Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The one after Black Monday (updates updates updates)

I thought about suspending my blog until the resolution of our current fiscal crisis, but I figured I'd probably be even less useful than that decrepit, so-called grandstanding 'maverick' douchebag who foolishly thinks he can single-handedly save our country. Yeah, only 35 days until the "Straight Talk Express" drives off the cliff.

So, I will continue onward doing what I do. Here are a few things to talk about as our entire financial system crumbles around us...

Maron V. Seder to debut October 1

There's been vague mention of this for the past month or so, and the information is still, well, vague, but at least we now have a date for when all this vagueness will begin.

"Maron V. Seder," the new collaborative effort between Air America exiles Marc Maron and Sam Seder, will debut as an online video show on October 1 at 3P. Air America will also have a hand in producing and promoting the show, but so far, it looks like an online-only project.

So, what's it all about? Tune in tomorrow at 3P ET and find out.

Air America names digital chief

Shelly at Air America's PR department sends word that Michael Bassik has been hired by the network as their chief digital officer, effective November 6. The press release claims Bassik "is well known for crafting new, creative ways to use technology to reach new audiences. Most recently, Bassik helped build the nation’s largest online political marketing firm at MSHC Partners, where he served as the Vice President of Interactive Marketing. In this newly created position, Bassik will focus on Air America Media and its digital strategy, building AirAmerica.com into a leading source for independent news, commentary and community."

“Michael’s background is ideal to lead Air America ’s digital growth,” said Bennett Zier, Air America ’s chief executive officer. “As the nation’s leading online political marketing expert, he will have a significant influence on making Air America ’s online presence a superior, user-friendly, interactive experience for our viewers, readers, listeners and advertisers.”

Bassik directed political advertising strategy at AOL during the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, and previously held positions at The New York Times, The White House and City Hall in New York .

Scrambled signals

Okay, I've gotten a few emails from readers who claim that this blog is looking kinda funny. Namely, the outside columns are there, but there is no 'blog' to this blog. What the hell happened to the middle of this?

This has been an occasional problem with three column layouts on Blogger since I started using them. It was a bigger problem before I switched this thing to Blogger's new XML layout standard and the main web browsers out there (Internet Explorer and Firefox) updated to their current versions. The problem seemed to be more frequent with IE, but now some Firefox users are reporting issues with it. I do know that older versions of IE don't show this thing right.

Rest assured, all the content should be on the page. In some instances, the center column may be pushed down the page (not sure why it's still doing this). I played with the layout parameters and temporarily got rid of a few features, in the hopes that it will improve the situation. And I advise all of you to make sure your web browsers are updated to the most current versions.

I ask all of you reading this to do me a favor and post a comment below. In it, tell me what browser you are using (including version, such as IE7.xx or Firefox 3.xx). If possible, perhaps your screen resolution and whatever other information you feel is relevant. This will help in me figuring out how to fix this situation, which may go so far as to shift back to a two-column setup.

I have made few layout changes in recent weeks, but it is pretty irritating when computer code seems to suddenly make up its own mind about how to best show this thing. But

Monday, September 29, 2008

Progressive talk goes to the pumpkins

Keene, New Hampshire, a small picturesque New England college town that is also home to the world-famous annual Pumpkin Festival, will soon get its own progressive talk station.

WZBK (1220AM), owned by Saga Communications, will soon flip from adult standards to a simulcast of WKVT (1490AM) in neighboring Brattleboro, VT. Currently, WKVT is audible in Keene only as a somewhat fuzzy rimshot signal. The move will bring talkers like Stephanie Miller, Rachel Maddow and Thom Hartmann to a stronger signal in the area. WZBK also simulcasts on a small 250 watt FM translator at 103.1FM.

Station manager Robert Cox says “there’s been a lot of discussion in the community, and we think that having stations that reflect both the left and right points of view politically is good for the community and good for us as a business.” Saga also runs WKBK (1290AM) , which carries a conservative talk format.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

KLSD fudges the numbers

Clear Channel's controversial decision to ditch liberal talk on San Diego station KLSD has so far proven to be a dismal failure.

But after being a no-show in the ratings books since the flip to sports, a small glimmer of hope had surfaced in recent months, with the fledgeling sports format actually starting to show a small blip in the ratings book. In the two most recent Arbitron rolling trend reports, KLSD improved to a 0.5 and 0.6 share respectively. While not great by any means, and far less than the progressive talk yielded, it was at least some hope.

And then we found out how that might have happened. It started with the firing of morning co-host Dave Palet last week. Turns out corporate was informed that three Arbitron diaries for the San Diego market came from the home of a local media member - a big no-no. The household in question belonged to an on-air personality at KLSD. And then the memos started flying.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The memo, which was sent out Friday, also states the “on-air personality in question has been removed from the on-air shift and will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.” Palet was fired late Friday afternoon.


Bob Bolinger, president and market manager for Clear Channel San Diego, said in the memo to “Valued Clients” that the company “agrees with the Arbitron policy” prohibiting media-affiliated households from filling out diaries.

Bolinger, who is out of town and has not responded to messages seeking comment, said in the memo that Clear Channel “moved swiftly to correct the situation.”

Arbitron announced yesterday it “learned that three Summer 2008 Week 2 San Diego metro diaries were returned from a media-affiliated household.” The company, which did not identify the household, said it would release revised ratings Friday for the past two “Arbitrends” ratings periods covering May-July and June-August.

Arbitron claims that the diaries in question could have significantly affected the outcome in the ratings book. They should announce by Friday how the 'Arbitrend' reports will be revised.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The October cinematic surprise, Part 2: When filmmakers attack (each other)

Note: You can find Part 1 here

Earlier, I gave you my assessment of "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against The West," an inflammatory documentary which was distributed last week in newspapers across the country. While "Obsession" is a serious documentary that in part is unintentionally funny, an upcoming release from a renowned comedy director looks like it may just elicit groans.

