Tuesday, July 31, 2007

We Get It! Watering is Bad, Local Events Bring In Big Bucks

I concluded many, many months ago that our local television stations have a “playbook” that tells them how to treat any story. If a teen gets in trouble, their book must say that it’s time for another Myspace story. When a crime occurs in a small town, you find an old-timer to give the “I never thought it’d happen in my town” storyline. If the cops demand some publicity, you follow them around on speeding or DWI stings. And don’t forget extra time for safety tips!
The general public probably doesn’t even notice the repetition of these stories simply because of the time between each new version of the story. Trust me, though, there is rarely any difference in how they handle any story.
The standard storylines go beyond tiring when they become a daily routine. That’s exactly what’s going on right now with two different stories that don’t deserve multiple airings.
The first of these awful stories are the godawful watering stories. Almost every single day we hear that we’re so damned lucky to be able to water every other day, and that this town and this town only get to do it once a week if at all. And if things don’t improve, it’s only going to get worse. We get it! I really don’t see anybody at all going overboard in their watering. Personally, I only do it once a week and quite frankly I don’t look to see if it’s “my” day. If I’m ever reported for doing it on the wrong day, I’ll make the city pull my water usage records to show that I use a fraction of what my neighbors use.
I know the reason these stories exist. They’re just lead-ins for the extended weather segments that teach us how bad we need rain. Yet at the same time, they tell us that even if it does rain nothing will improve. I guess we’re all doomed.
We get it; we’re in a drought and using water is bad!
As maddening as the water stories are, it’s the next set of generic stories that really get to me. It’s a story that gets airtime throughout the entire year, but it’s at its most repetitive during the summer as tourist season is in full swing and we have outdoor concerts and sports tournaments.
I’m speaking of the economic impact story. Just these past two weeks, I’ve seen the same story at least six different time…including twice on one very, very slow news day. Generally, there’s a lead-in story that tells us which event or tournament is in town and is then followed by a glowing, overly-exaggerated account of how much money these people are spending.
There are absolutely no changes from one of these stories to the next. Clips of the event in question (that inevitably prove that the attendance figures are hyped) are intermixed with shots from the mall, downtown, and/or at a local restaurant. Inevitably, stupid Terry Ellis Schmidt’s forced smile gives us a “this town is the greatest” soundbite to conclude the story.
Look, it is great that certain events are successful, and that we do attract more than our share of sports tournaments. But the event should be the focus, not whether this translates to a booming economy. Ok, maybe an occasional story of this sort is warranted for an event that does especially well, but I’m not exaggerating in saying that this story accompanies every single event.
Plus, the numbers don’t add up. Events that attract mainly locals are just transferring dollars that could be spent elsewhere in the city to the concessions at the actual event, with a bit of a bump to those retailers within walking distance. My family has six locations spread throughout the city, and an event on the south side of the city cripples the business at those stores not in that part of town.
As for the high school softball and soccer tournaments, those people are generally on a short leash. They’re pretty self-sufficient, and bring a ton of supplies to cut down on expenses. If they’re lucky, they get a day at the mall but that’s more of a social outing than a serious shopping day. Again, we rarely see a significant bump in sales during these occasions.
On a related note, can somebody explain to me how accepting the lowest bid for the convention center contract has ended up costing us more money than the previous contract? Nice job from Ms. Schmidt to make herself more powerful by acquiring a half million dollar deal from the city to do some of the convention center’s work. Why can’t our local stations look into these sorts of stories?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Goodbye Cable Boy

