Archive for June 2008

Times are Tight Down On the River, Where’s the Love for Those Flood Victims these Days and What ARE You Doing With All of That Wood in Your Hand?

June 30, 2008

Budgets are tight these days. Time was, when I had errands to run, I’d jump in my old Pathfinder and race off to where ever without a thought about it. Nowadays, my wife and I discuss our travel needs and try to coordinate when and where we are going so we can stretch our traveling dollars. I even try not to speed except when I’m on the Shelby County Autobahn (Bill Morris/Nonconnah Parkway) and then I don’t dare to drive 55. So it stands to reason that everyone is watching their dollars. We’ve seen cuts in staff at WPTY and I guess Dave Brown is hoofing it after they gave away his ‘Vette.  I’ve even heard that travel trips for WREG have been curtailed because it’s so expensive.  In fact, I have it on good authority that one news crew is traveling/has traveled out of town to a major city for a story but the reporter and videographer wouldn’t be staying in a motel. Instead they would stay with family/relatives to hold down costs. Folks, that just goes to show times are indeed tough and tight.  I guess this also explains why I’ve heard less news chopper traffic around Midtown Memphis.  Hey, Jet-A fuel ain’t cheap.

The flooding along the upper Mississippi River reminds me of how it used to be all about helping our neighbors to the North who live along the Mighty Mississippi. Of course financial times were better for everyone back in 1993 when similar flooding hammered the upper Midwest.  Our news director at the time pushed a program (heavily promoted by WREG) to raise supplies to struck to the flood victims.  After the supplies were loaded into an 18-wheeler, WREG sent a news crew to Illinois to see the supplies handed out and to report on the flood victims.  That crew consisted of Scott Sutherland (now Chief Videographer at WREG) and me and we drove to Springfield, Illinois where the supplies were off-loaded and then we traveled west to where the supplies were being shared.  The flood waters were still up but receding, the spirit of the townspeople was still as high as one could expect when most of what they had was lost and the smell of rotting grain along with the swarms of flies was overwhelming , at least to the two of us.  Folks, the only thing nastier than the smell of rotting soybeans is to step about shin-deep into that rotting mess and have to deal with it for the rest of the day.  I’d rather hug a mean skunk.  Anyway, SS and I stayed up in the Illinois area for a couple of days, shooting video, and then racing back to Springfield where we edited and then uplinked from the “capital bureau” of the CBS affiliate.  I think both Scott and I were happy to be headed home after that assignment.  I guess if any stations sent crews to cover the flooding up north they’d have to either take some camping gear or plan  to stay at the Red Cross Shelters.

Finally, I was scanning Shoptalk last Friday and ran across a name that seemed to be vaguely familiar. I had to do a search and discovered that yes, that person had indeed worked at WREG when I was there. I ‘m generally pretty good about remembering crossing paths with someone especially when I worked with them but on this occasion I thought I was suffering a serious case of the dreaded “Old Timer’s Disease”. The woman’s name is Giovanna Drpic and she is now working at WWOR up toward The Big Apple. The story from the NYDaily News featured in Shoptalk was cracking on her because she had a prop that seemed rather odd, according to the TV critic.   She was apparently carrying a piece of two by four and the TV critic wasn’t really sure why.   After seeing her picture I remembered that yes she was at WREG after having arrived there from the sister station WHNT in Huntsville, AL. But she didn’t stay at the station DOTR for very long before moving on to a gig in Orlando. She has somewhat exotic looks and was supposedly fluent in Spanish and had a funky name which in itself can be a huge thing for viewers. (If you don’t believe me, check out the Nashville market). But I was racking my brain about having spoken with her and I’m drawing a blank. I know she worked nightside which would have meant our paths would have never crossed since I was working early mornings. I know we received phone calls on her (as we always did when a new, good-looking female reporter showed up in the newsroom). But I just don’t remember that much about her. Part of it was the fact that she and I had polar opposite schedules (she worked nights and I worked mornings) so our paths rarely crossed. Oh well, I’d bet she knows even less about me and probably even cares less. She has gone on to bigger and better things. Just be careful if you’re on camera NOT to have a fist full of wood unless there’s a reason for it.

