Oct 19

Let us look at a new book

Today is Fall Break. The university gives the students the day off. Just the day, not a full week like you see in the spring. And since it was today, that means it really began in earnest on Wednesday or so. By yesterday afternoon the building had a Night of the Comet feel.

Fewer teens, yesterday and no zombies yesterday, though. Thankfully. We’re not really built or kitted out for zombies. And it would give the safety people fits.

The zombies were today.

We’ve got a new book today. This is a Reader’s Digest from 1969, and it is the last one Reader’s Digest from my grandfather’s collection that I’ve inexplicably saved and will have to do something with. Like take photographs of the ads and make fun of them. They’re dusty and moldy and I’ve realized you have to wear a mask even to deal with them. The cover on this one is pretty rough …

But some of the stuff inside is worth seeing, and in much better shape. If you click the cover you can see the first six samples from this issue. We’ll probably get about five or six weeks out of this book before we move on to some other piece. If you click here, you can see all of the books I’ve put on the site so far. There are eight textbooks, notebooks and magazines so far, and there’s a huge stack still to go.

So, anyway, the April 1969 issue has ominous titles like “Is Congress Destroying Itself?” Still? Again? “Our Son is a Campus Radical.” Get in line. “Man vs. Virus,” Now you’re just trying to scare the parents of campus radicals.

Another selection is “Can Baseball Be Saved?” Yes, Cal Ripken did it just 26 years later. I was watching at my grandparents house, where this book lived all those years, in fact the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s streak and did his lap around Camden Yard. It seems baseball is always in need of saving. Someone probably has to do it again these days. But we won’t read about it in Reader’s Digest, I bet.

“NATO: An Alliance in Search of a Future.” I think we could all argue that’s a good thing. And a weird thing, given we were still at a high part of the Cold War when this was being written. “Frenzy on the Freeways,” but mass transit will save us all, I’m sure. “From the Brink of Extinction,” some themes stick around, what can I say?

But you want something a bit more contemporaneous, I hear you say. That’s fine. Here’s some sports television the Award-Winning TM sports crew produced last night:

It’s a brief show, but they did it in one take, which I think was a first.

What’s your weekend like? We’ll have some beautiful weather, and we have to find ways to enjoy it all, while it lasts. I hope yours is incredibly long lasting.

Oct 19

It only starts with Halloween puns

I didn’t order spooky soup or vampire vegetables or poltergeist pasta, but there were ghosts above my lunch today.

I did have a scary sandwich, though.

And we once again had the now age-old conversation about teaching tech versus teaching principles.
“You do not need,” I said, “a $20,000 camera to teach the principles of videography. Some of these I can teach with just this piece of paper.”

Look! Composition!

The point being not that paper replaces a camera — though if you had some good stock I suppose you could create your own camera obscura — but that you can do a lot with with a more basic, straightforward, efficient camera. Especially when you’re trying to teach the basics.

It’s easy to get distracted by the shiny new toy, but to teach tools in a perpetually (and rapidly) evolving industry is to shortchange your students. Mostly, I was just pleased with myself. That paper-camera composition joke was on the short list for the day’s Best Point List.

Went for a run this evening. Just a quick, slow little 5K around the neighborhood. It was fun, except for the parts where I still have to do intervals. I’m almost done with those, I think, thankfully. I’m 17 miles into my run recovery. Still wrapping my foot. Still feeling pretty decent, except for the boring walking part. But I’m not up to running full speed — which isn’t fast, mind you — but I can blur a camera phone:

We’re starting to get a bit of secondary color in the neighborhood, though. The pecan trees are shedding their nuts. There was, briefly, a tailwind. Mostly just the mild sort that hits you in the face and chills the sweat off the skin.

Television! Time flies. Why, it seems like just yesterday that she was here, tripping over herself, learning how to do the TV thing. Now she’s a cool, calm, confident and self-possessed TV person at a station up north. She dropped by a segment last night, a total surprise.

And some news:

Are you following me on all the social media? You should follow me on all of the social media. There’s tons more fun stuff smeared all over the Internet, because the world has forgotten that we should host these things on our own platforms. Look me up. There’s genius and keen insights to behold and enjoy.

Oct 19

Morale comes in many flavors

How it starts is, you see that first maple leaf fall. The one you can’t ignore because it was on a diseased or detaching branch. Maple, being nature’s quitter, is always the first one to go. And then you see random moments like this, when the sun is just right and something in the background and the polarization of your sunglasses catches the proper glint:

Then a few leaves hit the ground, and suddenly the birches have joined the maples in their emotional decline. That creates beautiful moments, of course. And those moments turn into a few days. You hope those days turn into weeks, such that you begin to not even notice it anymore. As if that could happen. And, if you’re lucky, you can get that without a big storm coming through to reduce the world to pointless sticks poking into the sky.

