Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Wonderful Carol

Continuing an annual tradition, I enjoyed watching both "A Christmas Carol" and "It's A Wonderful Life" (although I did watch, for the first time ever, the George C. Scott version of "'Carol" this year instead of my favorite, the 1970 musical film "Scrooge.")  I also found a scholarly essay recently on-line comparing the themes of both stories as commentaries on redemption and second chances.  The essay made some interesting arguments but also missed, I feel, a key difference:  that Scrooge, an essentially bad guy who lived a life of unhappiness, lived a very different life from George Bailey, a basically nice guy who made many friends and sacrificed his happiness for others.  Scrooge needed a "spiritual" guide to point out his errors and make reforms while George's spiritual mentor pointed out the good things to boost George's self image.  Both, we assume, amended their lives--Scrooge externally through his treatment of others and George internally through a new found self-realization of the source of true happiness.  So, "yes" redemption is a concurrent theme but for different reasons and with differing outcomes.
Speaking of second chances, I find it ironic just how much "It's A Wonderful Life" represents rebirth.  As many know, the movie was a critical success but a bit of a financial flop when it came out in 1946.  So much so that in 1974, when its original 28-year copyright expired, the studio felt so little about it that it neglected to renew the movie's copyright--an act that, essentially, consisted of filing a short paper and sending a nominal check.  By 1975, "Wonderful Life" became public domain right smack dab in the middle of the rise of cable television and the expansion of the UHF dial--an era when plenty of broadcasters were looking for cheap, if not free, public domain things to fill air-time.  For the next 18-years, it was a free-for-all and Wonderful Life was showed dozens of times every December by any and all networks and cable channels.  Furthermore, no less than twenty companies released the movie on video cassette, often finding its way to the dollar bin at the local drug store  The period was successful reviving interest in the film, establishing a another holiday tradition and introducing a black and white classic film to a new generation.
In 1993, Republic Pictures, which had acquired the library of the now defunct Liberty Films, saw dollar signs flying through the air and sought to re-acquire the copyright to the now valuable property.  While the film itself could not be re- copyrighted, the studio's lawyers cleverly figured out a back door way to lock down film--examining old contracts, they discovered they still owned the musical soundtrack rights and, more important, they owned the film rights to the original story from which it was based--a forgotten short story called "The Greatest Gift."  By exercising these rights, no one could sell "It's A Wonderful Life" without permission unless they rearranged the entire plot and replaced the music.  Those claims were asserted in court and only NBC has the limited broadcast rights.  
So "It's a Wonderful Life" is lucrative today because a studio which did not produce it originally has greedily found a way to make money off of it.  Meanwhile, the film's's "second chance" and "redemption"...came about because of a clerical error in 1974 that allowed the film to be shown again, albeit temporarily, in the public domain for nearly two decades.  Oh, and it has a character named "Martini" which is pretty darn cool, too!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nighty Night Light

One odd quirk of the wandering midlife mind is the occasional daydream and sudden recollection of things that have seemingly disappeared without much notice.  While driving in to work this week, I suddenly realized that the old fashioned "search light" is a thing of the past.  No, not the little dinky lights one occasionally finds on boats or on buildings.  I mean the big, honkin' truck sized lights of my childhood.
Growing up in Bridgetown, on Cincinnati's west side, we lived about two miles away from the Western Hills Plaza and the Western Woods (mini) Mall and, usually, once a month, when I was a boy, a local store would set up a search light--particularly around the holidays.  The Plaza, in particular, was the frequent host of search lights--often in front of McAlpins.  These lights were amazing, powering up a solid beam of light that could be seen for several miles.  The luminescent shafts would lazily swing back and forth, beckoning one and all to the pot at the end of the rainbow.
Up close, the "pot"was amazing.  As a boy, I had no understanding of the engineering behind a "carbon-arc filament."   All I saw was a big bowl, as large as a Volkswagen, with a polished mirror back and a bright flame in the middle.  The apparatus made noise and a hissing sound as it rocked back and forth on the back of a large trailer or on a truck.  Only recently did I learn that Cincinnati was a national hotbed for searchlight technology, thanks to the Carlisle and Finch light-works company, which still manufactures searchlights, albeit smaller versions.
I also recently found a web-site dedicated to searchlights and even found some old ones for sale.  But a brief scan of the Yellow Pages reveals that, alas, no one within a hundred miles of Cincinnati still rents the "big" lights anymore.  Maybe if I find a few extra pennies under the couch, it would be an interesting side business.
But who, really, am I fooling?  The wide-eyed boy from 40-years ago has been replaced by a new generation of kids brought up in an era of computers and other stimuli.  Merlin's magical lights pale in comparison to the wizardry of the electronic age.  If only the searchlights could "do battle" or morph into laser-shaped monster characters or something.   *sigh*
No, perhaps, the search light is best left on the shelf with baseball cards, the drive-in theater, Shillito's Christmas display, the C G and E trains and a host of other once-amazing memories of a mid-life guy who spends too much time living in the past.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Norman Corwin