A GM Who Made You Feel Like You Made a Difference

June 26, 2008

My wife and I have been cleaning out our attic and one of my tasks was to go through boxes and boxes of old papers that had accumulated there since we moved in more than 19 years ago.  Actually, some of the boxes contained papers that I had collected since I was in high school so you can imagine how much stuff is in our attic.  Anyway, I was going through the various boxes of records and ran across several notes that I had received from the person who was GM at the time at WREG.   The GM was Olin Morris who had served as a morning show host for many years on WREG before moving into the sales department and working his way up the corporate ladder to the GM post.  When I arrived at the station Down On The River in February 1989, OM made a big deal about welcoming me into the “family”.  Now understand, I had been “blue skyed” by managers before and was a little gun-shy.  (For those not familiar with that concept, that’s when a manager puts his or her arm around your shoulder while waving the free hand to the sky,  making promises and commitments that he/she knows really can’t be kept and knows that you probably know they can’t be kept but it sounds good in a sales pitch sort of way).  So when I received a hand-written note from OM a few weeks after I started work at WREG telling me that he had been watching my progress and that he really felt I was making a difference, I have to admit that I was feeling a little skeptical.  This, especially in light of the fact that the EP/Asst. ND had just raked me over the coals.  But the notes from the GM came on a regular basis and not just to me but to everyone in the newsroom and in fact the building. They usually came on a  special occasion such as your birthday or the anniversary of your employment pr the holidays and while some portions may have been typewritten, there was usually a hand-written personal note and it was almost always done in calligraphy thanking you for your effort to make the station a better place.   OM always had great penmanship too.  All of this and the station probably had maybe 150 employees.  (best guess on my part)

Olin Morris always pushed the concept of “family” at WREG.  That’s not to say he couldn’t get mad and according to some, be vindictive.  But he really pushed the team/family concept and helped drive home the point with the hand-written notes.  He was visibly choked up when he stepped down from his post as GM.  It was not IMHO, the “faked sincerity” that I’ve encountered too many times.  I  always felt OM meant what he said.  So as  I re-read the notes that Olin Morris  had  written me so many  years ago I decided that  of all the things I would toss in the trash for recycling,  these would NOT be tossed.  I’m keeping these.  You see, in his efforts to let me know that I made a difference, HE made a difference.  You don’t see that much anymore.

We’ve Got Breaking News….As Soon as We Notify the Family That Is and The World is A Sadder Place Today

June 23, 2008

I love a good double standard. A lot of them exist but I really love the ones involving the media of all types. News organizations love to “track down the information and if necessary get in your face because the viewers/readers have a right to know”. That is until it involves something going on at a particular station or newspaper. Then they circle the wagons and order everyone to keep their mouths shut. Oh some stations will put themselves out there like the time an anchor in Jacksonville, FL was caught up in a prostitution ring or something similar. If I remember correctly, that station covered the court hearings and everything else. Now they may not have played it quite as high in the newscasts as the other stations in the market but they at least covered it. Which brings me to the point of this part of the posting. The NBC network cost a guy his job because he dared to post information before they (the network) was ready. (Thanks to BJ for sharing this tidbit from News Blues. )

Here’s the excerpt from Newsblues: Internet Broadcasting Systems has fired the employee who edited Tim Russert’s Wikipedia page, posting news of Russert’s death nearly 40 minutes before NBC made the official announcement.

The New York Times reports this morning that Russert collapsed in NBC’s Washington newsroom around 1:40 p.m. on Friday, June 13. He was treated there and then taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival at 2:23 p.m. NBC was determined to withhold the news of his death until it was certain every member of his family had been notified.