Autumn is nice. It’d be lovely if you could put the on-rushing winter out of your mind, before it chills the spirits. Better to just put yourself beyond its reach.

If you need something to watch, you need television. And if you need television you need a morning show. Got you covered:

They learned to make pizza and did a winery feature in that episode. Why they don’t go somewhere every week to go learn and try new things escapes me. It seems to me like it’d be the most fun show you could do.

Or if you’re reading this late at night you might need the late show:

There’s a very famous and successful a cappella group on campus and they joined the show for fun and a lot of water. I didn’t get that joke, but there’s plenty of good stuff in there. I especially enjoyed the package where one of the guys from the show tried to join the group. He sang Ode to Joy in the style of … well, a character most of us grew up with.

Otherwise, more television this evening. Saw an old friend at the tapings. Enjoyed a few meetings during the day and slogged through a few other ones, too.

Tonight we wiped out the last of the weekend’s leftovers, a tasty pork curry. That’s a success. Progress! Achievement! A big spot in the refrigerator reclaimed! There’s also the downside. Now there’s no more no-dishes nights. For the last several dinners it’s been no more difficult than opening the dishwasher. But now we’ll be back to original cooking and original dishes and, boy, isn’t life tough?

The difficulty of the evening is trying to fit a giant Tupperware container into the washer so you don’t have to do it by hand. The danger to morale in the knowledge there’ll be something you do have to scrub tomorrow. And then the nightly ironing of tomorrow’s clothes. That’s always a tricky one, when it comes to morale. And you never know which way that one will break until you see the wrinkles you have to deal with.

Oct 19

Spanning the generations

Here are a few more student productions:

These are from last night. They’re starting to get the hang of this. They’d probably be even better if I didn’t manage to get in the way here or there.

I could show you other videos that other people have made, some truly stellar work is floating around. But, instead, I’m going to go back to the 1930s. I’m reading (still) Frederick Lewis Allen’s Since Yesterday. It’s a good book, but it is like that bit of steak that just won’t get chewed up to a size that’s safe to swallow. The 1930s, which is the focus of this story, just … keeps … going. Imagine how it must have felt to live through that decade.

But the Kindle says I’m 70-some percent through the book, and we’ve got to a happy subject for a change, the big boom of radio.

Allen cites a Depression-era Harper’s Magazine story which recorded there were 17 symphony orchestras in the United States in 1915. By 1939, Allen tells us, there were over 270. This surge was brought on because of the huge boom in radio. (In 2014, Wikipedia tells me, there were 1,224 symphony orchestras in the U.S. not including our many modern youth orchestras.) Music programming was a popular choice and radio helped contribute to a successful, nationwide musical education, that is, perhaps, peerless.

Part of that success is owed to a program called The NBC Music Appreciation Hour. This show, conducted by Walter Damrosch (a famed composer), was broadcast from 1928 to 1942. During the thirties, an estimated seven million children heard the show weekly, in some 70,000 schools nationwide.

The show also aired on Saturdays in Nashville. It was the lead in for WSM’s weekly barn dance. Once, in 1928, Damrosch said ‘there’s no room in the classics for realism.’ George Hay, who was on his way to becoming a legend in country music and the host of the barn dance, came on right after and said his show was full of realism.

“The program which just came to a close was devoted to the classics. Dr. Damrosch told us there is no place in the classics for realism. However, from here on out for the next three hours, we will present nothing but realism. It will be down to earth for the ‘earthy’.”

That’s how the Grand Ole Opry it’s name. DeFord Bailey, a Tennessee-native and the grandson of slaves, played the first song after Hay’s speech, a song that would soon become a classic, Pan American Blues:

Bailey was a multi-instrumentalist, and they say he was impressive on most everything he played. He was an Opry Star for about 13 years, and he toured the country. They fired him in 1941, ostensibly over some licensing issue, but if you read about it you get the sense there was a lot more, and a lot less, to the story, which wouldn’t surprise anyone. Bailey stayed in Tennessee, but didn’t play much publicly after that. He did come back much later for an Old Timer’s Special. Here’s a clip, two full generations after he kicked off the Opry:

Watch him. He doesn’t move. There’s no fanfare. There’s just that sound.

Sound defined everything.

Last week I reviewed a paper on the “Forgotten history of South Carolina radio.” It was about the 1920s and the stations that came and went, mostly in the low country. I loved the paper. I wanted it to do more, even as it did enough. It’s papers like that which sometimes make me wish I’d been a historian. But, then, I realize if there’s ever anything I want to learn about, I can just open someone else’s book and they’ve already uncovered the mysteries. Do you want to know about the first football game broadcast in South Carolina? This paper has it:

On October 7, 1923, the Charleston News and Courier reported that WSAC had carried live, play-by-play coverage of the September 29 Clemson-Auburn football game from Clemson’s Riggs Field. Since there is no record of any previous, live broadcast of a sporting event in South Carolina, the distinction of being the first plausibly belongs to WSAC. W.E. Godfrey termed the broadcast a success (the game’s final score was 0-0) and said that WSAC would provide play-by-play coverage of other Clemson home football games that season. The professor added that it was likely that WSAC would soon become a “popular station.”