It's a dreary, rainy morning and a palpable gloom has surrounded my single-bulb-lit office.  Amplifying energy-depleting emotions acquired from my hour commute from Indiana is the news I received only minutes ago:  Corwin has died.  This of course revives a personal long-held, inner frustration of having to explain to my peers and co-workers just who Norman Corwin was and why should they care.  The great talents behind the pens behind the stories are rarely remembered in broadcasting and Corwin, who worked gained and lost his fame in the 1940s, was as great at writing as he was about being forgotten to the masses.  But to those "in the know," he was nothing short of a greek god.
Boston born, Corwin rose through the media ranks as a scribe, first in print journalism, then in radio.  He was an enthusiastic hire at WLW in 1935 only to run afoul of the bosses when he questioned a station policy, published internally and stupidly on a memo tacked to the newsroom wall, prohibiting staff from mentioning strikes and labor issues in the news.  Notoriously anti-labor (Crosley's dirty little secret, shall we say), WLW reversed its praise of its newest hire whose political leanings always drifted around the "dial."  Corwin didn't take his subsequent firing lightly, turned the memo over the the ACLU and the press, and helped to arguably and single-handedly turn off the country's only 500,000-watt radio transmitter.
Corwin, meanwhile, only saw his stature rise.  At CBS, he became the first writer to have his name included in the title of a series.  His scripts were original, imaginative and provocative.  He could write an entire half hour in verse, he could write a story that evoked tears, prompted laughter, or anger.  Mostly Corwin's scripts generated thought.  No one, ever, had exploited the inspiration and potential of radio like this writer.  Before or since.  Corwin's "We Hold These Truths"--a celebration of the Bill of Rights, was broadcast over all three networks just days after Pearl Harbor.  Another nationally acclaimed production, "On A Note of Triumph," provided the other book-end to the country's biggest war, on VE Day.  Both are masterpieces of a nation that proclaims liberty as its foundation as well as its place in the world and should be required listening in every high school history classroom in the country.  Furthermore, these two shows are just representative examples of the hundreds of aural excursions led by Corwin that tickled intelligence and goosed consciousness.  Although stymied slightly in the television age, Corwin participated but he never forgot his radio roots.  His NPR production, "Memos to a New Millinium," is an example of how he continued to write special scripts into the new century.  Even as he blew candles on his 100th birthday cake, last year, he was still listed an adjunct professor at USC and lectured as his health allowed.
My first encounter with Norman Corwin came in 2001 when I interviewed him for a radio history documentary.  His LA apartment did not disappoint as it was peppered with modern artwork and awards from his storied career.  Corwin pulled out an ancient album which contained his day-by-day observations from the 1930s.  Despite a potential readership of only himself, Corwin's daily diary writings were eloquent, power-packed and brilliant.  I didn't want to leave that visit but, oddly enough, had a luncheon date with actor Eddie Albert at his Bel Air home for the same project.  "Tell Eddie hello for me," Corwin said.  Any actor worth his SAG card worked with Corwin and Albert was no exception, having narrated his "Prayer for the 70s" poem in the depth of the Watergate/Viet Nam era.
After that meeting, I began a brief mail correspondence with Corwin...nothing deep or significant.  But it brought me great personal pride when I received a note from him--that I KNEW Norman Corwin and, more important to me, that he remembered me. 
A few years later, on another trip to LA, I called him up on the phone and asked if I could stop by and visit before my flight left.  "Of course!" was his reply and again we shared an hour, this time no microphone or tape running, which turned into an interview about ME.  Corwin wanted to know about my family, my Indiana farm, my radio career.  I never felt more awed by anyone in my life.  "Come by again," he said as I departed...but privately I knew that it probably never would happen.  Corwin was 98 years old, for goodness sake.
Norman Corwin's father lived to be 109 and his brother, Emil, died earlier this year at 104.  When talking those numbers, one expects that the angel of death, perhaps, had a degree of mercy.  I did a phone interview with him in 2006 and he sounded great.  But when I called him next on his 100th birthday in May 2010, his speech was slurred and he, although as gracious as ever, was difficult to understand.  The iron-man of the broadcast pen had suffered a stroke, I later found out.  Photos I've seen since had him frail and wheel-chair confined.  And yet he remained active, appearing at dozens of events until the very end.  He was scheduled to appear at an old radio convention in New Jersey next month.  At 101.
Lacking Corwin's eloquence, I fall sadly well short of a adequate tribute here.  If you get a chance, though, promise me you'll rent or find a 2006 mini-documentary called "On a Note of Triumph."   It won an Oscar for best short documentary and is all about Corwin and why he should be remembered.  In the coming days, you'll hear tributes from Bradbury, Shatner and a host of others who have been his friends and fans.  The term "writer's writer" has been so overused and yet it applies here. If you're still unsure about who Norman Corwin was and what he accomplished, for me, please do a little digging yourself and pass it along.  I promise your appreciation will swell along with many others who, like myself, admired and will miss this gentle, kind, thoughtful, talented soul.
If you asked Corwin what the humanity often lacked, he'd reply "decency."  That one word defines the life of Corwin. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cincinnati's Uncle Carl: Carl Lindner