Enter the newest effort from David Zucker. Over the past three decades, the Wisconsin native has become a sort of comedy legend. With his brother Jerry and childhood friend Jim Abrahams, the trio got their start with 1975's "Ketucky Fried Movie," a silly low-budget assault of short bits and gags. I actually admit to owning this oddball gem on VHS. The trio hit paydirt with their next film, the classic "Airplane!" in 1980, a hilarious mashup of early 70's disaster flicks and 50's war films. The movie was a smash, putting them in the same league as Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and other film satirists of the day, and led to other similar projects, including "Top Secret!" (melding Elvis movies and spy flicks) and "The Naked Gun," which evolved from a outrageous, short-lived "Dragnet" spoof called "Police Squad!" that lasted a mere six episodes on ABC in 1982.

Over the years, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker (ZAZ) inspired many imitators, some good (like Keenan Ivory Wayans) and some really terrible (like Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the guys behind the recent "Disaster Movie" and similar quickie so-called pop culture 'comedies'), but David on his own soon began to imitate himself, as if he were recycling past glories. In the meantime, Zucker also had a personal revelation. He found Republicanism.

Zucker could be best described as a "9/11 Republican." Like Dennis Miller, Ron Silver and other self-described 'former Hollywood liberals,' he formed the idea that George W. Bush and the GOP could keep us safe from terrorist attacks (though that obviously didn't happen in September, 2001). All it would take is to wage war in Iraq, lower taxes for rich people, tie yellow ribbons, do a lot of flag waving and listen to Lee Greenwood songs. And label anyone who stands in opposition as 'un-American traitors.'

During the past few years, Zucker's new-found faith found itself creeping into his artistic work. He directed a few shorts for right-wing think tanks, released on the internet, that attacked Democrats such as John Kerry, and repeated the tired 'tax and spend' rhetoric. Zucker also made a short mocking former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Unfortunately, the short was released in 2006, almost six years after Albright and the rest of President Clinton's administration left office.

Okay, so Zucker's recent work seems evident of someone living in the past. And his recent cinematic output seems to milk past glories. How out of touch is David Zucker? His upcoming release, out October 3, is called "An American Carol," and mocks Michael Moore, and his 2004 documentary smash, "Fahrenheit 9/11." More than four years after numerous other films did exactly the same thing. A summary on Wikipedia describes it as such

Left-wing activist and filmmaker Michael Malone (subtle, huh?) is campaigning to end the celebration of the Fourth of July (WTF???). Malone truculently argues to the American people that America's past and present are offensive, and therefore should not be celebrated. Malone is then visited by three ghosts, George Washington, George S. Patton, and John F. Kennedy, who try to make him rethink his view of America

Years ago, some would call a film with this premise evidence of too much cocaine flowing through Hollywood. these days, it appears to be too much Kool-Aid. Now, normally I don't like to criticize films I have not seen. I held off on passing any kind of judgement on the "Obsession" DVD until I actually had a chance to sit down and watch it. As Zucker's new offering has yet to be released, all I have to go on is a synopsis, some promotional materials, the listing of cast and crew and a trailer. But seeing as a studio executive or potential producer can initially make a yes or no decision based on a mere sales pitch, and syndicated right-wing columnists like Kathleen Parker are already drooling over it, well, I guess I can give it my best shot

The film, a rehash of the famous Charles Dickens Christmas fable, features a who's-who of right-wing Hollywood, with the likes of Kelsey Grammer, Jon Voight, Dennis Hopper, James Woods and country singer Trace Adkins on board. Longtime Zucker regular Leslie Nielsen also appears, as well as has-beens Kevin (Hercules) Sorbo and Gary Coleman. Oh, and Bill O'Reilly appears as himself. Somehow, I get the feeling that quite a few Hollywood executives took a pass when they heard what had to be an obviously weak-ass pitch.

So, what do I think? First off, this film reeks of something that's been sitting on the shelf for a long, long time, well past its expiration date. In other words, it sounds really, really stale. Cheapie right-wing hit pieces attacking Moore came and went years ago, and have long since been forgotten. Trey Parker and Matt Stone already milked the Moore parody bit years ago in "Team America: World Police." Moore has also moved on since 2004, and his most recent release, "Sicko," took a markedly different tone than "Fahrenheit 9/11." The premise of "An American Carol" sounds as timely as a Monica Lewinsky blow job joke. And if this film is a Christmas story about Independence Day, why release it in early October

Second, Zucker, like many right-wingers of 4-5 years ago, makes really stupid arguments. He pokes fun at a fact that really doesn't exist. Namely, he accuses someone of being un-American, simply because he disagrees with him. It's a vile, classless, immature and uninformed accusation, since our country was founded and built on dissent and activism. Think we'd have the abolition of slavery, women's sufferage, the 40-hour work week, the end of child labor and civil rights unless brave people spoke up and challenged the system? Noted rabble-rouser Susan B. Anthony was eventually featured on U.S. currency. Martin Luther King has a federal holiday and a Capitol Mall memorial on the way. Upton Sinclair's works are still studied in classrooms. Are they traitors? Do they hate America? Right-wingers who attack Bush dissenters for being 'un-American' are intellectually lazy and are apparently oblivious to the history of our country and what it's about. To assume someone like Michael Moore, who obviously loves his country enough to try to make it better, wants to abolish the Fourth of July is just plain lame. And when the patriotism bit plays itself out, all Zucker is left with is fat jokes. But I guess that's what David Zucker has devolved into.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for satire from all types of viewpoints, so long as it's actually good. The varied viewpoints of 300 million people are what make this country what it is. It is sad, though, that conservatives have a hard time finding things to laugh about. Political humor tends to work better when it rails against the establishment. That's what gave us Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Hunter S. Thompson. And like it or not, conservatism, which represents the interests of the wealthy and powerful, is about as establishment as one gets. Nobody likes to laugh at the little guy. And that's why most right-wing humor fails.

