Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Boston's ball of confusion (or, a tale of two Jeffs)

On a day when Pontiac is going to the glue factory, Sen. Arlen Spector is calling himself a Democrat, and 'swine flu' is a pig virus not named Rush Limbaugh, you most certainly have a right to be befuddled. And if you're a progressive talk fan in Boston, well, you have even more right to scratch your head in bewilderment.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, let's see if you can follow all of this.

1. Last fall, sports-formatted WWZN (1510AM) in Boston added a local progressive talk morning show, by way of Jeff Santos, who had previously worked with WXKS and WKOX, the Clear Channel combo that had dropped progressive talk two years earlier. Santos was leasing time on the station, and planned to add Peter B. Collins' syndicated show to another time slot. The new juggernaut started its own barebones website for the venture, revolutionboston.com.

2. The state of the Santos/WWZN alliance seemed a bit confusing to us out-of-towners (and likely area residents as well). It never seemed to gel.

3. Last week, Jeff Kline, the general manager of WAZN (1470AM), only one letter and one slight turn to the left on the radio dial, announced plans to add Dial Global's liberal talk lineup via delay in the nocturnal hours of the otherwise ethnic-formatted station.

4. Kline opted not to do the lefty talk thing on WWZN, but said it would pop up on the dial anyway. Instead, the other Jeff, Mr. Santos, announced that WWZN would program a 6A-7P ET slate of progressive talk, including his morning show (6-10A) and the Dial Global lineup, which includes Stephanie Miller (10A-12P), Ed Schultz (12-3P)and Thom Hartmann (3-6P) (a 6-7P show will be forthcoming).

5. So, WWZN was in. Then WWZN was seemingly out. Then WAZN was in. Then WAZN was out. WWZN is now back in. And that's what it's all about.

Confused?

All in all, it looks like progressive talk fans in Boston have found a new station, and yes, it will be on WWZN (1510AM) starting next Monday. And it will be on a much stronger signal than the two Clear Channel peashooters that carried the format before in the market.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Randi rebound

(5/11/09) For and updated list of Rhodes' affiliates, click here.

Randi Rhodes will be back on the airwaves come May 11, two weeks from now, via Premiere Radio Networks. Her show will originate from the Washington, DC area, rather than her longtime home in West Palm Beach. And three Clear Channel-owned stations have announced plans to bring her back as well, including KTLK Los Angeles (live), KKGN San Francisco (4-7P PT) and KPOJ Portland (3-6P PT).

So, where else will she wind up?

You can add to that list, so far, CBS' KPTK Seattle (6-9P PT), and Clear Channel's KABQ Albuquerque (4-7P MT) and WXXM Madison (time TBA).

UPDATE: Via Casey Buck, Rhodes will be on XM165 live, replacing Glenn Beck.

And now we get into speculation. More possibilities include other Clear Channel-owned progressive talkers like KKZN Denver, KPTQ Spokane, WDTW Detroit and WPEK Asheville. Clear Channel has a habit of pushing product from their Premiere subsidiary onto its individual stations. In addition, Rhodes could even turn up on a few of their conservotalkers. There is still no word on her longtime radio home, WNJO West Palm Beach, which appears to be content with Sean Hannity in her old slot. They could, however, opt to carry her either live or delayed.

Some stations are currently carrying Rhodes' Nova M replacement, Nancy Skinner (though she now does it independently). Those include KXLJ Juneau, WWKB Buffalo and KTNF Minneapolis.
KGOE Eureka currently has two holes to fill in its daily lineup. That could be a possibility.

Rhodes does stand a chance of improving on her Nova M affiliate base. Being with a strong network such as Premiere would be very reassuring for potential affiliates, as there is far less danger of her (or her network) going AWOL this time around.

Bookmark this entry if you wish. I'll keep updating it over the next couple weeks.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Boston redux?

This thing's happened so often in Boston that it's starting to sound like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf".

Nevertheless, it kinda sorta does look like progressive talk is making a return to the city's airwaves, via WAZN (1470AM).

WAZN GM Jeff Kline sez:

Many of you have expressed an interest in this type of programming.

It can now be revealed: WAZN-AM 1470 will soon be adding Progressive Talk, airing weekday evenings, from the Jones Radio Network. These will be the programs that aired live earlier the same day. The specifics are not yet worked out, as to which particular programs and/or hours we will be carrying, initially.

WAZN is now looking for commission-only sales people to sell this new format. If you have previously sold airtime (either radio or TV) in the Boston area, I want to hear from you!

Email only to: jeffk@mrbi.net

Jeff Kline
General Manager,
WAZN/WLYN


Essentially, Dial Global progressive talk programming (they have Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz and Thom Hartmann in their stable) will air at night, and the station's current ethnic programming will stay during the day.

BTW - the ethnic programming is mostly Russian, and please hold the lame-ass jokes. We've heard them all.

The WAZN juggernaut seeming has nothing to do with the often up-in-the-air endeavor from last fall, on similarly-named WWZN (1510AM), which apparently never really got off the ground. This one seems like the real deal.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Randi returns!

You read it here second! Thanks to Chris Mason at Green 960 for the original heads-up and email. It looks like Randi Rhodes has resurfaced at... Premiere!

Here's the press release:

PREMIERE RADIO NETWORKS SYNDICATES THE RANDI RHODES SHOW

LOS ANGELES, April 23, 2009 – Premiere Radio Networks is proud to announce that beginning May 11, The Randi Rhodes Show will join its lineup of nationally syndicated radio programs. Airing weekdays from 3-6pm ET, Rhodes will enlighten and entertain listeners with her trademark candid, incisive opinions, as well as her biting sense of humor, as she discusses everything from news and current events, to politics and hot topics. "The Randi Rhodes Show" will broadcast live from Washington, D.C., and will be heard on more than 25 affiliates including KTLK-AM/Los Angeles, Green 960 Online and Radio/San Francisco and KPOJ-AM/Portland.

“Right now, America needs a voice that reflects its hopes and concerns. It will be my privilege and pleasure to provide vital information to the public about everything that is possible in the 21st century, and also have a few laughs along the way,” commented Rhodes. “Premiere is an incredible family of radio pros, and is truly the most talented and experienced radio syndicator in the nation. I’m exited about this decision and Premiere’s enthusiasm for this partnership. It’s truly a dream come true.”

Premiere Radio EVP of Affiliate Marketing Julie Talbott stated, “Randi has carved a niche in Talk radio with her straight-forward approach, intelligence, wit and fact-driven content - qualities that attract audiences. We can’t wait to deliver The Randi Rhodes Show to stations nationwide.”

A Brooklyn native and former U.S. Air Force aircraft mechanic, Rhodes began her career in radio at a Country music station in Seminole, Texas. She enjoyed stints in Mobile, Alabama, as well as New York’s WAPP-FM, Milwaukee’s WQFM and West Palm Beach’s WJNO-AM. In 1992, she landed at Miami’s WIOD-AM, where she took over the station’s 8 -11 p.m. In 2004, Air America Radio began nationally syndicating her program, and she later joined Nova M Radio’s lineup in 2008. In addition, Rhodes starred in the HBO documentary Left of the Dial, and was named “Woman of the Year” by Talkers Magazine in 2007. timeslot and was ranked #1 in the market.


UPDATES: R&R sez:

At KKGN, which has been a Rhodes affiliate through each incarnation and its eventual implosion, PD John Scott says, "It's my guess the Premiere version of the Rhodes show will be the most polished, most supported, most highly produced version of that show in her career. These folks at Premiere don't mess around. It will be a pleasure to hear her content delivered by true professionals. Progressive radio and online content deserves a seat at the table. When we do it right, the people show up."

Talking of her return to national syndication, Rhodes says, "Right now, America needs a voice that reflects its hopes and concerns. It will be my privilege and pleasure to provide vital information to the public about everything that is possible in the 21st century and also have a few laughs along the way."


And a few more notes:

  • The show will originate from Clear Channel's studios in Rockville, MD (Washington, DC market) rather than her longtime home of West Palm Beach, FL. No word on whether or not longtime flagship WJNO will carry her show, but so far, it looks like they'll stick with Sean Hannity. The three named affiliates, KKGN, KTLK and KPOJ are all owned by Clear Channel. Don't be surprised if Clear Channel insists that all their prog-talkers carry her show. And don't be surprised if she winds up on a few conservotalk outlets.
  • For those of you keeping score at home, yes, Premiere Radio Networks is the syndication arm of Clear Channel Communications, Rhodes' longtime employer. They syndicate Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity and countless other gassy wingnuts. These guys are the big time - no drama, no clowning around, no fly-by-night. It's as corporate and anal retentive as radio gets. Rhodes had long begged Premiere to syndicate her show, but they have balked. Finally, they have relented, and this marks the company's first foray into progressive talk syndication. 'Bout damn time.

    Wanna read more?

