Archive for October 2008

Security for News People, A Reunion is a Reunion and Gum Chewers as a Backdrop.

October 28, 2008

The recent attack and death of a news anchor/reporter in Little Rock prompted me to think about security and the lack thereof in some cases for news people.  For those not up to speed on the death of 26 year old Anne Pressly , here’s a link to a news report.  While it appears that this attack may have been a random event, there are crazies out there who find that the local anchor on TV is the closest thing to a celebrity that they can get.  (Unfortunately there are anchors and reporters who think they are celebrities too but that topic is for another post).   So these viewers send things and do things to get the attention of those news people.  I was told that one female anchor at WREG used to receive photographs from men who happened to be incarcerated at the time.  Those photos ususally involved the sender’s “private” parts.  Sometimes it was a letter just asking for a date although it was not unusual for men to send letters extolling THEIR virtues and how they could “accommodate” the ladies, if you get my drift.  While female anchors and reporters seem to get more attention than the men but the men get their fair share as well from both the male and female viewers.  Since the last eleven years of my broadcasting career involved working the early morning news, security was always on my mind when I went to work.  My biggest concern was that some “ner-do-well” would be sitting in the unsecured parking lot at the station DOTR waiting for someone to show up.  More than once I had an encounter with someone as I got out of my vehicle and made my way to the security door to the newsroom.  A couple of times we called police to escort someone off the property early in the morning.   And then there was what I always considered to be the lack of security in the lobby at WREG.  I’m sure it has been rectified since I left and if it has, please update me.  But if you go to the station on Highland or the one on Union, you have to get buzzed in or get past a security person to access the newsroom.  That was not the case DOTR.  People could walk in the lobby, make a sharp turn and be in the studio/newsroom in less than a minute.  Concerns were raised and we were told it was too expensive and not feasible to create a secure area.  I always figured that if someone strolled in off the street and into the studio during a live newscast that money would suddenly be found.   Nuff said.

I attended the visitation last week for Charles Riales, the chief engineer from WREG.  I’ve always found funerals and visitations to be tough.  But I also know (after having lost my father) that in time of sorrow and grief that hearing from friends and acquaintances is a comfort.  After speaking to the family, I started making my way toward the lobby and it suddenly became a brief reunion for me.  I ran into some former co-workers and other folks I hadn’t seen in the almost four years since I left WREG.

I’m concerned that my wife is about a week away from going into withdrawal.  As a political junkie she’s been able to get her presidential political “fix” on a daily basis.  She listens to POTUS on XM radio when she isn’t in the office.  Since she has the TV blaring away with political coverage on the cable channels, I’m exposed to it as well which brings me to this point.  WHAT THE HELL ARE THE HANDLERS FOR THE CANDIDATES THINKING WHEN THEY PUT THE PEOPLE THEY CHOOSE AS A BACKDROP FOR THE SPEAKERS!!  I know they want diverse BVAs in the background.   BVAs is a marketing term I first heard about 20-years ago.   It stands for Bright, Verbal, Attractive.  That’s what looks good on the Tube.  The problem is, I think the handlers should step back and look at the overall picture.  How many times have I seen the candidates speaking and they’ve got some person, usually a BVA type and usually a young female chewing a wad of gum that would choke a horse.  I have nothing against chewing gum.  But apparently these people missed the “chew gum with your mouth closed” training session.  So there they are, masticating away like a cow chewing a cud.  It’s distracting to say the least.

And finally, I need someone to weigh in with a technical answer to my technical type question.  I’ve noticed while watching Saturday Night Live and the Thursday version of SNL that the graphics on their newscast go off both sides of my screen.  Granted, I do not have HD but I did convert the TV picture on my set from 4:3 to 16:9 to see if that changed things and it did not.  Maybe it’s just me and no one else has an issue with this.  I’ve got satellite TV and maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe I just need to forget about it and move on.  But if anyone has an explanation or also has an issue with this, please let me know.

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To Blog or Not To Blog. That WAS The Question.

