Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tall Stacks 201?

Recently, the powers that be decided to postpone the next Tall Stacks celebration to, possibly, 2014.  For those not in the "Cincinnati know," Tall Stacks is the bi-annual or quad(?)-annual Ohio River history celebration featuring "authentic" steamboats, people in period clothing and lots of commemorative souvenirs. 
Being a history geek, I like Tall Stacks--don't get me wrong--and have attended, in some form or fashion, every edition since the very first event in 1988.  Ah, 1988!  I remember it well!  By far the best Tall Stacks, 1988 was focused mostly on the boats and less on the schleck.  In addition to the Delta Queen and Belle of Louisville, there were boats from from New Orleans, Pittsburgh and the upper Mississippi.  The star of the show, in my mind, was The President--a huge, lumbering excursion boat based in St. Louis.  The President was built in 1925 and was the sister ship to Cincinnati's beloved Island Queen, which ran to and from Coney Island until she blew up in 1947.  The President had undergone some poor updates over the years, but one trip across its huge dance floor and a young geek like me, born nearly two decades after the Island Queen, could get as close as possible to the experience of my parents.   It was an absolute thrill!
Which leads me to another great thing about 1988--visitors would buy a "passport" that would actually get them onto the boats for guided tours.  Sure some people just had their passport booklets stamped with the insignia of each boat for a collector's item, but I was there every day waiting in line to tour each and every boat.  I had been on the Delta Queen before, so I focused my efforts toward getting on the other boats, such as The President, et. al.  I remember the tour on the Belle of Louisville, built in 1914 and the oldest boat there, gave us visitors unbelievable access to the pilot house and the engine room.  That tour alone was worth every penny of the passport program.  I chatted with the captain.  I played a note on the calliope.  I snapped all the photos I could.
Alas, I suspect too many people joined me on the tours because they were eliminated from the next and all subsequent Tall Stacks.  Maybe some of the guests were unruly or they tampered with the fragile boats, ruining it for everyone else. Too bad.  I can't afford to buy an actual dinner cruise on each boat.
Which brings me to the "next" Tall Stacks--originally slated for 2009, then 2012, then 2013 and now 2014.  Organizers are having trouble raising money and, sadly, I suspect why.  Times have changed and people just aren't as interested in coming down to see boats from the river bank haul other people out on cruises while they are forced to stand and watch.  To improve safety, the boats departures are staggered, meaning rare is the time when they are all tied up on shore, killing any chance for a decent photo-op.
The biggest change, for me anyway, is who will NOT be there next time.  The President, sadly, was carved up into little pieces and hauled to a lake in the interior of Illinois sometime in the 1990s.  Some guy plans to sew her back together and float her on a lake there but that will never happen.  Vandals have stolen most of the copper and brass pieces and the other chunks are rusting away in a field.   Of course, that's still a better fate than the Mississippi Queen (built in 1976,) which was tied up to a dock in New Orleans after her parent company went bankrupt only to be overrun with mold and mildew.  The only recourse was to entirely scrap her.  The Mississippi Queen no longer exists (the above photo was taken as she was towed to the scrapyard).   And then there's my personal favorite--the Delta Queen.  So sad.  The Queen is tied up in Chattanooga and will never sail again.  The Safety at Seas Law made sure of that.  Even if she could get a new round of exemptions (the law was made for ocean going vessels but frankly, what did her in was being a non-union boat during a Democratic administration, but I digress), she needs a new boiler, which is located deep in her hull.  She have to be taken apart, literally, just to replace the old boiler and that would be too expensive.   Frankly, I'm just not as keenly interested in the "newer" boats--you know the ones...built for excursions and powered by hidden diesel engines so its speed doesn't match the rotating, fake paddle wheel.  They're cute the same way fake kit cars are cute, but they can't replace an original.
So bring back Tall Stacks, I'll probably come down to take a look, but it won't be the same.  I even promise to spend a 20-spot on a souvenir mug or shirt or something.  Still, let this be a lesson.  Rather than try to recapture the magic of Tall Stacks V. 1 (or World Choir Games V. 1), it might be better to just remember how lucky you were to capture lightning in a bottle the first time and come up with an idea that's entirely new and untried and original.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My curious bank