    The Wall Street Journal
    Brad Blog
    BlatherWatch
    The ministers of misinformation, Bozell's Bozos (Warning: This site may kill brain cells)



  • Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    Air America establishes affiliate sales division

    Nothing profound or earth-shattering from yours truly today, just the latest press release from Air America Media. The new "Affiliate Sales Division" will be charged with enlisting new affiliate stations.

    NEW YORK -- Air America Media has named radio veteran Stuart Greenblatt vice president of the company’s new affiliate sales division. In this role, Greenblatt will place Air America’s programming on radio stations across America.

    "Stuart has a great track record to head up our affiliate sales division," said Bennett Zier, Air America’s chief executive officer. "His creative and strategic style is a perfect fit as we look to grow our current shows, and create and launch new programming.

    "I’m looking forward to joining Air America’s talented team, bringing Montel Williams, Ron Reagan, Rachel Maddow and all of Air America’s talent to listeners across the country," said Greenblatt.

    Most recently Greenblatt served as vice president, affiliate sales for Westwood One Radio. In this role, he headed the talk radio division, launching "The Dennis Miller Show," leading its growth to more than 200 affiliate stations. He also oversaw the launch of "The Fred Thompson Show," while maintaining and growing "Radio Factor with Bill O’Reilly." Prior, he held a variety of roles in the radio industry, including program director for Millennium Radio, as well as director of affiliate sales for Westwood One Radio.

    Greenblatt is a graduate of the University of Maryland, holding a B.A. in Radio/TV/Film.

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    The Foxification of the Wall Street Journal and the commerical radio cash grab

    Yeah, it's rough out there in radioland.

    Radio-advertising revenue is down 9% from last year and doesn't look any better for the rest of the year. Things are so difficult that even commercial radio stations are doing the public radio thing - asking for money directly from listeners, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

    And it wouldn't have that right amount of News Corp./WSJ right-wing sheen without a ceremonial first dig at Air America Media. The liberal lightning rod got first mention in this little article about it's proposal to beef up it's membership program. In this proposed new membership program, currently in planning stages, top donors could possibly access to Air America talent and tickets to special events. Lionel could also come to your house and wash your car. Okay, just kidding about that last one.

    The Journal sez:

    Air America, formerly radio home to comedian and disputed Minnesota Senate-contest winner Al Franken, says it is weighing a fee-based membership program, even though it is on the path to profitability. Charlie Kireker, a Vermont venture capitalist, now heads the company’s board, former Clear Channel Communications Inc. executives are running the business, and fresh programming like a show from Montel Williams is filling out its roster. “Air America has a very passionate audience,” says Chief Executive Bennett Zier. “They want to get more involved.” Mr. Zier says the company would never represent itself as a nonprofit.

    Now, Air America's mention (and front and center at that!) in the article is a bit misleading. Air America's new membership programming doesn't sound all that different than similar programs offered by conservojocks like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and others, except that it would likely be much cheaper. Does the Wall Street Journal think those guys are begging their listeners for cash? The article makes it seem as if Air America is gunning after NPR, which doesn't appear to be the case.

    Most of the article uses various independent radio stations that are soliciting donations directly from listeners, without offering tangible goodies. Now, there's nothing really wrong with that. Mom-and-pop broadcasters are really hurting right now. If the listeners are willing to support them, then more power to 'em. Radio is in quite a slump right now.

    But I wonder about the WSJ's motives in writing this article. Perhaps they'll be going the begging route soon?

    Friday, April 17, 2009

    Friday talkin'

    Been a rather quiet week, which is nice once in a while when I feel I need to get away from this thing (which is more often than you think). So here's what's going on in the media and whatnot.

    You say it's your birthday

    Only a few scant weeks since Air America turned the Big Five, another radio programming service celebrated an even bigger milestone earlier this week.

    At 3P on April 15, 1949, Lew Hill and a staff of four launched the first listener-supported radio station in the world, uttering the words: "This is KPFA Berkeley." And thus began Pacifica Radio, which is now 60 years old.

    Since then, local residents created four more Pacifica stations - KPFK in Los Angeles, WBAI in New York City, KPFT in Houston, and WPFW in Washington DC. And there are approximately 150 other listener-supported stations airing Pacifica-created programming.

    Pacifica sez:

    For sixty years, since the McCarthy era, America’s oldest independent media network has defied political pressures and the conventions and internal censors inherent to mainstream media. A haven and training ground for artists and journalists, Pacifica has been the vanguard of free media. Breaking important news, providing historical and political analysis, and discovering some of our greatest artistic talents, Pacifica Radio has brought us the great voices of each era.

    So, happy 60th, Pacifica. You never looked so young.

    Now pass the cake.

    Reminiscin'

    A couple former progressive talkers are in the news this week.

    First, KOMY (1340AM) Santa Cruz, which had a rather stormy relationship with the format before switching to oldies a couple years ago, has flipped again.

    Since a rival station, KIDD (630AM) had ditched adult standards and gone oldies, KOMY swaps places, dropping their own oldies format and going with KIDD's former format.

    The Zwerling family, which owns KOMY and sister conservotalker KSCO, put both stations on the selling block back in September 2007. No word on whether they're still available, but i'm sure they'd sell for the right price. Then again, with so many AM station simply shutting off the transmitters and going dark these days, in the wake of the rotten economy, is there is any kind of demand for two stations such as these?

    On the other coast, remember WKOX (1200AM) Boston? And remember that supposed signal upgrade Clear Channel was trying to work out? Well, it has finally happened. Currently, they are pumping out the long-promised 50,000 watts.

    The station simulcasts with another Boston AM, WXKS (1430), and both dropped liberal talk for Latin tropical music two and a half years ago.

    There is no word on whether WXKS will be split off, since WXKS now has full-market coverage. There is also no word on whether either station will keep the "Rumba" format. After all, if ratings were part of the whole equation, well, let's just say that "Rumba" ain't doing so hot. Overall ratings (I know, I know) are not only lower than they were with progressive talk - they're currently nonexistent. But that's just another one of those crazy things with Clear Channel. But hey, if they feel they're making money with it, well...

    The slow, painful death of terrestrial radio

    Just as Arbitron and Edison Research released a study saying that online radio listening has risen so much, it's actually shown up in local ratings surveys, the terrestrial pack continue to shoot themselves in the foot.

    Clear Channel, most notably, has been sweatin' up a storm. Listening and revenue has plummeted. And the idea of programming ideas being essentially generated by salespeople and bean counters likely hasn't made the situation any better.

    So, in order to give listeners what they can potentially offer and what online radio can't - namely localism and immediacy, they have vowed to take a more locally-oriented approach at each of their stations. All fine and dandy. The homogenization and removal of all local flavor has probably been one of the nails in the proverbial coffin. Only thing is, they still don't get it.

    Clear Channel's amazing, fantastic solution? Run more PSAs. Seriously.

    And they plan on running more local public-affairs programming in better dayparts. And make local station managers available to local officials at all times. It is also part of their plan to mollify President Obama's FCC, which is calling for more localism.

    The radio monolith acknowledges that programming needs to improve as well. So, does that mean more locally-oriented programming ideas, made at station level? Wider playlists for music stations? More local talk show hosts? Well, if you thought that, you just don't know Clear Channel.

    No, instead, the two-pronged assault announced to the trade publications include adding more distinct HD Radio channels, even though nobody listens to HD Radio. And, in more earth-shattering news, they're adding another hour of Ryan Seacrest. Oh brother!

    And that's why radio is dying, folks. They still don't get it.

    And the cruiser rides off into the sunset

    Couldn't conclude this entry without noting a major broadcast milestone. And for fans of the NFL, this is very notable.

    Asked to name a football color commentator, and likely the first name that comes to mind is John Madden. After almost thirty years in the broadcast booth, Madden has announced his retirement. Well, with Brett Favre now retired (?), perhaps Madden has finally run out of things to ramble on about.

    All kidding aside, love him or detest him, the guy is a legend.

    The good news for fans is that the highly capable Cris Collinsworth will replace him on "Sunday Night Football", which is a pretty darn good idea.

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    ... and the rest

    A little cleanup from the holiday weekend...

    Musical chairs

    Nicole Sandler is back for another week of noon-3P fill-ins on Air Ameirca. This is the slot vacated by Thom Hartmann last month.

    Actress Deidre Hall will be guest-hosting Air America’s "Hollywood CLOUT!" this week. The program airs weeknights at 9P ET.

    And veteran Denver talker Erin Hart will fill in for morning host Jay Marvin through Wednesday.

    Talk shakeup in Twin Cities

    The current meme about the addition of a pair of left-leaning talkers on venerable KSTP (1500AM) in Minneapolis/St. Paul isn't all that big of a deal. KSTP has had a rather long history of mixing it up, rather than take a hard partisan direction.

    Last week, the station introduced a new show from Shawn Prebil and Chris Murphy to the midday lineup, to replace conservative duo Bob Davis and Dave Thompson. The show will air from 9A to 1P weekdays.

