Showing posts with label NPR. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NPR. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Nerve, defined

The headline on NPR's Planet Money blog sums it up so well, it leaves one with little else to say:
Robin Thicke's Song Sounds Like Marvin Gaye. So He's Suing Gaye's Family.
WELL, that about covers it. All I have to add is Robin Thicke's actions here pretty much define "nerve."

In this new age of the barbarian, the future belongs to the plunderer.

Friday, March 09, 2012


Translation: Stuff Well-Heeled Liberal White People Like.

Wow. At $199.99, this costs a lot more than my Peter Max-designed Hot Wheels car did 40-something years ago.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

'Now we see the violence inherent in the system!'

Do you think I could get away with it if I said Barack Obama has no rights that any white man is obliged to respect?

Do you think I could get away with it if I added
"Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"


I don't understand. That works so well for "progressives" when they're talking about Catholics.

As a matter of fact, if you say that often enough and loud enough about Catholics and other religiously Other-ish people, you not only can get away with it but become a go-to guest on your local NPR station.

Thus we explain Amanda Marcotte's appearance today on No Point On Point, where the first topic was "Help! Help! Women are being repressed by religious fanatics who won't pay for their free birth-control pills!"

Marcotte's main qualification for the guest spot -- and, apparently, her standing gig at
Salon, too -- is that she's a pro-abortion radical feminist with a potty mouth and a bigoted streak as wide as the Father of Waters.

have somethin' goin' on to
A) get hired by, then B) get fired by the presidential campaign of John Edwards, that poster child for sexual liberation in all its "What could go wrong???" glory. Besides, nothing says "thoughtful" and "edifying" like one of Marcotte's anti-Catholic rhetorical flourishes:
Q: What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit?

A: You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology.

LY, the difference between NPR and your typical AM-radio food fight is its guests are bigoted against all the right people.

How progressive of them.

No, really. This stuff is nothing new. Actually, it's as old as the United States itself, and 20th-century "progressives" picked up right where the Know-Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan left off.

If it makes you feel any better, I read that in
a 1997 article in The New York Times:
It has been many years since the poet and essayist Peter Viereck called anti-Catholicism "the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals." For Roman Catholics who encounter hostility, condescension and stereotypes among circles that consider themselves singularly free of prejudice, Mr. Viereck's quip remains the last word on the topic.

But now a young Harvard historian has taken another look at the role that Catholicism has played in what he calls "the American intellectual imagination." And his work helps explain some of the intense feelings that surround current issues like abortion and school vouchers, and why American Catholicism and liberalism have seldom been more than uneasy allies.

In a 32-page article to be published in the June issue of The Journal of American History, John T. McGreevy argues that from 1928 to 1960, anxiety about "Catholic power" became a defining factor in the evolution of American liberalism, along with opposition to fascism, Communism and racial segregation.

Dr. McGreevy, the Dunwalke Associate Professor of American History at Harvard, recalls "the most unusual best seller of the late 1940's," Paul Blanshard's "American Freedom and Catholic Power."

"The Catholic problem is still with us," Mr. Blanshard wrote.

In his view, the church posed an international threat to democracy, a threat that, two years later in "Communism, Democracy and Catholic Power," he put on the same plane as that of Soviet Communism. Along the way, Mr. Blanshard characterized nuns as legacies from an era when women "reveled in self-abasement" and he held Catholicism responsible for producing most white criminals.

Today most people might dismiss Mr. Blanshard's books and the fuss they provoked as more of an historical curiosity than a measure of "the American intellectual imagination." But Dr. McGreevy also recalls that in 1949, John Dewey praised Mr. Blanshard for his "exemplary scholarship, good judgment and tact."

McGeorge Bundy called the 1949 book "very useful." Scholarly reviewers hailed its author's "razor keen analysis" as well as his "restraint." Other distinguished intellectuals echoed Mr. Blanshard's parallel between Catholicism and Stalinism. For example, the Protestant theologian Henry Sloane Coffin called the two "equally totalitarian."
IN OTHER WORDS, "Help! Help! We're being repressed by the papists!"

On the other hand, Blanshard, who was an assistant editor at
The Nation, at least refrained from nasty quips about holy semen in his book, which began as a series of magazine articles in 1947 and 1948. Of course, his was the world of the 1940s -- one chockablock with stigmas, standards and taboos yet to be torn down or cast aside by folks just like himself:
Nobody knows exactly where the elaborate sexual code of the Catholic Church has come from. It has been developed by accretion over a period of nineteen centuries until, today, it is one of the most conspicuous parts of Catholic moral philosophy. Perhaps it ought to be called an anti-sexual code (even though the Church teaches that "a wife may not without sufficient reason deny herself to her husband") because the primary emphasis has always been upon the negative rather than upon the wholesome aspects.

Austerity was identified with virtue by many leaders of early Christianity. Two Popes, Clement VIII and Paul V, declared that anybody should be denounced to the Inquisitors of the Faith who declared that kissing, touching and embracing for the sake of sexual pleasure were not grievous sins. 1 Father Henry Davis, in his Moral and Pastoral Theology, expresses a contemporary priestly view when he says that "sexual pleasure has no purpose at all except in reference to the sexual act between man and wife... it is grievously sinful in the unmarried deliberately to procure or to accept even the smallest degree of true venereal pleasure."

Freud's wisdom was not available to the Popes and theologians who first imposed celibacy upon a reluctant clergy, and they could scarcely be held responsible for failing to appreciate the gravity of the effects upon human nature of suppressing the basic human instincts.
WHICH, according to Freud, all involve having intercourse with one's mother. Or some such wisdom.