That's not to say there aren't any funny conservatives. Writer P.J. O'Rourke honed his craft as a rightie railing against the ultra-liberal late-60s atmosphere of Harvard. The late William F. Buckley was also rather witty, because he had a personable self-depricating style and was smart enough to never take himself too seriously. The 'Blue Collar Comedy' guys like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy, obviously conservative in their politics, scored not with red state rants but with good 'ol boy Southern humor. Conservative comedian Drew Carey is more about dick jokes in his routines than pro-Dick Cheney rhetoric. The problem, as I've mentioned in the past, is that politically-tinged right-wing humorists take themselves too seriously, and come across as out-of-touch or just plain whiney. Conservative cartoonists such as Bruce Tinsley or Michael Ramirez recycle tired stereotypes into eye-rolling dreck, and nobody's laughed at Rush Limbaugh's jokes since the Clinton administration, after he retreated to his South Florida drug-fueled multi-millionaire exile. Limbaugh's main problem is that he now plays golf with the very establishment that he should be challenging. Ann Coulter comes across as too cruel to garner any laughs, apart from desperate followers in the flock

But back to Zucker's movie. Some may ask why I'm even drawing attention to it. Well, it looks like it will need all the help it can get. "An American Carol" just doesn't look like a big box office smash. Rather, it has all the appearances of something that's just being dumped unenthusiastically into the marketplace in the off-season. Heavy-handed politically-charged films have had a rough go at the cineplex in recent years, with even efforts featuring Hollywood heavyweights like Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx and Brian DePalma landing with a thud. There are exceptions. Michael Moore has built his works into a very reliable brand, with films that are funny and informative, seem genuine and elicit populist sentiments. Socially-themed offerings like "An Inconvenient Truth," which nobody could have predicted success for, likewise inspired a passionate reaction from filmgoers in addition to strong word-of-mouth publicity. "Harold and Kumar" injected stoner humor into a funny and topical terrorism subplot. But with our economy in ruins, President Bush's approval ratings at historic lows and an expensive never-ending war in Iraq, will Zucker find enough people still sympathetic to his cause

Moore has kept a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing. Shown a clip of the movie on Larry King's show recently, Moore expressed vague familiarity with "An American Carol," and joked that he felt Viggo Mortenson should have played him. Otherwise, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "I hope it's funny

And in this election season, Moore is not keeping quiet. He released "Fahrenheit 9/11" in the election year of 2004 in part to fire up voters. And for this election year, he is unleashing a long-in-the-works film, "Slacker Uprising," a documentary based on a 2004 college speaking tour of political swing states. Unlike his other films, this one won't be hitting the cineplex. Instead, he is giving it away, a free gift to his fans, similar to what Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails did with their recent music releases. Moore has teamed with Brave New Films to release "Slacker Uprising" as a free online download, starting today and available through October 13, with a low-priced extra-filled DVD also on the way

According to Moore:

It's also one of my contributions to help get out the vote November 4th. That's why I'm giving you my blanket permission to not only download it, but also to email it, burn it, and share it with anyone and everyone... I want you to use "Slacker Uprising" in any way you see fit to help with the election or to do the work that you do in your community. You can show my film in your local theater, your high school classroom, your college auditorium, your church, union hall or community center. You can have your friends and neighbors over to the house for a viewing. You can broadcast it on TV, on cable access, on regular channels or on the web. It's completely free -- I don't want to see a dime from this. And if you want, you can charge admission or ask for a donation if it's to raise money for a candidate, a voter drive, or for any non-profit or educational purpose. In other words -- it's yours!

"Slacker Uprising" is available for free download from a variety of sites as well as the film's official website And it's probably more genuine than David Zucker's upcoming 'comedy' movie that mocks him for, well, being an American.

The October cinematic surprise, Part 1: The Sunday morning jihad

So, after the tragic death of my old computer monitor, taken out by, of all things, cat vomit, I hooked up my new 'used' monitor (a nice 19" model I got for a good price) and decided to give it a test drive.

I have found that DVDs always seem to play better on high-resolution computer monitors than on conventional tube TV sets (I'm too stubborn and frugal to upgrade to HDTV quite yet). And I have a few DVDs that I like to watch on a computer, including CGI-heavy films like "The Matrix" or "300," or even a Pixar animated offering. For some strange reason, though, the disk I chose to christen my newly acquired monitor was some freebie that I salvaged from last Sunday's newspaper, a controversial Islam bashfest called "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against The West."

I held off on watching this until the other day, as it just didn't look all that exciting. We all know without watching what's in the DVD. We know that there are radical groups based in the Middle East that hate our guts. We know that fundamentalist Islamic television programmers tend to show rather outrageous, inflammatory rhetoric to the masses. Hey, we have people that do that here. The problem is, this DVD seems like an all-out attack on Muslims in general (though they run disclaimers that such is not the case). And that's not really fair.

Another problem with this film, originally released two years ago and now making the rounds again in the runup to the upcoming general election, is that we know so little about the people behind it. We know that it was written and produced by an Israeli-Canadian named Raphael Shore, who heads a shadowy nonprofit organization called The Clarion Fund. And in the past week or so, we know that Clarion spent untold amounts of money to freely distribute 28 million DVDs of the film in at least 70 Sunday newspapers, most of which are in so-called swing states. The group claims to be a non-partisan, non-profit organization, totally independent of any government, political or foreign entity. But some media outlets, including newspapers that distributed the DVD as an advertising supplement, are skeptical about the group and their intent. The Tampa Tribune reported that the Clarion Fund has yet to file a required 990 tax form with the IRS, which is required of all tax-exempt groups. And The Palm Beach Post pointed out in an editorial that the Fund "is not listed with Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits based on efficient use of donors' money" and that Clarion has provided "No names of directors. No sources of money. Just the mission statement" on its website. The editorial concluded with the irony that Clarion itself seems to be "operating like the secret cells it warns about. Terrorists are cowards. In their own way, so are the people sending out this campaign ad."