Recently my banking establishment, which shall remain nameless, introduced an advertising campaign proclaiming that it is a "curious bank."  That's curious to me.
First of all, I am very happy with my bank and have no intent to switch...they are convenient and pleasant and, when I was 20, gave me my first car loan when a now-defunct bank named "Provident" wouldn't.  I'm a loyal customer.  But I have to scratch my head sometimes about my "curious" bank!
It began several years ago, when this bank started closing their traditional, Indiana-limestone, pillared, "bank-looking" banks in favor of banks that look more like "houses."  Frankly, I like old-style banks (see St. Bernard) with tall ceilings, brass teller windows, marble floors, mahogany desks and an air of quiet mustiness.  I like a big, thick bank vault door with lots of brass.  I want my money, what little I have, to be safe and secure and happy.  If I want someone else to keep my money in a "house," I might as well keep it in my own house.  There's nothing intimidating about a "house."  I want intimidating and impenetrable. 
Another vent, (and I've been saving these up by the way) a few years ago my curious bank decided to switch its colors and logo from "red, black and white" to "blue and green" because, apparently, some consultant felt that blue and green are "softer" and "friendlier."  Consultants, by the way, are largely fools and are the bane of not only the banking industry but also radio and television, but I digress.  In addition to laughing at the supposed pent up demand of those potential customers wanting a soft and friendly bank, I balked loudly at the expense of changing every sign, replacing every ATM machine, substituting every ATM card, etc, etc., because of the previously mentioned "consultant" who thought it was a good idea.  Red, to me, means "STOP!"  As in, if you're thinking about robbing this bank, you'd better STOP and go somewhere else, you criminal creep!
Consultants do that, of course.  They are paid to make changes, no matter how poorly thought out.  If they fail to make a change, they are not paid, so consultants are anti-status quo.  Ranking only slightly ahead of lawyers and insurance companies, consultants have an inane talent toward reckless decisions and unnecessary expenses because they are great salespeople.  They "sell" themselves as being some sort of authority on some subject, even though they might have never had much real-life or work experience themselves. 
Which brings be back to my "curious" bank.  Somewhere is a young 23-year old from XYZ Ad Agency, wearing an ill-fitting suit and requiring someone to help him tie his tie, who made a presentation in a dark-paneled boardroom about how a major banking company should buy into his idea about being a "curious" bank.  He was paid handsomely for his young wisdom by several senior 27-year old executives, who mainly acquired their positions because they attained an MBA degree and, thanks to attrition, some 62-year old retired, opening their executive position.  But, ah youth!  Think a little harder, my young friend!   Follow me, here...When I think of someone who is "curious," I think of someone who is "uncertain"...who is "learning" and who would like to "experiment" with my savings.  As in, "hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I invested our profits in mocha frappe futures?"  I don't want "cute inquisitiveness" in my bank...for my kitten maybe, my black lab, yes, but not my bank.  I want a slogan like, "we want your money and we promise to lock it away and keep it very, very safe in our vault-like, solid bank, made of thick Indiana limestone and sporting very sturdy brass teller cages so you'll know that your money is safe and secure with us and will be there when you need it!" 
And I want it painted red and white and black in bold, unfriendly letters.   30.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Casey at the Bat