But what do I know? I'm Catholic.

And a threat to truth, justice and the American Way:
These things should be talked about freely because they are too important to be ignored. Yet it must be admitted that millions of Americans are afraid to talk about them frankly and openly. Part of the reluctance to speak comes from fear, fear of Catholic reprisals. As we shall see in this book, the Catholic hierarchy in this country has great power as a pressure group, and no editor, politician, publisher, merchant or motion-picture producer can express defiance openly--or publicize documented facts--without risking his future.

But fear will not entirely explain the current silence on the Catholic issue. Some of the reluctance of Americans to speak is due to a misunderstanding of the nature of tolerance. Tolerance should mean complete charity toward men of all races and creeds, complete open-mindedness toward all ideas, and complete willingness to allow peaceful expression of conflicting views. This is what most Americans think they mean when they say that they believe in tolerance.

When they come to apply tolerance to the world of religion, however, they often forget its affirmative implications and fall back on the negative cliché, "You should never criticize another man's religion." Now, that innocent-sounding doctrine, born of the noblest sentiments, is full of danger to the democratic way of life. It ignores the duty of every good citizen to stand for the truth in every field of thought. It fails to take account of the fact that a large part of what men call religion is also politics, social hygiene and economics. Silence about "another man's religion" may mean acquiescence in second-rate medicine, inferior education and anti-democratic government.

I believe that every American -- Catholic and non-Catholic -- has a duty to speak on the Catholic question, because the issues involved go to the heart of our culture and our citizenship. Plain speaking on this question involves many risks of bitterness, misunderstanding and even fanaticism, but the risks of silence are even greater. Any critic of the policies of the Catholic hierarchy must steel himself to being called "anti-Catholic," because it is part of the hierarchy's strategy of defense to place that brand upon an its opponents; and any critic must also reconcile himself to being called an enemy of the Catholic people, because the hierarchy constantly identifies its clerical ambitions with the supposed wishes of its people.

It is important, therefore, to distinguish between the American Catholic people and their Roman-controlled priests. The Catholic people of the United States fight and die for the same concept of freedom as do other true Americans; they believe in the same fundamental ideals of democracy. If they controlled their own Church, the Catholic problem would soon disappear because, in the atmosphere of American freedom, they would adjust their Church's policies to American realities.

Unfortunately, the Catholic people of the United States are not citizens but subjects in their own religious commonwealth. The secular as well as the religious policies of their Church are made in Rome by an organization that is alien in spirit and control. The American Catholic people themselves have no representatives of their own choosing either in their own local hierarchy or in the Roman high command; and they are compelled by the very nature of their Church's authoritarian structure to accept nonreligious as well as religious policies that have been imposed upon them from abroad.

It is for this reason that I am addressing Catholics fully as much as non-Catholics in this book, American freedom is their freedom, and any curtailment of that freedom by clerical power is an even more serious matter for them than it is for non-Catholics. I know that many Catholics are as deeply disturbed as I am about the social policies of their Church's rulers; and they are finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile their convictions as American democrats with the philosophy of their priests, their hierarchy and their Pope.
SUMMATION: The Catholic Church has no rights that any white man is obliged to respect. . . . Help! Help! We're being repressed!

Or . . . 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control, so there.

It's an old story, alas. It's also one of America's oldest acceptable prejudices, now that we can't kick the Negroes or the homosexuals around anymore. When you can combine fear of the Other with the ideological outrage of "being un-American," you have bigotry with legs.

What is disappointing is that the mainstream media keeps returning to bigots like Marcotte to reinforce warmed-over paranoia like Blanshard's, which was stolen from the Kluxers and the Know-Nothings, which frankly is so alarmingly WASP, not to mention SWPL. Not only that, it just sounded better coming from a 1940s intellectual rather than your typical postmodern vulgarian.

It's rather like the difference between drinking martinis at the club as you bemoan "the Roman problem" and smoking crystal meth at the Blogosphere Acres trailer park because those motherf***ing Catholic fascist motherf***ers make you want to f***ing kill somebody, and WHERE'S MY MOTHERF***ING PLEDGE-DRIVE, STATION-F***ING LOGO TOTE BAG, BITCH??????

Those people, I swear.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do as I say, not as I make my living

When a big-time NPR reporter gave a speech at a Norwalk, Conn., awards banquet Thursday, the local cable-access guy figured there would be no problem taping it for broadcast.

Happens all the time. Most journalists hawking books welcome the prospect. That's why God invented PR people.

Only in the case of Dina Temple-Raston, NPR's national-security and counterterrorism reporter, it turns out that the Darien/Norwalk YWCA found a broadcast correspondent who's camera shy. A radio journalist who, outside of working hours, just can't abide audio recorders.

The local cable-access TV guy couldn't believe it. And Jim Cameron, a former NBC Radio anchor, didn't like it. Didn't like it at all.

HE LIKED Temple-Raston's attitude so little, he wrote about it for AOL's Darian Patch:
A day before the event, at my request, the Y sponsors circled back to me with more information. Apparently her agent was wrong. It was not an NPR's rule about no taping, it was Ms. Temple-Raston's rule. Clearly, the Juan Williams case (of NPR Staffers speaking off-air) has had a chilling effect on those NPR staffers' outside, money-making speaking gigs.

The day of the event I decided to give full coverage a final try. Arriving at the Woodway Country Club, I told the YWCA organizers that the community deserved to see the award winners and I promised to record only that... if I could speak to Ms. Temple-Raston and make a final appeal. Seconds later, she appeared and we shared a rather contentious two minute conversation.