This is what BJ had to say about NBC’s move: As sad as it is, I’m struck by the hypocrisy. Would NBC wait until every member of a dead public figure’s family was notified before going with the story? Of course not. Was the employee fired for doing something wrong or fired for just getting it out there before NBC wanted it out there. Again, the hypocrisy is somewhat astounding.

I agree. How many times have local stations fallen all over themselves to “bring this information first”. Yes, there are supposed to be checks and balances. That’s the way it is supposed to work and should work. Yes, I can understand why NBC and anyone else for that matter would want to contact the victim’s family and let them know. But in these days of almost instant communication via the internet, text messaging and what-not, the chances of you getting scooped on something big happening within your own organization has increased greatly. NBC should apologize or at least help the hapless and now “former Internet Broadcast System employee” find a new job. Afterall, how many newsrooms would love to have a go-getter like that who shows some initiative.

The world will be less funny from now on because of the passing of comic great George Carlin.  I remember the first time I heard George ( I didn’t know him but I think he would want me to call him George).  Back in the 70s, my sister in law had just bought his album “Occupation: Foole”.  We almost wore that LP out listening to it over and over.  I learned about “the seven dirty words you can’t say on TV” and “the Dozens”:…. Want to play the dozens, well the dozens is a game and the way I ……okay you get the point. Maybe it was because I was getting ready to go off to college and be on my own to some degree that I found his take on life and life’s events a breath of fresh air.  Plus, his observations on everyday activities and situations really just cracked me up.  I regret I never saw him perform live.  I think that would really have been a trip.   George Carlin, you will be missed.

The Bloodletting at Former Clear Channel Stations is Over (for now) and at Least One Local TV Station Swings an Axe of Its Own

June 20, 2008

Many thanks to some old buds of mine for giving me the heads up on more information on the cuts at Newport (formerly Clear Channel) TV. According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, the 161 people let go company wide signal the end of the cuts (for now- my comment). Here’s an excerpt from the article:“There are no further reductions planned,” said a company spokesperson in a statement Thursday. “This was a difficult but necessary step to ensure that each station has the right team to compete over the long-term.”
The Kansas City, Mo.-based Newport bought the stations last spring from Clear Channel Communications, which got out of the TV broadcast business.
Sources inside KTVX say some of the people laid off included the ABC affiliate’s program director, public affairs director, special projects director, marketing director, a nighttime newsroom editor and some floor staffers. They received no warning about the layoffs, sources said. According to the company, the Utah layoffs did not affect on-air talent.

I know that 21 people were laid off at WPTY in Memphis but I don’t know if it was across the board like in Salt Lake City. I’m still waiting for someone to get over the shock and share some information with me if they can. From the list above I can see they probably hit people with the larger paychecks (managers) and needed to keep as many worker bees as they could.

And I received a heads-up on this tidbit from News Blues about the axe falling at the Local TV operation in Norfolk, VA. It seems the new GM at WTKR (who used to be at the Raycom operation in Huntsville) gave the boot to the ND and Asst. ND at WTKR. And an on-air person from across the street in Norfolk who had waited out a one year non-compete to join WTKR and finally hired in May was given the boot by the GM there as well. I guess he just didn’t like the “cut of his jib”. Wow. Don’t let anyone tell you these aren’t tough times out there in TV land.

I was checking out some information from another blog, (this one from a former shooter at WKRN in Nashville who switched over to WTVF) and he was sharing information about what it was like to work at a Number 1 station that likes to show its appreciation to its employees. This is a portion of what he wrote: There is no Shangri-La in the news business, but as far as the treatment goes, WTVF is as fair, and reasonable, as they can possibly come. It’s also the number one station in the market, so it doesn’t spend it’s days chasing it’s tail, like a number two or three. It leads.
It has interesting perks like, “Win every show in a book? The entire staff gets a paid day off.” It happens at WTVF more than you could imagine.