Every now and then I get asked about the origin of the “Get Out of Town” series. While I have explained the history more than a few times, this week is a perfect time for a repeat. It is summer, after all.
Yet it’s also a good time to look back a bit, as it actually fits into my subject of the day. You see, Get Out of Town began as a yearly cover story for Tempest Magazine. Once a year, the writing staff gathered at a local pub to compile a list of ten people who deserve to be shown the city limits. As you may expect, I dominated these gatherings (in fact, I may have been admittedly overbearing at times), and at least a third of this section was ultimately my responsibility to fill.
Generally speaking, this list inevitably was filled with politicians, crooked business owners, TV news morons, and a few radio people (including a couple of KRRO bigwigs). You can imagine my surprise when towards the end of my tenure at the magazine, I was asked to make a weekly appearance at KRRO to promote the magazine.
Once Tempest folded (I actually left a few months before), my segment on KRRO was so well-received that I was asked to continue. When the idea of reviving Get Out of Town, I couldn’t get the word “yes” out quick enough.
But that’s not to say there weren’t times that I wasn’t uncomfortable wandering the then-Midco hallways. I was especially nervous when I was informed that various members of a certain television station were going to be doing their own segments on the stations housed in the building.
It’s no secret that I had made more than a few enemies over the years at that station. They weren’t all in the newsroom either. In fact, I would guess that I’ve had more complaints with their weather coverage than news and sports combined.
Much of this sarcasm has been directed at a certain Howdy Doody look-alike that began his tenure towards the end of the Tempest days. I couldn’t help but laugh at his over-the-top actions; the directives on what to wear and to “give yourself some extra time to get to work”. How could one not laugh at their weather toys, especially the Lite Brite that showed you the lightning strikes?
I’ve had more than my share of fun at the expense of…yes, it’s Cable Guy…over the years. His goofy mug even made the back of the t-shirts I had printed up a few years ago. (BTW, I still have a few left if anybody would like one.)
So you can imagine my nervousness when I first spotted Shawn hanging around the KRRO fortress. Would he try to bitchslap me? Or have one of his beefy camera guys waiting for me outside the building? Or, God forbid, have Angela Kennecke do his dirty work? That’s what I was most scared of dealing with.
For quite some time, both of us sort of stayed clear of us. I’d stay out of any studio he was in, and if he saw me when he bounced into the KRRO studio, he’d be gone within seconds.
Over the course of time, though, we both started to relax a bit. He’d come in to shoot the breeze from time to time, which eventually led to us starting to acknowledge the other. Then one morning, some sort of weather situation led to Cade calling him in while I was on the air. Both of us let out a couple of good lines that I’m sure shocked his friends as much as mine.
Since then, we’ve had plenty of nice conversations on and off air. I still have my issues with his station’s marathon weather coverage, but I think to some extent he understands where I’m coming from. We even had a short chat a few weeks ago about the expiration of his contract.
Even with that knowledge regarding his contract, I was one of those who were shocked with last week’s news that he was finished at KELO. I had assumed that he would either re-sign or find a new gig with a competitor. But what’s even more shocking is the chatter caused by his departure. You can’t open a newspaper without a blurb about him, and almost every South Dakota-based website is full of stories and conjecture about him.
Mainly because we had buried the (non-existent) hatchet a while ago, I wish him nothing but the best in whatever he does. Yet I don’t understand why it’s such a major story. TV news people come and go all the time. In fact, at the same time Cable left the top sports guy at the same station mysteriously disappeared. (Quick, name that person.) Maybe that says something about their lack of sports coverage, but truthfully you rarely see more than a short blurb or two when even the biggest news person leaves.
Best of luck, Cable Boy. Regardless of whether the rumors of your participation of a conservative online news organization are true, or you end up on another station in this market or somewhere bigger, I have nothing but kind thoughts for you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Finally, A New Poll!

Guess The Jazzfest Attendance Claims
0 - 5,000
5,001 - 10,000
10,001 - 25,000
25,001 - 50,000
50,001 - 75,000
75,001 - 100,000
100, 001 - 125,000
125,001 - 150,000
150,001 - 200,000
200,001 - 225,000
225,001 - 250,000
250,001 - 300,000
300,001 - 325,000
325,001 - 350,000
350,001 - 375,000
375,001 - 400,000
Over 400,000
Over 500,000
Over 1,000,000
25 Gazillion Trillion Billion
Free polls from Pollhost.com

I Hate the Heat!