Uncle Carl has passed.  Cincinnati's greatest benefactor was 92, proving again that even though some might come close, nobody in fact lives forever.  I've never met Carl but I've been in his presence a few times and those encounters, such as they were, left quite an impression on me.
Encounter number one occurred around 1992.  Sue and I were living in Avondale, near Xavier, and would frequently go to Norwood to shop, eat, etc.  One afternoon, we decided to attend the Norwood parade.  We parked on a side street near City Hall and walked up to Montgomery, passing, along the way, a beautiful white Rolls Royce.  Sure enough, standing on the steps alongside average "Joes" (including Joe Dippong, aka "Mr. Spoons") was Carl.  Just watching and smiling.  Standing among the "common folk" enjoy his hometown's parade.  One of the guys.
Only a few years later, Uncle Carl purchased the Cincinnati Reds.  Although there have been critics who accuse him of not spending enough of his money on the team during his tenure as owner, as I recall there was a strong possibility the team could have gone to an out-of-town owner when Marge decided to sell.  In essence, Carl wanted the control of the team to stay in Cincinnati and I'm sure he felt he was doing the city a favor (and I agree with him) by keeping the ownership in town ala Powel Crosley of 1935.  Anyway, one of his first big acts was to trade far and sign Ken Griffey Jr. to a long term contract.  I was there at the press conference when Junior was introduced.  I'm not sure if Carl was a huge baseball fan, but he sure beamed with pride by pulling off the seemingly impossible--bringing arguably baseball's best player back to his hometown.  Nobody could have predicted how things would turn out for Junior and the team, but at that one shining moment, Carl gave Cincinnati sports fans a gift of the same calibre of the gifts he gave to Cincinnati's arts communities (his many gifts to the Symphony and Ballet) and to academia (the buildings at local schools and universities.)  Now even sports fans could share in his largess.
My most recent encounter came just last February.  Sue and I decided to celebrate the anniversary of our engagement with dinner at the Palace restaurant, where I originally popped the question a couple decades earlier.  Obviously we don't dine at the Palace often--or ever, for that matter--and the economy obviously has taken its toll on this upscale dining establishment because, in addition to the out-of-place couple from Indiana, there were exactly two other tables with customers--one in the corner by the window occupied by a solitary, elderly Carl Lindner.   I was surprised he sat alone (the waiter and maitre'd certainly fawned over him and I think there was a driver/bodyguard who came and went).  I so much wanted to walk over and shake his hand and thank him for all he'd done.  Even as he passed my chair on his way out of the room, I wanted to make eye contact and smile, but I didn't.  Too intimidated, I guess.  Instead, I felt kind of sorry for a man with a billion dollars who probably gets harassed with a steady stream of false kindnesses camouflaged as donation requests.  "Leave the poor man alone," I thought. 
It must be lonely being very wealthy and having a reputation of being very generous.  I think I sent a letter his way many years ago when Media Heritage as just getting off the ground.  I mailed it to his home and never heard anything.  I wondered even then how many letters like mine he must receive and how unfair it was that he should be annoyed at home.  I felt guilty.
The Cincinnati arts community must really be in a tizzy.  I had heard from those on various "Boards" that whenever the Symphony or the Opera needed "an additional 50" (and I'm not talking $50) to top off a successful public fundraising campaign, they'd call Uncle Carl.  The Lindner name is on several buildings around town for major million dollar gifts, but people may never realize just how many "little" checks of "50" or "25" (add some 000's) Carl would write whenever one of these organizations would ask.   Is there really anyone in the bullpen ready to write those checks in the future?
A good friend told me a story about Carl, who worked his way up from practically nothing on his daddy's dairy farm.  As Carl's bank account added zeroes over the years, he approached Indian Hill's most exclusive country club, Camargo, about joining.  They turned him down in a not-so-polite slap-in-the-face to Norwood's most famous high school dropout.  So as Carl added to his wealth, he purchased a piece of property right next door to Camargo's front drive and building a beautiful white mansion.  He also joined rival Kenwood Country Club, who was more than happy to have his name adorn one of their lockers.  Eventually, perhaps they passed his home enough times, Camargo's leaderships came crawling (if they actually "do" that in Indiana Hill) to his front door and an amused Carl reluctantly capitulated.   Mental note to myself: It's amazing how a billion dollars changes one's attitude.
Goodbye Carl.  I wish I would have been able to sit down with you and chat at the Palace last February.  I had so much to ask you.  And it wasn't because I wanted money, either.  But it was my anniversary and you've shown all of us in Cincinnati how important "family"--personal and community--should be.  I hope you understand and may you rest in peace.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cincinnati Reds Retrospective

Well, the Redlegs closed the curtain on another season today.  Not the outcome everyone expected or hoped, but that's baseball and not every team plays in October.  There's nothing more depressing than listening to the final game and knowing that winter lies ahead.  Conversely, there's nothing sweeter sounding than that first spring training game in late February or early March.  On a gloomy, cloudy day, it seems only farther away.
Still there's reason for optimism for 2012.  At least the "sophomore effect" will be over...let me explain:  Look at the great Reds' runs over the recent years...most began with a "great" year (where they snuck up on people) followed by the sophomore effect.  In fact, that's why I kinda thought they'd have a bad year this year.  In 1970, the first year of the Big Red Machine era, the Reds won the division and went to the World Series.  But what happened in 1971?  The ended up in 5th place in the NL West with a 79-83 record.  The good news is they kept the team largely intact but added some key players like Joe Morgan and, poof, they were back in '72, '73, '75 and '76.    
Fast forward to 1990, when the Reds surprised everyone with their wire-to-wire sweep and WS championship.  So how'd things turn out in 1991?  Once again, 5th place in the NL West with a 74-88 record.  Again, they kept the team largely intact and were back on top in 1995.
In 1961, they went all the way to the World Series and in 1962?   3rd Place!  (Okay, okay, they were 98-64 in a year when the Dodgers and Giants were dominant--I'm taking a few liberties here) but hung together to nearly win the Pennant in 1964.    Let's not talk about the back to back series in 1939-'40 because it doesn't support my theory, which is...   the Reds should try and stay largely intact next season.  No wholesale changes, just a few tweaks here and there, maybe find a hidden Joe Morgan somewhere.  They have the basic pieces that will only continue to jell the more they play alongside each other.   I, for one, am optimistic about 2012.  
Which brings me to one last number:  The span between World Series Reds' appearances during the modern baseball era include 20-years (1919-1939), 21-years (1940-1961), 9-years (1961-1970), 14-years (1976-1990) and 21-years (1990-2011).   Clearly, we're overdue.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Shedding the Crown

I saw an article n the newspaper this week noting the demise of the Ford Crown Victoria automobile.  The "Crown Vic" has not been available to the public for several years now, but it has been produced in limited numbers at a Ford plant in Canada specifically for municipalities and law enforcement as a service vehicle.  The final Vic rolls off the assembly line this week. For the last two decades, the Crown Vic has been, far and above, the most popular model of choice as police cars, including here in Cincinnati and in Hamilton County.  Big, heavy, with a more-than-perky-enough V-8 engine and oversized A/C, the Vic has been a reliable workhorse that is quite popular among cops.  So much so, there are some local governments who are "stocking up" on Vics before they're gone.  Ford reports sales of the Grand Vic are up 65-percent this year.
The replacement for the Vic is the Ford Taurus Interceptor, a smaller, lighter car with a V-6 engine and less guts.  Also, Chevy has returned to the police vehicle business offering a smaller Impala model and several law enforcement agencies have shelled out a little extra for the police version of the sporty Dodge Charger.  Lately, the Indiana Highway Patrol has been using a nifty jet-black Mustang as an unmarked vehicle on I-74. 
Personally, I'll miss the Grand Vic.  After twenty years, I've become pretty good at spotting one a mile or so up the road.  Looking into my rear view mirror, I can instantly spot a Vic coming up from behind.  Since they were also used as taxi cabs and other government vehicles, I've been fooled a few times but I am always better safe than sorry.  Of course, the big chrome spotlight near the driver's side door has assisted my identification skills.  (Not that I speed, mind you...but it never hurts to know whom might be watching, tee hee.).
I understand why the gas guzzling Vics are being retired but I'm still a little sad.  Sad because I know how popular they are among the men and women in blue but also sad because I'll selfishly have to train my eyes to look for something else.   And of course, there's that Mustang!

