The Sears website is too busy – please visit a store..

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 1.08.18 PM

Friday.  November 29th, 2013.  I just wanted to shop for tires.  Sears’ website is so overloaded, they encourage you to visit a store.  Including a map and FAQ page.

It happens.   Chill out.

But it is kinda funny…

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50 Years and a Day

During this, 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, many people have been giving spin and perspective.  Some of it has been predictable, some, outrageous.

It has been a special gift to turn my internet feed onto my television screen and experience the news and programming of CBS from 50 years ago, a time when I was far to young to really remember any of it.

CBS News has been running a non-stop feed of their televised coverage of 50 years ago, on the event and after of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

As I type this blogpost, CBS has ended the feed and will begin again at 9am ET on Sunday, November 24, 2013.

The perspective of journalists (pretty much all men) on the rough draft of history they were wrestling with.  A concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra hastily recorded by CBS on videotape with Eugene Ormandy conducting Bass-Baritone McHenry Boatwright, Soprano Phyllis Curtin, and the Rutgers University Chorus performing the Brahms German Requiem. Those were different times, but not too different from now, really.

And then, the finis of tonight, a brief essay by Harry Reasoner.   I heard it and knew I had to find it in writing – which I did, thanks to the 2007 book about Mr. Reasoner by Douglass K. Daniel, “A Life In the News.” It is well indexed and footnoted.

Here, as cited in footnote 26 of chapter five, Mr. Reasoner’s closing remarks of tonight’s broadcast (Script dated November 23, 1963.).

On tonight’s rebroadcast of November 23, 1963, here is what Harry Reasoner said:

At the end of this second day of concentrated national grief and attention to one event, it may be time to stop for a moment and think about our own attitude. Introspection is proper in sorrow as it is at any time, because mourning—if it becomes a fixed and purposeless moan at the cruelty of fate—can be habit-forming.

In Norwalk, Ohio, today a fire burned up a home for the elderly, and about sixty-three old men and women died.

There is a way of thinking about our knowledge of God which might make you say that in His sight that event was sixty-three times as important as the death in Dallas. In the national attention those sixty-three have scarcely had a place. They get six inches of type in the Sunday edition of the New York Daily News, for instance, just above a little item about a man who stole some money from a department store. You might think that we are out of proportion, that the national dirge that fills these days is inappropriate. Either we should do more, mourn all the time for everybody, or maybe do less.

There were, for instance, some calls last night to CBS in New York from citizens complaining about missing their normal Friday night programs.

Our operators, I understand, were polite.

We are not out of proportion. We are not dishonoring the sixty-three old folks or the thousands of others who died yesterday and today and will die tonight and tomorrow. We are not God. We are a nation of men who tempt with honor and reward all kinds of men to serve us. When one is especially worthy, especially important to us, and becomes a sacrifice as well as a leader, it is entirely appropriate that we do him great honor. We are all dying and what we feel about John Kennedy is not so much sadness that he met his appointment a little sooner, but a gratitude and love for a man who would make that appointment for us.

There is only one reservation: It must not be a habit. When President Kennedy announced the quarantine of Cuba, one reporter suggested that what he wanted from his countrymen was intelligent support, not intoxicated belligerence. It seems likely that what this man would want from his martyrdom would be a considered dedication, not a pointless self-pity.

The CBS “Time Capsule” of real-time broadcasts will continue Sunday morning, November 24, 2013 at 9am ET.   I hope they keep those archives active for generations to come

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Big Bird, the Peacock and the Kangaroo vs NASA and Honey Boo Boo

The unexpected attention to Sesame Street and Big Bird this past week has caused a lot of discussion in various places.  It is not like we haven’t been here before.

But having public broadcasting become a prominent part of the current political season before an election is a bit more unusual.  And it is also coming when a lot of public radio is in the midst of pledge week.

To put this into perspective, Brian Palmer at has written a very good “Explainer” column on why Big Bird and Sesame Street are on PBS to begin with. There is even more background on this story, but the Captain Kangaroo connection is worth mentioning.   CBS had the Captain back when NBC was busy with the Today Show

Palmer writes,PBS desperately needed a winner in the late 1960s and was willing to take a chance. Some PBS programming was so poor that the New York Times television critic noted, “congressmen could scarcely be blamed for wondering if a huge permanent investment in noncommercial video is warranted.” Sesame Street was exactly the kind of innovative show that could change the narrative about public broadcasting.”