Is it really Tuesday night once again? Oh God, I’ve got to come up with a few hundred words to read on the air tomorrow. I’d rather just drink myself to oblivion. Ok, maybe I’ll do that anyway. (As Beavis once said, “yeah, yeah, that’s not a bad idea”.)
Yet I really have nothing. Absolutely positively nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true, as there are always plenty of people and things that piss me off. It would be so easy to go off on the constant, seemingly 24-hour coverage of last week’s Elijah Paige execution. Really, is there now anything that we don’t know about each and every aspect of Paige’s life, his conviction, and the actual execution? How many times must we see that video where he confesses his crimes? Do we really need to know the recipe of the prescription cocktail that was administered into his body? Who cares that this cretin refused to make a statement before he was killed? (This was the very moment I wished Ms. Can-she-eat was the person on the table. The anger in her voice as she read the opening in this story was straight out of the Nancy Grace show.)
Going on about that case, though, just doesn’t feel right, especially a week after the story (or more honestly, Paige’s life) ended. I’m pretty dead set against the death penalty, especially since most studies indicate that it hasn’t worked as a deterrent to commit murder and other executable crimes. Yet if anybody deserved to have his life ended, it was Paige.
As I go through the list of other deserved candidates, one item keeps springing up. It’s not a person or place. It’s something that we see every year at this time of the year, and if Al Gore is correct it’s a situation that’s only going to get worse.
Yes, my rant today is about the heat. I hate it. I shouldn’t sweat by doing what I do naturally – sitting on my flabby white ass. My monthly electric bills shouldn’t go up by over $100 just to keep me barely comfortable.
It’s been so damned hot these past few days that I can’t even enjoy the one thing I love about summer – hot young women wearing next to nothing. Yes, Jenna the Jeep has air conditioning, but by the time it gets cool I’m at my destination. Summer stinks.
What’s worse is that I had a goal for this summer – I really wanted to look halfway presentable for my trip out east. Here I am going out to hang out with dozens of my internet friends, and I couldn’t be more pasty and flabby. I had it all planned out – I was going to bike every day (or almost every day) and actually eat food that was good for me. Ah yeah, I was dreaming. Thanks to these weather conditions, I have no desire to do anything but drink whiskey cokes while surfing for porn in my bachelor chair. OMG, I hate my life.
I’m begging the weather gods (Shawn, are you listening?) to do something about these conditions. Please, please, please lower the temps by at least 20 degrees. I can deal with the low 80’s. I’d prefer the low 70’s, but I don’t want to be unrealistic. Give us some rain once in a while, so I don’t have to confer with the calendar before turning on my sprinklers. (Note to television stations and the daily paper – enough with the lawn watering stories.) Better yet – give me a hot young single mother in the home next door or behind me so I have some eye candy to get me through these depressing days.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Benefit Concerts Stink!