    Murphy and Prebil were last at WTDY (1670AM) in Madison, another station that has traditionally aired shows from various sides of the political spectrum.

    As I mentioned, mixing it up is nothing new to KSTP. For many years, they aired left-leaning shows from the likes of Barbara Carlson and Turi Ryder around Rush Limbaugh, whom the station carried for many years until opting for a more locally-oriented approach. Patrick Reusse, a local sportswriter and KSTP morning host, is considered left-of-center. And many previous local hosts at the station were not politically-oriented. Ironically, the station's owners, the Hubbard family, are known for being very conservative politically.

    KSTP program director Steve Konrad, addressing the apparent ideological shift, said, "We never, ever have had a political/ideological 'sense' for any program we have ever aired. ... Our only agenda is to offer the Twin Cities a place to talk about the things that are affecting those of us that live and work in the metro."

    The station is currently the flagship for regionally syndicated conservative-leaning talker Joe Soucheray, who's show airs from 2-5:30P. And they are the flagship station for Minnesota Twins baseball.

    The Twin Cities is a very competitive market for talk radio. KTLK-FM is a run-of-the-mill Clear Channel conservotalker, with mostly syndicated programming. The venerable WCCO is very middle-of-the-road, and rather apolitical. WWTC is the Salem wingnut station in the market. KTNF is all liberal talk. And WFMP-FM is light on politics and heavy on estrogen.

    Where programming ideas come from

    Finally, it appears the broadcast networks are constantly on the lookout for unique promotions. This one is for a colonoscopy. And it's from CBS. Yes, you read that right.

    CBS News Radio is running spots for it on their radio newscasts, and most likely on television as well. Lucky(?) winners will be flown to New York City, stay at the "luxurious Loew’s Regency Hotel," and what is perhaps the clincher, a colonoscopy."

    I'm sorry, there are too many jokes here to come up with just one. This one just writes itself.

    You want details about entering this (mostly) glamorous New York City trip? Go to the CBS Cares website, here.

    Easter eggs (the digest version)

    Nothing fancy for the day after Easter. A few articles you may (or may not) enjoy.

    First, we hear from Air America's newest host, Montel Williams, who has a firm idea of what he wants with his new show. And he told the New York Daily News' David Hinckley what he has in mind:

    "My beliefs include both left and right," says the 52-year-old Williams, looking fit in casual blue jeans and, of course, his signature shaved scalp. "That's the way it should be. Don't just pick a side. Look at each issue."

    (snip)

    "What media put out, most people follow," he says. "We are lemmings. That's why it's a concern that 80% of radio talk is conservative. That's why it's a problem to see the same six or seven people on talk shows every day. There are plenty of people with different views who are just as informed. Let's bring them in."

    (snip)

    "There's so much anger behind it," he says. "It brings the discussion down to a playground level, when what we need to do is lift the discussion up.

    "I don't call people names. There's nothing in the world I'm afraid to discuss, but let's argue using facts."

    And in the "Uh oh, here we go again" department, Williams says that he is considering a career in politics, though not in the short term. He's looking about a decade or so down the road.

    Moving right along, here's a pretty good blurb about another recently introduced Air America offering, the online-only "BreakRoom Live with Maron & Seder":

    Remember Air America Radio? Remember radio? Well after video killed the radio stars Air America Media buried some bodies and sat Marc Maron and Sam Seder in their break room and started breaking new ground. The show mostly consists of Marc and Sam comically battling and boiling down hot topics and politics, bouncing subjects off guests like Janeane Garofalo, and batting out the occasional sketch or rant. All followed by the post show chat with the online audience.

    Marc and Sam have a wealth of experience that helps make a live broadcast look easy... These guys are sharp and witty and it shows. Producers Carl Ginsburg and Brendan McDonald have given the show the appropriate polish that keeps it feeling real while delivering comedy on par with The Daily Show and Colbert Report.

    (snip)

    While this show is live, there is a wealth of comedy to be mined out of the archives. You can find Maron product testing electric cigarettes or ranting about his ex-wife in the reoccurring segment, The Angry Chef. Sam delivers his own laughs with his regular segment, Survival Sam.

    Next, Bill Mann provides his own take on Rachel Maddow, who has achieved what Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger - a so-far successful career in television, and she's only been doing it for five months.

    From the HuffPo article:

    ...Most evenings on her show, Maddow -- described by Keith Olbermann as MSNBC's "resident policy wonk," looks relaxed and highly informed. It's obvious that Maddow does a lot of show prep; she brings to light issues often ignored on cable-news outlets.

    Paul Krugman, for example, would have been proud of Maddow's detailed, plain-English explanation of why economic stimulus is far better served by creating jobs than by the Feds just handing out tax cuts. That show in February deserves serious Peabody Award consideration.

    MSNBC's other liberal hosts can provide the bombast and the passion. The thoughtful Maddow has established a lower-key approach with her "just the facts, ma'am" essays, and she's carved out an important niche for herself at MSNBC...

    And we close with a piece on MSNBC's newest host, radio talker Ed Schultz. This one is yet another sneering screed from those masters of silly spin, nonsensical namecalling and manufactured outrage. Yes, I'm talking about the 'tighty righties' over at the Media Research Center's NewsBusters blog. And it seems they're getting so desperate, they're digging up stuff from five years ago and claiming it 'news'. This is essentially intended to be a hit-piece on Schultz (who recently got his own MSNBC show). Since they couldn't to task because (gasp!) they got financial help from well-known Democratic politicians. Oh, the horror!

    Brian Maloney has tried in vain to make people think Schultz is crazy because he's never been shy about showing his hot temper. Keep in mind that Maloney says this while practically turning his blog into a kiss-ass shrine to high-strung head cases like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, so consider the source.

    I won't bother to paraphrase anything here. It's pretty stale stuff. But you can read the latest meme from MRC here.

    Maybe we should take a look at how the MRC built up its own war chest. Hmmm...

    Brent Bozell's bozos and the rest of their ilk failed miserably at trying to take down Maddow. Now they're trying again with Schultz. But it will likely fail, apart from becoming the typical standard conservoporn for (what's left of) their die-hard flock. After all, these guys couldn't find their asses with both hands, a flashlight and a head start.

    Thursday, April 09, 2009

    The one after 9/09/09

    Okay, call me crazy but I read the news today, oh boy, and it made me quite giddy. After two decades, we'll all get to hear the music from the greatest band that ever existed in a sound quality that pays justice to it.

    Now, pardon me if you will this indulgence. This music means a lot to yours truly. I grew up with it and still enjoy it thoroughly. The Beatles are that rare band, just like Led Zeppelin, U2 and perhaps a few others, who's music has stood the test of time. And if your idea of great contemporary music is dull, half-assed, throwaway tripe like Nickleback, then I'm about to take you to school. And come September, after many delays attributed to differences between The Beatles' Apple Corps. and their distributor, EMI, you'll finally get the full educational treatment. Old and young fans alike will now get to experience the greatest band on the planet in a whole new way, when the original Beatles catalog, as created by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, gets the remastering treatment on CD on September 9, 2009 (9/9/09). This will be the same day as the release of the equally-ballyhooed Rock Band video game devoted to their music, and makes for one heck of a tie-in.

    Sure, all thirteen of The Beatles' studio albums, as well as various compilations, are currently available on compact disc, and have been since 1987. Even the local Target and Wal-Mart may still stock a few. But CDs made the 1980s have not held up well over time. Early discs sound rather cold, flat and harsh by today's standards. Mastering technology has come a long way since then, taking a major leap forward in the mid-1990s with the advent of more powerful computers and elaborate recording software such as Pro Tools. The modern technology has given today's CDs a much fuller sound, coming closer in approximating the intimacy and warmth of analog tape and vinyl LPs. Today's CD is virtually a different format altogether.

    Over the years, many bands have reissued their catalogs to take advantage of new technology, and to market to a new generation of fans. Beatles contemporaries such as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The Beach Boys have long ago remastered and rereleased their original output. The Beatles are long overdue in this regard.

    Newer generations of artists have also undergone the remastering treatment. Classic 80s and 90s albums that don't really seem that old, like Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms, U2's The Joshua Tree and recently, Pearl Jam's Ten, got anniversary makeovers. Needless to say, just about every major veteran artist in the music industry has freshened up their original repertoire.

    Initially, like most, I scoffed at the idea of remastering. I thought it was just another excuse to re-release the same stuff we already had. Then I started listening to some of them. The reissue of both of the Traveling Wilburys' albums sound much stronger and richer than the original releases from 1988 and 1990. Likewise, George Harrison's reissued All Things Must Pass had a warm and beautiful feel missing from the original CD. The Clash's upgraded London Calling jumps up and smacks you in the face. The current incarnation of Billy Joel's The Stranger took my breath away. It's like night and day.

