Wait a Minute….I Thought You QUIT Blogging!

Posted May 20, 2012 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m BAAAACCCCKKKKKKKKKK.  At least for a while anyway as I wrestle with withdrawal from Facebook.  I have to admit that I first started blogging in part because I’m now working out of my home after leaving the TV news business and didn’t have anyone other than my wife and two dogs to talk to.  My lovely and talented bride has since returned to the corporate world of marketing and such and we lost one of our Scottish Terriers last December.  So now it’s just me and the remaining Scotty and at 15 years he’s just about deaf and can’t see very well.  Facebook increasingly wants more information or wants me to do things that I don’t want to do such as use the “new timeline”.  I have to admit that I’ve reconnected with a lot of folks on FB but I’m also getting a lot of requests to be friends with people that I barely know or don’t know at all.  So, I’m considering going back to my roots.  I won’t be blogging just about the local TV scene like I was before and I’m not sure how long this will go on.  Heck, I may pull the plug in a month or so.  Anyway, I’m going to give it the old college try and see where this takes me (if it takes me anywhere at all). 

And as I tell my passengers when we’re flying (and a tip of the hat to Betty Davis) “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride/night”.

Goodbye, So Long, Auf Wiedersehen

Posted December 23, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

December 24 is my anniversary.  It was five years ago on this day that I sat at the anchor desk at WREG and said goodbye.  Not many people watch TV on Christmas Eve which meant that not many people saw my farewell.  Some of the managers were okay with that.  Some I had worked with for years didn’t even bother saying goodby to me or goodluck or don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  I still have people asking me where I went.

It was four years ago this week that I started my blog, inspired by my good friend/former WREGer Jamey Tucker and by Peggy Philip, then news director at WMC.  I remember my wife asked me why I started blogging in the first place.  She asked me “Are you going to make any money doing this?”  I told her “No, I just enjoy writing”.  Now she’s wondering why I’m pulling the plug.  (She tells me she caught up on what was going on in the media through my blog.  She could have just asked!)  When I first started blogging, I still had a pretty good idea of who worked where.  I even managed to break a few stories of what was going on locally.  I’ve also managed to raise the ire of managers at the local stations with my various posts.  Some emailed me, others called me.  Some talked to me on the record, others strictly off the record.  I’ve had some write me nasty emails but not sign their real names. (Note to those I irritated AND have worked with: People tend to write the way they speak and that is usually a dead give-away on who they are).  That, plus looking up the IP address narrowed it down.

When I first started blogging, I was posting three times a week and sometimes twice a day.  Then it settled down to about twice a week.  Over the last year it petered out to about once a week and then really fell off.  My last post prior to this one was more than a month ago.  Quite frankly, it became work and it was work that took a lot of time and paid me nothing monetarily.  I quite honestly had gotten to the point where I really wasn’t watching the local news and it’s hard to make observations about the wackiness of the local broadcasts if you don’t watch.

I will admit that that blogging has helped me reconnect with folks I haven’t heard from in years.  When I broke a story and it was picked up by NewsBlues, I heard from former co-workers from around the country.  It was great fun.  I even caught up with a former Memphian now working in Brazil.  Thanks Chris for making this an international read!  I also made a lot of c0ntacts and found that I could always count on some folks to chime in on particulars.  “The GM” usually stepped up to the plate to answer TV’s business related questions and then there were the regulars who would jump into the fray.  Except for a few folks whose toes I stepped on, most folks who responded kept it civil and I really appreciated that.  There were only a few “haters” out there who insisted on being ugly to the point that I just automatically blocked their comments.  Oh, they’d change their user names but it was always the same old, same old.  As I’ve said on many occasions, if you don’t like what I’m posting, don’t keep coming back.  It’s like watching a local TV station; if you don’t like what you’re watching, change the channel.  It’s one of the things that makes this country great.  We have choices.