The local AM sports station is trying its best to create a buzz about the possibility of Reds Hall of Famer Sean Casey lacing up the cleats and returning for an on-field encore while Joey Votto recovers from knee surgery.  Casey, who is 38 and retired two years ago, has been pretty adamant about the rumors being false but hasn't completely denied it.  I, for one, think there's no way he could get back in playing shape in time to help the team.  Votto will be back, hopefully, the first full week of August.  But it is an interesting idea and very reminiscent of 1940, when catcher Willard Hershberger shocked everyone by committing suicide.  The Reds, en route to their first World Championship in 21 years, had been relying on Hershberger after Ernie Lombardi went down with an injury.  Hershberger suffered from depression and blamed himself for two Reds losses to non-contending teams and took his life in a hotel room before a game.  Needing a catcher in an emergency situation--in the heart of a pennant chase--retired catcher and then current coach Jimmy Wilson volunteered to play.  Wilson enjoyed a solid career and kept himself in pretty decent shape but at age 40, clearly he would have difficulty with the daily routine of baseball's most physically challenging position.  But Wilson did it anyway and, lo and behold, did well.  Lombardi returned and finished most of the regular season but in the World Series, against the Tigers, the Schnoz injured his ankle and Wilson was pressed into service on the biggest stage of his life.  The result?   Jimmy hit .353 and had a key RBI in one of the games.  I guess old guys aren't necessarily useless after all.
Incidentally, Sean Casey was a part of one of the most bizarre Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Fame inductions recently.  Bizarre and certainly awkward.  Three first basemen were inducted:  Casey, 1970s Big Reds Machine player Dan Driessen, and 19th Century player John Reilly.  Reilly wasn't there for his induction because...well...he died 70-years ago and Casey was all over the local media in the days leading up to the induction being interviewed by anyone with a microphone or camera.  Casey's great, by the way, and has a certain charm and humility and freshness lacking in other players.  And then there was Driessen. 
There's an old saying that you never want to be the guy that follows "the guy."  Bob Braun had trouble taking over for Ruth Lyons, Steve Stewart couldn't quite keep Joe Nuxhall's fans happy and does anyone remember Al Schottelkotte's replacement, Pat Minarcin?  So when "the Big Doggie," Tony Perez, was unceremoniously traded by the Reds in 1977, Driessen, who had been Perez's understudy since 1973, suddenly found himself trying to fill some very big shoes.  Driessen went on to have a nice little career; anchoring first base, hitting home runs and stealing a lot of bases well into the 1980s, but to many, he only reminded fans that he was not "the Big Doggie."  So Driessen kept his distance from Cincinnati over the ensuing years.  And during the recent HOF induction I saw only one interview with him and he said he was honored but a little surprised.  He admitting never attending any Big Red Machine reunion events and, frankly, didn't give Cincinnati much thought over the years.  He appreciated the award but, clearly, given Casey's dominance in the media that week, it was awkward for Danny and his fans.  And Danny does have fans--I remember a childhood friend--also named Danny--who thought the world of Driessen.  But I can't stop thinking that somewhere Driessen is sitting in his office admiring his plaque and asking "what just happened?"  I get the feeling that the Reds have reached the point where they're starting to struggle a bit coming up with Hall of Famers.  Bill Plummer and Ed Armbruster may soon be getting a call.  Go Reds!  Joey, get well soon!  By the way, in 8th grade, I briefly played first base and feel, with a little bit of work, can probably get into "playing shape" if you need me.  Although, now that Jamie Moyer's gone, I'd be the oldest person in the league.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rock Star

Having grown up in the rock-and-roll era of the 70s and 80s, I have a particular fondness for certain rock artists.  I enjoy all forms of music, mind you, but growing up rock was everywhere.  I also feel that the era has largely ended and that modern music is not "rock." But I digress. 
Growing up in the "rock era" it was not difficult to perceive a degree of outward disgust from those interested in, what has been termed, "fine arts" music.  The classical folks certainly distanced themselves from the rock folks.  In fact, I've detected a general snootiness regarding anything related to "that" generation.
So I find it very, very funny when the "fine arts" crowd apply Rock Star status to anyone or anything even remotely associated with popular culture.  Pianst Lang Lang, who recently appeared with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (I was there), has been dubbed the "rock star" of classical music!  My music appreciation teacher in school told me Mozart was the "rock star" of his era.  Recently protesters appeared at the Cincinnati Art Museum lamenting the departure of curator Benedict Leca, the "rock star" of the art world. Do a google search...Iestyn Davies is apparently the "rock star" of opera, Dr. Eric Topol is the "rock star" of science and there are "rock stars" of politics, economics and ballet.  Heck, Bo Xilai has even been dubbed the "rock star" of Chinese politics!   The only thing we don't seem to have anymore are rock stars of (real) rock music!
And what did they call people before we had rock-and-roll music?  Was Ernest Hemmingway the "jazz star" of his age?  Or maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald was the "vaudeville star" or the "impressionist star"...   And what will they call the popular culture celebrities 50-years from now?  One can only wonder.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Keep on Throwin' Heat, Jamie Moyer