    And then there's The Beatles. From the get-go, they took their time in arriving to the CD party. The delay was due mostly to squabbles with EMI. After finally taking approval rights over their catalog, the band took their time bringing the music into the digital age. When they did, it was, for the most part, a bit underwhelming. Releasing them in the original British configurations was a logical idea, rather than in the overwhelming American format we here in the states grew up with. But they really goofed when they kicked it all off with the release of the first four CDs. They were issued only in mono, per producer George Martin's insistence. Granted, Please Please Me and With The Beatles sound a bit brutal in two track stereo, but it was due to a memo error between Martin and EMI that we were stuck with mono-only versions of A Hard Day's Night and Beatles For Sale for nearly a quarter century (and both of those albums have excellent four track stereo mixes). The 1987 release of Rubber Soul (arguably their best album) still had a lousy remix only slightly tweaked from the underwhelming one done in 1965. Most of Magical Mystery Tour still employed the same awful faux (duophonic) stereo mixes made by the engineers at EMI's American arm, Capitol. All the album releases, save for a really good deluxe Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, had meager liner notes and grim packaging. And it stayed that way until now.

    Granted, Apple Corps. has worked to atone for the shoddy presentation of their highest-profile product. It all started with 1994's Live At The BBC. The following year saw the release of the ambitious Anthology series, collecting some of their best outtakes and unreleased songs, long demanded by hardcore fans tired of sifting through crappy-quality bootlegs. It got better. Yellow Submarine Songtrack, coinciding with the re-release of the movie in 1999, was an ambitious undertaking, and is perhaps the best of the Beatles compilations. For the first time ever, the Abbey Road engineers went back to the original multitrack tapes and remixed everything. "All You Need Is Love" became a whole new experience. "Eleanor Rigby" featured the string quartet in true stereo for the first time. "Nowhere Man," from Rubber Soul, finally got a mix worthy of the song itself.

    The next year saw the release of a definitive greatest hits collection, titled 1. The songs were remastered from the original tapes (though not the multitracks) and sounded light years better than the 1987 CDs. In 2001, bassist McCartney sanctioned a new-and-improved "naked" counterpart to the much-derided Let It Be, freed from the crass Phil Spector wall-of-sound overdubs that he and many fans loathed. The Cirque Du Soliel-inspired Love, from 2004, featured an even more radical remix than Yellow Submarine, in effect a re-manipulated mashup, by original producer George Martin and his son Giles, that presented the music in a whole new way without going over the top. Like Yellow Submarine Songtrack, it was created with 5.1 surround sound in mind, and it sounded awesome.

    The remastered catalog likely won't go that far. They will probably stay pretty faithful to the original Martin mixes, with only minor alterations. Nonetheless, just modern technology alone will finally result in a decent sounding Beatles catalog. Even the recent pair of The Capitol Albums box sets, spanning 1963-1965 and taken from the original second-generation masters sent to America and reverbed all to hell, sound better than the early British releases currently on CD.

    So, what other reasons are there for buying a bunch of old discs that we already have? All 14 albums (including a now single-issue Past Masters), will be packaged in tasteful deluxe cardboard digipacks, rather than the brittle and ubiquitous jewel case. The packaging will approximate the original artwork of the British LPs, and each will include booklets with deluxe liner notes, recording notes, photos and historical information. And, as icing on the cake, each original release (aside from Past Masters) will include a newly created video documentary, in Quick Time format, on the making of each album, containing archival footage, rare photographs and never-before-heard studio banter.

    For the fans who must have it all (which would be many), all 14 titles will be packaged in a complete box set, along with a DVD compiling the individual documentaries. Hardcore fans are already crowing about another planned box set, long demanded, called The Beatles In Mono, collecting the mono mixes of ten albums and a bunch of singles. Now, why on earth would anyone salivate over mono recordings in the age of stereo and surround sound? Well, all of the band's recorded output, up until 1968, received distinct mono mixes. At the time, stereo was almost an afterthought, whereas mono was the dominant form. The heavy needle arms on mono record players would destroy the more delicate stereo LPs. And in order to get good mono and stereo results, each was done in its own way, separately. This resulted in radical differences between the two. For example, the mono mix of Sgt. Pepper, overseen by the band members themselves, is much different than it's more widely heard stereo counterpart. After hearing it, you'll never think of it the same way again. The mono box is a smart move on the typically stubborn Apple's part.

    So, is this all just a new packaging of old stuff, or will it be a monumental event? What are some of the ramifications of the whole thing, anyway? Let us count the ways:

    1. In an age when Pete Townshend has no idea what happened to the multitracks from Who's Next and The Beach Boys' best-known recordings are littered with tape noise, background chatter, coughing and sloppy mixes, The Beatles enjoy the lofty position of having perhaps the best, most well-preserved and best-sounding back catalog of any band from the 1960s. And we're not just talking about the music. EMI used excellent quality analog tape in those days. None of it has even oxidized, in contrast to lower quality tape. And while the equipment at London's Abbey Road Studios was technologically primitive compared to the cutting edge stuff used at rival studios (later resulting in the band utilizing other recording facilities), it did result in high-quality recordings. All of the band's recorded output is currently kept in a special vault at Abbey Road. They even have a dedicated caretaker, longtime Abbey Road engineer Allen Rouse, who's sole job for the past decade and a half has been keeping an eye on the crown jewels and overseeing various Beatles projects.

    2. The Beatles reissue project will be a shot in the arm for a music industry that desperately needs one. Let's face it, it's rough out there. The recording industry of 2009 finds itself competing against many other forms of media. Video games and DVDs are serious rivals for the entertainment dollar. In addition, the wide digital availability of music has made an impact, both authorized (iTunes, Rhapsody, etc.) and unauthorized (file sharing). The industry dug its own grave on that one back in the mid-90s when they greedily decided to deep-six the single format. At the same time, Billboard began allowing album tracks to enter the Hot 100. The labels, in an attempt to move the more profitable albums, tried to force consumers to buy the whole thing to get the one hit. Enter Napster a few years later, which allowed music fans to get what they wanted in the first place - the sole hit song. We all know what happened after that. Too much blame has been put on unauthorized downloading, though. A few artists, such as Radiohead, actually saw their sales go up due to file sharing. And digital sales are doing extremely well, though at the expense of the better CD format. And yes, even the archaic vinyl format has been making a comeback in recent years. Currently, 1969's Abbey Road is one of the best selling vinyl LPs in the land.

    A major reason for the current recording industry slump that rarely gets mentioned is airplay. MTV doesn't play much music anymore, so videos don't have the same impact that they did in the 1980s, save for country music. Radio has also become more restrictive, as many are controlled by corporate entities with uniform playlists that don't take the chances they used to with newer artists. Sure, there's the internet, with sites such as MySpace and Last.fm. But as McCartney himself has claimed, major labels have no idea how to promote music online.

    And then, there's quality. Many of today's key meal-ticket artists aren't coming up with earth-moving music. Sure, U2's latest album did okay. By now, it's probably hit platinum. But in all honesty, it's a rather weak effort compared to their past output. The only thing that could possibly save the rather tepid No Line On The Horizon is their upcoming tour, and a follow-up album due later this year. Bruce Springsteen's new album is good, but it can't hold a candle to Born To Run. Today's recordings all seem so sanitary. So perfect. And a bit bland. It's also very heavily clipped, as record labels seek to make each product louder than the last. The process results in sonic dreck that exhausts the ears rather than pleases them. Ironically, music in the digital age sounds pretty lousy compared to all that old stuff recorded on ancient analog equipment.

    Over the past half-century, The Beatles have been the only guaranteed money-making artists in the industry. Even their back catalog still sells like crazy. The 1 compilation, a taster consisting of all their #1 hits, is one of the biggest selling releases of all time, with 31 million units moved worldwide. The simultaneous release of the remastered catalog on the same day as Rock Band will be a swift kick in the ass for the industry. And people will most likely buy the CDs, rather than just wait for it to turn up in inferior mp3 files on BitTorrent. Don't be surprised if The Beatles are the top-selling artist of 2009 and people rediscover the CD format.

    2. Even without official digital distribution, The Beatles are still the most downloaded artists on the internet. This is helped mostly by the wide availability of 'bootleg' releases. But rather than the umpteenth repackaging of the White Album acoustic demos and zillions of sloppy rehearsal tracks from the Get Back sessions, most of the bootleg activity these days revolves around unofficial 'remasters'. These 'remasters', essentially high-bitrate digital files ripped from good quality imported vinyl releases using high-end turntables, actually sound better than the 1987 CDs. Scary.