I will admit I have been overwhelmed at times hearing from you.  I had not been posting for very long when my father died of cancer after a 9-month battle.  I posted on his death and called it “A Great Man Died Today”.  The comments and emails I received moved me to tears and I have re-read some of those comments over the years and I’m still moved.  I had a friend of mine come to my defense when I was accused of being a racist by someone who apparently uses that accusation every time there is a disagreement with someone.  Actually, I’ve come to expect to hear someone use that accusation against someone else in the 20 years I’ve lived in Memphis.  It was the first time I had been accused of it.  A good friend who happens to be black/African American posted that he was disappointed that all the times he had been in my company and all the times he had been at my house for dinner or whatever that I had never been racist to him and he was rather disappointed.  Also, it might surprise one of my daughters in law (she is a woman of color) that I’m a racist.  I think she and my son would disagree.

One of the reasons I posted on this blog was to stay connected (to some degree) with the newsroom mentality that I grew addicted to over the course of 25 years of being in the business.  People ask me to this day if I miss being in the local news business and I tell them I miss some aspects and don’t miss others.  When I’m asked about the glamor side, I usually respond with “what part of getting up at 2:30 or 3 o’clock in the morning is glamorous?  What part of working just about every major holiday sounds like fun?”  I tell people that the only difference between being on-air and any other job is that when you are on-air and you make a mistake, everyone sees it.  And that’s why I never really understood these “on-air” folks who smiled the big smile on TV and then treated people off-air like crap.    I used to joke that to be successful on TV all you had to do was “learn to fake sincerity”.  That was always meant as a joke but some people tend to take it seriously.    Still, there is a side of the TV news business that I do miss.  There is a feeling in a newsroom and among newspeople overall that is really hard to explain.  It takes someone who has been in the news business to understand and appreciate it.  To some degree there is a “gallows” humor with a hint of cynicism and for lack of a better word “crustiness” that winds it way through the newsrooms I’ve worked in.  Maybe it’s how the crews deal with the daily dose of deaths, murder, mayhem, corruption and the constant weathergasms that seem to prevail in the course of a normal news day.  I DO miss that.  I’ve been offered the chance to get back in the business a couple of times and I’ve passed up on the opportunities because I really have enjoyed a normal life.  Occasionally I feel the tug  and consider going back into the business but so far, I’ve enjoyed NOT having to beg to be off on a holiday or during a ratings period.

I started thinking about the news business again this past week when my best friend told me that after several years of being away from the broadcast side of TV and doing a great job in the TV business related sales, that he was going back to a weather gig over toward the West Coast.  I started thinking about the fun times and the good times of being back on the tube and I know my friend will do well.  He’s the most natural born salesman I’ve ever met in my life and if anyone can sell weather to an audience, he can do it.  But for me, at this point, I’m not quite ready to go there.  Still, I learned a long time ago to never say “never”.  Who knows, one day I might be back in the business.  But for right now, I’m still plugging away with Lead Dog Video, my video production company, where the boss can be a jerk and the employee an a**hole.  Yes, I’m both.

So, for now, I plan to devote even more time to getting my business growing and that means less time blogging.  One day and perhaps sooner than I think, I may approach a manager with my hat in hand to ask for a job so I can get back in the biz.  But that isn’t right now.

I want to say thank you all for taking time to read over the past four years and for taking time to write.  If I made any of you stop and think, or laugh, or get angry or just helped you pass the time of day when stuck at a computer at work or at home, then it was worth it to me.

So goodbye, so long, and auf wiedersehen.