October 20, 2008

I’ve wrestled over something all day Monday after a couple of phone calls and emails about the death of the chief engineer at WREG.  I finally decided that I would post something.  First, I’m keeping the family of Charles Riales in my thoughts and prayers and would hope that those who read this would do the same.  As fellow blogger Richard Thompson posted on his blog Mediaverse, details are sketchy at this writing. What we do know is that Charles was found dead in his office at WREG and he reportedly took his own life.  I’m sorry to say that I really don’t know as much about Charles as I feel that I should after my 16 years at WREG. .  He and I did chat when I wandered into the engineering area before I left WREG.  I remember asking him about how he got into the business and if memory serves me well, he told me he used to be a shop teacher I think In Georgia before moving into the broadcasting business.  Charles was quiet and had a dry sense of humor and he knew his engineering stuff as well as computers.  He was also something of an “Ironman”.  It seems to me that he never missed a day of work in the many years that he worked at WREG and was recognized for that effort during one of the Christmas parties.  He always appeared to enjoy his work and always spoke if you met in the hallways.  I remember thinking when chief engineer Jim Anhalt retired when Local TV LLC bought WREG from the NYTimes  that I was pleased to see that Charles Riales was named to the Chief Engineer spot.  It seemed like the right thing to do.  And now Charles is gone.   As I understand, grief counselors have been brought in by the company brass to help folks cope with the death of Charles Riales.  I hope they are able to help.  I’ve never been in that situation and I don’t know how I would feel if I was still working there but if it’s anything like what I feel right now, it’s not good.  Hang tough everyone Down On The River.

The Sale of a Powerhouse Station in Tennessee Augers In, and A Tip of the Hat to a Memphis TV Guy!

October 15, 2008

It appears the credit/banking crisis put the brakes on a planned TV sale in Nashville bringing everything to a screeching halt.  And I would venture a guess that the good folks at WTVF are actually breathing a sign of relief.  Here is the first line of the release: Landmark Media Enterprises, LLC has terminated the agreement to sell WTVF, Nashville to Bonten Media Group Inc. following Bonten’s notification to Landmark that due to financing issues it would not be able to close on the acquisition on time.

WTVF is the powerhouse station in Nashville and has had a running battle for years with WSMV for the top spot.  It would have been THE largest market the Bonten Media Group owned with most of the stations in much smaller markets.  Here’s a list of those: Bonten Media Group currently operates sixteen* full power, low power and digital television stations in eight markets, including: WCYB (NBC), WEMT* (FOX) and CW-4 (CW-DT), Tri-Cities, TN/VA; WCTI (ABC), WFXI/WYDO* (FOX) and ENC-TV (IND-DT), Greenville-New Bern, NC; KRCR (ABC), Chico-Redding, CA; KTXS (ABC), KTES-LP (Telemundo) and CW Abilene (CW-DT), Abilene, TX; KECI/KCFW (NBC), Missoula, MT; KTVM (NBC), Butte-Bozeman, MT; KTXE-LP (ABC), San Angelo, TX; and KAEF (ABC), Eureka, CA.

I don’t know this for a fact but I think it’s safe to say the climate around WTVF would change dramatically with the new owners.  I don’t think there would be a large infusion of cash for things such as more HD gear and the high tech toys along with the budget that keeps WTVF running at the head of the pack.  So, for now, Landmark Media will hang on  to this station and to my knowledge, there is still no buyer for KLAS in Las Vegas which is also a powerhouse station.  What happens now?  I’m not sure many operations are looking to buy unless they get a property at a bargain basement price and I doubt seriously if Landmark is going to give away anything for less than top dollar.  Why would they want to.

A tip of the hat to Austen Onek, weather guy/ meteorologist for WREG.  I’ve known Austen for more years than he probably wants to remember.  Austen is still the only guy I know who signs off on his emails in Latin.  Also, his sense of humor is as dry as a good martini.  Why am I heaping praise on AO.  Because Austen took time from his schedule to show up for the annual Community Leader Breakfast at The Bodine School in Germantown where I volunteer my time.  AO’s presence was greatly appreciated by the kids, the teachers and the faculty and by me.  Last year, Cameron Harper of WPTY/WLMT was invited and received a tour of the school.  CH also rates high on my list.  He also brought a videographer and they aired a segment on The Bodine School.  There were others from the local media invited.  They DIDN’T show up.  Hey, stuff happens.  I understand that.  But it really is a big deal for those NOT in the media to see those IN the media show up.  It warms the cockles of my heart.  So again, thanks Austen.  You made some kids happy and you made me proud.

