Archive for January 2009

We Survived the Weather Yet Again, Ursula Proves She’s Ready for Prime Time, and We’re Back on for The BIG Digital Switchover

January 29, 2009

I for one was glad to see the bulk of the winter nastiness pass to the north of us.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love to see some snow but ice is always bad news and it proved to be yet again.  As some of the faithful readers of this blog know, most of my family (brothers and sisters and mother) reside in extreme Western Kentucky in that area known as the Jackson Purchase.  Well, it turns out that the largest city in that area (Paducah) was Ground Zero for storm damage.  Paducah by the way is the largest town between Monkey’s Eyebrow and Possum Trot.  And yes, both of those communities can be found on a map of Kentucky.  The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore was doing satellite shots from Paducah before the weather hit and was there for two full days.  In fact, having Jim Cantore show up in your town is a lot like having Mike Wallace (in his prime) show up on your doorstep.  It’s just bad news somehow, someway.   My younger brother is an electric lineman for a rural electric co-op and he said while the damage could have been worse, his company placed an order for FIVE THOUSAND utility poles to replace those that had snapped off at the ground.  And that doesn’t cover ALL of Western Kentucky, just about a fourth of it.  He also tells me that even if his group gets all the power lines back up, there is no electricity because the lines from the Tennessee Valley Authority are down.  He says it may be three weeks for some people to get their electrical service restored.  Yes, I know, other areas in Northeast Arkansas, Southeast Missouri and up through the Ohio River Valley got slammed but so far I haven’t talked to anybody other than family members so I can’t relate other tales of woe.  Yes, the Memphis area dodged the bullet and I’m quite proud of that.

Got a note a couple of days ago that Ursula Madden is the new co-anchor of the WMC evening news, taking over the chair after Donna Davis was given the boot.  I’ve only had the chance once to meet Ms. UM and that was when she interviewed me as part of a story she was working on concerning the Pyramid arena.  She struck me as a very pleasant person.  I’ve watched her on-air work off and on over the years and she has a good presence.  I think she will be a good evening side fit for WMC.  Also, I think she will find the evening working hours a lot more enjoyable than the early morning wake-calls that she mentioned in the newspaper Thursday.

It seems that the on-again, off-again switch from analog to digital is ON again for good.  I read that Congress decided NOT to delay the switch as some had hoped.  I say some because I think most broadcasters are ready to pull the plug on analog.  Plus, I was told that for the first time in my memory the TV stations won’t have a February book.  This is due to the switchover to digital which theoretically would skew the numbers. At least that’s what one reliable source told me.  Perhaps The GM will weigh in on this with clarification. That means for the first time staffers in newsrooms can take vacation time during February.  That is if anyone can afford to take a vacation.

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Observations About Media on a Monday

January 26, 2009

There’s no such thing as bad publicity about a TV station as long as they get the call letters right.”  Those words are from a former news director from WREG during my tenure there.  I’ve thought about what he said on a number of occasions since I first heard the phrase  and I will have to beg to differ on his observation.  I think there IS such a thing as bad publicity.

The most recent case of a local news person finding himself/herself as part of the news came to my attention as I read the Commercial Appeal this Monday morning.  The news article focused on the John Elkington who manages the city owned entertainment district known as Beale Street.  Mr. Elkington is a nice guy, I’ve run into him off and on over the years and even more so since he married Valerie Calhoun, a fixture on WHBQ Fox 13’s Morning show for years now.  Heck, Elkington and I are linked on our Facebook page.  (I’m sure he regrets that now.)  I’ve always thought he was a nice guy and still do.  But the article in the C-A mentions about how he transferred some property to his wife’s name. Again, there is nothing wrong with that.  People do this kind of thing all the time.  Having said that, we all know how much TV newsrooms depend on the local newspapers for facts, background, heck pretty much all of the information from the story.  TV stations tend to just shoot video, pull pictures from websites, maybe get some sound even if it is “no-comment” from the people involved or perhaps some video of someone walking to his or her car to round out the story.  In this particular newspaper story, Ms. Calhoun is mentioned twice.  Now I haven’t seen the coverage among Memphis TV stations but I would pretty much bet that Ms. Calhoun’s purchase of the office building in question for ten bucks plays a big part in the TV coverage.  My questions:  How are the competing stations handling this?  Are they identifying her as “Valerie Calhoun, co-host of the very popular morning show on Fox 13 news” or are they just referring to her as “an on-air personality of a local TV station and she doesn’t work here?” This by the way is the second time WHBQ’s Morning show has had a high profile member in the news.  Remember Ron Meroney, the likeable co-host of the Fox 13 morning show was arrested a couple of years ago on a charge from Maryland for statutory rape of a child under 14.   As I said, there IS such a thing as bad publicity.  Moving on.