"You know you cannot tape my speech"' she said. "So I've heard," I said, "But why? Is it really an NPR rule?". "No," she said, "It's just my personal preference. I am on vacation today."

Then I tried appealing to her as a fellow fifth-estater. "As a journalist are you comfortable in stopping my coverage of your speech?”

"Absolutely," she said without hesitation. "You're lucky I'm allowing you to tape the awards presentations!"

"That's not your call," I told her. "I'm here at the invitation of the YWCA."

"Well, that camera better be off. That's an ethical issue," she said, and then added icing to the cake... "and this conversation is off the record."

"No, this conversation is ON the record, Dina, and it is part of my coverage," I said.

At this point two other videographers arrived, one from The Patch and the other from News12, our local cable news operation. Dina visibly flinched, turning to both and reminding them they too could not tape her speech. "No problem," said one of them.

Her final comment came as a somewhat rhetorical question... "why are you being so hard-assed (about this)?"
ARROGANCE LIKE THAT, as Temple-Raston is finding out from the resulting Internet kerfuffle, can be every bit a bad thing for you, your career and your employer's public-relations bottom line as any inflammatory thing you might say during a speech. And didn't want electronic proof of.

Mostly, though, it's just really, really funny.

Why is that?

Well, just wait for the punch line. It will come up right . . . about . . . now. Courtesy of an article on the banquet in the local newspaper,
The Hour.
Dina Temple-Raston, National Public Radio National Security and Counterterrorism Correspondent, spoke of her experiences in the Arab-speaking world, suggesting that female journalists can often succeed where male counterparts can't.

"Women are instinctively more aware of their surroundings than men and more alert to dire developments," she said.
SAID THE "instinctively more aware" woman journalist who never saw this one coming.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Experience a city fighting back

Sorry, Newsweek.

A city that can produce a lipdub deemed "the greatest music video ever made" by Roger Ebert can't be one of "America's dying cities." A dying city isn't just a matter of population losses; a dying city is one that has lost its spirit.

A dying city is one in which the civic culture has unraveled and no one is his brother's keeper.

A dying city has no answer to the question "Why try harder?"

IF THIS LIPDUB is any indication of Grand Rapids' mettle as a metropolis -- albeit a small metropolis -- it's a lot healthier city than Newsweek is a magazine. Is what I am submitting for your approval, as Rod Serling might have said.

Now, I'm not qualified to judge whether Ebert is correct in Grand Rapids having produced the best music video ever, but I'd say this one is at least in the ballpark.

Experience Grand Rapids, indeed!

HAT TIP: The non-profit media conglomerate formerly known as National Public Radio.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Simply '70s: Defund public broadcasting

If you hadn't noticed, there was a hell of a fierce debate going on about federal funding of public broadcasting. In 1971.

Why, we could have the specter of taxpayers funding a fourth network! Both on television and on the radio. We hear they're very liberal. Not friendly at all to conservative values.

And what about localism?

Tsk, tsk. There's something very un-American about this whole pointy-headed enterprise, I tell you.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hip-hop all the way to hell

Culture precedes politics . . . and everything else.

Music both produces and is produced by a culture.

A culture centered on titty bars -- music deemed stripper friendly before it can burrow into your children's brains -- is no culture at all. It is an anticulture.

NPR was on the anticulture beat Thursday. I'm not so sure the reporter would have been this bemused had she known what she was dealing with. Then again, maybe the NPR report is part of the anticulture just as much as titty-bar-tested hip-hop singles -- I don't know.

JUDGE for yourself:
Hip-hop producers have been breaking records in Atlanta strip clubs for a long time now — at least as far back as 2003, when Lil Jon was doing it with songs like, "Get Low." He's been quoted as saying "the butts don't lie," meaning if the strippers can dance to it, the song has potential. In Tamara Palmer's book, Country Fried Soul: Adventures in Dirty South Hip Hop, Lil Jon says "Get Low" had a slow start: the dancers "didn't feel it at first." But eventually it grew on them and several dancers at different strip clubs asked the DJs to play it during their stage sets. "Get Low" took off — in mainstream clubs and on radio and TV across the country.

What attracted us to this story was that the strippers seemed to have a lot of power in the hip-hop hit-making process. Obviously they are the focal point when a new song is being played. As DJ Scream told me, "There's nothing like seeing a woman dance to a record. There's records that I hate and when I see a woman dancing I think, 'It's not that bad.'"

Another reason strip clubs are the perfect place to test out a song is the clientele. In Atlanta, I'm told nobody thinks twice about going to strip clubs for a bite to eat or just a night out. They're so popular that some of the dancers are treated like local celebrities.

On any given night you might find record label execs and radio programmers, other professionals, college students and couples watching the booty shake.

The dancers have an incentive to make a song exciting: They get paid when the patrons 'make it rain,' or throw money on the stage while they're dancing. I asked Sweet Pea, one of the main dancers in the Snack Pack at Magic City, if she'd ever refused to dance to a song she didn't like. She made it sound as though that just doesn't happen. "If it's got a good beat, you can dance to it," she said. In other words, even if she doesn't think a song has potential, she'll give it a try because she knows the folks from the record label will make it rain extra hard when she's dancing to their song.