One of the strange yet typical mid-life moments is the realization that your favorite sports team isn't going to call you up to the big leagues.  This happens as you become older than everyone playing in the sport.  In fact, you realize you've become older than everyone coaching the sport (for example, the D1 head coaches at all the local universities are all younger than I am.)  In the pro ranks, such an event, for me, occurred many, many years ago in basketball, football and hockey where sports' careers usually end before 30.  (Thank goodness for golf, by the way, where occasionally a Freddie Couples or Tom Watson leads a major in the third round--even if they run out of gas and end up losing in the final round, but I digress....)  In baseball, however, my new favorite player is Jamie Moyer.  I started following baseball's oldest player a couple of years ago when, pitching for the Phillies, he was even then the last remaining player older than I.  Moyer messed up his elbow and sat out the entire season last year but promised to try and make a comeback.  I kinda had my doubts about such a bold statement, but I nonetheless cheered him on.  Sure enough, the 49-year old Moyer showed up at Colorado's spring training and ended up cracking the starting rotation.  I should point out that when Jamie entered the big leagues in 1987, the Rockies didn't even exist.  Anyway, Moyer started the season with a couple of losses, but earlier this week he beat the San Diego Padres fair and square and broke an 82-year old record by becoming the oldest modern era pitcher, at 49-years and 150-days, to win a game.  Although his fastball rarely tops 78 mph, he gives us old pharts hope that maybe there still a chance, still a call in our future by some team who is desperate for a light hitting first baseman with a bad back...  Anyway, by all accounts, Jamie is a nice guy, too, and gives freely of his time towards a charity he and his wife oversee.
Meanwhile, if perchance I meet him on the street, I might even ask for his autograph someday...that's because he still fits in my own personal autograph rule:  "I will not ask someone younger than me for their autograph."  Obviously, I'm quickly running out of potential signees (however, there is an asterisk for "superstars"...if Tiger is standing next to me at the Piggly-Wiggly in Boca Raton, I reserve the right to make an exception to the rule!)
So three cheers and a tube of Ben-Gay for Jamie Moyer!  Keep on mixing up those pitches as long as you are able.  And to baseball GM's, if you're looking for someone to suit up to be the "second oldest guy in baseball," I look pretty decent in a uniform--of course, you'll need to get past the whole "belly thing."  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

So long, Cal!