I’m Free, I’m Finally Free, & Life as a VJ in San Fran

Posted November 19, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

Man gets out of prison after many months and starts shouting “I’m free, I’m free!”.  He runs by a little boy while still shouting “I’m free, I’m free!”.  Little boy says “Big deal, I’m four.” (rimshot)

That’s a very old joke, and this is a very old show.    Seriously, as I shout “I’m free” it is because I am no longer a customer of cable TV. Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve had cable service since first moving to Memphis back in 1989.  I bought the whole package back then and each year as the cable rates climbed like clockwork around the first of the year, I started scaling back, first cutting the premium channels and then considering going to an antenna alone.  Then in the early part of this decade I decided to try one of those satellite dish things.  I liked it, thought it was cheaper and was ready then to pull the plug on cable.  The one thing that cable had that my wife really liked was the “Local on the 8’s” weather and local radar.  My lovely and talented bride so “no” to giving cable the boot.  So for years we had both cable and satellite, giving us a lot of time to evaluate the merits of both.  And we did just that and quite seriously.  Then the good folks at the cable company made a BIG mistake….they pulled the plug on MSNBC, at least on the basic package that we had.  We were told, “you can still watch MSNBC but you just need to get a cable fox for each TV”.  That’s when my wife, who is slow to anger, said “Okay, we will get a box for each TV”.  And we did.  But it wasn’t a cable box for each TV, it was a satellite box for each TV.  They were installed Wednesday morning.  She made the call to the cable company to tell them we were cancelling our service.  The person who answered the phone asked why and she told them.  When that person attempted to talk her out of it she told him it was already a done deal.  But the cable company gets one final gouge at us.  It seems they won’t be able to come out to unhook the service until sometime next week so we will just have to keep on paying for service until then.  That’s okay.  I will give them that.  We’re cable free which means we can expect to get bombarded with special cable offers from here on out.  And by the way, HD REALLY DOES LOOK GREAT. And yes, we are moving on……

A couple of months ago at the ever popular Cooper Young festival, I ran into a former coworker of mine from WREG.  Christine Connelly and her husband Bevin Bell (also a former WREGer) were in town for a visit.  They left the Bluff City for the Bay City a few years ago and to my knowledge have never looked back.  Both love the big city life and seem to be enjoying life in general.  CC is working as a VJ at KRON in SF.  She is one of two VJ’s I know with former WREGer Jamey Tucker at WKRN of Nashville being the other.  I talk to JT on a regular basis so I know what he generally goes through.  What CC goes through on a regular basis blows my mind.  I will attempt to share with you what she shared with me although the initial telling was fogged somewhat by adult beverages consumed by the listener (me) at the Cooper Young Fest and the passage of time since.  CC said she anchors a show and then hits the street.  She says it’s all about the timing and time is not something she has a lot of.  She drives to the location, shoots the video she needs and then starts looking for  one of those coffee places with the highspeed wifi connection.  She says on any given day she may turn out a combination of all or part of the following: A news package, a mini-package for a live shot, a vo/sot (voice over/sound on tape) for non-TV folks and a vo (voice-over). In the course of editing the package, she also has to create her own graphics in the field.  She says she has gotten superfast on editing (no kidding).  I attempted to look at recent stuff she created while on-line but was not able to do so.  I told her I couldn’t begin to imagine the pressure she was under.  I’d probably collapse after the first day.  Some say the VJ model is where we are headed as the bottom line shrinks at TV stations.  Others say there is no way this will happen here.  It will be interesting to see where everything stands in five years.

Is It a Case of “The Grass is Greener….”& Showing Breasts on Local TV News

Posted November 2, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

I traveled to Louisville this past weekend to visit my son and his family.  It also gave my lovely and talented bride Bethany a chance to dress up for Halloween with our 4 year old granddaughter Patterson. Patterson loves the Wizard of Oz and wanted to go as Dorothy and asked Bethany (her Granny B) to dress up as Glenda the Good Witch, which she did.

pix from iphone 2009 082

(No, I did not dress as any of the characters not even the flying monkeys.)  A good time was had by all.