Friday, August 26, 2011

50 Years

Fifty years is a blink of an eye in the life of a mountain and yet it's been fifty years since JFK was inaugurated.
Fifty years is a mere hiccup in lifespan of a sequoia and yet for the home computer, it has exceeded its existence.  Fifty years ago, the Reds played in the World Series minus Joe Nuxhall.  The "Good Guys" were just starting on WSAI while "Ma Perkins" was being cancelled.  Cincinnati was just getting used to life with only "two" daily newspapers and tensions were heating up in divided Berlin, forcing a call-up of a certain Air National Guard unit in Blue Ash. 
The time was ripe for a crew-cut haired shy young man and an outgoing slender Price Hill-ian to wed, fifty years ago today, at St. Teresa of Avila church near Prout's Corner.  Photos were taken, the usual gags were cast, smiles, grins, prankishly staged photographs.  Rice was thrown, shoes were tied to bumpers.  The nearby reception was simple and steeped in Western Hills need for a limousine when you can ride in the back of a 1940 Ford coupe with the top sawed off and covered in cartoons of Snuffy Smith.  Lots of laughs and sun and optimism with all eyes firmed fixed on the future and its "nothing but blue skies."
That's not to say clouds haven't appeared now and argument here, a few harsh words there.  Financial stresses, social pressures, the birth of an (adorable) and then emotional thunderstorms that knock you on your tush only to eventually calm, exit, and pass back into sunny skies again.  No trip is worth traveling unless there are a few bumps along the life "too easy" is not living "life" at all.
But looking back over fifty years of marriage, one can only admire and cherish volumes of memories and experiences shared between two people in love.  The memories have become trophies, not burdens...and even the bad ones have faded to the point where they only amplify the good ones. 
Fifty years is wonderful achievement and certainly just another milepost on a much longer journey.  But in today's world of divorces and promiscuity and simply "giving up" (not to mention the millions who choose not to make the commitment in the first place,) I'm proud of mom and dad on their big day and hope I can follow in their example.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cincinnati Enquirer's Thin Edge

Well it's happened...a dollar for a daily Enquirer.  Starting yesterday, unannounced and without any uproar, the Cincinnati daily raised its price tag for the second time in just a few years.  I sort of knew this might be coming--about a month ago, us "Indiana folk" were given a special preview when daily papers for "out of town" readers were increased to a buck and Sundays went to $2.  I guess they decided to bring equality to all readers.
I still don't know why newspapers are losing money, given the quantity of advertisements.  The Tuesday paper I hold in my hand is about 20 pages total and 90-percent of the content is ads.  And not just regular advertisements but the "new," computer age ads that have odd shapes and force the typesetting to wrap around the odd shape.  This is particularly annoying, but I'll save that for another day.
Speaking of annoying, I still fume when I remember how the Enquirer charges MORE for the Thanksgiving Day paper...with all of the additional ads, you'd think they would charge LESS since they're getting all that additional income.
When I was young, I always wanted to have a career that would garner me a special "write-up" for my obituary.  Kind of a morbid thought, I know--particularly since I'll be dead and won't be able to clip the story for my scrapbook, but I digress--but the fact is becoming apparent that either a) there won't be a daily paper or, b), no one will be able to afford to buy it.  I guess there's always on-line.
I am a newspaper junkie, not two ways about it.  When they increased the daily paper to 75-cents from 50-cents about four years ago, I really did have second thoughts.  Now at a buck, I am befuddled.  If they are really that short on income, I sympathize, but they're only going to drive more people away.  And then who will be the chroniclers of history when the daily paper is gone?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Many Happy Returns

Sometimes big projects deserve, no demand, one's entire attention.  Such was the case for a photo book project that has occupied my time between the most recent and this post.  All unnecessary tasks--blogs, facebook, eBay, etc., etc.--had to take a back seat.  Almost every spare moment was set to task due to a looming deadline.  Even a vacation to Florida consisted of equal parts "laptop" and "laps around the pool."
So it's only natural to undergo a bit of "postpartum" depression when the last photo is sent and the last correction verified.  And after such intense and solely concentrated effort, getting back into the swing of things takes some adjustment.  Naturally, some re-evaluation takes place; "if I could get by without it for three months, maybe it wasn't that important to begin with..." is asked of oneself.  Time spent well is more and more important as one gets older.  Wasted time is lost time.  I could never enjoy playing a video game at my age for I know that, even in one's late 40s, "lost" time is just that.  It can never be revisited.
The good news is there are several issues I've back-burnered that would go well as future subjects.  And as soon as I remember them, I'll post.  Welcome back, Spare Time.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Michael Scott and the Office