    3. So, when are The Beatles going legit with their downloads? Negotiations between Apple Corps., Apple Computers (yes, that lawsuit has long been resolved) and EMI have been rough. The Beatles, along with AC/DC (who refuse to digitize their music for downloading) are among the sole remaining high-profile holdouts. All of the individual Beatles have released their solo catalogs through online mp3 retailers (and in remastered form to boot). McCartney himself wants to see a resolution that will put legit mp3s of The Beatles online, but acknowledges it's all between the lawyers now. Dhani Harrison, representing his late father George, claims iTunes and others need to charge more than the standard 99 cents for individual Beatles tracks. Since iTunes has just introduced tiered pricing, this thorny issue could be close to a resolution. The younger Harrison, seemingly the group's point man in tech-related issues (he was the one who suggested the Rock Band project), has even proposed the idea of Apple Corps. doing their own digital distribution.

    The whole digital impasse could be resolved by the end of the year. That's what they're hoping. But does it really matter? Hardcore Beatles fans don't care about iTunes, Amazon MP3 and Rhapsody. They'll buy the CDs. The only advantage to download availability would be to cater to a younger demographic (the massive success of the 1 compilation has proven that they are very effective at this) who have been moving away from CDs. But since the iTunes software itself is highly effective at making decent quality mp3 files from CDs, why not, for the same price, just buy the more attractive and better-sounding discs instead? Downloading is really just an impulse purchase geared toward obtaining individual songs.

    4. Apple seems to have finally gotten the whole thing right. For the most part. And this new undertaking has shown that they really are trying to please the fans. I like the idea of the mono box set, the extensive liner notes and the cardboard digipacks . The documentaries are a nice touch. I would have, however, totally remixed Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour and a few of the single-only releases (some of which didn't see true stereo mixes until long after the band broke up). I also wouldn't mind seeing 5.1 surround mixes of a few releases, but perhaps that's further down the road.

    And Apple and EMI did entrust the whole remastering project to reliable personnel. The seven engineers overseeing it have long been associated with some very high-quality Beatles-related reissues, as well as a few solo Beatles projects (such as John Lennon's catalog). They know the material inside-out. They are familiar with the delicacy involved in faithfully digitizing the old analog tapes, and know that old technology must be used with the new high-tech stuff for the best possible results. Modern gimmicks such as de-noising and digital limiting were used very sparingly. The tape heads were cleared of dust and debris after playing back each song. All in all, this was not a slap-dash effort. This was serious business.

    5. Some may bemoan that The Beatles are not padding the original albums with outtakes, B-sides, singles, etc. This was no oversight. McCartney himself states that the band prefers to present the albums in the way that they were originally intended. They don't want younger generations to remember a 24-song Revolver packed with filler. And quite frankly, would you want to hear "The Ballad Of John And Yoko" on Abbey Road? Or "Lady Madonna" on The White Album? It just wouldn't work. Often bands and record labels tend to stuff CDs with excess material because they can. And in some cases, it works. But when all is said and done, isn't it all about quality rather than quantity? Instead of just stuffing it with filler, perhaps it's better in this case to present the material in its original, intended form. These are legendary albums. Beethoven never added outtakes to his symphonies. Would you add a few chapters of J.D. Salinger's scribblings to the end of "Catcher In The Rye"? Or splashes of color to Picasso's "Guernica"? Of course not. For those who do want the singles, outtakes, etc., Past Masters and Anthology do just that.

    Sure, I may be making a big deal out of all this, but this will likely be the most-talked about event in the recording industry this year, so it is worth mentioning. The Beatles could give the recording industry a swift kick in the pants in 2009 like they did 45 years ago with "I Want To Hold Your Hand." And if, indeed, this is the swan song for the CD format, as some of the more pessimistic observers predict, it will be one hell of a wake. And for the young folks who's idea of rock and roll is the Jonas Brothers, well, it's time to experience the real deal.

    Ladies and gentlemen - The Beatles!

    Wednesday, April 08, 2009

    Shaking the can of nuts

    Last week in Pittsburgh. a guy named Richard Poplawski came home after a night of drinking. Hung over the next morning, he got into an argument with his mother, whom he shared an apartment with. Poplawski got rough and mom called the cops. His reaction was to put on a bulletproof vest, grab a few of his guns, including an AK-47 assault rifle, and wait for the law to arrive. When two officers approached at the front door. Poplawski blasted both in the head, and gunned down a third. Three dead police officers. One horrific tragedy.

    So, who was Richard Poplawski? Well, we discovered afterward that he's essentially a 22 year-old conspiracy nut. Overly paranoid, he lived in fear that the government was intent on busting in and taking away his guns. He kept spouting to his friends about "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and that he "didn't like our rights being infringed upon." Poplawski also warned of the pending collapse of America. Sound familiar?

    'Obama gun ban?' Where the hell would a guy get that kind of idea, particularly since the White House has no such plan in the works? Well, conspiracy-minded radio host Alex Jones, for one. Poplawski was evidently a fan of Jones, and was lso a big fan of conservative talk radio and FOX News as well. Sure, Jones is a pretty goofy cat. As tin-foil as one can get. Yet I'd hate to think anyone takes him seriously. Way too ridiculous. And the few people who do listen to him, visit his website and buy his videos and books are, well, a bit out there as well.

    But Jones has gotten a little more 'mainstream' cred as of late. In the past few years, when he was barking about alleged '9/11 coverups' and the crimes of the Bush Administration, no way would an entity like FOX News Channel give him the time of day. During the Bush years, he buttered his bread by pandering to the left, as a vehement critic of the administration. Now that there's a new president, Jones is pounding the anti-Obama path, and in the eyes of FOX News, well, the enemy of their enemy is now their friend. The result? Jones has started popping up on the network's properties. And the rhetoric of one recently hired weekday FOX News host, Glen Beck, has started sounding eerily like Alex Jones.

    Reactionary media personalities often prey on gullible people like Poplawski to make up their fan base. Anyone familiar with right-wing shock jocks knows that few of them would ever shy away from scaring the living crap out of you. Whether it be a loose cannon government, loss of gun rights or the wrath of God, they know the buttons to push to get the lemmings to pay heed. But is there a point when it goes a bit too far? Should the hosts of these gabfests assume any kind of responsibility when someone takes their caustic rants seriously enough to reach a drastic final solution?

    Many bloggers and pundits on the left seem to think so. And with good reason. After all, some of the on-air dialogue from the wacky right has gotten quite hostile since the arrival of the Obama Administration. One talking head who's gotten a lot of flack as of late is Beck. Many have been noting his bizarre recent exploits, which even included random incidents of on-air crying. Seriously. In addition, Beck has been increasingly aligning himself with the Ruby Ridge crowd - the crazy tin-foil hat-wearing gun nuts (damn, if feels like the 1990's again). To believe guys like Beck, one would think President Obama is some kind of commie socialist dictator who wants to break into your house and empty your gun cabinet, then throw you into some sort of FEMA-run concentration camp. Beck has even invoked Hitler. And the host, a reformed(?) cokehead, must have had something else on his mind when he repeatedly used phrases like "heroin pusher" in describing what he'd like you to believe is a hostile anti-American government. Let's face it, anyone who believes this shit is probably crazy enough to do something very extreme. Including getting into a shootout with the cops.
    Did I mention that Poplawski, among other online exploits, also posted a link to a video clip of Beck, the bit where he warned about the alleged FEMA concentration camps, on a neo-Nazi message board he hung around? Or that he even hosted his own (now defunct) right-wing conspiracy-minded internet talk show for a brief time?

    Obviously, defensive right-wing pundits are not taking these accusations lying down. Noel Sheppard, perhaps the biggest whiner at the ultra right-wing Media Research Center (besides his boss, Brent Bozo himself), is back to playing the typical victim card. We're innocent! Blame the liberals! In an article posted the other day, Sheppard lashed out at a number of notable liberal bloggers, including Andrew Sullivan and Markos Moulitsas, for having the audacity to blame right-wing media for inspiring Poplawski's rampage. Not surprisingly, Sheppard's retort is rather flimsy. He expressed massive amounts of mock outrage and crocodile tears as he attempted in vain to conjure up a laundry list of other possible reasons as to why some guy in Pittsburgh would go on a shooting rampage. He's stressed out. He just got laid off. The dog urinated on the carpet. It couldn't possibly be the hostile, caustic rants of the extremist rabble-rousers he listens to. Don't blame the crazy AM radio or FOX News meat puppet for some guy going postal.

    Interestingly enough, these tireless advocates of personal responsibility on the right would never even dare admit that the rhetoric of their comrades could result in dire consequences. What's the difference, really? Hey, I've been laid off from a few jobs in the past and my dog still pisses on the damn carpet, but that doesn't make me want to slap my mother around, grab the flak jacket, raid the arsenal and act paranoid while shooting at cops. On the few occasions when my dog relieves himself where he shouldn't, I reach for the Bissell and the Cesar Milan DVDs, not the nearest Kalashnikov. Sorry, but this latest wingnut spin is as weak as Dan White's twinkie defense.