While there, I did sneak a peek at the local news and generally speaking, the Louisville market has an overall good product with good people and good production values.  I’ve always liked the news out of the Louisville market and always really liked what I saw out of Nashville while going to school.  In fact, I really wanted to work in both cities but only sent tapes to Nashville back early in my career but never got on there.  Perhaps it is a case of “the grass being greener” but I’ve always thought that both of those cities had a news product that was a bit better than what Memphis had.  Don’t get me wrong, the Memphis TV stations have a good product. But there is something about those two markets I always liked.  I can’t really put my finger on what it was.  I know Nashville (WTVF & WSMV) always seemed to be on the cutting edge with production values.  Louisville seemed to be right with Nashville.  Perhaps I was too close to the product when I was working in Memphis but I thought the other markets kind of stood out before I even showed up in the Bluff City.  Maybe it’s just me.  Of course I also learned a long time ago that market size was no indication of quality but we have already plowed that particular field in this blog.  Perhaps I’m just off base here or does anyone else out there share a similar opinion.  Moving on…

I read on TVSPY/Shoptalk that a station in Washington DC is accused of exploiting women’s bare breasts for a ratings boost.  Imagine that.  Actually that’s what some critics are saying while others are applauding what they are doing.  That station, WJLA, is running some news segments on breast cancer awareness and are teaching women the proper way to perform a breast exam.  Critics say they shouldn’t be showing such stuff as someone’s bare breast on the 5pm and 11pm news.   Well, I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t have the internet or Youtube back when I was working at good old WTXL TV in Tallahassee, FL in 1984-86.  In addition to my anchoring duties, I was also the Medical Reporter and I was doing a story on Breast Cancer.  I can’t even remember if it was during a ratings period.  I was talking to the good folks at the American Cancer Society and they told me that one of the biggest problems was that not enough people really knew how to conduct a breast exam and that we should show how to do an exam on TV.  Of course my first response was “have you lost your mind?” I told them there was no way that we could show a bare breast, nipple and all on TV.  Then I got to thinking that with the ratings we were pulling, not many people would see it anyway.  I pitched the idea to the news director who looked at me like I had lost my mind.  I was then told that we could show this exam only if we did it at 11pm and after the ND and I guess the GM signed off on it.  We set it up like this with a two-part report (remember those).  I did a segment on the early news with the family of a person who developed breast cancer who didn’t make it and the importance of early detection.  We promoted the fact that we would talk with  a survivor at 11 and how to conduct an exam.  I can tell you that leading up the 11pm piece, I was quite nervous.  In the teases during the 11pm news, we emphasized that what was coming up would not be suitable for underage viewers and we repeated that warning during the medical piece intro.  (Yes, there’s nothing like telling people not to watch to get them to watch).  The segment aired and it was quiet as a mouse in the studio and until the segment finished airing and we went to commercial break.  Then the studio crew (all guys) erupted into cheers that I had managed to show breasts on local TV.  I was really into medical reporting at the time and felt that I was just doing a service to the community in sharing information.  Honest.  We did get some negative feedback from a couple of viewers who thought we were out of line but we also received praise from some who thought we did the community a service.  And, here we are almost a quarter of a century later and it is still a big deal to show information that might save a woman’s life.  Oh, it’s okay to show bloody survivors or the blood soaked ground after the local  murder de jour but heaven forbid that someone see a bare breast because that, in the immortal words of George Carlin might “curve your spine, grow hair on your hand or God help us, bring us ‘Peace without honor’.”

A Familiar Face Back on Memphis TV & I’m Taken to Task for NOT Watching Local TV News

Posted October 30, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

I always enjoy touching base with my former co-workers.  Okay, I enjoy touching base with MOST of my former co-workers.  Reconnecting with a former compadre from Southeast MO has led to other reconnects and so on and so forth.  I most recently heard from Amy Spears/Speropoulos who used to be an anchor/reporter at WREG.  Amy tells me that as of Monday morning, she will be the new morning reporter for WMC.  AS and her husband had left the Memphis area a couple years ago and have since moved back.  I always enjoyed working with AS and always thought she did a great job on the air.  Viewers liked her as well when she was DOTR and I think they’ll like her just as much OOU. (Over on Union).  I know at one time, the thought of someone leaving WREG to go to work at WMC was enough to send some managers into a coniption as that was considered the ultimate slap in the face.  There was a regular effort to demonize WMC as the “evil-doers”. I still chuckle at that. Anyway, congrats to Amy.

