decided to just keep going, knowing I could edit it later. The program that aired this morning was exactly thirty minutes long however the version I'm posting here is fifty-five forensic-filled minutes of fun.

The focus of the first half-hour is the science behind the new book "Bones of Betrayal." We talked about DMORT disaster drills, radiation sickness and Big Ed's Pizza. We also discussed Dr. Arpad Vass and his decomposition sniffer, which I called an electronic cadaver dog. Vass was featured in a very interesting News Sentinel article in mid-December.

When the conversation turns to the Incorruptibles, you'll know that you are hearing web-only content. A recap of the Big Bopper case led to talk of exhumation. If there is any question about the circumstances of my death, I want my body to be exhumed as many times as necessary, unlike the recent case of a former district attorney general, whose exhumation was denied. When we talked about dismembered hands, I related the story of my search for the relic of Fr. Damien of Molokai who will soon be canonized as a saint.

Jefferson and Bass begin a month-long promotional tour on Tuesday with a benefit event at the Y-12 New Hope Center. Tickets are $25 in advance or $35 at the door. Advance sale tickets can be purchased by calling Knox Heritage at 865-523-8008 or by sending an email to They'll make the rounds of local retailers too. You can get a book signed at Borders Books on Wednesday, Sam's Club and Hastings Books on Saturday, Books-A-Million in Oak Ridge on Sunday and Hargreaves Books next Monday.

As usual, you can right click here and save the mp3 file to your computer or click the play button below.

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