When I was young, I loved television.  There were some really great shows and I certainly could rattle off a long list of favorites.  Ask me today, and my life is far too busy for TV and the commitment required to follow a favorite show...with one exception.  I've been watching the Office since Season One and I don't think I've ever missed a single episode.  When busy on Thursday nights early on, I'd fire up the VCR (a DVR?  come on, I'm cheap too!)  Oddly enough, I haven't watched a single episode on an actual TV for three years now thanks to Hulu, but I do watch.  Lately, the story line has followed the exit of Office "leader" Michael Scott as played by actor Steve Carell.  After seven seasons, Steve has decided to leave the show to concentrate on his movie career.  Since he is the fulcrum of the show upon which most of the story lines pivot, I cannot see how my favorite show can continue for another season.  The fact that he decided to depart early--with four half hours' remaining, gives me hope that he might "reappear" for four special episodes down the road but I have not read that theory anywhere else.  Short of that, perhaps the Office should consider "going out of business."
There is plenty of precedent to consider here.  Many of the Great (with a capital G) shows ended after seasons 7 or 8.  It seems like a nice, round number.  "Mary Tyler Moore" ended after season 7 and had, perhaps, the greatest final episode I've ever seen (remember "It's a Long Way to Tipperary"?)  "Newhart" had, perhaps, the funniest final episode (as a take-off of Bob's first series) but I never considered that show Great.  MASH had a memorable finale and it went eleven seasons, but I always considered that show to have two "periods"--the first three seasons with the characters Col. Blake, Radar and Trapper John...and the second, eight, with Col. Potter et al.  The character Henry Blake's off screen death was the "finale" for the first period.
In more recent years, "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "Home Improvement" all went out because they chose to.  Ray Romano and Tim Allen became tired of their grueling TV work, so those shows obviously had to stop.  For Seinfeld and Friends it was more of a group decision.  All went out around the 8-season mark and all made the correct decision.  It's tough saying goodbye to someone you've invited into your home for so long, but nothing goes on forever.
There were some shows that lost a key character and decided to go on anyway and, in retrospect, perhaps made a mistake.  "The Waltons" lost John Boy when Richard Thomas left the show after the fifth season.  His absence was adequately explained for one additional season (that makes six) but in the final seasons, they brought a totally new actor in and explained that John Boy looked and sounded different because had been injured in the war...well, that was a poor decision.  "All In the Family," on paper, lasted 21 seasons but not really.  After season 7, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers (Mike and Gloria) left the show and not long after, so did Jean Stapleton (Edith)!  It became "Archie's Place" and was a totally different show.  "Happy Days" went ten seasons, but only five with Ron Howard and Anson Williams.  It was a little painful to watch toward the end with an aging "Fonzie" and the Joannie and Chachi thing going.
My all-time favorite show--the Andy Griffith Show--lost Don Knotts' Barney Fife character after season 5.  Although Barney did come back for a handful of "return visits" to Mayberry, the show was left with a huge hole filled by the likes of "Warren," "Howard Sprague," "Goober" and "Emmitt."  It was never the same and even among us fans of the show, often episodes are identified as "AB" (after Barney) or not.  Andy Griffith mercifully ended after its 8th season.   It probably should have been after six ("I Love Lucy" stopped production after six, too.)
Sitcoms need about 100-individual episodes to qualify for syndication (Gilligan's Island was close enough, with 98) and that's where television immortality begins.  The Office has already passed that test and is already in syndication on some independent stations.  This season has had some very emotionally strong shows including last night's "Goodbye Michael Scott."  There's a feeling of finality that is inescapable.  We'll see how it goes next season--I'll give it a chance--but next fall will be the magic season number "eight" and the time might be right to go out with dignity (like Dick Van Dyck, Mary Tyler Moore and Raymond) and not as an embarrassment.   Meanwhile, goodbye, Michael were a surprisingly complex, human and well flavored (Carell) character.  You made me laugh and cry and you'll be welcome in my home any time you want to return.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My Supercentenarian Friend

Call it an by-product of my ongoing mid-life crisis, but I've been fascinated, in recent years, by the passing of the last remnants of the 19th Century.  I've been following closely, and clipping numerous newspaper articles, the passings of the final WW1 veterans (which I've mentioned in a previous blog entry).  I've also been exploring the amazing number of people who exceed the "century mark." A famous friend, radio writer Norman Corwin, turns 101 next month.  His brother died last month at 107 (he was the oldest federal employee when he retired not too long ago!)  Their dad, by the way, lived to be 109.  Talk about having the right genetics!   In early February, there was a newspaper story about Besse Cooper of Monroe, Georgia.  She's the current world record holder at 114.  There's an entire web-site dedicated to "supercentenarians."  A supercentenarian is someone who is 110 or older.  There are about 90 confirmed and verified supercentenarians in the world and an estimated total of about 450 living today.  That's out of a world population of 6.8-billion, by the way.
Anyway, I was going though my clippings and was reminded that one of those 450-amazing people lives only about two miles away from where I live near Milan.  Mrs. Emily Weil was born November 20, 1899 and will be 112 next fall.  Her life has graced three centuries, 21-presidents and 10-popes.   She is, with little doubt, the last person I'll know connected to the 19th Century.  And that 1898 penny I collected as a kid that I thought was so amazing, was still shiny new when she was born.
I visited her recently to record an interview which aired on my radio program April 14 and fell in love with her spirit, her charm and her grace.  Although confined to a wheel chair and despite having poor hearing (her daughter-in-law, Marilyn, says she hates hearing aids!), her memory is pretty keen recalling all the world and personal events she has lived though.  Growing up in Crescent Springs, KY, Emily married a dashing young trucking executive in 1932 and they quickly had eight children.  But in 1943, her husband unexpectedly died of pneumonia and Emily was forced to go to school to learn nursing to bring in money and raise her children, the oldest of whom was only ten.  She did what she needed to do to get a decent job as a nurse at Drake Hospital and the family was able to grow up comfortably on a small farm near Mt. Healthy.  Although one child died, the other seven enjoyed rich lives, including a veterinarian and a missionary, with 25 grandchildren and 39 great-grandchildren to follow.   After retirement she learned basket-weaving and tatting and at age 100, she took up painting!  Her family self-published a book of her art.
A woman of great faith, she enjoys weekly visits by local priest, Fr. Frank Eckstein and the love and constant care of her son, Bob, and Marilyn and a home health nurse.
To go into all of the things she's witnessed in her life would far exceed the limits of this blog, so I'll conclude by saying that I'm proud to meet, know and become friends with the oldest known person in Ohio, Indiana or Kentucky.   God bless, Mrs. Weil and I pray many more happy years lie ahead!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Milan, Indiana