    But critics reading this may cite the Pittsburgh tragedy as an isolated event. The guy was obviously unhinged from the get-go, but did the voices that surrounded and influenced Poplawski help to push him over the edge? Was it just a fluke incident? There was another. Last July, a 58-year-old unemployed truck driver named Jim Adkisson opened fire with his sawed-off shotgun in a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee during a service. He killed two people and wounded several others.

    When investigators searched Adkisson's for evidence and a motive, they found copies of books from the likes of Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. They also found what was intended to be Adkisson's suicide note: a handwritten, four-page manifesto explaining his heinous actions:

    ...Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they're Marxist, socialist, communists...

    ...The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I'd like to encourage other like minded people to do what I've done. If life aint worth living anymore don't just Kill yourself. Do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals!

    Nice, huh?

    What about all those abortion clinic rampages we read about? Those perpetrators must have gotten the idea somewhere.

    Ironically, these same right-wing pundits are typically the first to point the finger at rap music for inspiring misogyny, drug use and violence among young people. Or that playing Judas Priest records backward will inspire someone to commit suicide. Whereas they'll never admit that violent reactionary talk radio and TV inspires irrational behavior among their own weak-minded set. Let's face it, what is conservotalk radio but rap for uptight middle-aged white guys? It works both ways, folks. What's it gonna be?

    But it's all just entertainment, they say in their defense. Hey, so is rap music. At least rap has a beat.

    Speaking of hypocrisy, I also find it ironic that during the past eight years, these same critics who defend their seemingly anti-government crusaders would not suffer any kind of dissent whatsoever from our end. Criticizing President Bush was tantamount to treason. It was un-American. Love it or leave it, they said. Conform or suffer the consequences. Yet, Sheppard closed his ridiculous article with this rather interesting statement:

    Those who disagree with the direction our nation is heading better be willing to stand up and fight or there will soon come a day when you don't recognize the land you live in.

    Good sentiments, and perhaps the only thing in the article I agree with. But coming from someone who represents the Media Research Center, after all the nasty shit they flung our way during the past eight years, that's gold-plated irony right there, folks. Just ask Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks about what they did to her when she decided to 'stand up and fight.'

    Suffice it to say, Noel Sheppard (and his lunatic boss) are ten pounds of horseshit in a five pound bag. Poplawski is a feeble-minded murderer. Alex Jones is a goofball with a small echo chamber. Glen Beck is fucking nuts. And the weak-minded lemmings who swallow every word 'entertainers' like Beck spout without even utilizing their critical and rational thought processes are morons.

    This isn't really a freedom of speech issue. And as a fervent backer of the First Amendment, I certainly would not call for the muzzling of any voices in our media. Never have. If Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, et al., are able to attract hoards of really crazy people to join them in drinking the tainted Flavor-Aid, well, more power to 'em. Let 'em have their echo chamber. And I, along with many others, also have the right to mock them. But just like when Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater got into hot water when they convinced radio listeners that aliens were actually attacking our planet, the modern-day equivalents should realize that there are people who take their word as gospel. And that some of these people are crazy enough to do something rather horrifying.

    And before I get the inevitable hate mail, I will say that very few right-wing radio listeners are as unhinged as Poplawski, just as very few rap music fans take the music they listen to as a guide to life. But if one issues a call to arms, one must realize the consequences of someone who obeys.

    When one shouts "fire" in a crowded movie house (or "movie" in a crowded firehouse), or when a boy cries "wolf," that warning can take on serious consequences. I'm not saying it's wrong to say it. But if one makes his or her living via highly aggressive rhetoric, preying on weak-minded folks to brainwash into listening to them, then they should accept some responsibility for the consequences of their actions. With great power comes great responsibility.

    Perhaps these people should start engaging in constructive, positive debate rather than reckless rabble-rousing. But I guess that wouldn't get the ratings, huh?

    Wednesday talkin'

    A few tidbits to get you through your day...

    Collins joins the campaign

    A few weeks after hanging up his headphones, Peter B. Collins has a new job. Lt. Governor and gubernatorial hopeful John Garamendi has hired Collins to act as a new "messaging and communications consultant."

    The Garamendi for Governor 2010 replaced his top campaign advisor, Jude Barry, with Collins, 55, who started in radio in Chicago in the 1970s, went on to host Bay Area talk programs on ABC-owned KGO-AM and CBS-owned KRQR. For the past several years, he hosted a syndicated talk radio effort based at KRXA in Monterey.

    Collins has served as board president of the Freedom Foundation, a non-profit group that provides legal assistance to inmates and investigates suspected wrongful convictions. He has worked on political campaigns for Nancy Pelosi, Pete McCloskey and the American Nurses Association.

    More "Crap" in Montana

    After its inaugural show on April 4th, KMPT Missoula program director Pete Deneault sends word that a local weekly show, "Anti-Crap Radio - Talk That Doesn’t Suck" has extended from one to two hours. This Saturday’s episode (4/11) will features musician, Huey Lewis, and Native American activist, Elouise Cobell.

    The show's official mission statement: Rise above bias games to trans-partisanship and wear red and/or blue and other seasonal favorites…being Anti-crap is color blind.

    The show airs Saturdays from 4 – 6P on 930 AM, KMPT. They also stream via the station's website. A Podcast is also available.

    In appreciation of "The Mess"

    Thought I'd mention the passing of what many conisder to be a talk radio legend. He never had a syndicated show, and wasn't all that well-known outside of the upper midwest. But he was still a legend.

    Steve Cannon, a longtime radio personality in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, passed away Monday night after a long battle with cancer at the age of 81.

    Cannon was most remembered as the long-running afternoon voice at WCCO radio, where he worked from 1971 until his retirement in 1997. He had worked at other area radio and TV stations as well.

    "The Cannon Mess" was as old-school as one could get. Like most WCCO fare, it was rather tame and lighthearted, focusing on friendly banter and tame humor. Like many radio personalities of days gone by, the cantankerous Cannon surrounded himself with a cast of 'characters' - though he did the voices of them himself. Backlash LaRue, Ma Linger and Morgan Mundane were participants in the festivities with Cannon. Sure, he was a bit corny by today's standards, and he wasn't the greatest character voice. But Cannon entertained people. He made them laugh. And he kept company with afternoon commuters stuck in I-94 and I-35W gridlock.

    His approach no doubt left an impression on similar-minded people like Phil Hendrie, who worked at WCCO in the early 1990s, while Cannon was still there.

    And unlike many of his contemporaries who have seemingly gone nuts after so many years talking to themselves in a padded room (a.k.a. radio studio), Cannon enjoyed a long career and a long, healthy, normal life. And he left the game on his own terms.

    You can hear some of the work of Cannon at RadioTapes.com and WCCO.

    Kumar goes to White House

    I receive some peculiar news stories in my email box, and I'm still wrapping my brain around this one.

    You might be familiar with actor Kal Penn. Fans of the TV show "House" are probably still reeling over the tragic loss of his character the other night. So why is he leaving a hit show and a good acting career (many probably remember him from the "Harold and Kumar" movies)? To work in the White House. Seriously.

    Penn no doubt made a strong impression last year while campaigning for Barack Obama. So much that he was offered a job by the man himself. In an interview with EW.com, he explains what happened:

    Penn: I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House. I got to know the president and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there, so I'm going to be the associate director in the White House office of public liaison. They do outreach with the American public and with different organizations. They're basically the front door of the White House. They take out all of the red tape that falls between the general public and the White House. It's similar to what I was doing on the campaign.

    Money can buy me Beatles again

    I've been bitching about this for months now. Why on earth hasn't the Beatles' official CD catalog been re-released?

    For over two decades, all there's been is the same crappy quality CDs mastered with ancient technology. Then they sounded good. In comparison to similar stuff available today (and Apple reissues such as "Yellow Submarine Songtrack", "1" and "Love", they sound flat and lifeless.

    Now, Beatles fans can rejoice (hopefully). Apple Corps., the holding company representing the band's interests, and EMI, their longtime label, have finally resolved their differences enoughbt to start rolling out the reissues on September 9. Whoo hoo!

    The deluxe edition releases will coincide with another Beatles' product, a special edition of the Rock Band video game featuring their music.

    Each album, remastered painstakingly from the original sources, will include a mini-documentary. And their first four albums, originally released only in mono, will be issued in stereo.

    For fans of the band's mono mixes, a new box set will collect the mono editions of ten of their albums. And if you've never heard the mono version of "Sgt. Pepper", well, you're missing out.

    A few box sets will also see the light, including the previously-available "Past Masters" catch-all collection of non-album releases.

    Check your store shelves come September 9.

    Tuesday, April 07, 2009

    Psst... Wanna buy a radio station?

    It's been a few months or so since the demise of Nova M Radio, its short-lived successor, On Second Thought LLC., and its Phoenix flagship, KNUV.

    Well, if you yourself have harbored dreams of dropping a ton of cash in the hopes of restarting that little upstart network (and if you do, I suggest you seek professional help, immediately), then you could possibly begin with KNUV. Or its Denver sister station, KNRV.