As for the strip club DJs, they get paid when the dancers tip them at the end of the night. So it's in their best interest to keep the dancers happy and play whatever songs they request. Record label executives usually spend a lot of money on those nights they're trying to break a record, not just on the dancers but on drinks and food. When the song is working, and the dancers are happy, it might rub off on the patrons who — it's hoped — will spend even more money. So the strip club owners fully embrace the process. Sweet Pea says, "It's like a little promotional circle." One DJ told me, "We're all just hustling each other."
ANTICULTURES CANNOT long endure. They're either going to collapse utterly of their own societal, dysfunctional weight, or they're going to fold like a cheap tent before some opportunistic onslaught. See Visigoths, The.

Decline and fall -- one way or the other.

Laugh if you like. The ancient Romans did.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

On a note of wistfulness

What you are about to hear is a voice -- a voice lost. A voice faded into the haze of the memories of old men and old women, a world lost in the fog of history.

The voice speaks in an unfamiliar dialect. It speaks of strange things in a strange manner.

This voice -- this lost voice -- calls to us from a nation that is no more. A people who are no more.

The voice is strident. It is confident. It is imperfect, and its sins are as manifest as its hope for the future and its determination to do better tomorrow.

This alien voice sounds like Shakespeare, performed in a tavern. By Broderick Crawford.

who hear this voice are strangers to its cadences. The future that plucks this voice from the ether -- from the past -- belongs to an alien people, a weary people, a frightened people. They, I think, are a beaten people, though I am not sure they would recognize this.

They would not recognize this voice
on a note of triumph. Nor would they any longer recognize the name Broderick Crawford.

Certainly they will not recognize the name Norman Corwin.

This program,
On a Note of Triumph, was regarded as his masterpiece -- a masterpiece among many Corwin masterpieces -- aired on every radio network on the occasion of the end of the European War, May 8, 1945.

Adolf Hitler was dead. The Third Reich was vanquished. Americans remembered, and took stock, and gave thanks.
On a Note of Triumph.
Lord God of trajectory and blast,
Whose terrible sword has laid open the serpent
So it withers in the sun for the just to see,
Sheathe now the swift avenging blade with the names of nations writ on it,
And assist in the preparation of the plowshare.
Lord God of fresh bread and tranquil mornings,
Who walks in the circuit of heaven among the worthy,
Deliver notice to the fallen young men
That tokens of orange juice and a whole egg appear now before the hungry children;
That night again falls cooling on the earth as quietly as when it leaves Your hand;
That freedom has withstood the tyrant like a Malta in a hostile sea,
And that the soul of man is surely a Sevastopol
Which goes down hard and leaps from ruin quickly.
Lord God of the topcoat and the living wage
Who has furred the fox against the time of winter
And stored provender of bees in summer's brightest places,
Do bring sweet influences to bear upon the assembly line:
Accept the smoke of the milltown among the accredited clouds of the sky:
Fend from the wind with a house and a hedge
Him who You made in Your image,
And permit him to pick of the tree and the flock,
That he may eat today without fear of tomorrow,
And clothe himself with dignity in December.
Lord God of test-tube and blueprint,
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors
and give instruction to their schemes;
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father's color
or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream
as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of little peoples through
expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come
for longer than posterities can see ahead,
That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.
LORD GOD of history and culture . . . we do not understand. This world is lost to us.

Lord God of reality TV and bling, what is the past trying to tell us?

Lord God Almighty, are we all the better or all the worse for all the "progress" we, Thy unfaithful creation, hath wrought?

We laugh at the strange cadences. We laugh at the naiveté. We laugh at the world-weary optimism. We laugh at the reverence.

We, the sophisticates of monosyllabic mindlessness, have no time for these earnest ghosts.

Norman Corwin, the genius of glowing vacuum tubes and the "Golden Age of Radio," turned 100 on Monday.
Unfortunately, this is no country for old men.

Or their genius. Or their poetic prose. Glorious words lovingly set so gently, so precisely onto the airwaves of a lost civilization.

I can't unders. . . .

Gone. The signal --
I lost it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mystical secrets of the Radio Troglodyte

If you don't know where you've been, can you really tell where you're going?

Obviously, that's a question some fans of the NPR-canceled Bryant Park Project never have thought to ask as they continue to pile on the network's new editorial director of digital media, Dick Meyer.

To synopsize the objection to Meyer among the "new media" fans, it seems to be centered on his appreciation of some of the charms of traditional community. And, it would seem, his love of a properly made sandwich.

I won't belabor
what I've already covered . . . but it is kind of funny, once you think about it.

ANYWAY, a few of the folks at The BPP Diner seem to be all about "community," so long as it's a "restricted" community. The past is unwelcome. No "backward thinkers" or "old media farts" allowed.

That means you, Dick Meyer.

Vee haff veys of makink you tink forvart!

Also, it's all about the interaction, baby. (Just so long as it's not in any kind of a traditional, physical community with people you've known forever.) And it's all about the glorious mosaic that is diversity. (Just so long as there is enough uniformity of opinion.)

One anti-Meyer commenter -- and all but one (me) were anti-Meyer commenters --
went on about how unique the Bryant Park Project community is:

Yes, I can appreciate some traditions because they can give one comfort. (RC hangover)

Sure Mr. Meyer is a bright man but I will not buy his book to fund his narrow mindedness. Additionally my life is too busy to read a book that seems to based on what Mr. Meyer hates about the world as it is NOW, because I am living my life NOW.


BPP brought together a non physical community that enjoyed something that they can never have again. (Like Mr. Meyer's lunch place that is now boarded up.) Consider carefully if it was announced that Day to Day was being cancelled would there be the same outpouring? BPP was unique not just because of the talented people we heard over the media of our choice, but the interaction it encouraged and made available to any one that wanted to participate. Yes at NPR you can, "click on contact us at the top of the page...and be sure to tell us how to pronounce your name." But you might as well be sending a letter using a stamp, envelope and drop box. Which sounds an awful like what possibly could be described as Mr. Meyer's prefered way of communication.