Much of the controversy about the film as of late is in regard to the newspaper blitz. Some question the ethics of a so-called 'family newspaper' circulating a DVD featuring some rather grim and shocking footage that some groups would deem racially offensive. Some papers, such as the Orlando Sentinel, took a pass on it. Many others accepted Clarion's advertising money, saying that it was a sales department decision independent of the newsroom, and it was no different than running the weekly Lowe's circular. Most papers cited their First Amendment rights, which is understandable. But let's look at this from another standpoint. Would the same papers citing free speech justification take the same approach if some group came to them with their own DVD? How do you think that free copy of "Loose Change" or "9/11: In Plane Sight" would play out stuffed in the Sunday funnies? How about a DVD that attacks fundamentalist Christians for inspiring terrorists like Paul Hill and Eric Rudolph? How about if the same DVD showed clips from Pat Robertson, like when he called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez? Or Robertson claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's devastating stroke a few years was a message from God warning him about coddling the Palestinians? Gee, wonder what the newspapers would think of offending those crowds?

So, what about the film? Well, as I said, I volunteered to watch it so you don't have to. And if you have indeed decided to take a pass on it and merely treat it as if it came from AOL, well, you aren't missing a whole lot. It's a standard talking head documentary intercut with snippets from television news shows from Islamic countries, crude internet videos, actuality feeds from anti-Western riots, American flag burnings, outlandish Iranian hip-hop music videos and even vintage Hitler/Nazi imagery. Palestinians are also broad-painted as terrorists. In short, it looks like a Mossad propaganda video.

And if that wasn't subtle enough, the disk also features a trailer for another Clarion release, "The Third Jihad," which looks like a continuation of the same theme as "Obsession." Not sure why they put in extended footage of Rosie O'Donnell, though. But I guess that unintentionally reveals something about the people releasing it.

Now, in this whole Israel/Islam debate, I choose to not take a side. Let them work out their turf beefs on their own. It's not really my concern. The sad thing is, the DVD is a blatant attempt by a foreign entity (with a U.S. branch office) to influence our presidential election, which is borderline illegal at worst, tacky at best. Clarion even offered up an endorsement of Republican John McCain for president on their site before snooping bloggers caused them to quietly 'disappear' it.

So, "Obsession" is what it is. Cheap propaganda that paints a whole race/religion with a very broad brush. The sound bytes taken from Arab television are rather interesting and sometimes a bit silly, but otherwise, it's an overly partisan snore. But if nothing else, at least now I can say I've heard Iranian hip-hop.

See the next installment for Part 2 of this election season cinematic rundown

Air America gets new webmaster

From the Air America press release:

NEW YORK -- Air America Media , a progressive media company, has named award-winning publisher and media consultant Beau Friedlander its Web site editor-in-chief. In his new role, he will build and oversee editorial content, recruit guest bloggers, and work with Air America’s on-air talent and producers to post timely text, audio and video content.

“As Air America continues to grow our multimedia offerings, Beau is the ideal candidate to lead the charge online,” said Bennett Zier, Air America ’s chief executive officer. “With more than 20 years of publishing, media and consulting experience, he brings a versatile and progressive voice to our interactive initiatives.”

“With Sam Seder transitioning out of this role and focusing his time and energy on new online initiatives, Beau is the perfect person to fill his shoes,” said Bill Hess, Air America’s senior vice president of programming. “He’s not afraid to take risks, and is an essential element as we take Air America Media to the next level.”

Added Friedlander, “Sam has worked hard to make a name for airamerica.com, and I’m looking forward to continuing his work.”

Prior to Air America, Friedlander was president of Friedlander and Associates, a progressive media consulting group that provides custom publishing, guerrilla marketing, activist outreach, web presence, author representation and conflict mediation. He also founded Context Books, a small, independent publisher, whose works were honored with several independent publishing awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Columbia University’s J. Anthony Lucas Book Prize. More than half of the company’s works also made the American Booksellers Association’s Book Sense list.

Previously, Friedlander served as editorial director at Abrams Image and creative director at Chelsea Green. He received his B.A. from Bennington College, and received an M.A. from both the University of Oxford and Columbia University.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The cat killed my monitor (and a few other things)

Didn't have the opportunity to do an elaborate entry, as my mischeivous cat decided to climb up on top of my computer monitor and vomit in it, shorting out some circuits and pretty much ruining the whole thing. Thankfully, the place didn't go up in flames, though the smell is pretty nasty. I'll make this one short and sweet, as I hunt down a new monitor (perhaps a flat panel LCD?).

Strong numbers for Maddow on MSNBC

I was going to write a whole long thing about MSNBC, but time (and monitor) restrictions have put that on hold. Nevertheless, an update on the network's newest host, Rachel Maddow. After only a few weeks, it looks like MSNBC has a small hit on its hands.

On Tuesday night, the live airing of "The Rachel Maddow Show" was MSNBC's top-rated broadcast Tuesday night. It even unseated Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" as the network's top show that evening.

Maddow drew 1.8 million total viewers compared to Olbermann's 1.6 million. Maddow also outdrew Olbermann in the advertiser-friendly 25-54 demographic, taking 25,000 more young adults than her lead-in "Countdown."

