Thursday, July 31, 2008

Twenty Years of Talk Radio Revolution

Category: News

In 1988, AM radio was a dying entity. With a few exceptions (most notably, Nashville's WSM-AM, home of the Grand Ole Opry), AM radio was relegated to the formats that FM did not want: religious programming, foreign languages, old country, R&B, and pop crooners.

Then on August 1, 1988, the Rush Limbaugh program began, airing on AM radio. The show took off, and in the process revived AM radio as a vibrant, legitimate outlet.

Love him or hate him (it's very difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone in the middle when it comes to the conservative host), Rush Limbaugh's popularity elevated talk radio from a mostly local outlet to a nation, vital necessity. His show is now carried by over 600 radio stations with an audience of 20 million. Before Limbaugh came along, six radio stations and an audience of 20 thousand for a talk show was unthinkable. Now the format is so popular that it's practically all you can find on AM radio.

Happy anniversary to the Rush Limbaugh program!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Oh What a Voice

Category: Obituary

For younger people, "You Belong to Me" evokes memories of either Carly Simon or the Doobie Brothers. However, the older people -- and music buffs -- immediately think of that wonderful song from the 50s and Jo Stafford's remarkable voice.

Jo Stafford died July 16th of congestive heart failure at her home in Century City, California. Most people who remember her probably thought she died ages ago. Sadly, there is not much desire for the popular music she and others of her era performed, so the fact that her name only surfaced in the public eye through death is understandable, though regrettable.

Jo Stafford began as a singer in vocal group called the Pied Pipers in the 1930s. Tommy Dorsey's arranger heard them and invited them to leave California for New York. The band broke up soon afterwards, but Stafford and two others remained in New York and quickly found work with Dorsey and performing on recordings by Dorsey's vocalist, Frank Sinatra.

Stafford became a popular singer on the USO circuit during World War II. After the war, Stafford and Gordon MacRae (no relation to the 70s "Rock Your Baby" singer George McCrae) had a series of successful duets. She also performed with former Spike Jones City Slicker Red Ingle and his new band, Natural Seven, on their country comedy hit, "Tim-Tay-Shun." The comedy routine would serve her well: her only Grammy came for "Best Comedy Performance" in 1960 for Jonathan and Darlene Edwards in Paris.

In the 50s, Stafford found a number of her hits in the country genre. She scored pop hits with "Jambalaya" and "Hey Good Lookin'" (both Hank Williams tunes) and "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I," a major country hit for Hank Snow.

However, if she is best remembered for one song, it is most likely "You Belong to Me," the Pee Wee King/Redd Stewart composition she recorded in 1952. Her vocal performance wowed fans on both sides of the Atlantic, sending the song to #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. It was not only her biggest hit in England, it put her in the record books in Britain, as she became the first female artist to top the British pop charts.

Stafford's career, like many of her pop contemporaries such as Frankie Laine (with whom she had a number of duet hits) and Patti Page, saw their careers plummet with the advent of rock and roll. Stafford, however, maintained a loyal fan base and continued to perform into her 60s.

Jo Stafford was 90.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

For Once, I Agree With Stephen A. Smith

Category: Sports Rant

Without question, I am not a Stephen A. Smith fan. In fact, when a SportsCenter anchor says, "Coming up, Stephen A. Smith..." I reach for the remote. However, I have to say his opinion on the Brett Favre situation is dead-on correct.

Smith's commentary on ESPN said, among other things, that Favre has had a remarkable, Hall of Fame career as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers; however, Favre is the one who said, "I'm retiring," and it's time to stop whining about Favre as though the Packers can never win another game if he stays retired or is traded to another team.

I could not agree more. I feel that Favre, who perhaps did not take as much time to contemplate what retirement meant as one might believe, is pulling a Roger Clemens on his team and his fans. Clemens started a nasty habit of stringing everyone along over the winter months and well past spring training, only announcing after the baseball season was a month or two underway that he was signing to the Astros or the Yankees. To me, that's superstar arrogance: let's see Homer Bailey, who's been bouncing between the Cincinnati Reds and their minor-league AAA team for a couple of years, skip spring training and a month of the regular season before deciding to grace the game of baseball with his presence! The message Clemens seemed to be conveying was, "I'm so great that baseball just can't go on without me. Now I'm back. Rejoice!"

Sadly, ESPN and other sports media played along with Clemens, and they are doing so again with Favre. Smith articulated that in his comments. "I'm getting sick and tired of this 'love affair' between Brett Favre and, dare I say it, the media." He called the network that signs his paycheck out on it, too, and he's 100% correct. When the "Bottom Line" has, amid its "WNBA," "NL," "AL," "Golf," and "NHL" tabs, one that says "FAVRE" (or "Clemens" or "Bonds"), there's something skewered with the reporting. Much like ESPN's treatment of the PGA solely in terms of Tiger Woods (how many golf tournaments have you seen reported in any detail since Woods' surgery on his knee, which knocked him out for the rest of the 2008 season? Even with the third major, the British Open, beginning this week, ESPN is ignoring it while the previous two majors were covered weeks in advance -- but only in terms of Tiger. And, on the scant occasions they have mentioned it, it's only to report that Tiger will not be at the British Open!), ESPN is covering the Favre retirement/un-retirement story as if (a) there are no other players in the NFL and (b) everyone in the world cares.

Honestly, I did care; however, now I feel that Favre is being ruled more by ego than good common sense.
Packer fans "got over" the retirement of Bart Starr (who was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls, both won by the Packers), and they will get over Favre's retirement as well, if they will allow their brains, not their emotions, to rule. While fans are protesting the management decision to not release Favre and not to return him to the active roster (meaning they'll either trade him or keep him as a back-up quarterback), how will they feel if an injury or bad playing indicates that Favre's return to the NFL was a bad move? Or if he does return and sits on the bench, ending his record streak of 253 consecutive starts? There is a salary cap, and the $11 million base salary he would make can pay for a lot of talent who can carry the team many years into the future.

For those who think Brett Favre's return is a good idea, remember Michael Jordan. Oh, I'm sorry, you don't remember Michael Jordan as anything but a Chicago Bull, do you? There's a reason: Jordan's two years with the Washington Wizards, after he had retired from the NBA then un-retired, saw him with the lowest scoring average of his career (20 points per game his last year). To many -- probably starting with the Bulls fan -- the notion that Jordan has any other team on his career stats list is an insult. The low scoring average indicates that maybe Michael should have given baseball, not basketball, a second try.

Please, Brett, for the sake of your legacy, take up golf on Sunday afternoon. You just may end up as the QB on last year's lovable loser team, the Miami Dolphins, wishing you had stayed retired.