BPP created a community by using many forms communication. BPP encouraged and seemed to delight in people communicating with each other. (Even when we sometimes agreed to disagree.)

[Unless you're Dick Meyer, who must be demonized and belittled -- R21]

What seems to be disquieting about Mr. Meyer is that if he yearning for how it USED to be how can he use his digital/media to ever reach what the BPP created in its short life? Does he want to? Will NPR ever move forward? Will it just dwindle away because eventually no one who has ever experienced a "BPP" will settle for something as mundane.

I THINK everyone on The BPP Diner would agree The Bryant Park Project's style and its melding of "old" and "new" media represented a leap forward for public broadcasting. (Until NPR canceled it and leaped backward.)

Has any of those "forward thinkers" considered that the BPP just might have been a rediscovery of broadcasting's past? Probably not -- realizing that would involve "backward thinking" if not outright worship of the past.

To my ears, as good as the BPP was, it was just a younger-skewing, less ambitious version of
NBC Radio's old Monitor program.

The Bryant Park Project revolved around a witty, genial studio host. Monitor revolved around a witty, genial studio host.

The Bryant Park Project featured the hourly network news, branded to that particular program. Monitor featured the hourly NBC Radio news, branded to that particular program.

The Bryant Park Project had regular features, as well as segments for feature stories, sports discussion, music and interviews. Monitor had regular features, as well as segments for feature stories, sports discussion, music and interviews.

The two programs had their differences as well.

The Bryant Park Project featured an extensive Internet presence, via its web site and social networking. In Monitor's day -- it ran from 1955 to 1975 -- there was no such thing as an Internet. Then, social networking was accomplished at the Elks Club, over coffee and doughnuts after church and across the backyard fence.

OVERALL, especially considering the technology of the day, Monitor was by far the more ambitious program. For one thing, it ran all weekend, not a couple of hours Monday through Friday mornings.

In its early years, Monitor -- which also was part disc-jockey show and featured live band remotes -- ran 40 straight hours each weekend, from 8 a.m. Saturday to midnight Sunday. For most of 1959, Monitor also aired for two hours Monday through Friday nights.

Then there were the comedy bits. From the history section of the
Monitor tribute website:

Classic comedians showed up every weekend, including Bob and Ray, Nichols and May, Jonathan Winters, Phyllis Diller, Ernie Kovacs, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Stiller and Meara, Selma Diamond, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and, later, Pomerantz and Finkelman. In the early years, Bob and Ray stayed at Radio Central for many hours each weekend, ready to ad-lib skits if remotes weren't ready or technical problems blew up a scheduled segment. In 1957, they won a Peabody Award for their outrageously creative routines on "Monitor."
WHO'D HAVE THUNK IT. Monitor even had its own "Emergency Krulwich." Monitor truly was -- in the words of its creator, legendary NBC president and programmer Sylvester "Pat" Weaver -- a "kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria."

But you couldn't expect those who live in the Eternal Now to have known that. When you live in the Eternal Now, everything is new . . . and it's ever cleverer than anything a troglodyte like poor Dick Meyer might conceive.

But we troglodytes are in on a secret. Come close . . . listen carefully, and I will share the secret of the universe. It is this:

Everything old is new again.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Digital rebels without a clue

Talk like National Public Radio's Dick Meyer and you might be a dangerous man.

"The 1960s was a symbolic turning point," Meyer said, citing the decade as a time when personal choice became more important than following tradition.

"It became much more important to make all these choices as a witting, conscious consumer of life," Meyer said of formerly tradition-bound elements like religion, where people live, whether they decide to get married.

"And deeper than that, there was a sense that if you did follow a traditional route," Meyer said, "you were an existential weakling."
MEYER IS AUTHOR of Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium, and he can't stand incompetence, indifference, rudeness and normative bad behavior. Or, at least, what used to be bad behavior before it became normative. His comments were from a piece accompanying audio from an interview on NPR's Morning Edition.

Meyer, NPR's new digital-media editorial director, also has a certain fondness for traditional community . . . and tradition, period. He thinks it wasn't bad to have identities other than the one you manufacture for yourself out of whole cloth -- a religious identity, an ethnic identity, a community identity.

He thinks those things can add real meaning to life.

IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN BETTER for Meyer, at least among some decidedly postmodernist combox warriors, had he advocated flying jetliners into skyscrapers. At least, with that scenario, those now hurling invective at poor Dick Meyer might instead be wringing their collective hand and wondering
"Why does he hate us? Have we done something to offend."

That, however, is not how Postmodern Man -- which is kind of like Socialist Man, only whiny and self-centered -- rolls when it comes to those guilty of thought crimes. Here's something taken from the comments on a Meyer thread at The BPP Diner:

This is either a joke or just pure provocation. The man is angry because the only place where he could be sure that the guy making his sandwich wouldn't forget the tomato has closed. The man is a self-hating trailing-edge boomer (see his bio) who yearns for the good old days of "community" where everybody knew your name. Well, they knew your name, but they were probably much more fond of calling you "hey nigger", "hey faggot", "hey dyke", "hey kike", "hey slut"...

AND HERE'S another measured response to the Meyer piece on NPR's Morning Edition:

"But I have no sympathy for "poor Dick Meyer". Appreciating civility and values is one thing. But there's a difference between that and wishing for things to be like the past. You know what, things aren't like they were 50 years ago. Get Over It.