Rumors of Pending Layoffs in the Memphis Media, Why TV People Need to be Nice in Public, And An Encounter with a Former Member of Memphis Area Broadcasting

October 10, 2008

A couple of weeks ago I had a person with what I consider the appropriate connections tell me that a big layoff announcement was forthcoming in the Memphis news business.  The business?  The Commercial Appeal.  This person told me that the announcement was slated for October 23rd.  I’m not sure of why that particular date is of importance but that is when the axe is supposed to drop.  Mere rumor?.  Perhaps.  But I think it’s safe to say that there has been an air of uneasiness over on Union for a while now.  I’ve heard for years from people on the inside about how there’s a whole lot of middle management at the CA and that some people find it’s hard to lean back in their chairs because some have a lot of knives stuck in their backs.  The recent resizing of the CA and the “thinness” of some editions makes the paper look like it doesn’t have long for this world.  Still, as a local TV manager once told me, the amount of the money the CA makes is still tremendous or at least was five years ago, compared to what a TV station in Memphis makes.  And in light of the recent economic activity on Wall Street, I wouldn’t be surprised by anything that happens in the news business these days.

I stopped by a midtown business to get the oil changed in my old Pathfinder and after getting the good folks started on my vehicle, I stepped into the waiting room.  Sitting there was a middle aged black woman.  As I sat down, she remarked that I looked a lot like Joe Larkins from WREG.  We started talking and she asked what I was doing now and that she always wondered what happened to me.  Without prompting, she then told me that she didn’t watch local TV in the morning anymore.  I asked why and she said that she worked in the Memphis City school system and that one of the people on the station she used to watch on a regular basis made an appearance at that school.  Apparently she felt that TV person had a  condescending attitude toward the people at the school.  Real or perceived, this apparently was enough for this particular person to turn away from that station.  She went on to say that the co-anchor from that same station also made an appearance and there was an initial impression that this person also had an attitude.  The woman went on to say that was not the case afterall.   This just goes to show that for those folks on TV who still don’t get it, that people are judging you by everything that you do and that there is always somebody, somewhere watching.  And you may be able to sell it on TV everyday but if you don’t always sell it everyday that you are out and about then don’t expect your audience to stay loyal.  The viewing audience has come to expect the person on TV who comes off as warm and friendly on the tube to be the same way when they meet the public.  If they are not, the public is not happy.  And with  the tough economy and ever shrinking audiences, every little bit helps.

I was over at the Pink Palace shooting some video and ran into Rhonda Cloud.  It was the first time that I had met her face to face.  Rhonda is the PR/Marketing person for the Memphis Museum system and an escapee from the local broadcasting in Memphis (radio).  She tells me she still does some voicework and I think does some radio stuff still but her full time gig is the PR/Marketing thing.  I asked her if she missed the broadcasting thing.  She said she had actually left radio and then gotten back into it after two years and then got back out of it.   She said she’s still a news junkie but doesn’t miss the radio thing.  She’s quick with a quip and I found her quite entertaining to work with on my project.  Congratulations on someone who has proven there is life after broadcasting.

A Note of a Birth, A Note About Survival and A Note About an Annoyance.

October 6, 2008

I’m starting at the end and working my way back to the top on this post.

As someone who has worked on a lengthy newscast (more than an hour long) I know there are just so many ways to say things and to transition to the next story without being  repetitively redundant.  I know it can be taxing for the producer AND the anchors (if she or he helps write that is) to come up with a different way to say something.  As a former anchor I had more than one flash of deja vu while on set as I thought I had somehow been caught up in my own endless loop of Groundhog Day.  Having said that, I found that on my primary source for weather these days (The Weather Channel) that those happy-go-lucky weather anchors wear out the phrase “That’s right”.  “That’s right” has to be one of the most over-used and un-necessary  transition in news and weather.  Consider this exchange:

Anchor 1: We’ve got some changes in store for the forecast!

Anchor 2: That’s right, some changes are coming and we’re going to tell you about them

Anchor 1: That’s right and that’s coming up right after the break.

The message that “That’s right” sends to me is that the 1st Anchor must have a habit of getting things wrong so the 2nd Anchor’s job is to confirm a simple and basic fact and that without saying “That’s right” there may be some question as to whether the 1st Anchor has a clue about anything in the world.  Then there is the possibility that the anchors are “word counters”.  These are anchors who worry that their partner on the desk gets to say more words or lines than they do and therefore ANY thing that comes out of the mouth is reason for rejoicing because he or she can now claim to have uttered more words on a newscast.  Some folks who have never worked in the news business may be thinking that I’m making up this scenario.  I think there are enough producers and anchors who will back me up on the truth of this.

