Thursday, January 15, 2009

You say goodbye, and I say Hello

Always looking for a clever gimmick in which to report on rather mundane news offerings, I have dedicated the theme of this entry to the greatest band in rock history, The Beatles. And it also helps set up a personal, off-topic rant at the end of this.

So, to tie it all in, here's their 1967 hit, "Hello Goodbye":

Hello, Hello Air America adds a new correspondent and weekend host, as the network has tapped former Time magazine columnist and co-founder Ana Marie Cox as its first Washington, D.C.-based national correspondent. She will also travel the country to profile people and stories illustrating life in America.

In this new capacity, she also will contribute content to and host a weekly radio program. Cox makes her Air America debut on Monday, January 19 to contribute to Air America’s Inauguration coverage.

“We’re thrilled to have Ana Marie’s unique voice join the Air America chorus,” said Bill Hess, senior vice president of programming for Air America. “Her curiosity about the issues facing Americans and how they deal with these issues on a daily basis promises to serve as the foundation for lively reports and commentaries from the capital and from the Main Streets of America”.

“Ana Marie’s presence on Air America is a significant step in the continued growth of Air America Media,” added Bennett Zier, Air America’s chief executive officer.

In addition to her work at Wonkette and Time, she served on the editorial staffs of, Mother Jones and Radar. She is currently writing for The Daily Beast. Cox also published her first novel in 2006, “Dog Days.”

By the way, Air America, not surprisingly, is offering extensive coverage from next Tuesday's inauguration of President Obama (gee, sounds good saying that!). Thom Hartmann's show will air live from the Capitol with guests Cox and fellow Air America host Ron Reagan. Ira Mellman, former WTOP and WCBS reporter/anchor and Air America’s special correspondent, will also be contributing on-air and online live from Washington, D.C. on the Inaugural festivities.

Goodbye KHRO (1650AM), the former Air America outlet in El Paso, last week parted ways with its most notable remaining liberal talker, afternoon host Paul Strelzin.

On his last show, Strezlin said. "There are a lot of people out there that like radio, that like to talk and will do it for free. I can't at my age do it for free." Strelzin was the only paid on-air employee on the talk station.

As with much of the radio industry these days, crippled due to the economy and the lousy advertising market, it was due to budgetary reasons. Strelzin does have an open invitation to return to the station, provided he can enlist sponsors for his three hour show.

Hello, again Only days after WXXM in Madison (92.1 The Mic) replaced Thom Hartmann with Dave Ramsey, listener outcry has forced station management to reconsider. So, Hartmann is back and Ramsey has been moved to the vacant morning shift. And no, the station has no current plans to change formats.

Goodbye WLIB in New York loses its last link to its Air America days as morning guy Mark Riley departs. Prior to returning to WLIB, Riley hosted several shows for the network.

Hello, Goodbye President-elect Obama has reportedly tapped Julius Genachowski to succeed Republican Kevin Martin as head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Genachowski, a onetime executive at IAC/InterActive and a former DC venture capitalist at LaunchBox Digital, served as Obama's chief technology adviser during the presidential campaign and also had a major role in fundraising. He has an FCC background as well, having served as chief counsel for former Chairman Reed Hundt during the Clinton administration.

Although the nomination has not been finalized, NAB President/CEO David Rehr issued a statement saying, "Julius Genachowski has a keen intellect, a passion for public service, and a deep understanding of the important role that free and local broadcasting plays in American life. NAB salutes President-elect Obama on this superb choice to lead the FCC."

Tech fans will also welcome Genachowski, as he is a strong advocate for net neutrality, as well as for universal broadband access, a high priority for Obama.

Incidentally, earlier today, the most recent head of the FCC, Kevin Martin, turned in his resignation from the commission altogether.

Goodbye, Goodbye? Times are tough in the media industry, mostly due to a serious decline in advertising revenue, and the print media is perhaps hurting the most. Case in point are two notable daily newspapers, currently on the selling block. Hearst is looking to unload the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and E.W. Scripps is seeking a buyer for Denver's Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper. Hearst will close the paper if a suitor cannot be found and Scripps set a Friday deadline for a buyer to come forward, or it too will fold. Both Seattle and Denver have another daily paper.