    Both stations are headed to to auction block, as the current licensee, New Radio Venture, Inc., is looking to dispose of the properties and liquidate.

    The two stations were initially purchased by radio executive Maria Elena Llansa, who set out to build her own radio group. Llansa's group purchased KNUV for $3.75 million in 2005 and KNRV for $5.525 million in 2006. Both stations would air a Spanish Talk radio format.

    Tragedy struck a few months later when Llansa passed away due to a brain aneurism at the young age 50.

    Her business partner tried to carry on, but everything seemed to fall apart following Llansa's death. New Radio Venture eventually found itself in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. KNRV currently airs a Spanish brokered format. And there was a deal in place for Nova M Radio to purchase KNUV (they had an interim lease agreement), but that all went to pot when Nova M went belly-up and owners Sheldon and Anita Drobny pulled out altogether. On Second Thought was supposed to pick up the pieces, but couldn't even pay the rent. KNUV is currently silent.

    So, both stations are headed to the auction block. The bidding deadline is set for April 30. And the two AMs are being auctioned separately or together. And the tower sites belong to an outside party.

    Still interested? New Radio Venture, Inc., will enter into an asset purchase agreement with the highest financially qualified bidder. Bids will be considered for the stations separately or together. All bids must be accompanied with a letter of credit for $100,000 and a third party representation (bank) of capability to close the proposed transaction at the bid price.

    Got all that? Shake out that piggy bank, folks!

    Friday, April 03, 2009

    Friday catch-all

    Just a round-up of the latest happenings, including a few things I didn't get around to posting. Enjoy.

    Montel producer named

    Here's the whole press release, so I don't leave anything out:

    Air America Media has named radio veteran Mike Opelka executive producer of "Montel Across America," debuting next Monday, April 6. In this role, Mike will oversee the overall structure and content of the show, and will assist in booking guests.

    "Mike’s the perfect guy to join with Montel in creating this exciting new radio program", said Bill Hess, senior vice president of programming for Air America Media. "We’re thrilled he’s joined us."

    "I’m looking forward to working with Montel and the entire Air America team to launch this one-of-a-kind radio show," said Opelka. "As preparations are well underway, I’m excited to be a part of bringing Montel’s passion and talent to Air America’s listeners."

    Opelka is a media veteran with more than 20 years of experience in radio, network and cable television, internet production, management and publishing. Most recently he was executive producer of CBS Radio’s syndicated "Opie & Anthony" show. Prior, he was producer and director for the launch of Premiere Radio Network’s "Wake Up with Whoopi," starring Whoopi Goldberg. Additionally, he’s served as executive producer of WKTU’s "Baltazar & Goumba Johnny Morning Show," and assistant program director of the station. From 1988-1998, Opelka was a producer for Z-100’s "Morning Zoo" with Scott Shannon, Ross Brittain, Gary Bryan and Adam Curry.

    In addition to his radio credits, Opelka produced shows and projects for Fox Television, including "Fox After Breakfast" and original programming for the launch of the FX Network.

    "Montel Across America," hosted by Montel Williams, will air weekdays from 9A-12P ET on radio stations across the country, and streamed live online at airamerica.com.


    WINZ flips tonight

    Progressive talk fans in Miami should enjoy the last few hours if they can. The worst kept radio secret of the year, the long-rumored format switch at WINZ (940AM) to sports talk will finally happen tonight (Friday) at 6P.

    The new station will feature all nationally syndicated hosts from FOX Sports Radio, which is owned by Premiere Radio Networks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel, owner of WINZ. The only local presence on the station will be Miami Heat basketball. Also Florida Gators football and basketball, if you consider that local.

    The South Florida Sun-Sentinel sez:

    "We also intend to pick up as much play-by-play (of various sports) as we can," program director Ken Charles said.

    WINZ will become the sixth all-sports radio station in South Florida, an area that has shown it can support only one, if that.


    No word on whether another area station will pick up the deposed progressive talk format, which garnered pretty decent ratings in its almost five year run. Perhaps one of the other five sports talk stations will consider.

    Ironically, progressive talk replaced... (drum roll)... FOX SPORTS(!!!) back in July 2004. And we all know what the definition of insanity is, right?

    The last terrestrial domino falls

    Remember a few weeks back when I mentioned the fading of CBS' old "Hot Talk" push? The company flipped their New York and L.A. stations to top 40 and completely torpedoed guy talk. Coinciding with that, the syndicated shows of testosterone-fueled talkers Adam Carolla and Tom Leykis effectively ended. And now, Opie and Anthony have officially gasped their last terrestrial breath, as their final affiliate has thrown in the towel.

    A couple days ago, their sole remaining affiliate, WROX in Norfolk dropped the delayed weekday airing of their show (in addition to the just plain awful Mancow show). The duo, however, can still be heard (and uncut, at that) via Sirius XM.

    'Guiding Light' gets turned off

    Never thought I'd be writing about a soap opera, but this one is pretty historic. After all, how many shows are still around that go back 72 years?

    After this unlikely long run, CBS is pulling the plug on "Guiding Light", which will broadcast its final episode on Friday, September 18, 2009 after a whopping total 15,700 (now try buying the complete set on DVD!).

    The show is older than commercial TV itself, as NBC Radio launched the 15-minute serial "The Guiding Light" on January 25, 1937. The show moved to television, on CBS, on June 30, 1952 (though the radio version continued until 1956). In 1967, the show switched to color and expanded from 15 minutes to a half-hour. The expansion to an hour happened in 1977.

    In recent years, to cut costs in an era where seemingly nobody but retirees watch soap operas, they started taping the show outdoors with camcorders, in order to cut costs and give it that hip "YouTube" look. That didn't fly, and the ratings still tanked.

    The show will likely be replaced by yet another talk show or perhaps yet another courtroom offering moderated by a sassy judge (I made up that last part).

    For the die-hards, there is talk of some other entity continuing the "Guiding Light" saga, so, stay tuned.

    From anal cysts to anal poisoning

    Okay, sorry for being so nasty. But considering this last item was broadcast live on Rush Limbaugh's show to millions of people across the country, well, it is indeed worth mentioning. Some people just don't know when to shut up before they say something really, really dumb. Take, for instance, the GOP's current great white hope, certainly no stranger to saying utterly stupid stuff.

    HuffPo sez:

    ...Limbaugh went waaaaaay over the top in insulting Gordon Brown with a mental image that one must work at to un-think about, warning that if the British Prime Minister keeps "slobbering" over President Barack Obama, he'll "come down with anal poisoning and may die from it."

    Naturally, how Limbaugh gained such innovative insight into the epidemiological vectors of saliva-borne ass toxins remains an open question.

    Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

    After all, who better an expert on assholes than America's biggest asshole? Perhaps Rush should have issued this warning to his fave brown-noser, Brian Maloney...

    HuffPo and blatherWatch have the audio of this rather sordid soundbyte.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go hurl.

    Thursday, April 02, 2009

    Air America - five down, five to go?

    Over the course of the past two days, I opted to observe the marking of Air America Media's fifth birthday, by looking at the past and the present. And now, perhaps its fitting that we look into the future. That is, if Air America has one.

    Obviously, Air America is still teething. They're going through some serious growing pains. Much of the front office drama has subsided. And they haven't returned to bankruptcy court, so I guess that's a good thing. However, the on-air lineup is in a state of chaos, with most of their top personalities flying the coop, replaced by a lineup of talented, yet virtually obscure placeholders. The competition is pounding the crap out of them. The current dire state of the economy is making it tough for any media-based entity to expand or even hold on to what they've already got. And with diminished returns due to the sagging advertising market, many affiliates are flipping to safer, more uninspired formats. Doesn't matter if they become the sixth all-sports station in town - there's always a sports bar, strip joint or porn depot willing to advertise on an all-guys station.

    So, Air America is in a bit of a pickle. Do they grow a set and get aggressive, or bide their time until the market improves and die the death of a thousand cuts? Do they merely build on what they've already got, or lay the foundation for a glorious future? I certainly don't have all the answers. Then again, they obviously don't either. Perhaps tapping into the braintrust that exists outside their protective Manhattan bubble would suit them well. It certainly couldn't hurt.

    That being said, here are a few suggestions from yours truly:

    1. Rethink morning drive. Currently, Air America faces the unenviable task of fighting for station affiliates in two 'deathslots'. The first is late mornings (9A-noon ET), which is dominated by Stephanie Miller, who works for the competition. All four shows that Air America has aired here have flopped. Even an established radio guy like Lionel got crushed. A fifth is coming soon in the way of former TV talker Montel Williams, and who knows how that will work out. The noon-3P (ET) slot following is even worse, as it is dominated by two Dial Global offerings - Ed Schultz and guy who used to hold down this shift at Air America, Thom Hartmann. Anything Air America offers up here is essentially cannon fodder (no disrespect to the capable Air America hosts holding down these shifts, of course).