Around the same time that PBS was taking shape and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was coming into being, the Appalachian Community Service Network was also created (1972) in partnership between NASA and the Department of Health Education and Welfare.  This channel became The Learning Channel in 1980. By 1991, TLC was bought by what is now Discovery Networks.

A current Internet meme is floating around that this network, TLC, founded by HEW and NASA, is now bringing us “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”  This is true.  The network and the programs it carries are paid for, largely, by your cable or satellite fees.

Another cable channel from the 1970’s started as a non profit (like TLC) and is still non-profit, today.  CSPAN was created as a service to be paid for by cable fees, with a 2011 budget of around $60 million.  The board of directors features many representatives of the largest cable television companies.

So, the free market gave us CSPAN and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  And the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS brought us Sesame Street and a lot more. If things had gone differently with NBC in the late 1960’s, who knows what might have happened?

This is the kind of remarkable mix that we have in media in the United States. I share all of this not to say what is right or wrong, but just what is.


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Changing Planes, Changing Plans

Changes in my life mean I’m back to flying more often.  The couple of years away from frequent air travel has reminded me how much it has changed. 

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Midfield terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport. 

photo: Scott Hanley

Photo: Scott Hanley
Photo: Scott Hanley

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a very good retrospective on the “new” airport – and how the world changed in less than a decade to make for a decidedly less ambitious current state. 

The “new” Pittsburgh International was unique in its time – I liked to call it the most secure shopping mall in America, since, before “9/11,” anyone could come in and peruse the scores of shopping mall-type stores at the AirMall.  I recall buying my first sound card for a computer at PIT while on a visit with my sons.   

The walk to make connections was far easier than most airports.  The baggage claim system was “state of the art,” though that art had a way of not always living up the promise…

Greater Pittsburgh International Airport, 1950’s

I remember flying into the old Pittsburgh airport long before I ever thought I might live in Pittsburgh.  It was a grand old place in its own way.


In January 2001, NPR’s All Things Considered sent an entire production team to Pittsburgh International to follow what went on in the course of the 24 hour workdays at what was still, then, a very busy airport.

Airplanes at Pittsburgh International Airport
(Photo: Ellen Weiss)

This NPR project was more than a dozen years ago.  It is interesting to hear how much like every other airport operation PIT was back then.  It is a transit hub, so there are things that have to be done.   People working at 3 in the morning face many common issues, so this was a good, generalized set of stories. 

Still active but not so busy

Pittsburgh still has a fairly busy airport for a community of its size.  It just isn’t as busy as what planners had expected. PIT appears to now be serving fewer travelers than Cleveland-Hopkins International. 

The evolution over time of Detroit Metro Airport is a good indication of what a difference the travel needs of 4 to 5 million people can do for business as opposed to a market of 1 or 2 million. With more international travel and a larger base population to originate flights from, Detroit Metro continues on a pattern of increased passenger visits.

I remember coming to the “new” Pittsburgh International not just to make a connection but for business.  But it took very sad turn with the crash of USAir flight 427 taking 132 lives in September 1994. This was less than two years after the opening of the new terminal.  This was also not long after the Pittsburgh newspaper strike of 1992-93, which changed the landscape of media in that city. 

The media coverage of crash of flight 427 was a bellwether event for a city ready to head into yet another era of change.  The much investigated accident led to changes in how all Boeing 737’s would be maintained, too.

The downturn in USAirways activity, the reduced air travel from several recessions and the very nature of being in a smaller city meant that whatever USAir would or would not do in Pittsburgh would have stronger impacts on the airport than one would see in a much larger market. 

I now live in Birmingham, AL, where the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is the largest in the state and sees about half the traffic of PIT.  

Which brings me to a topic I hadn’t thought of at all when I first contemplated writing this post.  As of this week, the Birmingham News is changing, too, cutting back print editions from 7 days a week to three, and renaming the enterprise the Alabama Media group. 

My station, WBHM, and our Junior Advisors Board is holding an “Issues and Ales” event this week, bringing together media experts of different backgrounds to discuss what is next in the realm of information and journalism in transition.