I was chided recently because I do not watch local TV news.  The person who chided me about it: my lovely and talented bride.  She told me that I should start watching local TV news again, just so I would know who the on-air folks are.  I guess I should also do that so I can see if anyone has renamed/rebranded their weather coverage  or their consumer reporting  coverage.   So, I will attempt to see what I’ve been missing.  I’ll will keep you posted.

We Will Let You Sleep With Our News Anchors if You Will Just Watch our News During Sweeps, What is Going on With the Make-up On CNN, & Instances of Lip-Lag are Growing here in the MidSouth

Posted October 28, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

Having been out of the TV Nooz business for coming up on five years now, I kind of forget when we enter into ratings periods.  Yes, there was a time for me when it was all about “the book” as TV folks call the ratings period.  If you hadn’t taken vacation time or had some family event you wanted to attend, it all had to be worked around “the book”. Oh yah, and postpone any illness that you may have because life as we know it will cease to exist if for some reason you don’t show up for work.  The realities of the ratings books came roaring back recently.

I had stopped by to talk to some folks about a project I’m working on and there was a TV blaring in the waiting area.  I wasn’t really paying attention until I heard someone mention that you needed to make sure and watch during the evening news and the early morning news to register to win/grab/inhale $100-thousand dollars.  Plus if you were the specific caller you would win 300 dollars.  Yes, it was WREG, News Channel 3.  I’m not sure what other stations  are doing and it may be quite similar.  It all reminds me of the great car giveaway that WREG did about 10 or 15 years ago that IMHO seemed to help start the Memphis TV market on doing everything and anything to get people to tune in to watch the local news.  At the time, WREG was giving away three cars and while I can’t remember specifics (I guess I’ve tried to block it from my memory) if you wanted one style of vehicle, you had to watch a specific newscast.  We received tons of postcards.  They occupied one side of the studio.  We had to sort through those cards to make sure each card went into the correct bin.

Now, I don’t want to cause any undue hardship for those who work on the local news but if you want to get viewers to watch and “know the secret phrase” or whatever, Here’s what you promotions folks need to do: Give viewers a chance to have sex with someone from the newsroom in the newsroom.  And to really boost ratings, let them “have a go at it” with whomever they choose (news anchors/reporters/videographers/producers) right there on the weather desk during the newscast.  The shot could be squeezed back into the corner of the screen (kind of like when you have a weathergasm)  so it won’t interfer with your regular newscast.   I’m thinking that ought to really boost ratings.  Now, some might say “Oh we could never do that”.  I say why not. I’m reminded of a anecdote attribute to Mark Twain.  I’ve copied and pasted it here and wanted to share. It is said that, at one point in his life, Mark Twain walked up to a proper woman of class and stature and asks, “Madam, would you consider having intimate relations with me for a million dollars” to which the woman replied, “of course I would!”. Mr. Twain goes on to ask the woman, “Then, madam, would you consider having intimate relations with me for one dollar?” to which the woman replied, “of course not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!?”. His reply, “I believe we have already determined that, now we are negotiating price”.

If you are going to sell yourself, go all the way and for a really big boost in ratings.  Nuff said there. Moving on.