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was mid-afternoon on July 13, 1985, and the British segment of Live Aid was winding down. Paul McCartney was about to close the show with his first-ever live performance of “Let It Be” (it was a few years before McCartney would realize that not many people came to his shows to hear songs like “Coming Up”).
After a day with few technical miscues, disaster strikes. McCartney’s microphone malfunctions, but it’s quickly corrected. Not missing a beat, he carries on and over a billion people around the world watch…the MTV anchors in Philadelphia singing along.
Yes, a former Beatle is making a then-rare television appearance singing one of his classic songs and the brain trust back in America decides that we’d rather watch Martha Quinn mouth the words.
Live Aid is credited with starting the trend of televised benefit concert, but they should also share in much of the blame for the production and artistic garbage we’ve been forced to endure ever since. If only the British side of the concert has set the standards. From top to bottom there was little to complain about, especially the last three hours which saw riveting performances by Bryan Ferry, Elton John, U2, Queen, The Who, and David Bowie.
Unfortunately, it’s the American side that has been copied by concert organizers. Celebrity ruled over musical substance, forcing us to sit through tepid performances by the Thompson Twins, Bryan Adams, Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, Phil Collins, an under-rehearsed Led Zeppelin reunion, Tina Turner, and a legendary alcohol-laden disaster featuring Bob Dylan backed by Keith Richards and Ron Wood. The finale was an “all-star” version of “We Are the World” which saw Patti LaBelle attempt to turn into a solo performance.
At least we were able to witness all of the performances from both continents. This never happened again. Farm-Aid, which occurred a few months later, was plagued by commercial breaks that interrupted the middle portion of all performances, leaving us to endure interviews with the likes of Reba McEntire and Alabama during set breaks. Most other benefits of this sort granted us one or two-song teasers before moving on to interviews and propaganda.
2005’s Live 8 was the ultimate nadir of televised concerts. MTV showed no complete songs, let alone complete sets. The directors jumped around from one venue to another, giving us little more than 90 second glimpses of any performer. Even XM Radio, which advertised for weeks that each venue’s entire concerts would be broadcast, cut in and out of music sets. At one point Mariah Carey’s appearance was broadcast on five different channels while Neil Young’s simultaneous Toronto performance was joined in progress.
Even worse, as time has passed the booking strategies have become more suspect. It seems like anybody who has a song on any current radio format receives a prime slot, regardless of whether they’re actually able to perform on any stage, let alone a giant football stadium-sized crowd.
If they’re not a current flavor of the month, the booked acts are primarily has-beens who haven’t sold a record since Live Aid. Duran Duran is a prime example. They reunite over and over with few sales of any of the resultant albums, yet they somehow show up on almost every benefit concert playing almost the exact same set they played at Live Aid.
All of this ranting leads up to Live Earth, which was held on Saturday, July 7. I’m not going to get into the political angles of this event, or the hypocritical lifestyles of some of the artists involved. I’m here to comment on the embarrassment of music that was foisted to a worldwide audience.
Let’s first look at the broadcast decisions. Despite the fact that almost a half-dozen channels were broadcasting the concert, none of the channels were truly live and few full performances were shown. Quite often, the same channel would show the same clips over and over. I didn’t sit through the entire show, but I can’t count the times I saw Genesis and Bon Jovi (by the way, I can never vote for Al Gore for any office after I saw him frothing at the mouth over the opportunity to introduce those clowns).
Yet that rant is peanuts compared to my anger over the acts that were booked for this show. Black-Eyed Peas? Pussycat Dolls? Akon? Fall Out Boy? John Mayer? These weren’t middling opening acts. They were booked for prime viewing times. It’s as if Entertainment Tonight and People Magazine were in charge of the booking and performance schedule (and judging by the insane commentary and interviews by the “hosts”, there’s a good chance these two outlets were in charge).
There was simply no rhyme or reason to the scheduling of the artists. Metal bands would precede pop acts that would be followed by country acts. The end result was a marathon show on multiple channels that offered no flow that would keep anybody viewed to their television.
How could future benefit organizers “fix” this problem? There’s a simple solution. First, the record industry must finally understand that music has become niche-oriented. A Melissa Etheridge fan cares nothing about Ludacris, and vice versa. Akon fans have never heard of AFI, and Madonna pretending to play a guitar and introducing a new song only excites her dwindling fan base.
No matter what lineup you put together, people these days are going to channel-surf. Obviously, the goal is to keep the various niches tuned in as long as possible. The solution is genre-based concerts held at multiple venues. Put all the pop stars on prime-time network television for the soccer moms and “tweens”. Book all of the metal bands at one venue and air it on Spike. Do something similar for indie rock and place that on Sundance, or a dance music lineup on Bravo. Obviously, the country acts would be placed on CMT, has-been oldies acts on VH1, and hip-hop on BET or MTV. Hell, how about a Christian rock lineup for one of the religious channels? Or an international set for the Travel Channel? Those respective audiences would find their channel, and stay there for the majority of the show.
Of course, this scenario makes too much sense, and is unlikely to ever occur. In the meantime, I’m staying away from these silly concerts, no matter the relevance of the issue of the day.