Now that is appreciation. Of course i would imagine that will change as new owners will take over. In all fairness, I do remember the management DOTR popping the cork on some non-alcoholic bubbly in the studio after a win and I think they brought in the cheerleaders for the Memphis Redbirds to get everyone pumped up BEFORE a book. Most of the time we got a “pat on the back and an ‘atta-boy’ which as some will argue is still better than a sharp stick in the eye.

One poster responding to the timing of the departure of both NDs from the WTVF and KLAS operations said he found it “interesting”.  I had an anonymous source share with me this observation: it IS a date/timing issue.  Mike Cutler (news dir WTVF) & Mike Stoldal (KLAS & former WTVF news dir) both took retirement because the arbitrary date of July 1st was put in front of “eligible” employees (by LANDMARK) who’d like to OPT for early retirement. (they get continued insurance for the remaining coverage year and a few other niceties,etc)  Hey Money talks.

One final note, I have had one reader suggest a couple more folks on TV that you’ve never seen together. I can’t find that link right now but will share it as soon as I find it.

Odds and Ends on a Thursday

June 19, 2008

It appears that one of two TV stations in Memphis could soon have a sibling in Nashville.  Word has it that four suitors are wooing the folks at Landmark which owns top rated WTVF in the Music City as well as top-rated KLAS in Las Vegas.  I’m told those four suitors are Tribune, Hearst-Argyle, Local TV (which owns WREG), and Raycom (which owns WMC)  and that final offers have reportedly been made for acquisition.  Rumor has it (and I emphasize RUMOR since no honchos will talk about this right now) is that Raycom is the leading contender.  That would be a great feather in the cap of Raycom.  Plus Raycom already has a huge presence in the Southeast.  What that would mean to WTVF’s current operating situation, I can’t say as I’ve never worked for a Raycom station.

And speaking of Nashville, I see that the parent company of one Nashville station (WKRN) makes financial news and it’s not good.  According to an article from the San Francisco Business News,   :Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook on parent Young Broadcasting Inc. to negative because the company hasn’t yet been able to sell (KRON, it’s former powerhouse station in San Francisco) and is running low on cash. I was told that Young’s stock is selling somewhere around 17 cents per share or at least in that general area.  It will be interesting to see what shakes out of all of this.

Would the Last Person to Leave Peabody Place in Downtown Memphis Please Turn Off the Lights and (new) We have Reports of Several Layoffs at WPTY!

June 18, 2008

I’m adding this to the top after my initial posting. I’ve had a report of layoffs at WPTY. The information was shared in one of the comments. Check it out. I have no further information at this time. Now on with our regularly scheduled comment…………..

It seemed like a great idea and plans had been in the works for years to get tax breaks, grants, government money and whatever to create Peabody Place as part of the on-going effort to revitalize the downtown Memphis area. When construction began the GM at WREG at the time couldn’t wait to create a presence there as well. Part of this was due to the historical connection of WREG to The Peabody Hotel. WREC Radio and later WREC TV operated out of the basement of the Peabody Hotel for years and eventually the TV operation was sold and a new facility was created on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River just south of the Holiday Inn Rivermont (now the Rivermark condos). The call letters were also changed to WREG. The GM at WREG always looked back on those early days of WREC as the golden age/days of the station and wanted to once again tie WREG to the Peabody name. What better way to do it than to create a WREG presence in the new Peabody Place. Not only would the new “Live at 9” show air live from within PP, they would also create a small, glassed-in studio for the 4-o’clock and 4:30 news shows. People shopping would be able to stop by and stare or watch or act-the-fool, or whatever people do when a live broadcast is taking place, ratings would climb through the roof, it would help promote the station, it would help promote Peabody Place, it would cure the ills of the world and it would give us “peace with honor” for Mom, apple pie and the girl I left behind. (Okay, I made up the last two things). Seriously, it seemed like it would be a win-win situation. Initially the people flocked to PP. My lovely and talented bride and I would swing through there on our way back from a Redbirds game or when family was in town, we’d stop by there. We found it was a great place to catch a movie.