Wednesday's numbers were also good, with Maddow eclipsing CNN's "Larry King Live" in all reported demographics. And preliminary numbers for Thursday show she barely edged Olbermann.

And the hosts of "Morning Joe" congratulated Rachel Maddow on her ratings success on Thursday morning. Joe Scarborough, who has sparred with Maddow in the past, had particularly kind words for her, saying:

TV folk are some of the craziest folk I know, as Krusty the Clown might say. But she is a good, good person. We probably don't agree on anything politically. But she's respectful of people, and it's great. File this under, one of those good people doing well."

A few more items for the weekend

  • The Minneapolis Star Tribune has an article about Ms. Maddow.

  • Speaking of Minnesota, incumbent Senator Norm Coleman must be getting desperate, as he tries to slime rival Al Franken with that Gloria Wise nonsense and wingnuts cream their pants. And none of this mudslinging is doing either any good, as it appears independent candidate and Jesse Ventura crony Dean Barkley is creeping up. Sad, really.

  • FAIR has a column entitled "The Myth of Pro-Obama Media Bias."

  • OMG!!! Social networking has overtaken porn in web searches! This is HUGH111!

  • Greenfield Named America's Funniest Host

    AllAccess reports that WVNJ/Oakland, NJ-New York morning host Sam Greenfield was unveiled as the "Funniest Host in America" at the NAB Radio Show in Austin Thursday morning. Greenfield won a national contest sponsored by Comic Wonder and was present at the convention to accept the honor.

    Greenfield formerly hosted mornings on progressive talker WWRL in New York.

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Obama versus McCain - The radio version

    To answer a much-asked question, yes, WWRC in Washington DC will still carry progressive talk. At the very least, they’ve currently got plans for it.

    According to AllAccess, Red Zebra Broadcasting, which purchased a cluster of local AM stations from Clear Channel in June, has revamped its two politically-oriented talk stations in the market in a rather timely manner by rebranding its conservative talk station "McCain 570 WTNT" and "Obama 1260 WWRC."

    "Obama 1260" will still carry Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, Lionel, Rachel Maddow and Ron Reagan, with news coverage supplied by CNN and CNBC. In contrast, they don’t offer that much change aside from the name.

    "McCain 570" features its previous lineup: conservative talkers Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Miller, and Michael Savage, along with news from the Fox News Radio. They also promise four more years of the same thing. (rimshot!)

    The two station’s temporary identities will run through the end of this year’s presidential campaign.

    "With the intense interest and the importance of this presidential election Red Zebra felt it was important to give the public the ability to easily find both sides of the candidate’s positions and opinions and give DC area listeners a chance to express their viewpoints and ask the tough questions," said VP of Operations Dennis Glasgow. PD Greg Tantum added, "Personalities from both stations will be out in the community hosting forums on the election, helping listeners become better informed voters."

    What was not adressed were the many common complaints directed at the station (which I seem to get the lion's share of), namely the many technical gaffes and abundance of dead air that plague WWRC. Hopefully, as the stations have recently added a new programming chief, perhaps these problems will be corrected.

    Thursday, September 11, 2008

    Mid-week roundup

    As I try to wrap my head around what kinds of hallucinogenic drugs John McCain must be ingesting, it's time to catch up with some of the big stories going on in the world of media...

    Wilmington gets digitized

    The plug was pulled at noon Monday, as Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin and Wilmington, N.C., Mayor Bill Saffo flipped a huge, symbolic digital light switch to end full-power analog TV in the market, making the market the first to switch to all-digital broadcasting.

    The symbolic move, the latest prior to the nationwide switch to digital on February 17, 2009, had all of the market's major stations pulling the plug on analog at the same time. The market's station owners all agreed on May 8 to volunteer to become a test market for the FCC, becoming the first to go all-digital.

    As expected, the switch did bring in a few calls out of the estimated 13,000 local households that receive broadcasts via antenna, with roughly 226 logged as of Tuesday. Surprisingly, only one call was from a viewer who was surprised by the switch, with most of them needing assistance in setting up their DTV converter boxes correctly (hint: Use the autoscan feature), reception issues or inquiring into the whereabouts of their requested $40 government-issued voucher coupons.

    The Wilmington shut-off most importantly shows the importance of being prepared for the upcoming analog-to-digital switch, with only five months to go. If you don't subscribe to cable, satellite or other subscription means, and your television is several years old (without digital channel reception capabilities), you need to get a converter box. As you may know, Uncle Sam will foot $40 toward the cost of the box (which averages roughly $50-60 retail). Log in to dtv2009.gov to apply for up to two vouchers. For those of you with friends or relatives unaware of the change that still use an antenna, this is the perfect opportunity to remind them, and to give enough lead time to prepare for the conversion.

    Regardless, many see the upcoming digital switch as a major pain in the ass. In reality, it shouldn't be. Digital channels should come in much clearer than their analog counterparts. The digital picture is clear - DVD quality. And many stations carry subchannels on their digital signals, which allows for additional programming. Most NBC affiliates carry Weather Plus, which carries full-time local weather updates. Many PBS affiliates have feeds of extra programming, such as the excellent PBS World. And others are carrying channels such as RTN, .2 Network or the upcoming MGM channel, This TV (to launch this fall in Chicago and Milwaukee so far), all of which specialize in classic reruns and movies.

    Think of it as getting better reception and more channels. Not a bad motivation to pay $10-20 dollars for a small box.

    The Sirius XM lovechild

    As the nation's two satellite radio services proceed with their merger, listeners of either service will soon be able to hear programming from the former rivals, meaning that XM subscribers will soon be able to hear Howard Stern and NFL games, while Sirius subscribers will get Opie and Anthony, Oprah Winfrey and PGA broadcasts (golf on radio?).