Why is this such a big deal.  This morning as I listened to TWC I counted five “that’s right” from three anchors in the span of about ten minutes.  Is it a trivial thing? Perhaps.  But now that I’ve pointed it out, start counting the number of times you hear that phrase in the course of your local newscast.  I think you will be absolutely amazed.  That’s right Joe. Moving on.

I flew my wife and mother-in-law to Houston over the weekend to attend a wedding.  My wife was torn about this as the wedding started at 5pm Saturday which as luck would have it is the same time that her beloved Vanderbilt Commodores were playing host to the Auburn War Eagles/Tigers/Plainsmen.  (Trivia question: What other team in the South also has three mascot names).  Jamey, you aren’t allowed to answer. What made this such a big deal is that Vandy (yes Vandy) is undefeated and if the ‘Dores win another game or two, they could be “bowl eligible”. ESPN even had “Game day” at Vandy which I’m sure is a sign of the Apocalypse. But on with the point of this post.  The relatives we were staying with (Pam Reiland and her husband Mike) were feeling Bethany’s pain so Mike Reiland went to his “man cave”, set up the DVR to record the game in HD.  After a good time was had by all at the wedding reception, we drove back to their abode and Mike showed us how HE watches a game.  He started with the opening kick-off and then started zipping through commercials and the inconsequential stuff until he saw a score change.  Then he would rewind to a point prior to the big play and we would watch in real time.  Once the big action was over, he would proceed to a higher speed again.  We ended up watching most of the fourth quarter of the game in real time although we still zipped through the commercials.  Bottom line. Vandy won.  Sorry Jamey.  And while I’ve used SD TIVO for about a year to watch an hour long program in 45 minutes, I never had tried this on a sporting event.  Some say I missed the point of watching a complete game in real time.  Maybe, but if the game is over, watching it with a DVR is like watching it with enchanced highlights of the game on a sportscast.  Plus, this was in HD and I was amazed at the quality of even  the SLO-MO.  Heck, I might even start watching baseball on TV now that I can zip through all of the head-nodding, crotch-scratching and tobacco juice spitting and just concentrate on the action.  And finally,

Congratulations to Tommy and Yvette Stafford.  Long-time TV folks in the Memphis area will remember the work of T and Y in the market.  They moved off to a beautiful area of Virginia and since both were tired of the direction they felt TV news was going they started a “good news” newspaper called Nelson County Life.  Tommy put me on the subscription list and Bethany and I both enjoy reading it even though we’ve never been to that area.  On top of everything else, the folks in the area have embraced T & Y and their efforts.  Well, there must have been some other embracing going on as T&Y are now the proud parents of a boy, Adam Thomas Stafford.  For more information and pictures, check out this link.

Okay, I’m off the soapbox.

Closed Captioning on Local TV News

October 2, 2008

The presidential and vice presidential debates are big around our humble abode aka Larksmith Manor.  As I’ve explained in previous posts my wife is a political junkie.  While I think the political process got started way too early this cycle, she’s in there every day in front of the TV or radio getting her political freak on.  Since I’m a team player, I wanted to do MY part to get the household ready for the Palin/Biden debate so I put in a call to the Memphis Pizza Cafe in Midtown to place my order.  You know you order pizza way too much when halfway through the order,  the person taking down the information finishes your order for you.  When I arrived, the pie wasn’t finished cooking so I sat down in the bar to enjoy an adult beverage.  The waitress asked me if I wanted the usual, which I did, and again it dawned on me that perhaps I sit at that particular bar too often.  When I mentioned this to the young lady waiting on me, she said “No, it’s just good service”.  Okay, I like her explanation better than mine.

So there I was enjoying a frosty cold adult beverage and glanced up on the TV screen to my left and just coming on was the 6 o’clock news with Joe and Donna.  Someone had muted the sound so I was left with watching the closed captioning.  I then started reading the lead news story about the Mayor of Memphis and the convention center brouhaha along with Joe and Donna when I started seeing time code numbers and then saw the abbreviation “ok” in front of one soundbite.  Now I’m sure those who need and read closed captioning  were probably wondering “hey what did the mayor mean by saying 22:44:01” or whatever the number was that came on the screen.  During a later soundbite, the time codes for the start and end of yet another bite came up.  Perhaps this was a late story and the reporter putting it together just cut and pasted and didn’t get a chance to clean it up.  Hey, it happens.  So I watched the next couple of stories and didn’t see any more time code cues until a story about a DUI crackdown in Tipton and Fayette Counties came up.  And once again, there were time code cues.  Yah, in the grand scheme of things, having the numbers mixed in with the closed captioning is not that big of a deal and some might say I’m splitting hairs.  But for those who can’t depend on the sound of a TV report, a clean caption is important.  Having extraneous crap mixed in is like having bad audio.  You really want to avoid it IMHO.

