Thursday, October 22, 2009

Radio Daze

It happens every year.  My favorite radio stations go off the air for a week or ten days.  Technically speaking, there is still a signal being broadcast.  But all that you hear is a string of phone numbers, URLs, and people - who have neither the skills nor the personality - seeking to impersonate the late and unlamented Billy Mays: “If you call in the next ten minutes you will be automatically entered in the drawing for our trip to Darfur!”

Bless their hearts, I know these are tough times for public radio stations, but they just have to re-think their whole approach to fundraising.  Here the Raleigh area, the best classical station, the best jazz station and the only middle-of-the-road-hesitant-delivery NPR station, all have their “Fall Fundraisers” at the same time.  It is certainly not a coincidence.  Someone told them it was a good idea.  I can hear the pitch at the meeting: “We gotta stick together on this.  Everybody hates pledge drives. They hit the channel button as soon as they hear “919.” But if NOBODY plays regular programming, there will be nowhere to run to!”

In your dreams, Fundraising Consultant.

Never have there been so many ways to put sound in our ears.  But, still, let’s pretend you get into your car without your iPod or CDs and you let the satellite service go as another small economy.  We can still get away from “The programs you love cost more now than ever before.  .  .  .”  I discovered ESPN radio. 

Wait! Wait! It isn’t as bizarre as it seems.  You see, when I can’t listen to NPR, jazz or classical I just want some sound buzzing in my ears without commercials designed for teenagers.  So I started listening to ESPN radio on my commute.  It is quite cool in some very strange ways.

For example, the other night I was listening to a Notre Dame football game.  I don’t know who they were playing.  I know it wasn’t Alabama because I get really conflicted when Notre Dame plays Alabama - I really don’t know whom I want to lose more.  But that is not the point, the point is that the announcers sounded like voices from the 1940s or 50s.  There was the play-by-play guy who called each play with a sense of awe, as though it really mattered.  I could see him in my mind’s eye – a Jimmy Stewart kind of a guy, with a crumpled fedora, but who wears a tie and sports coat out of respect for the game.  Every once in awhile he would toss a question to “Coach” whose voice was a Southern drawl deeply steeped in whiskey and cigarettes.  No, Doctor of Footballology here. It went more like this:

Play-by-play: My gosh, what a play! Fantastic effort by that plucky little back who disappeared under a heaving mass of linebackers.  I hope he’s OK! What do you think, Coach?  Was that the right play?

Coach: Well, I never would’a run it.  Sure not then.

Play-by-play: Thanks Coach!  Oh, jeepers, I can’t believe what I’m seeing now! The quarterback is .  .  . 

You get the idea.  Who writes this stuff? It is classic.  Radio from the Twilight Zone.

Then this morning was a show called “The Herd” hosted by someone named Colin Cowherd.  No, really, it says that on the website.  Anyhow, this morning he was on a rant about major league baseball rejecting the idea of an official review of video replays of close calls because it would “affect the flow of the game.”  Colin waxed wroth.  I have never heard a radio host do longer pauses:

“Baseball is a game that has no clock. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] It has no clock. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] But major league baseball is worried that taking two minutes to look at the video and get the call right will disrupt the flow of the game. [PAUSE PAUSE] Baseball has [PAUSE] no clock. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] How many times does the manager come out of the dugout to dispute a call? [PAUSE] How long does that take? [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] “Five minuets?” PAUSE PAUSE, Three? [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] Baseball is a game that has no clock.

Poetry in a strange kind of way.

Colin then proceeded to ramble on about the seventh inning stretch, the potential for a week’s break between the playoffs and the World Series, inserted a little faux commercial for baseball on Thanksgiving, hit on conferences on the mound and multiple changes of pitchers during an inning, before circling back with perfect symmetry to “Baseball is a game [PAUSE PAUSE] that has no clock. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] This is The Herd.”

Strangely, listening to The Herd has finally allowed me to understand the heretofore unfathomable appeal of Rush Limbaugh.  The delightful self-seriousness of The Herd, is genuinely entertaining.  Poor Colin must rail against the glaring stupidity of those in power.  Major League Baseball will blunder blindly ahead oblivious to the fact that “Baseball is a game [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] that has no clock.”  

Limbaugh does much the same, only he rails against Major League Liberals, The Guv’munt and now, “Obama’s America.”  His rants are, for his audience, both affirming and amusing, while he does his fundraising the old-fashioned way – with traditional commercials that our 21st century brains completely ignore.  Of course, neither Colin nor Rush have to worry about actually building their particular fields of dreams – that is someone else’s job. 

So I was startled the other day my new friends on ESPN radio began affirming the wisdom of booting Rush from a group trying to purchase the St. Louis Rams because he would be “a complication PAUSE and a distraction, PAUSE PAUSE.”  Colin likes stating the obvious as though it were news.  You gotta PAUSE PAUSE love it.  Personally, I have nothing against Rush being an NFL owner, as long as he is willing to participate in scrimmages.  After all, “Football is no game PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE for sissies!”

Hold on, let me check NPR for a moment .  .  .  .

Any of you want to have lunch with Fiona Richie?  You still have 20 minutes to meet that listener challenge.  Sigh.  “Public Radio Fund Drives [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] never end. [PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE] This is the Schrag.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One Size to Fit Millions

I noticed a post on PC World this morning regarding potential redesigns for Facebook’s home page.


I’m not much of a Facebook fan, I glance at it every few days, but it doesn’t play much of a role in my life. Still, I can feel their pain. I run my classes using a “learning management system” called Moodle. It, too, creates a specific structure upon a page designed to meet the needs of a group. But my group numbers in the mere hundreds and still the page generates considerable confusion and chagrin. Facebook has what, 250, 300 million people to please? OMG! as the texterati would write.

People are possessive about Facebook – they refer to it as My Facebook Page. Not my page on Facebook. Sitting there on your screen, the difference may seem slight – but viscerally the difference is immense. Users think they “own” Facebook. Never mind that it is free and there remains the nagging question of who “really owns” all that stuff y’all post up there. Regardless, feelings about Facebook definitely remain “personal possessive.”

How do you change the “look and feel” of something that 300 million people think they own? We will see, perhaps, in the next few weeks. Who knows? I will make a prediction – somehow the ads will become more prominent. “Ads?” you say? Sure. Just scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the little link next to About that says Advertising. See? You too can be up there pushing product on those millions of “My Facebook” pages.