“If it weren’t for bad news, we’d have no news at all. ”  I heard that expression once or twice and there is some truth to that.  That’s what seems to be coming from the business sector these days and the ripple effect is really starting to show up at TV stations.  Allbritton is the latest to swing the budget axe and even those stations that haven’t dipped into the old coin purse to cough up some cash for TV stations over the past couple of years are taking it on the chin.  Not many people are buying things these days, advertising is down, therefore income at stations is down and the belt-tightening is serious.  These are the times when you want to really be showing how versatile you are at TV stations.  And while there are some working in the newsrooms who turn their noses up at the One Man Band/Backpack Journalist gig, I think you will see more and more stations using that approach to news coverage.  Granted, there are still times when you need a team to cover something and if you want to really show your I-Team Investigator get into the face of somebody, you need a separate shooter.  The video always plays much better when someone is about to get the bejeezus kicked out of them when it’s being shot by someone other than the kicker or the kickee.  Plus, it can be hard covering hard news in a OMB/BJ situation.  But, people are doing it everyday and I think you will see more people do it as the times get tougher.

Finally, it’s been about a week or so since the big brouhaha broke about the “consultant” for FedEx who got busted after complaining about the city Memphis.  For those of you not quite up to speed on this, in a nutshell, the consultant type person was here in Memphis to bascially bring some folks at FE, which happens to be the city’s largest employer, up to speed on how to use the blogosphere to promote the company.  This consultant then went on his Twitter page to trash the Bluff City.  A FE employee ran across the comment and sent a memo of his/her own  to senior members of FE and senior members of the consultant’s  company and then THE WHOLE THING was leaked to the local newspaper.  Bottom line….be careful what you write.  It could come back to haunt you.  An aside to this whole fracas, one person in Arizona plans to use this incident as an example for his class that he teaches.  I’m sure others will use this example as well.

A New (and Historic) Day Dawns in the U.S.

January 19, 2009

I generally try to keep politics out of my blog but today I am making an exception.  More on that in a moment.  When it comes to politics, I consider myself a centrist.  Depending on the issues and where the person judging me might be standing, I might lean toward being a moderate conservative or a moderate liberal.  And this is a far cry from the very conservative atmosphere in which I grew up.

Having said all of this, I am excited to see our new president sworn in.  I know there are some who are grumbling about Barack Obama and some can’t wait to see him fail.  But policies and politics aside for a moment, we are witnessing history and there appears (for the moment anyway) a new excitement among people I chat with.  It’s like when we get that unexpected snowfall, or the first real day of spring arrives.  There is a feeling of electricity in the air.  Folks are excited about the new president and the hopes and dreams he inspires appear to be contagious.  Face it, these days, with the economy in the doldrums, people left and right losing their jobs, our 401Ks worth half as much as they were a year or so ago and two wars being waged overseas just to name a few problems we face in America, everyone is looking for something good to hang on to.  Granted, some see the arrival of the new president and his policies and politics as the proverbial “Second Coming”.  I don’t go that far but I do see his arrival as what I hope is a change in the direction our country is heading.  And that “hope” is what I’m counting on these days.  I guess I’ve reached the age where I’m more concerned for my two sons and their spouses and my granddaughter who will turn four in April.  Don’t get me wrong, I still worry about the future for my lovely and talented bride and me but I really worry about the future for the younger generation.

So regardless of your particular politics, for now, let’s wish good thoughts for our incoming president who is the leader of our entire nation and not just one political party.  Let’s wish Mr. Obama the best of luck as he becomes our Commander in Chief.  Let’s watch him get sworn in as the nation’s 44th President and lets keep not only Mr. Obama in our thoughts and prayers but lets pray for our country.  We have a tough road ahead of us and we need to all pull together if we are going to get through what lies ahead.