When Sue and I moved to Southeastern, Indiana 16-years ago this summer, I was more than a little naive about life in the country.  Sue set out her shingle in Sunman, but the 71-acres we purchased was (and is) in a no-man's land halfway between Sunman and Milan.  Our post office and police are Sunman.  Our fire department and telephone exchange comes from Milan.  The kid's parochial school in Sunman but if they would go to the public school, it'd be Milan.   Because of Sue's work and because my driving path naturally takes us through Sunman on the way to I-74, I, admittedly, have felt a little closer to Sunman.  Still, I have a soft spot in my heart for Milan although I don't get to go there very often.
I remember being out in Indiana about one month when I happened to stumble upon Roselyn McKittrick's antique store in Milan.  I don't recall saying much more than "hello" to anyone during my brief visit.  The very next day, Sue said, "I heard you were in the Milan anitque shop yesterday..."   I was stunned at how fast the news spread out there--particularly how something so seemingly insignificant as a "stranger" visiting an antique store.  Not that I ever would, but small-town, rural Indiana would obviously not be the place to have an "affair" or keep a secret.
Last Sunday, March 20th, I drove up to the Broad Ripple arts' colony suburb of Indianapolis to meet Bobby Plump at his bar; "Bobby Plump's Last Shot."  I was there to do an interview with Bobby about his days with the 1954 Milan High School State Basketball Champs.  Bobby is an instantly likeable guy who is ready to tell a story about his famous game-winning "last shot" at the drop of a hat.  The wonderful David vs. Goliath real life story (Milan, with 161 students beat Muncie Central with over 1660 students, 32-30) was the inspiration for the movie "Hoosiers."  In addition to the interview, Bobby and a friend and fellow former Milanian, Tom Kohlmeier, shared with me plans for an expanded Milan '54 basketball museum.  They are in the fund raising stage and hope to turn the old Milan bank building into a museum (a "temporary museum" has been there for about 20-years.)  It wouldn't take too much money and could be a great attraction and a real boost to the town!
But Milan of today is not like the bustling Milan of 1954 and the pair acknowledged some resistance and skepticism among a few present day town folks, who seem to have lost hope the town will bounce back from the recent economic downfall.   Boarded up storefronts are everywhere and the town laments the loss of young people who are moving elsewhere as they get older.
The ancient Milan water tower still proclaims the "1954 Milan Champs" and there are some who feel the future of the town is fading as openly as the lettering on the rusty landmark.  But I tend to agree with optimistic people like Bobby and Tom and Roselyn who see the potential of celebrating a unique history "story" (like nearby Metamora and Oldenburg) as keys to a brighter future.  Maybe you can help, too! has the details!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ferlin Husky and Me

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, mom and dad gave me a Realistic cassette tape deck for Christmas.  You probably know the style--in fact you might've had one yourself at one time--top loading, plastic, with push buttons and a handle.   I still have a faded blue "3M" cassette from that Christmas where we passed the machine around and recorded our voices and then played them back to see how we sounded.  It's the only tape I have with the voice of my deceased grandmother and our pet bird in the background and it brings comfort and warmth whenever I listen. 
Meanwhile, Ferlin Husky died last week at the age of 85.  He was a country music pioneer who was popular in the 1950s and '60s.  He had a deep voice and sang about love lost and other typical country music themes.  Before I read his obit, I couldn't name any particular Ferlin Husky song.  You might be wondering how this all fits together.
Not long after my parents gave me the cassette player, mom bought me my very first music cassette.  Looking back, she no doubt found it on some sale rack.  It was Ferlin Husky's "True, True Lovin'."   I laugh now because no one in the family was a country music fan and, to be honest, I can't remember the specific songs on the tape.  But the title and the cassette cover remain indelibly imprinted in my mind because it was my first "real" cassette and that, to a nine-year-old was a very, very big deal.  Incidentally, mom visited the same sale rack not-long-after and found my "second" cassette:  "Nancy and Lee: Together Again" (I think it was Nancy Sinatra and Lee Greenwood.)  Her total investment back then was probably 50-cents.
Over the course of the next year, I had a great time playing with the cassette player...I would record Mark Sebastian from Q102 off of the radio speaker and I would try and imitate being a radio disc jockey.  One such recording survives and is, perhaps, my first "aircheck." 
Anyway, when I read that Ferlin Husky died, all of these strange memories came flooding back.  I even searched and found his most famous song, "Gone," and listened.  I don't think I ever heard it before.  Ferlin and I had so very little in common and yet he, unknowingly, had an relatively important impact on my life back when I was a kid armed with a Realistic cassette player.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fish of Gold

Last June, at one of the many summer festivals that dot the rural landscape in Indiana, my 9-year-old son decided to spend his money and try and "win" a goldfish.  This was, of course, after his father specifically asked him to NOT do so.  But he did anyway (after asking mom, I think) and, yes, he "won."  I put "win" and "won" in quotes because I really doubt there's much sporting about the proceding.  Pretty much anyone who plays will come away with a doomed little frightened goldfish in a plastic baggy of water and tied with a twisty.  In our case, Theo had two such baggies in his hands and a big grin on his face.   Did I mention, one baggie had sprung a small leak?   Already, dark clouds were forming.
We rushed home and went through the basement to dig out our fish-tank...a cheap, plastic, smallish tank that we purchased five years ago for such an occasion.  The box was dusty and the oft-used gravel was wrapped up in a little bread bag inside.  We filled it up with water and started the patented "bio-wheel" spinning (this internal device is designed to grow gunky green slime that somehow helps the fish breath however, if the fish ever actually saw the bio-wheel, they would vomit, but I digress.)  In the middle of the gravel we placed the little plaster "castle" with two sad-looking fake plants coming out of the top.  Welcome home, fishies! These will likely be the last views you'll see.
First task, of course, was the name them.  In the past we had "Goldie" and "Lucky" but Goldie died young and Lucky never lived up to his name, failing to survived a week-long power outtage three years ago.  BTW, one good thing about previous dead goldfish is a much lowered expectation on the part of the boys, who seem to have grown to understand and accept the fragile lifespan of a fish. Theo decided to try "Goldie" again (Goldie II) and the other, to differentiate, would henceforth be known as "Tails."   They seemed happy with their names and, fortunately, seemed also to get along pretty well.  I'm not sure what we would have done if they didn't enjoy each other's company.  As I said it's a very small bowl.
Did I mention our bad luck with past goldfish--especially the breed of fish one wins at rural summer festivals?  I think the "record" was held by Lucky, who manged to eek out about six months of existence in "the little tank on the kitchen counter."  Others faded after just days or a few weeks.
Thus, I am somewhat amazed to sheepishly report, then, that Goldie II and Tails are, as of this morning, doing quite well.  In fact, they've almost tripled in size and now have a tough time turning around in "the little tank on the counter."  Like baby birds, they actually know at what time of day they are fed and crowd the plastic window to look mournfully at the fish flakes' box until I open the lid and dump some in.  They have actually grown up to be beautiful, albeit slightly obese, fish and Tails in particular belies his (or her) well-chosen moniker.  Best of all, they have survived a one-day power outtage and a weeklong vacation (we took them to my cousin's house).  Of course I still do all the work: cleaning the gravel, changing the filter, feeding them twice a day--but I must admit, to borrow from Professor Higgins, I've grown accustomed to their faces.   So now I must decide...
Do I take the plunge and buy a "real" tank with a better aerator and more space?  Do I expand with more fish...maybe some blue or red ones?  Maybe acquire some fish that actually do some of the cleanup work?  
It's been ten months now for Goldie and Tails.  It's their first "Lent," do I dare tell them about Fridays?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Digital Needles and Thread