"Seriously, you want a guy who thinks community is having the people in the lunch place know your name running digital media where in the present we are trying to build new types of communities?"

YES. Yes, I do.

If people don't care to know your name in the "real world," they sure as hell won't care to know it in the "new media" world, either. And if someone doesn't care that his sandwich was made indifferently and not-to-order by a couple of lazy morons at the chain eatery, he also just might not care whether your Internet content is created indifferently by a department full of morons.

And if folks think that a prerequisite for building "new communities" based on digital media is the neglect or outright destruction of real-world communities, wait until the power goes out. Or a bad storm hits. Or your house burns down.

Or, perhaps, wait till some future day when oil is no longer affordable (at all) and the economy runs out of gas in an energy-starved country. Can a "digital community" save us if our computers have no juice? Or if we no longer can afford to buy a computer?

Even considering all the potential online social media have, will computers or some "digital community" be there to help raise your kids, or have your back when life hits the fan . . . or make sure you eat when you're old and enfeebled, then wipe your ass when you no longer can?

NO, I GUESS things aren't as they were when I was born in 1961. In some ways, that's a really good thing -- being that I was born in the Jim Crow South, experienced segregated schools first hand and saw quite enough ugly before I turned 10.

In other ways, it's a terrible thing that things aren't as they were in 1961. The commodification of everything in society -- including people -- wasn't nearly so advanced as it is now. Folks had manners, for the most part, and while the barbarians might have been at the gate, they generally weren't running the culture.


Tradition is a funny thing. Religion, too. When they're functioning in a meaningful way, they can seem stifling to some people. We feel like we're unable to "create our own identity."

And sometimes, tradition for tradition's sake can grow incredibly stale and pointless. You can't ever lose sight of the "why" in tradition . . . or in anything else.

Thus, it's quite true that some traditions outlive their usefulness, if ever they had any. I don't know that many civilized people would argue for female circumcision, serfdom, intractable class structures or women being regarded as property.

On the other hand, when you start flailing away at the whole of "tradition" and the "old ways" with a broadax, you're going to find quite quickly -- as we now are realizing -- that we've just chopped down whole institutions and forces of habit that provided refuge from what sought to devour us. The unfettered freedom to "create our own identity" likewise gives a disordered and dysfunctional society the unfettered license to define us as mere pieces of meat.

What does a virtual community based on digital media do about that?

Really, isn't the craving for "new kinds of community" online just a case of humans -- operating on sheer instinct -- desperately seeking what they've just spent the last 50 years dismantling?

And some combox Nietzsches see poor Dick Meyer as being unfit to do his digital duty just because he, on some level, recognizes that?

Good God.

Oh . . . sorry about that invocation of a primitive belief structure. It's difficult being a troglodyte, you know.

Ask Dick Meyer.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

This is NPR: National Pub . . . oh the hell with it

National Public Radio's excellent experiment, The Bryant Park Project, now belongs to history.

The alternative morning program for public-radio listeners -- and the 24/7, multiplatform "New Media" effort surrounding it -- gave up the ghost Friday as its staff said goodbye to listeners and, a few hours later, its website became a cyberghost town.

Its Twitter feed ceased tweeting.

AND A NUMBER of NPR affiliates began the process of putting something else on their digital subchannels -- new programming that likewise will go unheard by an HD Radio-free listening public.

NPR executives will survey the carnage and declare -- actually, already have declared -- The Bryant Park Project a failure. A noble effort that never really got off the ground, never gained an audience, never developed into the digital answer for a public broadcaster faced with upcoming generations who are rejecting radio for the Interwebs and their iPods.

Obviously, The Bryant Park Project had turned into a luxury NPR no longer thought it could afford. And that's pretty much where we stand, here in the besieged trenches of traditional, mainstream media.

The Digital Huns have battalions of radio men and newspapermen (and women) pinned down, audience reinforcements are not forthcoming and the commanders have been told that supplies and ammo are starting to run desperately short. What to do?

Obviously, given the dire circumstances, only one thing. Stop probing for a way out . . . somebody could get killed out there.

Far better that Her Majesty's media starve en masse than have someone get picked off by a Facebook sniper while probing enemy lines.

REALLY, ONLY THE ONION could do justice to the ongoing story of the print and broadcast media's utter fecklessness and timidity in the face of the "New Media" challenge. For once, it wouldn't have to make this s*** up.

In canceling the BPP, interim NPR chief Dennis Haarsager said the program failed because, among other reasons, "Web/podcasting usage was also hampered . . . since we were offering an 'appointment program' in a medium that doesn't excel in that kind of usage."

I realize I am just a Philistine -- a Schlitz-drinking ruffian with an Interwebs account and not enough sense to be running a fine organization like NPR into the ground -- but I thought this (Whadda youse call it again?) "podcasting" thing was all about "appointment" listening.

See, here's the deal: We get to set the appointment time. We can listen whenever we want.

And it seems to me that -- since the NPR media player delivered the program in segments -- it would be simple enough to update the newscasts hourly . . . or any segment if it became horribly dated before the next full program aired. (Then again, I wouldn't know about these fancy technological paté-and-quiche doomaflatchies what NPR has. I have been known to drink Schlitz and wipe my nose on my sleeve.)

I guess there just must be some fundamental disconnect between BPP listeners who saw -- and heard -- a witty, informative and well-put-together multimedia effort and NPR suits who saw nothing but roadblocks on the road to the Digital Future.