God Bless America.

Odds and Ends on a Cold Thursday Afternoon

January 15, 2009

Yes it is a cold day in Memphis but things are heating up a bit regarding the city’s mayor.  It’s been the popular topic just about everywhere I’ve been.  I was even asked my opinion Wednesday morning in a man-on-the-street interview. Actually it wasn’t on the street that I ran into Earl Ferrell , now working as the man-about-town for Fox 13 News’ Morning show.  He asked me if I thought “hizzonner”  would still be in office a year from now and I shared my thoughts.  (As I have said for years, my opinion and 86 cents might get you a cup of java at McDonalds).   This Thursday morning my wife was chatting with one of her clients who wanted to know if I enjoyed being on TV again.  (She saw the clip) Actually I didn’t catch the interview this morning so I don’t know how it looked.  Perhaps I should remember that it is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re a fool than open it and remove all doubt.  I guess that was my 15-seconds of fame instead of 15 minutes.  Moving on.

I saw the big splash across the top of the fold of the Commercial Appeal on the undercover cop who posed as a high school student in Millington and helped bust real students selling drugs.   The story was interesting but what really caught my attention  was the final couple of paragraphs that fell under the sub-headline of Insightful Advice.  The undercover officer basically suggested that parents keep a closer watch on their “lil darlins”.  The officer suggested that parents read their teenager’s text messages and monitor their MySpace and Facebook pages.  She also suggested uniforms be required to keep  students from being able to hide stuff on their persons.

This undercover effort reminds me of something that a TV station in Lexington, KY did about 30 years ago and I’m sure other stations who wanted to put forth the effort for some serious investigative pieces have done.  This station hired a young black female reporter but did not let her go on the air.  Instead, she enrolled in a local high school and I think it was done WITHOUT the knowledge of anyone at the school.  Remember, this was done before lipstick cams and other hidden cameras that were cheap enough and small enough for most medium to small market stations.  To show that she was actually in the school, news crews would go out to the school to interview the principal or some teacher on some story and the undercover reporter/student would appear in the background so the station would have proof that she was there.   When the student finally “came out” she put together a series of reports that left the school administration in a high state of pissivity and it seems to me that there was a big crackdown on the bad things that were going on in the schools.  I’m not sure what the legality of such a thing would be these days but can you imagine the planning that would take place to tackle such an endeavor these days.  And that’s if anyone had the intestinal fortitude to do it.  Moving on…

I want to thank everyone who has responded to my query on whether I should continue to blog.  Mr. Goss, I was quite pleased to hear from you as well.  I also want to share a question that was posed to me by way of email.  I didn’t see this particular incident on WREG and perhaps someone out there can share some insight as to what, if anything is going on with this.  Here is the email:

Hey Joe…
My great aunt called me all upset tonight.  She was watching the news (channel 3) and said Richard Ransom and Jim Jaggers got in a fight of words and then Claudia Barr was the only one on the news.  She wondered what happened?  We did notice they were back on the air tonight.
Do we need to be looking for a nice nursing home for Auntie or did something really happen?

So, if anyone can shed some light on this, please let me know.  If you don’t want to post a reponse on this blog, email me at joelarkins1@yahoo.com.
Finally I had some folks asking me about the health of Penny Piper (my wife’s name for our beloved Piper Warrior aircraft).  I stopped by earlier this week to pick up the engine which is undergoing a major overhaul after one of the cylinders started to come off in flight during a trip to Nashville.  I’m sharing a photograph.  Please keep thinking good thoughts about Penny.  The powers that be say she may be up and running as good as new in about a month or so.  We’ll see.
penny-piper

Let’s Do That Digital Conversion Thing Already, Do I Get a Credit for This Particular Idea? Plus, I Have a Question about a Show that Used to Air in Memphis.