Even his first name was cool.  Cal Higgs died the other day.  Cal was 96.  I hadn't seen him for awhile and was wondering if he was okay.  Cal lived at Maple Knoll, home of our radio station, and would occasionally take a wheeled "stroll" on his maroon/red scooter with a headlight.  He wasn't one to chat very long and came off as a little gruff, but I think he welcomed those times when I spied him tooling down the hallway outside the station and I'd come out to visit a spell.
Most of us know a few Cals--people who have lived incredible lives or had incredible talents that otherwise would go unnoticed.   That was Cal.  On first glance, he was a gentle, bear-sized fellow with bulldog jowls.  It wasn't until I really got to know him that I was truly amazed about Cal.
In 2007, I decided to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the demise of the Island Queen steamboat.  I learned about a fellow named Cal Higgs who was there when the boat blew up lived upstairs.  Cal was the bass played for the Clyde Trask Orchestra, the boat's house band.  Armed with a recorder, mic, and script, I happily trudged upstairs.  Cal, of course, gave a great interview despite a quivering voice.  He was a little reluctant at first to be interviewed, as many older people are, but gradually relaxed.  By the end, I think he wanted me to stay awhile, recorder turned off, to chat--so I did.
Cal's apartment was lined with fantastic paintings.  Almost everyone an oil, they ranged in size from post card to the kind one sees over a couch.  Not too fond of "modern" art, I loved these paintings because they were very, very realistic.  In fact, some where so "real," it took a close examination to note that they were indeed paintings and not photographs.   The paintings were largely set around Cincinnati;  Hyde Park Square during the day, Over the Rhine circa 1950, the Cincinnati fountain at night.  They were magnificent.  I'm sure you have guessed by now that Cal painted each and every one.  After service in the war, Cal came back to school and in addition to his musical interests, he refined his longstanding love of painting.  The private gallery of Cal's art wasn't seen by many people--perhaps his housekeeper or maintenance man.  He routinely declined to participate in Maple Knoll's occasional resident and professional art shows.  None of the paintings was for sale.  With no children, I wondered what would happen to them someday.
By the time I got to know Cal, he had Parkinsons and his hands shook uncontrollably.  I thought of what a cruel trick for a man with such talent.  His paints and easel stood at the ready in a corner of his living room but he admitted he hadn't picked up a brush "in many years" and, indeed, his oils were probably all dry.
As someone who always wanted to learn oils, I blurted out that maybe he could give me lessons.  I could come up once or twice a week for an hour and I'd even pay him something.  He thought about that and said he'd "let me know."  It never came to pass and, to be honest, I'm sure such an arrangement would have violated some workplace employee/resident rule.  But it seemed like such a waste to let this talent go untapped.
The last time I ran into Cal was about a year ago.  There was an exhibit in the hallways from the Cincinnati Art Club and I could see Cal giving his careful scrutiny of each work.  "Your paintings are better than these," I offered.  "I think you're right," he not-so-modestly-but-honestly replied.  We never crossed paths again. 
I hope Cal is sitting on some heavenly street scape with his canvas, palette and some fresh oils.  His hands and arms are strong and fleet and precise and he is creating another masterpiece.  So long, Cal...I wish I could have know you better.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Recently, I happened to be wandering the "back 40" and was keeping a extra eye on the lookout for deer antlers, or "sheds"--as the pros call them.  I've only found one in the 16-year's we've owned the place, so it's not worth a special trip. I didn't find any. A few days later, I read an article in our local paper about how "shed theft" is a rising crime--that unscrupulous types are sneaking on others' properties to collect sheds and sell them for as much as $50-$75.  More if it was a six or eight "pointer."  Then, to seemingly cap it off, last week I was in that large discount store chain that starts with a "W" and ends in a "Mart" and saw they were selling copies of a TV show all about collecting sheds and skulls.  Called "Bone Hunters," the show on Outdoor Channel is apparently popular because the store was selling complete season one and two episodes.   
But this rant isn't really about "sheds" or deer or hunting or even the's about the fact that there is a television show, a weekly television show, that is entirely about collecting antlers!  Really?  If you haven't guessed, the Martini family does not have cable or satellite and has no interest in ever getting it in the forseeable.  I still sit agawk at the concept that there is a channel--and entire channel--dedicated entirely to food.  And not just one, but at least two (Food Network and Cooking Channel)! Furthermore, I simply cannot wrap my head around the concept that in this country of 305-million there are even 30 people who would spend more than five minutes watching such a network.  Obviously I'm dead wrong and completely out of touch, because enough people do watch in order to generate the advertising revenue that creates all of those shows.  A channel for all golf, all fishing, all tennis, all fashion.  Yes, I am the old fuddy-duddy for making fun of something that might be very important to someone.   But next time you want to watch a show about guys in camo sneaking through the nation's forests looking for deer antlers, here's an invite instead:  come on out of your home theater room and into the fresh air at our place where you can pretend you're a TV star and try it yourself (and maybe get a little exercise), if you're so inclined.   Gotta go now--there's a radio show about collecting marbles that's about to start.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Sound of Music Hall