    The combined company announced this week a content lineup for Sirius XM's new "Best of Both" programming options. As part of "Best of Both" programming, most current XM customers will continue to receive their existing XM service, and be able to obtain select Sirius programming. Likewise, Sirius listeners will be able to access some XM programming.

    In addition to their existing service, Sirius subscribers will have access to XM-exclusive sports such as the NHL and select college sports, in addition to Opie and Anthony's "The Virus," "Oprah and Friends," and XM's public radio offerings, including Bob Edwards. XM fans will be able to hear Howard Stern, Martha Stewart's "Living" channel, Playboy Radio and sports offerings from the NFL and NASCAR.

    As you may have noticed, liberal channels such as Air America and Sirius Left are not on the list currently, a surprise, since the two channels are an obvious drawing card for their respective services.

    Right-wing station sued for bias

    An interesting item from Los Angeles, as Salem Communications owner Ed Atsinger is being sued for the obvious right-wing slant of local talk station KRLA. The Glendale News Press reports that the plaintiff, David Birke, who describes himself as a Democrat, is suing the station and its hosts, including Salem's Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt and Mike Gallagher, KRLA local host Kevin James (link), TRN's Laura Ingraham and Westwood One's Dennis Miller. Birke alleges that the station defrauds the public and misrepresented itself to the FCC by featuring only conservative hosts and "Republican issues."

    Birke's complaint alleges that KRLA "has never allowed a Democrat to host a show; uses call screening to 'suppress' calls from Democratic supporters; and violates "campaign finance laws by providing free media for advertising, attacks on Democrats, fundraising and promotion exclusively to GOP officials and candidates.'"

    His attorney Johnny Birke (not sure if there's a relation) stated, "This a legal attack about the facts and law about what these defendants did and what they are doing on the airwaves."

    The suit will likely go nowhere. The FCC has consistently declined to interfere in programming decisions since the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine and does not require stations to balance programming.

    Personally, I have always held the belief that station owners should be free to do whatever format they want. We all know that Salem is a corporate media sinkhole propped up by the revenue brought in by the fundamentalist religious formats airing on many of their stations. And we all know that roughly 95% of the public does not listen to political talk radio of any kind, and most of it just preaches to the respective choirs anyway. I think too many make too big a deal of it.

    Stephanie Miller out in San Diego

    Speaking of KRLA, Salem and Laura Ingraham seem to have parted ways. She is off all of the stations that had aired her show, and in Los Angeles, she takes her show to rival KGIL/XESURF, which serve Los Angeles and San Diego respectively.

    While most people here could likely care less about Ingraham, it is noteworthy in that her show will replace that of Stephanie Miller on the San Diego station, only a few months after being added to the lineup. Local liberal talker Michael Jackson is also gone in the shuffle.

    Wait! Wait... Just Watch Me!

    Are you a fan of NPR's hilarious weekly game show "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!"? If you are, you'll be pleased to know that it will soon hit the TV screen.

    A TV pilot version of the show is being developed by CBS Entertainment, always on the prowl for new game show ideas. And unlike most of the crap passing for game show/reality competitions, nobody will be forced to run through obstacle courses, live with smelly, irritating roommates or eat live bugs. Or that terrible game show on FOX the other night which featured teams of people jumping through walls. It's just a fun little quiz show that's a bit more challenging than opening suitcases full of money. Think "Jeopardy," but with a bit more wit.

    Host Peter Sagal and judge/scorekeeper Carl Kasell will appear in the pilot, with show creator/executive producer Doug Berman serving in a similar role for the TV version.

    The hour-long show is produced by Chicago Pubic Radio in association with National Public Radio and is structured like a quiz show, focusing on current news subjects. No word on whether the show will air on the CBS network or via their syndication arm.

    Article of the day

    Finally, for those of you interested, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an article on local boy Ron Reagan, who just started a new show on Air America. His show airs from 8-9P weeknights. I haven't had the chance to tune in, but dedicated reader FSL claims that it's better than fried spam and mayonaise sandwiches, and more fun than Sarah Palin in granny panties. Check it out.

    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Ron Reagan added as permanent Air America host

    Air America Media adds a new show next week when former first son Ron Reagan is added to the regular programming schedule. “The Ron Reagan Show” will air weeknights from 8-9P ET beginning Monday, September 8. The new gig carves an hour off of “The Rachel Maddow Show,” which airs from 6-8P ET. Maddow begins a new weeknight show on MSNBC next week as well in the same timeslot.

    Reagan has been reporting from the 2008 Republican National Convention on all Air America programs originating from Minneapolis-St. Paul and co-anchoring the evening coverage with David Bender. He also is a regular panelist on Air America’s “7 Days in America,” and guest-hosted “American Afternoon” in the spring.

    “Sitting next to Ron this week as he co-anchored our coverage at the Republican National Convention made me realize his biting commentary and unique experiences were a ‘must’ addition to our talk line-up,” said Bill Hess, senior vice president of programming for Air America Media. “Our affiliate stations will benefit from his insight, story-telling talents and entertaining style during this historic election season and beyond.”

    “There are too few progressive voices in the media and Air America plays an important and vital role,” said Reagan. “I’m proud and pleased to be involved as Air America expands and solidifies its position in the media landscape.”

    Previously, Reagan hosted a midday talk radio show on KIRO-AM in Seattle and the weekly syndicated television program “The Ron Reagan Show,” and co-hosted “Connected: Coast to Coast” and “After Hours” with Joe Scarborough on MSNBC, “Front Page” on Fox, AENTV/Publishers Weekly’s ”Publishers Weekly Minutes,” and CNet Television’s “TV.com.” He’s also appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and “Buchanan and Press,” ABC’s “20/20” and “Good Morning America,” and Discovery’s Animal Planet. Reagan has contributed to Newsweek, The New Yorker, Playbook, Los Angeles Times, Interview, Esquire and Salon.com. He is also an advocate for stem cell research, encouraging research and federal funding, and an active member of the Creative Coalition, a first rights amendment group.