Hello and Goodbye? to the DTV transition. If Genachowski is nominated and confirmed as FCC Chairman, the first big thing on his plate, in contrast to Martin's obsession with Janet Jackson's tits and allowing the corporate takeover of the radio dial, is the upcoming switch from analog to digital television, to commence less than five weeks from now, on February 17.

Or will it?

The current DTV voucher program, which allows viewers with older sets to order $40 coupons good toward purchase of a DTV converter box (average price $50-60), has also been in place for a year, and has been promoted heavily via the airwaves. Evidently, many have taken note, as demand for the coupons has outstripped the supply. As of last week, the DTV coupon program has run out of money, and no more has so far been earmarked for it, hence no more coupons being issued for outstanding requests. Because of this, the Obama transition team and Democratic lawmakers want to delay the February 17 date, in order to play catch-up. Another option proposed is to waive the expiration date on expired coupons still floating around.

The current FCC administration has warned that changing the date would prove to be chaotic and confusing. In addition, it could cause problems for local television stations that have already arranged for shutting down their analog facilities on that date (though stations could go ahead and switch on that date if they wanted, as quite a few already have).

So, why are there people who haven't upgraded? Yahoo! tech columnist Ben Patterson says it's either due to procrastination, denial or just plain "technical naiveté."

According to this New York Times story, about 6.8 percent of U.S. households aren't ready for the DTV transition — meaning that 93.2 percent are indeed ready to go.

Patterson is one of many arguing to keep the February 17 date. To be honest, so am I. After seeing many of these same cutoff dates come and go over the years, perhaps it's time to just get it over and done with. Plus, many television stations will be able to increase their power once they turn off adjacent analog facilities. Stations and networks can also go about the task of standardizing image layouts, perhaps doing away with the maddening 'letterbox-in-letterbox' look of many affiliates and the constant switch between standard definition and widescreen HDTV. And, most importantly, it will allow for the rollout of 4G, the next generation of Wi-Fi internet transmission.

Goodbye KQDS in Duluth, which actually got ratings with their former progressive talk format before dumping it for oldies a year ago, has switched once again. Goodbye oldies and say "heba hello" to sports, adding FOX Sports Radio and occasional feeds of Twin Cities sports powerhouse KFAN. KFAN syndicates their programming around the region.

Hello, uh... Help! Remember Michael Zwerling? His conservative talk station in Santa Cruz, KSCO (1080) has turned to begging for money – via PayPal – on the station website. They’re suggesting a monthly donation of $10.80 to “help us keep quality programming on the air.” Zwerling told Brad Kava of the San Francisco Examiner that operating his talk station without adequate money flow is “just a struggle. There’s a lot of things I want to do with that station, but I can’t do it unless we get some money coming in.” What about the traditional way? Zwerling says “I’d like to get it from advertisers, but that isn’t always there.”

Zwerling's complaints about lack of advertisers for his stations are nothing new. A couple years ago, he waged a notorious campaign directed at listeners of then-progressive talk KOMY, threatening to pull the programming if people didn't step up to either advertise or send money to keep the format on the air. Only thing is, his two stations never really had much of an advertising staff, often relying on local hosts themselves to sell time for their own shows.

Goodb... oh, good grief! And what would be more complete in an entry such as this than a Beatles/new media tie-in?

Austin Washington, who by day works for the Obama transition team and is also distantly related to George Washington, created a music video that became somewhat of a web sensation over the holidays. It shows a bunch of people in Santa Claus suits randomly hugging tourists and federal bureaucrats in D.C.

The song, he claims, came from a dream (a #9 Dream?) on, of all dates, December 8, the 28th anniversary of John Lennon's tragic death. In the dream, Lennon sang a song called "Need A Little Love." Whatever gets you through the night, I guess. Interesting thing is, it's not a song Lennon himself actually wrote or performed, let alone released.

Austin was inspired, though. With his acoustic guitar and laptop, he recorded a demo of the song. A few days later, Austin encountered the bizarre scene of 150 anarchic Santa Clauses forcibly hugging tourists and federal bureaucrats outside the White House, obviously giving peace a chance. He recorded all this with his cell phone. Hence, a music video was born, with the unwieldy title "Best Christmas Video EVER! Pole Dancing Elves, John Lennon, Santa Claus" became a YouTube sensation, being posted there after it had already crashed the servers of original home On YouTube, it allegedly became the most popular Christmas video in history. The whole thing was a unique way of showing that, all in all, all we need is love.