It's certainly a sign of the Apocalypse when I give a computer software review, but I must admit I'm impressed with the ArcSoft Scan-n-Stitch Deluxe that came with my new Epson flat bed scanner.  Over the years, I've acquired several 1930's era weekly radio newspapers.  The long-since defunct publisher, I'm sure to keep expenses low, used fairly acidic paper which was never intended to last 70 or 80 years.  Consequently, the papers are mostly quite yellowed and brittle and very, very fragile.  So much so, that I'd be afraid to handle them much or to lend them out to others for research.  And yet, the written material contained within is usually just too good.
I heard about a program called "Stitch and Sew" (which is what many libraries use), but it was pricey and too professional.  I considered finding an over-sized flatbed scanner, but they too are way, way too expensive.  I also considered taking digital photographs of each page, under glass and hot lights, but I was afraid the heat would accelerate deterioration, even if only a few seconds.   Plus, it would take a lot more work and space.
But this new set-up is quite handy.  The Epson V33 scanner uses LED lights, which are not hot and seem to be less destructive.  And ArcSoft's "Scan and Stitch" turns the process into a relatively simple process.  The key to success is getting enough overlap for the program to "read."  The manual recommends 20% but I think I'm doing slightly less.  That means a 13" X 11.5" newspaper can be covered in two scans (out of 16 attempts, I only have one failure) and a larger 16" X 11" newspaper requires three scans.
Once the "pieces" are scanned, it's simply a one touch button to have the program automatically recognize overlaps and "sew" the pieces together.  The finished product looks quite good with no visible lines and only a slight color change in some cases.  There are some handy polishing features to rotate, align and trim edges if you want.  The final image can be saved as a jpg, .bmp or .tif (which, archivally, I prefer).
The program does occasionally "burp" and ends up sewing together pieces in all directions.  My only complaint with the program is that you can't go back a step to retry--you have to start from the beginning.  But so far, out of, say, an average 20 attempts it has failed just once for me...a 95% success rate.   The clarity is pretty good...I can zoom all the way in and see the detail of the typeface.  It's pretty fast too....I can scan a 16-page newspaper (while working on other things) in under an hour.
Obviously, most people won't need this program since most documents can fit within a regular flatbed scanner's dimensions.  But if you have large documents or photos or posters and have a little time, this program seems to be an inexpensive way to get quality results on a smaller budget.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Philipps Pool

I noted in the newspaper last weekend that the owners of Covedale's legendary Philipps Pool are preparing to pull the plug on the facility for this year and, possibly, forever.  Philipps has long been an important part of my life--although I can't remember ever dipping my toe in its water.
Back in 1950, when my mom was a little girl, the pool was a summertime respite for Westside kids like my mom.  It was there, in fact, one late summer day when she heard her name called over the public address system.  She dried off and reported to the main desk where she was told to go home immediately.  Upon arriving home, she received the news: her father (my grandfather) went down in the fog in a small airplane near Detroit, Michigan.  There were no survivors.
Mom recounted that terrible day in her life many times over the years whenever we drove down Glenway, past Philipps.  So often, in fact, that I still cannot drive past it without thinking of mom and how she must have felt that sunny summer day when her life changed forever.  The pool occupied a reverent and respectful place in my a living tombstone.  When mom told the story there was nothing for me to say.  What could be said, really?  I'd just silently look out the window of the car at the art-deco port-hole motif and blue-trimmed paint as we passed and noted the kids splashing, totally unaware of the important place it held for my mom...and, I suppose, me, since I never got to meet grandpa Harry.
Just a few years ago, my wife's grade school classmates held their reunion at Philipp's and I tagged along.  It was the first and only time I remember ever entering its gates.  Late August, it was uncharacteristically cold and gloomy that day and there was no swimmers brave enough to be found.  While Sue reminisced with her friends, I snuck away and investigated the place up close.  Practically empty, I was able to explore it thoroughly and unimpeded.  There was a ghostly air about the mysterious place for me, probably because of the gazillion times I passed by in the car and wondered.  
Oddly enough, just last December, mom and I happened to be in the car on Glenway when we passed Philipps.  "Did I ever tell you...",  she started.  I didn't interrupt.  A little therapy would be good for both of us.
So Philipps may be closing for good.  Another Western HIlls' landmark may disappear.  "Panta Rei," the Greek's say.  Like favorite restaurants, TV shows and, alas, public radio stations, there is yet to be made something that lasts forever except, maybe, memories.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Xavier at 30