    “The Ron Reagan Show” will originate live from the studios of KPTK in Seattle, the city where Reagan currently resides.

    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    The Departed

    A couple passings to note on this unofficial first day of fall...

    First, as has long been rumored, WROC (950AM) in Rochester has ditched liberal talk for sports. The new lineup is mostly ESPN Radio, with "Mike & Mike in the Morning," Colin Cowherd, Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt. The station will also carry "Schopp & the Bulldog" from sister station WGR in Buffalo.

    "We felt that it was finally time that Rochester had a true all-sports radio station," commented VP/GM Susan Munn. "We’ll now offer Rochester the best regional and national sports coverage with our affiliation with ESPN and WGR in Buffalo."

    Fans of WROC's previous format can tune in sister station WWKB (1520AM) out of Buffalo.

    Another passing of note is that of an actual person. You may not know the name Don LaFontaine, but you definitely know the voice.

    The voiceover king, known for the "In a world ..." movie trailer phrase died from complications from pneumothorax, or a collapsed lung yesterday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 68.

    For many years, LaFontaine has been the highest paid voiceover personality in the business. In addition to countless movie trailers, the "King of Voiceovers" also voiced hundreds of commercials for products such as Coke, McDonalds, Ford, Budweiser and Birds-Eye frozen foods. He most recently appeared as himself in a Geico ad.

    Goodman, "Democracy Now!" crew busted at GOP convention protest

    From Democracy Now! website:

    ST. PAUL--Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar have all been released from police custody in St. Paul following their illegal arrest by Minneapolis Police on Monday afternoon.

    All three were violently manhandled by law enforcement officers. Abdel Kouddous was slammed against a wall and the ground, leaving his arms scraped and bloodied. He sustained other injuries to his chest and back. Salazar’s violent arrest by baton-wielding officers, during which she was slammed to the ground while yelling, “I’m Press! Press!,” resulted in her nose bleeding, as well as causing facial pain. Goodman’s arm was violently yanked by police as she was arrested.

    On Tuesday, Democracy Now! will broadcast video of these arrests, as well as the broader police action. These will also be available on: http://www.democracynow.org/

    Goodman was arrested while questioning police about the unlawful detention of Kouddous and Salazar who were arrested while they carried out their journalistic duties in covering street demonstrations at the Republican National Convention. Goodman’s crime appears to have been defending her colleagues and the freedom of the press.

    Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher told Democracy Now! that Kouddous and Salazar were arrested on suspicion of rioting, a felony. While the three have been released, they all still face charges stemming from their unlawful arrest. Kouddous and Salazar face pending charges of suspicion of felony riot, while Goodman has been officially charged with obstruction of a legal process and interference with a “peace officer.”

    More at AlterNet and The Washington Post.

    Video of the arrest can be found here.

    The knocked-up, blown-out Labor Day weekend (or "Juno" comes to Juneau)

    Typically, holiday weekends are known for their lack of news. When America goes on vacation, things tend to get a bit quieter. But sandwiched in between two political conventions and a testy hurricane brewing in the gulf, we should have realized that wouldn't happen.

    First up was Gustav, an unpredictable storm that's been accelerating and decelerating over much of the past week. Finally, Gustav decided to become a full-bore hurricane capable of equalling or exceeding Hurricane Katrina, which ripped apart the Gulf Coast exactly three years ago. President Bush, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, FEMA and all others who were blasted for their poor response to the storm in 2005 indirectly acknowledged their past blunders by pulling out all the stops this time around. For Gustav, they were ready to get down to business, though luckily, the hurricane's bark was much worse than its bite. Still, they were prepared. Bush didn't even stop to play the guitar and eat cake like last time around.

    Meanwhile, another storm ramped up thousands of miles to the north, in Juneau, the capitol of Alaska, where Hurricane Bristol blew through the political landscape this weekend. Okay, Bristol isn't really a hurricane. But it could prove to be quite embarassing to the Republican Party, their presidential nominee John McCain and his newly anointed running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. You see, the storm we're talking about concerns 17 year-old Bristol Palin, daughter of the budding vice presidential nominee. See, Bristol got knocked up five months ago. Ouch!

    'But she's marrying the father,' Governor Palin claims, in a half-assed attempt at damage control with the ultra-conservative base that is working overtime in affirming and convincing themselves that McCain didn't royally screw the pooch in his selection of a running mate. Considering that Palin is a member of the NRA, the presence of a .12-gauge at the wedding ceremony would not surprise me in the least. In airing this out in the public, they're trying to make like this is a touchy-feely real life version of "Juno," a very warm, well-written movie trashed by fundie types over its teenage pregnancy storyline. Of course, their solution for teen pregnancy is to stick their heads in the sand.

    Ordinarily, this whole ordeal would and should only cause a minor ripple rather than a tidal wave, especially since so many high school children, sadly, are finding themselves expectant parents these days. Absurdly, right-wing pundits, bloggers and broadcast squawkers are currently trying to acheive a loftier plain by chastising their liberal counterparts who are ripping Palin apart over this, as if they are always the ones who wear the white hats and we're all just a bunch of cruel black-hatted bastards.

    Likely, many of these same 'my shit don't stink' crybaby conservatives looked the other way in 1998 when McCain cracked a rather cruel joke about 'how ugly' the teenage Chelsea Clinton was. Rush Limbaugh once called 12 year-old Chelsea 'the White House dog,' but there was no outcry from anyone in that camp. Only guffaws from his right-wing lemmings. Remember when these holier-than-thoughs cracked jokes about Elizabeth Edwards' weight? Now, they're singing a different tune. The people that condoned or participated in any of this have no firm ground on which to take the high road.