What is going on with the make up on some of the female anchors on CNN and Headline News in the mornings.  There are these attractive women (no I don’t know their names and really don’t care but they are on around 8 to 9am) and they don’t seem to have any features on their respective faces because they are wearing so much make-up.  Maybe they are being made up for the H-D broadcasts (no I still don’t have H-D reception but give me time) but whatever it is,  it is distracting.  I know when I was on the air I had one woman stop me at the grocery store to tell me that I should tell whoever put my make-up on for me that they are using too much.  I said I would share that observation “immediately” with the make-up person and I did.  That was easy since I put on my own make-up as do most folks in this sized market.  Anyway, I was just wondering if anyone else noticed “too much make-up” on the folks delivering the news.  Moving on…

I mentioned this is a previous post about seeing video in news packages during a newscast that had issues with lip-lag.  I saw it happen when I was the in the Raleigh-Durham area and have seen it locally as well.  I’m now seeing it on commercials.  The most recent incidence was on a cable spot airing on The History Channel regarding a furniture store that is giving beds to the less fortunate.  The company is Ashley and the guy (yes, normally it’s a woman pitching the products)  had about a half second of lip-lag.  Yes, it was distracting.  Whatever happened to quality control?  I’m just saying.  Okay, I’m off my soap-box.  Now back to your regularly scheduled internet surfing.

The CALM Effort, E-D Remedies, Motorized LA-Z Boy charges & Corn Nuts

Posted October 23, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

I generally don’t watch commercials on TV much anymore.  (To the horror of The GM) yes, I zip through most of them thanks to TIVO.  Hey, I understand that paid advertisements are the lifeblood of television but I don’t know of anyone who really LIKES watching commercials and I really don’t.

For years when I worked at WREG, I fielded calls from people who wanted to know why we turned up the volume on commercials.  I would dutifully check with the folks in the Master Control area who always responded that the volumes of the commercials were always within the proper limits.  I never really gave it much thought until I noticed that the commercials really did blare.  I know I’ve posted on this before and I usually hear from folks about compression levels and such but the bottom line: Commercials generally do sound louder than the programming, at least on my TVs at home.  Turns out, someone in Washington is taking some steps to remedy what some say is just in our imaginations.  Enter the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act.It seems that a congress person from California wants the FCC to stop the loudness.   We’ll see where this goes if it goes anywhere at all.

As I have posted before, TIVO has changed the way I watch any TV program.  I now watch an hour long program in about 45 minutes.  I love it.  Granted, I may not be able to do that forever as advertisers figure out new ways to get me to view their product pitches but that’s the way it is for now.  Having said that, I was actually forced to watch a series of commercials during a show that I was watching live.  Among the products pitched was some drug used to treat Erectile Dysfunction.  What caught my eye was the fact that the advertiser was touting something to help the male partner take care of his partner’s needs.  It showed two people sitting in two separate claw-footed bath tubs out in some field over-looking some beautiful vista.  Look, I’m not a doctor but first, sitting in a tub of water by myself out in some field watching the sunset is not the way to get some action IMHO.  Now, sitting in a tub (preferably whirlpool type tub) with someone else in an enclosed room (except for the exhibitionist types) with some soft music, candlelight and a chilled bottle of bubbly perhaps seems like a much better way to go.  Heck one might even be able to forego the E-D drugs.  I’m just saying, that’s all.

It’s tough beating American ingenuity.  That’s why the blurb I ran across about the man from cited for DUI in a motorized easy chair caught my eye. Apparently this machine will move at speeds around 15 to 20 mph.  It could very well be the most comfortable ride you experience on the road.

Speaking of being on the road, my wife and I recently traveled to New England where she spoke at a conference for bankers.  While there, we also hit the road in our quest to visit all 50 states and all of the provinces of Canada. I’m a firm believer that road trips are defined in part by the snacks you take with you.  On road trips, I love Corn Nuts, that crunchy snack made from toasted corn.  Apparently folks in the New England area have no idea of what Corn Nuts are.  IMHO, they don’t know what they are missing.  But that also meant the drive was less enjoyable for “moi” and on a road trip (since I usually drive) it’s all about the driver.  Maybe a campaign to introduce this tasty snack is in order for that area.


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