But the video was living on borrowed time. Enter the Grinch, in the form of Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. Ono, wielding her ticket to ride as executor of Lennon's estate, spoiled the party and, faster than you can say 'everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey,' complained to YouTube. She said, she said that the song and video were copyright violations. Essentially, she has copyright control over stuff you imagine Lennon singing, so keep your thoughts to yourselves.

YouTube, oddly maintaining that the song is owned by the Lennon estate, pulled the video off their site on the twelfth day of Christmas, January 5. Nevermind that the song had never been released by Lennon, never even showed up on bootlegs, and for all we know, was probably never even written or conceived by Lennon (aside from Washington's dream), let alone trademarked. Perhaps the copyright complaint is due to the use of Lennon's name in the title, and YouTube is a bit confused by the whole thing.

Well, well, well. How do you sleep, indeed, Dear Yoko!

It's ironic that Ono would get pissy about something like this. This almost sounds like something John and Yoko would have done in the late 60s and throughout the early 70s, if they could be bothered to actually get out of bed. Ironic in that Ono has always felt a sense of pride in fans celebrating the peaceful message of Lennon's legacy. And over time, she has also gone out of her way to soften her public image, which needed a great deal of work.

And there's already a bunch of copyrighted Lennon and Beatles material already on the site (evidenced by the official music video at the top of this entry). Why pick on a guy who was obviously inspired by Lennon's memory to record something unique and original that helped forward his primary message of peace and love, perhaps inspiring many to come together? It's power to the people in real-life form. Yoko's actions just look petty, and one wonders whether instant karma's gonna get her. She obviously should have known better.

Most peculiar, mama.

Uh... Hello? And while we're on the topic of the Fab Four, how about a nagging recent question heard by countless Beatles fans? Sure, this is totally off-topic for this blog, but one issue close to my own heart, as a die-hard Beatles fan, so please indulge me for this rant. So, here's the question: When are we going to actually hear decent sounding CDs from the greatest band in rock history?

The current lineup of 13 original albums available in the marketplace, plus the two Past Masters catch-all collections, are the same ones that were originally released in 1987 and 1988. And we all know how much CD mastering quality has improved since then. Contemporaries such as the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and the Beach Boys have released remastered and better sounding CDs over the years to keep up with technology and present their music in the best quality possible. All four former Beatles have issued remasters of their solo works in recent years. But from the band itself, all we have is flat, cruddy sounding 80s-era drink coasters with lame booklets and liner notes (aside from Sgt. Pepper). Two albums, A Hard Day's Night and Beatles For Sale are still available only in mono (due to an uncorrected misunderstanding between EMI and producer George Martin), even though songs from these two albums, which have great stereo mixes, have since been reissued in that form on various compilations (to be fair, their first two albums, Please Please Me and With The Beatles do sound better in mono).

How lousy-sounding are the original CDs? Bootleggers have made better-sounding discs by copying original high-quality vinyl records (without scratches) to their PCs using state-of-the-art store-bought equipment. Meanwhile, there's a lot of money sitting on the table, waiting to be acquired from the many fans who are more than willing buy their CDs all over again. Hello?

Sure, there are recent collections of old material that sound pretty good, like 1 (all the #1 hits), the extensive Anthology series (which features rare outtakes), Yellow Submarine Songtrack (which also features radical and stunning remixes of much of their material from the original four-track session tapes), Love (an even more radical remix/mashup) and Let It Be... Naked (an entirely stripped-down mix and reconfiguration of the 1970 original). There's also The Capitol Albums box sets, in their original American configurations (in both mono and stereo), that feature remastered early songs from the Capitol vaults, and was reluctantly approved by Apple Corps. The audio quality between these and the old 1987 CDs is like night and day. And Capitol used second-generation masters! The Capitol set, however, does give us a hint of what to expect. Maybe.

The present shoddy state of the official Beatles catalog irritates many of their fans. Especially since a 40th anniversary release of The White Album was teased last year, then pulled. Instead, to celebrate the album's release, the Beatles' web site offers commemorative clothing and, the most ridiculous of all, a $395 commemorative fountain pen. Ugh!