    To his credit, Obama has called for backing off of candidates' families, as he should. His objective has long been to concentrate on fighting McBush's politics, and digging in the dirt does him no good. His mother gave birth to him when she was 18, and he has two young daughters that will no doubt give him migraines a few years down the road. But I don't work for the Obama campaign, and while I respect that Bristol Palin didn't ask to be put in the spotlight, I do have some concerns about her predicament. Like it or not, this is a campaign issue for the GOP. Because the problem is, in their desperate attempts to suck up to the fundamentalist crowd and their stuffy, outdated and unrealistic views about sexuality, the official Republican Party platform for the 2008 election puts bedroom politics, particularly abortion and gay rights, near the top of the agenda. Part of this year's policy slate calls not for increased access to birth control and sex education, which would make sense but which they widely discourage, but rather for pre-marital abstinence.

    Abstinence? No sex before marriage? Ha! Easier said than done.

    The very fact that the teenage daughter of an up-and-coming ultra-conservative red state governor obviously did not take this long-standing GOP mantra seriously shows that a demand for all-out abstinence is just not part of everyday reality. It's just a plain stupid concept, and one that simply does not work. Shagging is part of human nature. In blunt English, we as people love to get laid.

    Somehow, I'm not surprised by all of this. Right-wingers have long had no qualms about pointing fingers and telling others how to live their lives. Judging by the recent sexual antics of right-wing politicians and bloviators like Mark Foley, David Vitter, Larry Craig and Ted Haggard, this is yet another case of 'do as we say, not as we do.' Vice President Dick Cheney, perhaps the most conservative politician in Washington, has a lesbian daughter who married her partner a few years ago. There's absolutely nothing at all wrong with that. We should all be so fortunate to find the ideal person to settle down with. But did that change his stance on tolerance of the GLBT community? Not one bit. Is it too much to ask that right-wingers lead by the warped example they want to inflict on the rest of us, or at least be flexible in adjusting their narrow-minded pseudo-puritanical views to reflect the actual world that they live in? Let's face it, many of the very people who demand we conform to their idea of morality no doubt party like rock stars, fuck like rabbits and have done things in their lives worthy of bags of mail to Penthouse Magazine.

    See, in right-wing America, you can't screw your girlfriend/boyfriend, but you can screw the working class. Taking a morning-after pill to get rid of an embryo smaller than the tip of a needle is wrong, but sending a mentally-retarded felon to the gas chamber is okay. Buying a box of condoms is a sin, but denying a young unwed mother and her child affordable health care is acceptable. Defiling your mind with pornography is frowned upon by the tighty-righties, but corporations defiling the earth and its atmosphere with pollution in order to make a quick buck is quite all right. See what I'm getting at?

    Okay, the right-wingers still reading this will chastise me for not knocking people like John Edwards, who just recently admitted to an affair he had a couple years ago (with possible love child). But I don't remember Edwards calling for all Americans to keep it in their pants. He never made sexuality an issue in his political campaigns. It's not hypocrisy, though it most certainly is a personal problem he has to deal with, and he should have never put himself in the position to be his party's nominee for president (I say that as a former Edwards supporter). Bill Clinton never tried to define morality either in his campaigns or administratiton. Mostly, he was stupid and irresponsible as he tried to hide his sexual dalliances from his wife. Hey, what guy wouldn't want to avoid pissing off the missus?

    Sure, Republicans don't hold a monopoly on hypocrisy. Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson, in what sounds like a scene from The Sopranos, stashed huge wads of ill-gotten cash in a freezer chest while pretending to uphold the law. He is a crook. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who turned a nothing investigation he could have probably skated on into a personal quagmire that will eventually cost him his job, is an idiot. And disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who rode to Albany on a record of law and order, only to get caught up in a massive prostitution sting operation, is a hypocrite and an idiot.

    Needless to say, it's all about walking the talk. And a political party or movement calling for absinence, when they are unwilling to practice it themselves or expect even their own family members to effectively follow suit, is just plain asinine.

    Now, I will say that Governor Palin should be commended for positively supporting her daughter in this ordeal (though none of us have been privy to what family discussions have transpirerd behind closed doors and that's none of our business). Teenage pregnancy is obviously not a fun scenario for anyone involved. It's pretty difficult. This is really not about the Palin family, but rather the continued hawking of ridiculous laws to appease uptight prudes. And this is yet one more indicator that the Republicans should collectively grow a set and stop trying to legislate their own warped version of morality for America. If they want to discourage and stop people from obtaining abortions (and who doesn't?), they should advocate making birth control more widely available. They should encourage sex education and family planning education in schools. And they should also explain the consequences of pregnancy at a young age. Furthermore, a strong economy, as we've seen during the Clinton years, actually results in a lower abortion and teen pregnancy rate. But they'll never admit that. To them, controlling sex is an effective way of controlling the masses.

    The McCain campaign should especially back off their mysoginistic idea of discouraging insurance companies from offering coverage on contraception, particularly birth control pills. Obviously, they're too out of touch to realize that this medication is often prescribed for non-birth control purposes, such as hormone imbalances, and are actually quite vital to the health of many women. But it's all about sex with these people, right?

    All in all, the waging of bedroom politics and making mountanous wedge issues out of mole hills should stop once and for all. Prohibition in the 1920s has shown us that using the Constitution to take rights away, rather than affirm them, simply does not work. A party that proclaims itself to be all about 'small government' should practice what they preach. Get out of our private lives.

    At the very least, let's hope that this Bristol Palin predicament will cause 'the loftier plain' folks to pull their collective heads out of their asses and learn what life is really like in ordinary America. At least we hope that Gov. Palin will see the forest for the trees.

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