A proposed renovation of Cincinnati's venerable Music Hall has been in the news lately.  The building is obviously historically important but there are many people openly questioning some of the details of the plan...namely, the reduction of seating capacity from 3400 to 1900, the removal of the grand chandelier and some other "improvements."  I'll leave it to others to debate the merits of the renovation plans.  My observations deal with the untold, underlying story.
When I was in fourth grade, it was pretty much expected at St. Al's in Bridgetown that you would at least give music a try.  We had the wonderful Sr. Frances Jean, who could play nearly any instrument, offering lessons for any student for a nominal fee.  I wanted to play the saxophone but after one look at my gangly arms (and the fact that her orchestra was short handed), she convinced me that the trombone was just right for me.  Eddie, who lived next door, chose the trumpet.  Lisa, across the street, played flute.  Although not always the most cooperative trombone student, I plowed through my lessons and recital books in an endless repertoire of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Cucaracha," sounding somewhat terrible but having fun.  So much so, I guess, that I continued to play through high school at LaSalle and undergrad at Xavier.  (Lisa and Eddie didn't continue beyond grad school.)  Many years later, after meeting my wife, I learned she took clarinet lessons in grade school.  Like I say, playing a band instrument was fairly common in the 60s and 70s but the experiences carry on into adulthood.  In a recent conversation among musicians, Holst's "The Planets" came up and I had no problem joining the conversations because we played excerpts once during one of our concerts in college.
In addition to learning and playing a variety of basic and, often, obscure, musical arrangements, it was not uncommon to be surrounded by traditional music in other ways as a kid.  Warner Brothers cartoons often featured melodies from classical and opera mixed into their scores.  We might not have known "The Barber of Seville" was composed by Gioachino Rossini in 1816, but we kids knew the melody very, very well.  It was also not unusual to hear such music in commercials and in movies.  Too bad such music is rare in kids' shows today.
My point is, maybe Music Hall wouldn't have to shrink by 1500 seats if only the current and next generation were exposed to more genres of music.  I can honestly say my mp3 player has music in every format from classical to country to alternative to classic rock to jazz to pipe organ music and I attribute my love of all styles of music to my early exposure in band.  Of course, the competition for kids' attention is much more difficult these days.  Playing a "real" instrument takes time, patience and lots of practice--a sort of antithesis in the instant gratification world.  In addition to competition, classical music, in particular, is very expensive with CSO seats ranging around $80 a seat per concert.  There are no solutions to be offered here and I confess this is more rant than realistic response.  Mandatory participation in music appreciation might not be a bad thing, though (along with "art" and "theater"), as it would fill in gaps not supplied by the internet, facebook and digital gaming.  "Appreciation" of something doesn't have to mean some young person has to enjoy or even like it....rather it means they understand it and the intelligent thoughts behind it.  As a side benefit, if even one percent of the next generation does like it, it could mean adding future seats rather than subtracting. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ripley Tornado Ripple

Sobering.  On Saturday morning, the morning after the tornados passed through the area, I noticed some debris in the front yard outside of our home.  Our house, located in farm country between the towns of Milan and Sunman, in Ripley County, Indiana, managed to avoid the worst of the storms.  However, about 20-miles to our southwest, as the crow flies, lies (what’s left of) Holton, a small town I’ve passed through a dozen or so times over the years.   Holton was laid to waste by an F3 tornado.  Over a dozen homes were destroyed, two people were killed and several people were injured.  And as I gathered the debris in my arms, a cold, sick feeling entered my stomach.   With each piece, my imagination ran wild.

Some shingles, a piece of ceiling tile, a large tuft of insulation…among the kinds of items one might expect after a serious storm.  Then when I lifted a large, 3-foot piece of wood, I noticed it was a piece of paneling—the kind found in living rooms in homes around the country.  But this piece was frayed, shattered and splintered along the edges revealing the incredibly violent ripping apart it underwent by the cyclone.  I also found a tattered piece of wallpaper, and clinging to it a strip of decorative border art.  I could envision the owner, years earlier, in the home improvement store picking it out.  Wouldn’t it look great with the curtains?  I thought about the many birthday parties it probably witnessed and all the family events it saw before it was wrenched away from its family.   The final piece I picked up almost escaped notice…a small piece of paper.  It was a receipt from 1988 for the princely sum of $2.  It must’ve been important enough to keep, possibly in a shoebox under a bed.  I hurried inside with my sorrowful treasures and quickly looked up the name of the lady on the receipt in the phone book:  the address was “Old Michigan Road, Holton, IN.  I felt a sudden strange sadness for the lady and immediately said a prayer for her, as if she were my favorite aunt or lost cousin.  (I later found out through my doctor-wife that her name was not among those admitted to the hospital, so I breathed a little easier, yet still felt a very odd closeness and concern.)

Later that evening, we attended a party at some friends’ near Yorkville, in Dearborn County…ten miles away from us and probably 30 from Holton.  The storm and the name and the piece of paper came up in discussion and the face of our host turned ashen.  She, too, found a piece of paper with a name.  It was the very same.

There are 640 acres in a square mile.  At the point where the storm passed through, the path was at least ten miles’ wide.  The land upon which this woman’s material world, as well as that of the other victims, could number in the tens of thousands of mostly rural—farmland, wooded—very desolate acres.  I could not begin to give a good accounting of our 70-acres and I cannot imagine how far some of those relics could have traveled.  A co-worker who lives in Newtown, on the eastern side of Cincinnati, found a piece of paper from Henryville, IN, near Louisville, so obviously debris can travel for hundreds of miles.  And yet I felt an urge to do something—to look in every nook and cranny and shrub bush for lost photographs or items of sentimental value on behalf of these poor souls.