So what's the hold-up? The remasters are ready to go. The Beatles' label, EMI, commissioned the project two years ago, and the output currently sits in the vault of Abbey Road Studios. But EMI, due to a 1989 legal agreement with Apple Corps., which represents the Beatles partnership, cannot release anything Beatles-related without the approval of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison (the latter two representing the estates of their late husbands). And, according to McCartney, it's the fault of unspecified and 'unacceptable' demands from EMI, whom they have long been at odds with. The band does want the remasters released, even enlisting Jeff Jones, who previously oversaw Sony's recent reissue program, to become Apple Corps. CEO in 2007.

Likely, some of the reissue question revolves around digital downloads. The band is chomping at the bit to release the music online, via iTunes and possibly other services like Rhapsody. These talks have stalled too. This doesn't matter much to die-hard fans who already own the CDs and will likely buy the reissued ones in sonically superior physical form. But, like the 1 compilation and other recent issues, digital availability opens their music to a new generation of potential (and younger) fans. All of the individual band members and/or their estates issue their solo works in download form, with McCartney (who owns all of his solo masters) and Starr being the most aggressive. In recent interviews, McCartney has been very vocal about "EMI's neanderthal approach to the internet." McCartney himself issued his latest album, the experimental Electronic Arguments, in digital form in a variety of different file formats, including the lossless, open-source and DRM-free FLAC.

Thus, a reissue of the remastered catalog will likely coincide with digital availability of the music. Why release the old stuff online only to change it soon after, right? It appears to be the 'chicken and egg' approach.

But back to the CDs. The remasters promise some really cool stuff, as can be evidenced from listening to the recent compilations. If all you've heard is the current batch of 22 year-old CDs, then the new and improved stuff will be mind-blowing. There's even a chance of hearing some of it in 5.1 surround sound, as Abbey Road's mixing staff has created many of these kinds of mixes for various DVD projects, reissued films and even the Cirque du Soliel Love project. And the next project in the Beatles pipeline, a special edition of the Rock Band video game, also features a 5.1 mix. Furthermore, many fans have been quite vocal in their demands for cleaner, updated mixes and even the availability of the original mono versions (the mono mix of Sgt. Pepper, for example, sounds radically different).

But until then, the selection of high-quality recordings of Beatles music is still quite thin. And it's a win-win for all, which makes this even more baffling. And what better time than now? EMI is hurting bad. Some doubt whether they'll even make it through the year, and in recent years, they've lost some of their highest profile artists, including Garth Brooks, Radiohead and McCartney himself, who opted to go the indie label route. If EMI gets swallowed up by an even bigger corporation, then the rights to the Beatles recordings go as well, and I'm sure, as much as they seem to detest EMI, they'd rather stick with the devil they know. The Beatles also have a legacy to uphold, and given the timeless appeal of their music, a need to preserve it for future generations. Retail sales for recorded music would get a serious kick in the pants. And the somewhat-slumping download market would no doubt benefit from the music's availability online.

And quite frankly, I would love to hear something like Abbey Road in surround sound, if not at least a version of Rubber Soul with a decent stereo mix. Oh, and while you're all at it, how about those DVD versions of the "Let It Be" movie and the Shea Stadium concert? I won't hold my breath.

Hopefully, all parties involved can resolve their issues and make 2009 a banner year for The Beatles.


FSL said...

(1) What does AAR need a "national correspondent for? Are they even doing newscasts any more (nobody was taking them)? Whatever happened to that "hot-shot" news director they hired who said he was going to do investigative reporting (and never did)? Ana Marie? Did her parents name her after - That Girl? She is hot but of course that could not have had anything to do with the decision to hire her (could it?).
(2) If more people had paid attention to Dave Ramsey, they - and the country - would not be in the economic mess we are in. It wasn't just Bush and his Wall Street backers - it was all the idiots living beyond their means and going into debt.
(3) The new FCC appointment shows the new administration is not going to do anything about the Fairness Doctrine. It shows all their attention is on "new media" and they could not care less about radio. The bad news is they will want you to pay more for your Internet connection to subsidize Internet for everybody (just like they already do with phone service).
(4) Newspapers going out of business: From whom will radio stations buy/steal news? Now reporting - even more than already - will be adding sound bites to press releases. All puff pieces all the time. You only will hear what somebody wants to promote.
(5) Now they want to delay the conversion to digital TV for all the trogs who don't have cable/fiber optic/satellite and have not been paying attention for at least the past year (when they started offering coupons). Now matter how long they procrastinate, the dummies will be still be napping.

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