    What about morning drive? A previous regime made the foolish mistake of yanking the old "Morning Sedition" just as it was gaining traction. Replacement shows in the slot haven't fared any better, though "The Young Turks" had some success. After the departure of The Turks over a year ago, morning drive remains a blank spot, typically filled with day-old reruns and currently, a four-hour replay of Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show from the night before. Keep in mind, Maddow's show is only an hour long, so it replays on a continuous loop. With morning drive being perhaps the most important shift of the day, it's quite ridiculous that Air America has chosen to surrender it. The only syndicated liberal talk offering at that time is Dial Global's Bill Press, who has virtual run of the table due to being the only option around for stations that opt not to do local then. Why isn't Air America using morning drive to push high-profile, promising and innovative programming? Who cares if their New York affiliate, WWRL, won't carry it?

    Granted, morning drive in the east is essentially overnight west of the Rockies, so this would be a morning drive show for half of the country. But it's still an open field as far as getting back in affiliates' good graces. And what should Air America do here, specifically? Well, it seems that ex-Morning Seditionist Marc Maron is still lingering around the building, doing an online-only show with another jilted lover, Sam Seder. Take the two of them, lock them in the studio from 6-9A, and see what happens. Gotta be more compelling than last night's leftovers. And they're already on the payroll.

    As for Maddow, the 'radio' version of her show is essentially meant to be fed to affiliates in morning drive, with stations being encouraged to drop it into one of their open hours during the day (hey, it's cheaper than "Democracy Now", right?). Feed it once at 5A and tell stations to set the record timer.

    2. Build around your strengths. Okay, middays are going to be a bit tough to compete in. But there is the rest of the day, and radio stations have to air something, right? So far, their best bet is one of their newest hires, Ron Reagan, an immensely experienced and likable personality who has hosted TV and radio talk shows and worked as a journalist for over two decades. He does have that famous name too. Some affiliates have easily worked him in as Maddow's replacement in the late afternoon/early evening hours. And none of the competing networks have come up with anything similar in that slot.

    3. Kiss and make up. It was a messy divorce. Air America management played hardball with the new contract they offered her, taking away much of her professional freedom (i.e. inserting a non-compete clause). She picked up and left, and created a public relations nightmare. Since then, the network has been plodding along with Ron Kuby, an experienced and talented host that has failed thus far to catch on with affiliates and listeners, even with the current advantage of Rhodes being in limbo once again. When more stations have opted to replace her with the new and shaky Nancy Skinner offering, well, you know there's a problem.

    Perhaps, even with all of Rhodes' drama and idiosyncrasies, the two parties are actually made for each other. Granted, Rhodes and her antics can often be a distracting sideshow, a lightning rod for very ugly publicity that neither her nor her handlers know how to deal with. But she still has legions of rabid fans and radio station affiliates willing to give her another chance. And, wouldn't you know it? She's still looking for a new syndicator, since Nova M Radio went belly-up. If Air America and Rhodes were to kiss-and-make-up (and stranger things have happened in radio), they would have to have some sort of agreement. Rhodes would have to lighten her baggage, and Air America would have to employ a go-between to mollify her and keep the internal drama out of the press. Perhaps they could lure her back by giving her the same contract she enjoyed from the beginning (which is what she allegedly wanted in the first place) and to create a positive, encouraging work environment. Let her stay in Florida, where she's happier anyway. If Air America (and Rhodes too) want to avoid falling into obscurity, perhaps some sort of partnership would be in the best interests of both.

    With that, they could move Kuby into the vacant shift preceding hers, and work to develop it. Though affiliates haven't been biting on him so far, there is potential there.

    And while we're talking about renewing old friendships, how about extending a warm hand toward the long-exiled Mike Malloy? Currently, he's self-syndicating his show, following the demise of Nova M. Perhaps enough time (and enough meddling management personnel) has passed since his abrupt dismissal a few years back. Bringing back Malloy could go far in returning a bit of lost luster to the network.

    Question is, do any of the involved parties want anything to do with each other anymore?

    4. Improve the web presence. They've gotten better. The Air America website, for many years, was just plain awful. Now, they've beefed it up a little bit, and have even added multimedia content. Not sure if they could become another Huffington Post, which seems to be a model for web communities these days (even FOX News has gotten into the act with their new FOX Nation). But they need to assemble all of the brightest web geeks they can find in a room, with lots of coffee, donuts, veggie trays, hallucinogenic drugs or whatever else, and figure out how to create a viable web destination.

    5. Escape from New York. Now, I'm not saying they should pack up everything and move to Peoria (that's in Illinois, folks), but Air America (and many other media outlets for that matter) have long had a problem with being too Gotham-centric. Most media outlets have fallen into the trap of being too myopic, viewing this country as something akin to Australia, where the only pockets of civilization are the ones that exist along the coastlines. The famous cover of the New Yorker magazine, which shows a massive Manhattan surrounded by tiny little cities like Chicago off in the distance, comes to mind. Ed Schultz found quite a bit of initial success by being far removed from the closed-minded circles of New York and Washington. Fargo is about as far away as one can get. Air America did have a good thing going with their onetime biggest talent, Thom Hartmann, who was born in Michigan, lived and worked in Vermont and now does his show from Oregon, but he's gone. Hey, our current president's from the midwest, after all. If it's good enough for Barack Obama, well...

    One wonders whether Air America chief Mark Green has ever stepped outside the Gotham vacuum, since many of the talents he's brought on board have come from the East Coast echo chamber. I say its high time to take a close look at the rest of this great nation, and program a network not for East Coast media wonks, cocktail party lounge lizards and a New York radio station flagship who could care less, but for the American Outback as well.

    6. Bring in some bigger guns, and step outside the progressive talk bubble. First of all, there are quite a few capable talk talents currently warming the bench. Why has Air America virtually ignored the very experienced and very talented Peter B. Collins all these years, in favor of less-inspiring options? After all, he seems like a pretty nice guy who knows his stuff. And he has effectively done some fill-ins for them, particularly on Thom Hartmann's show. Offer this guy a gig, fer cryin' out loud! Put him in afternoon drive, which could help them obtain some West Coast clearances? Or, if they can't swing Malloy, how about giving Collins the 9-midnight shift following Reagan? There are affiliates out there who would like an lower-key alternative to the oft-abrasive Malloy (due to their own personal preferences). So far, many of them are opting for the talented but milquetoast Alan Colmes. Or they could return Lionel to the nighttime hours, where he succeeded for WOR for so many years and where Air America should have put him from the get-go. Prior to Air America, Lionel was on many conservative-leaning stations that were looking for funkier late-night offerings. Perhaps this would be a nice carrot to dangle in front of these stations, and a way to get their foot in that door.

    Restarting the syndication division and bringing in Newsweek for a weekend show was a step in the right direction, This show is obviously being targeted to all talk stations, rather than the left-leaning ones. Perhaps this will extend some goodwill toward potential affiliates that would never have even dared to consider anything from Air America. Maybe this is their entry, a Trojan horse if you will, into stations that have, up to this point, avoided them like the plague.

    There are other talkers out there too. Some snickered at the addition of Montel Williams, but he could work in that late-morning shift. Stephanie Miller shuts him out of many liberal talk outlets, but perhaps Air America could use him to reach outside the liberal talk bubble, and offer him to the many African-American-oriented talk stations dotting the landscape, who typically have limited syndicated options to choose from. They should be thinking outside the progressive talk box. There is only so much of that pie that they can slice up. Why not start on a new pie?

    These are just some crazy suggestions. Realistically, due to their tightened budget and the grim economic state of the radio industry, their hands are probably tied, with fewer resources to play with. Now, I'm no radio genius (far from it), and I certainly don't have all the answers (I don't think any one person does), But these are merely a few nuggets of advice that they could perhaps utilize, play with or even refine, as steps toward keeping aloft for another five years or more.

    MSNBC... with added Ed

    Looks like we were all thrown for a loop. MSNBC is indeed creating a new show around Ed Schultz... only in an earlier time slot.

    From the New York Times:

    MSNBC will soon add another liberal radio host, the latest in a series of changes intended to position the network as a venue for left-leaning voices in the evening.

    Ed Schultz, a radio veteran with a blue-state appeal, will anchor the 6 p.m. hour, to be called “The Ed Show,” starting Monday, MSNBC, a unit of NBC Universal, announced Wednesday night.

    (snip)

    Mr. Schultz said his show would take a “hard-hitting approach to issues,” with a “folksy style when it’s called for.”

    (snip)

    The network said David Shuster, the current anchor of the 6 p.m. hour, would co-host the 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. hours with Tamron Hall and substitute as host of “Countdown With Keith Olbermann,” its top-rated program.


    And it appears that Schultz will have a little extra time on his hands for the MSNBC gig, as he will no longer do a local show, "News And Views", for his Fargo flagship, KFGO.


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