While the truth about misplacing value in the material world of houses, cars and even wallpaper holds true, what has really stuck with me has been the witness of the raw violence of the act in which these items can be suddenly taken.  Perhaps only a hurricane or tsunami can rival the wipe-the-slate proficiency of leaving only building foundations and mud.  Ocean going debris from 2011 Japan is only now beginning to reach the California coast this year.  Violence and nature…life in a material world.  Sobering.  And for the lady whose name is on the receipt.  I hope and pray she’ll be okay and someday when we both get some perspective, I’ll return the note.  But not now.  It’s better to not know how widely cast were the seeds of her life among strangers and the wild.

Friday, March 2, 2012

WLW turns 90

Cincinnati's legendary radio station WLW turns 90 years old today.  On March 2, 1922, the government (then the Department of Commerce, I believe) issued commercial broadcast license #312 authorizing the call letters WLW.  The station technically had been operating for several months as experimental station 8XAA.  There are some who claim the station was granted the experimental calls 8CR (for Crosley), but it would've been unprecedented to have a custom call at that time.  Anyway, WLW was born on this date and a big downtown gala was held several weeks later, on the 23rd.  WLW was the nation's 62nd commercial station, third in the area behind Hamilton's WRK (57th) and Cincinnati's WMH (29th), but the only one of those three to celebrate a tenth birthday.
The station certainly has changed over the years--in both personnel and format--but its history is still pretty impressive.  It has been ranked number one in the Cincinnati market for over a decade now, which bucks a national trend of diminishing ratings for AM radio.  Certainly movements towards the boom in talk radio in the 1980s as well as the boost by the local professional and college sports broadcasts have helped.  But the proof is in the numbers and the station has long been the high tide that floated all local radio boats.
In 1928, owner Powel Crosley purchased rival WSAI and shifted local programming to "Cincinnati's Own Station."  Crosley also won the right to be one of the first stations in the country to broadcast at 50,000 watts and dubbed his station, located in the center of the nation's population, "the Nation's Station."  But the story doesn't end there...    Almost immediately, Crosley engineers laid out plans for 500,000 watts---a half MILLION watts!  Permission was granted in 1934 and  coverage area, staff size and advertising income quadrupled. 
Power is an amazing thing and WLW had it both figuratively and literally.  By 1937, WLW was producing two dozen original programs, many carried across the network.  They also tormented NBC, its network.  WLW would pick and choose which network shows it was willing to carry.  On occasion, it would ask NBC to send the script because WLW felt it could produce it better with its own actors and orchestra.  Imagine Cincinnati's WLWT television today asking NBC for the script for this week's The Office because it wanted to produce the episode itself!   But 1930s WLW could pull it off because it kept teasing NBC by threatening to create its own network (WLW Line, the Mutual Network, etc.) and NBC couldn't afford to lose its largest affiliate.
The station had its ups and downs since the superpower era ended in 1939 (actually, late at night during WWII, they'd fire up the big transmitter for special government broadcasts).  The 1950s and 60s were a little rough because of the company's interest in television, but interest bounced back in the 70s with JFPO and the Reds, and the 80s with Scott, Burbank, McConnell, Cunningham et al .
I am proud to say I worked there for a year (1988-89) as a part-time newscaster ("Mike Morgan").  I started when the station was located on 4th Street downtown and was the first "regular" announcer to broadcast from the then-new Mt Adams studios (after the GM said a few words) on October 25th, 1988 (or was it the 26th?)  I remember that night fairly clearly and it was quite exciting.  The on-air staff, at the time, was not allowed to say "55" degrees because of bitter rival 55KRC.  Today the two former enemies are sister stations under the Clear Channel banner and the rivalry has been reduced to the fact that they are simply two studios, side by side, in a long hallway.
90-years is something special but can be put into perspective.  My kids have never known a time when there weren't computers, but I do.  I do not remember a time without television, but my parents do.  There are still many people walking around much older than radio.
Anyway, happy birthday to the "Nation's Station" and many more, I hope.