The thing is, if you have exemplary content that an audience desires, what's a little roadblock other than something you'll bypass soon enough? What can't be as easily bypassed is the kind of organizational nincompoopery that launches a major programming-and-Internet initiative, fails to gain clearance on more than five analog radio signals and 19 digital-radio subchannels, doesn't promote it, then kills that major initiative because not enough people listened.

Item 1: NPR only managed to get its major New Media project on five lousy affiliates when there must be dozens where the BPP would have been a far better programming fit than Morning Edition. Oh yeah, the show was on a satellite-radio channel, too.

Item 2: 19 HD Radio subchannels basically work out to zero listeners. How many of you out there have HD radios? How many of you out there can find one in a store? How many of you out there even know somebody with an HD radio? I rest my case.

Item 3: Launching a major programming-and-Internet initiative, failing to gain clearance on more than five analog radio signals, 19 digital-radio subchannels and one satellite-radio channel, not promoting it, then killing that major initiative because not enough people listened is the craziest thing I've seen in radio since my program director AT A CATHOLIC RADIO STATION wanted to buy a station Humvee and paint it in camo "to represent the Church Militant."

I am not making this up. Neither could The Onion.

AS I'VE WRITTEN BEFORE, it seems to me The Bryant Park Project was a success by any programming benchmark. It was fresh, it informed and -- in the two weeks I got to know it before NPR pulled the plug -- it made me laugh.

Come on, what's the last NPR program that made you laugh?

Whad'Ya Know? doesn't even make me laugh.

Perhaps, however, the BPP's greatest success was in creating a virtual community out of a few over-the-air listeners here, some Sirius satellite listeners there and a bunch of online listeners over yonder. By design, Bryant Park Project hosts and staffers lifted the veil between faceless public-radio program and the listener driving to work . . . or sitting at his computer at work . . . or eating breakfast . . . or, perhaps, sitting in a room -- alone -- and feeling friendless.

Old media, new media, multischmedia . . . NPR's "new kind of news program" did a very old-school thing. It made a human connection. It created community, which ought to be something even the most addle-minded radio executive can understand on some level.

Community. We humans crave it, but less and less manage to achieve it.

We moderns don't do church so much anymore. Neither do we know our neighbors, nor are we the club-joiners we once were.

I'll bet it's been decades since there was a schoolyard standoff between devotees of Color Radio W and Boss Radio X. Why? Because young people don't listen anymore.

Why? Because Corporate MegaRadio, Inc., has turned radio into a gigantic, flavorless, excitement- and community-free cluster. . . never mind.

THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT was breaking that unfortunate mold. It had turned its tiny corner of the electromagnetic spectrum once again into a communications medium. Listeners -- and readers -- got involved with the program. They submitted story ideas. They pointed staffers in more profitable directions on a story or two.

What a concept in modern communications -- an organic community of media providers and media consumers. The BPP created one. For its trouble, it got canceled before anyone reasonably could tell how the experiment would turn out.

And when the ax fell, listeners set up a Bryant Park Project page on the social-networking site, Ning. Likewise, the BPP group on Facebook is still active.

Maybe this is the real experiment. What happens when the corporate gatekeepers lose control of their creation? How does it work when listeners refuse to let a cherished program -- or station -- slip into oblivion?

What are the ramifications for the media landscape -- both "new" and "old" -- then?

But perhaps the biggest question centers on why any media provider -- broadcast or print -- would refuse to embrace means of communication that turned mere media consumers into members of "the family"? Why would you bring people into your paper's . . . or station's . . . or network's life, then kick them to the curb before anyone had a chance to spill red wine on the couch or "forget" to return that chainsaw they borrowed last summer?

Why would you do that?

Whatsa matter? You don't like people or somethin'?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It ain't easy being bold in a timid age

I didn't discover The Bryant Park Project on National Public Radio until it already was a dead show broadcasting.

My loss.

The BPP was envisioned by NPR as an experiment in how "old media" might transition into a "new media" landscape, and that experimentation resulted in a multimedia effort that spanned terrestrial and satellite radio, podcasting, blogging, a web portal and "social networking" sites like Facebook and Twitter.

As well, The Bryant Park Project was set up so its listeners -- and readers -- could pay attention to that man (and that woman) behind the curtain. They pulled back the drapes to show us the folks twiddling the knobs and levers, and we liked who we saw.

AND IF YOU go by what people say instead of what they do, so did the NPR brass. From a blog post by NPR interim CEO Dennis Haarsager:
First, let me wholeheartedly agree with your high praise for the BPP staff. They are a team of smart, creative journalists who have delivered compelling programming every day. I want to specifically mention Alison Stewart, one of the finest hosts in broadcasting today; executive producer Sharon Hoffman; and senior supervising producer Matt Martinez. They are some of the most talented people I have ever encountered in broadcasting and they have done a great job of presenting news in a different way and in building loyalty among all of you in a short period of time. They have my gratitude and the respect of this entire organization.
BUT. . . . (And you knew there was a "but" in there, didn't you?)
BPP was designed to help us explore the complex, undefined digital media environment and, we hoped, to establish new ways of providing content on unfamiliar platforms. We've/I've learned -- or relearned -- a lot in this process. For non-commercial media such as NPR, sustaining a new program of this financial magnitude requires attracting users from each of the platforms we can access. Ultimately, we recognized that wasn't happening with BPP. Radio carriage didn't materialize to any degree: right now, BPP airs on only five analog radio stations and 19 HD Radio digital channels. Web/podcasting usage was also hampered -- here's the relearning part -- since we were offering an "appointment program" in a medium that doesn't excel in that kind of usage. Web radio is growing very rapidly (much faster than FM did), but it's almost all to music and, increasingly, to attention-tracking music (e.g., Pandora). While there might be a viable audience for a day/time specific program on the Web at some point in the future, it is not on the horizon.
PARDON MON FRANÇAIS, MAIS . . . that's the biggest load of fork-tongued bullsh*t I've heard since leaving the peculiar world of Catholic radio.