January 12, 2009

I read that there is a suggestion/proposal to delay the switchover by TV stations from an analog to digital signal.  It seems there is a big concern that eight million households (I think that was the number I saw) won’t be ready for the conversion and will be left in the dark.  A spokesman for at least one TV station in the Memphis area (WKNO ) has indicated they don’t want to see a delay as they are building a new facility and analog doesn’t figure into the equation.  They say delaying the switchover means they have to make accommodations for analog and it would be expensive.  I say go with the original deadline.  If I’m not mistaken (The GM, help me out here) this deadline for switching over has already been moved at least once if not a couple of times over the past few years from its original target date. Yes, some folks will be left behind but it’s not like no one has been warning them.  I say this,  and those who know me know that I am NOT a person on the cutting edge when it comes to technology.  Some say it’s not fair to those eight million households.  Hey, nobody said life was fair.  Besides, maybe some of those in these households will rediscover reading which might have an impact on community involvement which might in turn have an effect on the leadership of the community which might in turn make a difference in what is happening in the city, the state, the country and the world.  Nahhhh.  Get converters for them.

Before Christmas I posted on the similarity appearance-wise between the mascot of Mad Magazine and the governor of Illinois. Imagine my surprise when a short time after that I ran across the editorial cartoon of Bill Day in the Commercial Appeal.  For those who didn’t see it, here was Mr. Day’s offering:

bill-day-cartoonNow I understand that it is entirely possible that Mr. Day came up with this idea on his own but what are the odds?  I’m just saying that’s all.  Do I get a cut on this somehow.

Finally, this question comes from phil:

were you at wrec when they had a children’s show on sunday morning called “safari”–it featured the weather girl cindy whipple and the director of the memphis zoo–do you remember his name?

It’s me again.  Can anyone help Phil out with an answer here?  If you can, post it here.  Now back to your regular programming.


To Blog or Not to Blog

January 11, 2009

To blog or not to blog.  That is the question and as of this writing I’m still formulating an answer.

I started this blog in late December 2005 about one year after I left employment at WREG.  At the time my wife asked me why I was bothering to write on a blog and more importantly, was I going to make any money doing this.  I never intended to do this for pay and as to the “why”, I was inspired by my good friend and former co-worker Jamey Tucker who was blogging from his home in Southaven.  I was writing posts sometimes every day or at least every other day during the week.  I wasn’t sure if anybody would bother reading what I wrote but there were some folks who checked in on a regular basis.  I tried to keep the focus on the local electronic media and tried to answer a few questions from those who just had questions about the behind the scenes activities at the local stations.  It was kind of like reporting and I even managed to break a few stories along the way.   It was generally fun even when I had some ner’-do-wells who would respond with hate-filled diatribes which usually questioned my ancestral lineage or suggested that I do something which I still think is physically impossible unless one is something of a contortionist.

The truth is, blogging takes work to keep it interesting and for about the last nine months,  it seems the well has started to run dry.  This coupled with a bad economy which means I have to work twice as hard to find work for my video company means I have less time to blog.  I’ve talked to a couple of friends as I discussed possibly pulling the plug on this blog and there seemed to be several schools of thought.  (One): Just post a blog when thnere is something interesting going on or (Two):  Just shut it down and do it quickly or (Three) Suck it up and try to write something interesting.   It doesn’t help that my circle of acquaintances and sources seems to be dwindling as people move on or have gotten laid off or have been told NOT to communicate with me.  So, there is my dilemma and where I go from here I’m not sure.  I’ll keep you posted but I can tell you that a decision will be coming in the next week or so.

On to other stuff.  I had someone ask me if anything exciting happened over the holidays and I can tell you it was pretty much run-of-the-mill except for a little excitement of having engine problems while flying my mother-in-law to Nashville and being forced to land in Jackson, TN.  This was just before Christmas and the plane is still parked in Jackson, much to my chagrin.  And my wife and I traveled to Nashville to see Vanderbilt win its first bowl game in her life time.  Oh, and I stopped by WREG this past week for the first time since I left back in December 2004.  I only got as far as the lobby but that’s as far as my business needed to take me.  I was asked if I wanted a tour of the facilities.  I declined.

One final note, my heart-felt sympathies go out to the family of Scott Sutherland, chief photographer at WREG.  His father passed away December 29 after battling cancer.  I didn’t find out until well after the fact and missed the services.  I can appreciate what Scott is going through in that it was three years ago this month that my father died of cancer.  There are still times I wish I could talk to my father just to ask him a question or his advice on an issue.  So keep Scott and his family in your thoughts and prayers.