The news this week that Xavier University's annual tuition has topped $30,000 hardly comes at a surprise.  This pot-o-tea has been starting to boil for several years.  Back before 2005, when the University unceremoniously sold WVXU and kicked a bunch of us to the curb, there had been rumors that the "then-new" President Fr. Graham (oh, how I miss Fr. Hoff) wanted Xavier to be the "Georgetown of the Midwest."  Of course, I've never had the chance to sit in on an XU boardmeeting, so this information came second hand through a reliable source, but Fr. Graham and the board wanted so badly to elevate Xavier's status as "the elite" private school of the heartland.   And I'm not talking academics.  They quietly wanted, back then, tuition to be around $30-K (and now, I'm sure, they're target is $40-K plus) because we all know: "the higher the tuition, the better the school."  Ask Notre Dame.   Anyway, they knew there'd be criticsm, so they've been ratcheting up the tuition s-l-o-w-l-y, all the while buying property, tearing down old neighborhoods and building shiney new buildings.   No skin off my nose, of two diploma's are safely tucked away in the desk drawer.
The problem, to me, has been a gradual divorce from the people of Cincinnati--the same people who built up the school in the first place.  When I went there, Xavier was mostly a commuter school...most students lived elsewhere in town and drove to their classes.  I never thought to ask my parents to allow me to dorm there.  I had a bedroom and three squares at home with the folks in Western Hills.  Today though, commuters, if there are any left, are a dying breed at X.  Activities and events are all centered around "Xavier Life," that is, the life of an on-campus resident.  Even off-campus living is discouraged.  Of course, Xavier makes a tidy little profit selling their half-dorms for $4000 a year (meals extra), but I digress. 
I simply get the feeling that Xavier isn't a whole lot interested in recruiting the local kids.  Oh, sure, if you have the tuition, you're welcome, but even a decade ago, Xavier noticibly ramped up its national and even international recruitment.  I know because I was an adjunct professor at the time.  "The best of the best from around the world" the expense of the local student.  (Of course, the local alumni are contiuously badgered about donations, but I, again, digress.)
I sure someone in some previous boardmeeting said "we either grow or die."  I get that.  As much as I like Mt. St. Joe and Thomas More, they are still basically commuter schools and their growth has pretty much stayed the same.  I'm sure the Board didn't want that to happen.  Think BIG became the mantra.  And with the growth of Xavier's sports--particularly basketball--the eyes of the nation have at least glanced at the "little school on Victory Parkway."
But the "little school" is fading away and, like the pretty girlfriend, Xavier is telling Cincinnatians; "I want to go out with someone else--let's just be friends."  I'm not sure what was so dramatically wrong about being little old Xavier and I certainly find little to be proud of when they bulldoze a street of quaint houses for another dorm or for the "Father Hoff Academic Quad" (which is actually shaped like an ellipse.)  The bigger one becomes, the less one feels the sense of "family."  I guess, had I been born twenty years earlier, I'd be sporting a Bearcat sweatshirt on dress down day these days.   $30,000? whew!   
As the economy continues to falter, I hope it doesn't back-fire on them (I can no longer, in good faith, use the term "us" when talking about my alma matre.)

Frank Buckles RIP

Frank Buckles died.  He was 110.   Frank was the last US World War One veteran. Back in 1917, he lied about his age (16) to enlist and, although he never saw action, served as an ambulance driver.  He eventually rose to the rank of corporal when the war ended. 
I have followed Frank Buckles and his last comrades fairly intensely over the last ten or so years...clipping and saving newspaper articles when the "last Canadian" or "last infantryman" died.  I counted down...five, four, three, two...and then, Frank.  The last one.   Out of 4-point-7 million
When I was a kid, it was no big deal knowing a WWI vet.  My wife's aunt was a nurse in that war and lived to be just shy of 100.  While there were no veterans of the Civil War alive during my lifetime, there were people "alive" during that era.  I recall seeing a newspaper article when the last Civil War veteran died (I think it was the early 50's, but I could be wrong).  I was always fascinated with the story of the final member of a group opening a bottle of cognac and drinking a toast to his deceased friends. 
That's not to say I wasn't fascinated with the passing of ages.  I remember collecting my first "old" coin--a 1898 penny--and thinking what an incredibly ancient artifact I had (when in fact it was probably only about 70-years old at the time.)  There's something about a changing century that makes things seem "old." I wonder if my birth year in the latter half of the 1900's will evoke the same sense of "oldness" to my future great-grandchild-to-be.
Recently i met and attempted to interview a neighbor of mine who is 111.  Yep, you read that correct.  Her name is Emily and she was born November 20, 1899.  There's little doubt she will be the last person I know from the 19th Century.  Although she is considered a "supercentenarian," she has attracted very little media attention.  Judging from the lists, she is the oldest person in Ohio, Indiana or Kentucky and she lives less than two miles from my home.  I recorded an interview with her but it's a little rough--her hearing is bad and she refuses to wear those "darned hearing aids."   Bless her heart, she's earned the right to peace and quiet.  I'm sure I'll write about Emily in the future, but for the moment the death of Frank Buckles has reminded me that time is passing quickly and, often-times, without notice.

Getting Up to Snuff

An elderly broadcaster passed away recently at the age of 93.  In discussing his passing with a friend and fellow broadcaster, we discussed the many incredible changes to the business the deceased encountered in his 70-year career.  We also examined our careers and the things we've seen.  When one is in the middle (hopefully) of one's career, it's difficult to gain a sense of perspective regarding an idea of one's place in history.  Here's what we determined:
There are "pioneers" and there are those who "catch the last seat on the bus" in the business.  It is possible one can straddle both.  Stan Freberg was the "last on the bus" in the golden age of radio.  George Burns was a "pioneer" of both radio and TV.  Milton Berle and Bob Hope straddled.  In our case, we're straddling the end of the "live, local" era of radio and the beginning of the digital age.  When I started professionally in 1987, I was splicing 1/4 audio tape with a razor blade and cutting carts.  At each advancement into the digital age--DAT's into minidiscs into CD's into "Cool Edit Pro" into Adobe Audition, I resisted.  Strongly.  Yet I'd force myself to learn the "new" technology and within months, literally, I could not be FORCED to go back.  I cannot live without Audition, for example, and can barely remember what life was like beforehand.
And yet I often wax nostalgic about the "good old days" when there were dozens of independent radio stations with hundreds of jobs in this market.  I am glad I was there to experience those days and feel terrible about the prospects of the next generation of broadcasters studying hard in school right now and hoping to break into the business.  I'm glad I'm not them.
So I guess I'm a "straddler" and, perhaps, thirty years from now there will be some young kid doing a report in school who will ask to interview me (as I interview old-timers now for oral histories) asking me to reflect on that crazy period of 1995-2015 when broadcasting changed, transitioned and reinvented itself.