The Clemson student paper, which at one point wrote about their team as “The Jungaleers” wrote about the game extensively. It’s a slow load, but if you’re into this sort of thing, you should give it a try.

Anyway, the mystery in this particularly scholarly paper that I was reviewing for a conference was how those early local Carolina stations later gave way to colonial programming from out of state. The answer, as ever, is economics. That station that started in a furniture store, or the one that was just a front to sell radios and a few other examples, are remembered as brief fly-by-night operations. None of them seemed to last more than two or three years. There were signal problems to contend with, as was the case in much of the country back then since the government wildly underestimated the booming growth of radio in every sense. And even the towns of South Carolina were rural enough that they didn’t get linked into the growing national networks until much later. By then the local stations were gone, the big signals were coming in from cities out of state and that’s your colonial broadcast. Without reading a complete history, I’m guessing it probably didn’t start stabilizing for local broadcasters until the early 1940s, or perhaps the 1950s. That’s just the story of broadcasting in the South.

But the 1930s in South Carolina radio would be intriguing too. A couple of quick searches showed me that some key names from some of those early 1920s stations wound up running other projects, creating and building stations that would ultimately become broadcasting staples in the palmetto state.

Maybe the 1920s and 1930s radio is an interesting tale in any state. Maybe I should look that up and pretend to be a historian.

Or I could make these connections:

Maybe in ninety years or so someone will look at podcasts the same way. Maybe someone midway through the 22nd century will figure out how to power up, convert and encode YouTube videos and start stumbling on some of these things we are doing today. Maybe they’ll think highly of us.

Oct 19

One where I tried to tie the day together

Students I know created this show:

Other students I know produced two shows this evening, and they’ll be online tomorrow. And in between this and that, on a hectic night of shooting, where I might have just been accidentally getting in the way on purpose, I did get one of the better jokes I can make in a studio …

We got one in last spring, too …

The infinity effect is a classic joke. Maybe I appreciate it more than other people, but that’s OK. There was a great cartoon, probably from the 1960s or 1970s, that I can’t find today, but I’ve never forgotten and it probably predisposed me to the bit. At some point you have to be able to amuse yourself in the course of your day.

Elsewhere, this evening, I saw a presentation from the great Doc Searls, who has been a fellow at Harvard, NYU, UC-Santa Barbara and a widely published journalist. He’s also a best-selling author. One book he co-wrote, The Cluetrain Manifesto, was an important component of a class I used to teach. So this was a great opportunity to hear an important thinker. I could say a lot more about the guy, but you’d think I was overselling it.

Isn’t it interesting how well that applies to everyone, except for those to whom it does not apply? And then, for fun, go live in that lifestyle for about 12 hours, or try to conduct your daily business therein. Where is the water that fish asked us about?

I remember the first time I said this, in a political communication panel at a little regional convention. The room was full and there were some seriously accomplished scholars in the room. The looks I got when I said “We should stop differentiating between the real world and our time online.” This would have been immediately after Barack Obama’s first presidential election, when online strategies had been so critical to many of the campaigns we saw the previous fall. I can only assume it seemed an odd thought to the more accomplished scholars because they were of a vintage that, when they thought about it, were still thinking of other mediated formats.

The bigger problem, tonight, is that more people should have heard him speak. But that’s a problem for a different day.

I made a joke today about the vulnerability of the Internet, one demonstrable weak spot, of course, being …

Then The Yankee and I went to lunch. She dove into her purse to pay and pulled out … cash. I saw an Out of Order Post-it on the little loyalty card sticker. As I am convinced the societal part of our world will come to an end just after the adhesive of hastily scrawled notes on carefully applied squares of paper gives way, this was not a good sign. Especially after that joke I made this morning.

But she just wanted to pay with greenbacks today. Sometimes you go with the classics. It was only the loyalty scanner device which was down. We won’t put too much thought into that as a metaphor. All of this, I guess, made sense, given the moment (the moment is the message, by the way) wasn’t typified by people stacked up at the cash register how they were going to get by this guy who was between them and their noontime habits.

If you know anyone looking for a project …

Someone out there is thinking big thoughts about the intersection of sports media and geo-policy and geopolitics. With the world getting smaller and sports getting larger and the money … well, the money is just a form of communicating these days. That’s the moment we live in. That’s the adtech that Doc Searls was talking about tonight.

And it won’t be going away any time soon, no matter how I mangle the spelling of Silicone Valley.

More important than all of these things is this beautiful expression:

You go have yourself a wonderful Wednesday tomorrow.