Of course I share this tidbit because when we received our first newsroom computer system at WREG back in late 1989 or early 1990 (was that the NewStar system?) I remember thinking that the whole closed captioning system was going to be a real pain in the rear.  But we were already required to write out our sound bites in news packages, vo/sots and Sony sandwiches (inserts for live shots) so that the person editing and the person running audio would know when and where to cut audio so it wasn’t that big of a deal.  There was the added bonus that if the video piece crapped out and the audio never ran then the anchor could at least sum up the soundbite.  on top of all of this, I remember getting letters from those with hearing problems thanking WREG for having the CC.  On the downside, viewers found out just how lousy spellers people in the TV news business (including me) really are and I’m not talking about name supers.

Fast forward to the last few years I was at the station DOTR when I was anchoring the morning news and I can’t tell you the number of stories that were forwarded from the night before that had only the first few words of the soundbite and the last few words of the soundbite written in.  That left the hearing imparied SOL on the content of the comments.  I brought this to the attention of the dayside and nightside managers on several occasions and ironically it fell on deaf ears.  I don’t know if they still do that DOTR since I haven’t seen closed captioning there since I left in late 2004.

Again, this might now seem like a big deal but as the baby boomer population ages and a growing number find that listening to all that rock n’ roll at full volume for so long has caused some to have diminished hearing and others forced to wear hearing aids, the whole closed captioning thing takes on a bigger meaning in the coverage of the news.  And the problem will continue to grow with the younger folks riding around in their cars with their stereos cranked wide open.  That is if they still watch the news at all.  Now, if we can just get this spelling thing nailed down…..

Odds and Ends on a Wednesday Afternoon

October 1, 2008

Some good news on the Sarah Palin name conversion site.  It’s back. The site went down not long after I had linked to it and I had surmised that someone had gotten to the publisher of said site to pull it.  Well, I checked it out again and found it was indeed up and running again so those of you who want to see what your name would have been in the governor of Alaska named you, have at it.  Just click on this location.

A former TV reporter from Memphis finds herself named in a lawsuit in the Twin Cities area.  Esme Murphy, a go-get-um reporter for WHBQ when they were owned by RKO was named in that suit involving a guy who tried a novel way of getting some decent money for a house he owned in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area.  You can find more on the story here. I ran into Ms Murphy out on the street and she really was a tough reporter.  I also remember that she scored an interview with Congressman Harold Ford Senior after he was acquitted in the big Butcher banking related trial.  She left everyone else including me in her dust on that.  It was quite a coup in my opinion.  I think she was fired from WHBQ but landed a job at WCCO in the Twin Cities where she has been since and apparently does a very good job up that way.  I see in her bio that she is a hockey mom.  Maybe she has a run for governor or even higher office out there if she wants.

And finally, I haven’t confirmed this independently but had an email sent to me that a man named  Omhari Sengstacke arrested outside of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s house may have a Memphis connection. I had received a post right after the incident sharing that possible connection. Blogger David F. Diamond wrote me this note: Ethel Sengstacke tells me her nephew, Omhari L. Sengstacke, is the Sengstacke arrested in Chicago near Obama’s home a few days ago and charged with being felon with weapon, etc…Again, I have not spoken to Ethel to get this confirmed and I’m sure if this is not the case, I will hear of it right away.  Hey, we can’t choose our relatives and what they may or may not do is completely out of our control.  Besides, the Sengstacke name is held in very high regard in the Memphis area with their history with the Tri-State Defender.  I always enjoyed working with Ethel and learned early on that when Ethel was working the Assignment Desk at WREG that if she didn’t know a person or know how to get in touch with they probably weren’t worth knowing.  She really did seem to know everybody.  Plus, when it came to news, she was alway pretty level headed and didn’t get caught up in the uproar about what passes for breaking news these days unless it was actually worth getting excited about.  So if this guy is connected to the Sengstacke family of Memphis then that is a shame since his action has tarnished a good family name.