Thursday, Oct. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Cantina at Pepper Place in Birmingham, AL.

Hope to see you there – as we get started on the future.

John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” and I tend to agree. But if you are paying attention and choose to act, perhaps you can have a role in whatever comes next.

But fasten your seat belts, put your tray in the appropriate position, and be mindful of the exits!

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..they pull me back in.

I’m back.  Back to public radio.

At first, the clip from “The Godfather, Part III” came to mind:

As apt as that Al Pacino moment may seem in the context of going back to the realm of coffee mugs and pledge drives, my “return” is pretty exciting.
I have accepted the position of General Manager for WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama. The people and the community impress me. It reminds me a bit of Pittsburgh – and WDUQ – in 1995. A city with a legacy in steel, evolving into a center for medicine, commerce, and education. The changing media world is offering up the potential for public media to take an even larger role in convening and informing the public.  It is a great opportunity with a dedicated, talented staff in a special city with a great university, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and a strong community of listeners and supporters. I am eager to contribute to the success of what is next.

My radio career (or, should I say, my first paid radio job) started in September 1978.  The same month and year as a TV show about the business, sort of.  WKRP.

When I started, I was still a teen. From that media job to others, like Gary Sandy’s character from WKRP, I moved around the country.  When I first moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, a colleague’s family emergency pulled me into on-air TV pledge drives just a couple of weeks after my arrival.  Over the years, one radio and TV job to another, there wasn’t a week when I wasn’t on the air somewhere, somehow, either live or “transcribed.”

And so it went for more than three decades.  About a year and a half ago, I left not just public radio, but broadcasting as my full-time gig.  Things had changed and moving on made sense.  Things do end. Even good things.

The past year and a half has been a fascinating experience, working with new groups of great and diverse people doing interesting and valuable work.

Now, another hand has been dealt in the realm of radio.   WBHM in Birmingham.

I regret leaving the State Theatre in Uniontown before their hopes and ambitions for the 90th Anniversary Season are fully realized.  It is a great organization on the rise, with a dedicated board, staff and volunteers, serving a remarkable community with a fascinating history. I will continue to support them – and encourage you to, too!   (Season opens with the musical, Titanic – September 29, 2012 – call (724) 439-1360 to order tickets for that and many other great performances).

To my friends in Pittsburgh, Uniontown, Michigan, Iowa, Texas and more, up and down the dial, I leave a bit of my heart with you. It has been a privilege to have had so many people and places welcome me home.

See you on the radio in Birmingham!

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A Bridge not too high or too far

While traveling to the beaches of North Carolina last week, we took a route from Uniontown through Maryland on the way to West Virginia, and so on.   Google maps and the iPhone and the Garmin navigation unit all had different opinions on the quickest route (well, the navi wanted us to go to the beltway in DC – not likely).   So, as we plotted an alternate route along the national road (Route 40), we were advised by the navigation unit to veer right down a rather steep but short hill.  And there we ended up looking at some unexpected history – and the history of commerce.

The Potomac River is but a stream in this part of Maryland.   Following along the same path as the nearly 200 year old C and O canal.

But the history goes ever further back.  This was a very early waypoint to the “frontier” of what would become southwest Pennsylvania.  George Washington passed through the area many times, starting years before his expeditions further north in what would later become the start of the French-Indian War.

After passing through this place that Washington forded so many years ago, we went on to pay the only tolls of the entire trip.

Built in 1937, a privately owned, toll bridge. It has even been in the news, lately.

It is single lane.

It is safe.

Rated for something like 16,000 lbs.

Wooden boards.

Low – and prone to flooding.

You must wait your turn.

No guard rail.

To pay to go across is 50 cents.

Adjacent to a national park service site, and featured on hiking trails.

Sometimes you plan on adventures.  Sometimes they appear when you least expect them.

Sometimes, they cost 50 cents.

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If money were no object..

Do you just go for the suit, the cars and the house, or the whole Iron Man regalia?

Price range for a functional suit, “no charge” plus in-kind, to half a billion dollars.   

Mind you, while this infographic shows that Tony Stark’s first Iron Man suit was “free,” those parts were not cheap!

Image source: MoneySupermarket;

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