Then it turned into a typical mall/daycare where parents dropped off their kids and let them run wild. We discovered we couldn’t watch movies there as these kids considered the theaters their personal living room, talking to each other, to the screen, on their cell phones and the ushers/theater people declined to do anything about it. So we stopped watching movies there. We found when we wanted to just walk around in Peabody Place, we were faced with loud children with poor manners who bumped and pushed their way by and so we decided it wasn’t worth our time to walk around. Apparently others thought the same thing and they stopped coming by too. Shops and eateries began to close giving others less reason to stop by. It was what we call in the aviation community a “graveyard spiral”. Now I see that one of the hold-outs, Dan McGuiness Pub is pulling up its shamrocks and heading for greener pastures. I haven’t been in Peabody Place for a while but I would imagine that Live @ 9 is still one of the most visible activities in the mall which as I understand is being converted into suites and other living quarters for the Peabody Hotel. I wonder how much longer WREG will have a presence there especially as construction gets underway to convert shop space into living space. I’m not sure if WREG is paying for space in PP or if PP is paying WREG to be there. I would imagine that with the new owners (Local TV) watching every penny that if money is coming out of their pocket, then they too will leave. That would leave a possible problem as to what to do with Live @ 9 which has some decent numbers. They could always shoot in the second studio at WREG but that would involve taking down the Knowledge Bowl set and creating a permanent set for Live @ 9. Peabody Place provides a lot of room for the variety of guests and musical groups who appear on Live at 9 and they wouldn’t have that in the much, much smaller second studio at WREG. On the other hand, if WREG keeps a presence at PP, they can always work around the construction work and kind of make it a reality type show. Heck, once the project is finished, they can take their live cameras and crash in on guests to crank out some sort of reality show that way. Hey, if life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

And finally, another installment of “People Who Look Alike on TV”. Ever noticed you never see Andy Wise and Rod Starns in the same room, at least according to some viewers. I post, you decide.

Loud Commercials in Memphis & Tim Russert

June 15, 2008

I really do not understand what the deal is with the overly loud commercials on the TV. First let me say that I took calls for years from people, especially on weekend nights at WREG , asking why we played the commercials so much louder than the regular programming. I would always call back to master control (when we had one before they were outsourced to Norfolk, VA) and ask them if we were playing the commercials louder than normal. They would tell me the same thing: “the commercials are playing at the same volume as regular programming” and I would in turn share that information with the caller who would insist that the commercials were blasting them so much that they had to turn down the volume before regular programming would resume and they would then have to bring the volume back up. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when a dozen or more people call to complain, that something is going on with the commercials. I’ve lived with the headache of loud commercials for years until the arrival of TIVO and have been able to zip most of the loudness and annoyance. Sunday, I wasn’t parked in front of a TV set with a TIVO device and had to deal with the loudness all afternoon. I would have blamed the loud commercials on cable but I have Direct TV on that particular set and it was set to cable channels, not local TV stations so I really don’t know what the deal is on the overly loud TV commercials. Perhaps I’m the only one who has an issue with the loud commercials. Somehow I doubt it. Maybe it’s just a Memphis thing.

I want to go on the record saying that I really got distressed over the passing of Tim Russert Friday. I thought he was head and shoulders above everyone else when it came to politics. I always thought he was outstanding on “Meet the Press” and I think his presence will be sorely missed come general election time. I watched the coverage of his passing and his passing saddened me greatly. Having said that, it’s time to move on. He wasn’t God or anywhere close.  He was a TV news guy who happened to do his job very well.  I really don’t think Peter Jennings garnered this much attention when he passed.  Maybe he did and I just don’t remember it.  Granted, PJ was suffering from cancer for a while and TR died suddenly of a heart attack and he (TR) was younger to boot.  But Russert died Friday and he appeared to still be all over the news Sunday on the talk shows and such.  I’m sorry that he passed but come on folks, let him go.  Keep his memory in your heart but let’s stay focused on what’s going on in the U-S and the world.  I can’t say this with certainty but I would bet that’s what Tim Russert would say.