In public radio, the fragrant load goes something like "blah blah blah . . . serve the public interest . . . blah blah blah . . . programming not available over the commercial airwaves . . . blah blah blah . . . new and exciting modes of communication . . . blah blah blah . . . reach out to diverse audiences." Rinse. Spin. Repeat.

In my experience inside Catholic radio -- and I would suspect this holds true for 80 percent of any broadcasting done in Jesus' name -- take public radio's fragrant load and substitute bromides such as "serve the Lord Jesus . . . inspirational and catechetical . . . uplifting . . . reaching out to spread the Good News to every soul." Genuflect. Cross yourself. Repeat.

That is why it's such a good policy to ignore what people say and, instead, watch what they do.

Then you're not so shocked and disappointed when public radio, by and large, sounds like the only listener who matters is 60ish, lives in a big house on a private lake and has two college-age children . . . Muffy and Skipper. Or when an "experiment," like The Bryant Park Project, gets aborted before it has run long enough to gather meaningful data or refine any techniques for committing "broadcasting" in a New Media world.

LIKEWISE, "do -- not say" lessens any disillusionment with Christianity per se when one figures out its on-air apostles often are less interested in the gospel of Jesus Christ (and in being an effective witness to all) than in serving up something deemed acceptable to those most likely to pay handsomely for the service.

Why do you think so much of Christian media sounds like
what Revelation says Jesus would spit out?
'"Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches."'
"To the angel of the church in Laodicea, write this: "'The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God's creation, says this:
"I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
THE GREAT IRONY of our time? That it's so damned difficult to be bold during a stretch of history when boldness is a necessity, not just one of many viable options.

Let me amend that slightly. Make that "intelligently bold during a stretch of history . . ." yadda yadda yadda. See, it's always been easy (and lucrative) to be boldly stupid . . . or boldly lewd . . . or boldly and stupidly lewd . . . or, for that matter, lewdly and boldly stupid.

I know it was difficult to be bold in Catholic radio -- at least in the corner I once inhabited, where holiness somehow got confused with bad music, boring lectures and a timid spirit.

For instance, I fell into producing a program of "contemporary" music aimed at young people. I say "fell," but the reality was more "jump" into producing the show because -- to be blunt -- it was awful (and deeply stupid), and I knew it could be so much more.

And as I started to approach the land of "More," I started to hear a refrain that would be oft repeated: "Catholic radio's not ready for that yet."

You'd think it was 1960, and I was trying to integrate a Southern lunch counter.

AT ONE POINT during my tenure as producer, the general manager and I sat down for a weekly production meeting. The three teen hosts were having commitment problems -- in short, they didn't "commit" to showing up every week to tape the show. I wanted to fire them and get hosts who took the job seriously.

The GM thought it would be easier just to kill the show.

I told her I thought the show was an important outreach to youth. If canceling there must be, cancel the present hosts -- not the show. The show, I added, had potential. Maybe . . . someday . . . it could be syndicated.

Then came the moment when I almost walked out the door . . . and down the road . . . all the way home. For good.

The boss admitted youth programming wasn't "a priority" at that time, and that she didn't want me spending so much time putting the show together. She was starting a daily series of five-minute reflections by local priests, and she wanted me to concentrate on things like that.


OK, it was time to lay it on the line.

I told her I was seriously worn out and burned out by long hours and unending technical crises. That little youth show was the only thing keeping me engaged at the moment. It was important. It had potential.

She repeated the youth show wasn't a priority and that people wanted to hear their priests on the air. Besides, she added, "Youth don't contribute to the station."


UNTIL THAT MOMENT, I always had thought the expression "seeing red" was just that -- an expression.
Then I did.

It took every bit of strength to control myself. I almost bit a hole in my tongue to keep from calling the GM a g**damn Pharisee and quitting.

Instead, I repeated that youth programming was important. I emphasized that all the production work was getting done, despite the time I spent on that particular program. The rest of the day I stewed. I couldn't believe what I had just heard.

The next day, the development guy and I were talking about youth programming. I told him what the boss said about kids "not contributing" to our little Catholic FM station.

This guy was the best money hustler I'd ever seen, and his jaw dropped. Literally. His expression was one of total shock.

"If youth programming isn't a priority, what is?" he asked. "That's the future."


BUT THAT'S what radio is all about today. That's what America is all about today -- grab a buck today, screw the future. Suck up to them what have . . . screw them what don't.

And if financial exigencies of the moment mean that devout keepers of the Catholic airwaves stand ready to cut back on Christian witness to the young -- to a community's own children -- why should we be taken aback that a bunch of public-radio bureaucrats would sacrifice a medium's future to save pocket change today?

After all, it's just radio. However important radio might be, it doesn't rank up there with eternal life. And some folks have decided even that is just another budget item.

So if it's easy enough for a Catholic-radio general manager to think it more expedient to ax -- rather than improve -- a youth program with no budget to speak of, how easy must it be for a public-radio suit to kill an "experiment" that fans loved but NPR failed to "sell" to enough affiliates?

And what of the future?

Well, "after all, tomorrow is another day!" Until it's not.