Saving AM Radio From Itself

I’ve read quite a bit lately that AM radio’s demise has a lot to do with technical quality of trying to listen on the AM band that has been ruined by a variety of lame reasons including “construction in the 80s, computers and public transportation.” The technical quality of listening to music on smartphones through ear buds or apps isn’t all that much better. Yes, it’s true the AM band has been delegated to a gaggle of nationally syndicated Rush knockoffs. They’re pissed off older white men doing the same act for hours everyday. Do you really want to have your car invaded by someone who’s constantly screaming their head off? That’s one unwelcome passenger and truly nothing appealing to anyone under 70 years old. Not that there’s anything wrong with anyone over 70.  Chances are your workday is bad enough. Who wants to listen to more outraged voices in the privacy of your car? These national shows are cheaper than enterprising local talent since the major companies allowed to buy stations in cities coast to coast are swimming in debt without any chance of making a profit again..ever. They no longer invest in the communities they serve. Along with that debt goes the lack of local reliability. Gone are the days when local authorities told citizens to listen to their local stations for important information. The truth is after 5pm or earlier, there’s probably nobody left in any local station anywhere with the exception of a handful of major market stations. Local emergency preparedness now includes phone calls from local governments to those who subscribe to get the warnings. With the absence of all these once essential AM radio services, is there any reason why anyone would want to listen or miss these stations if they vanished from the airwaves? It’s not construction in the 80s, computers and public transportation. It’s unwelcome noise, cheap filler, old news recorded hours (or days) earlier from some distant city, undependable information in an emergency and the worst companionship anyone would want in their car. One exception is KPAM, the station I work for, one of the few locally owned stations left in the market. The snowstorm last week proved people still scan the AM dial during emergencies for signs of local life. They found it. We had wall-to-wall calls for four hours of live local broadcasting in pm drive from folks stranded on the roadways, sharing information. Our partnership with KOIN-TV served listeners well with live, updated information with meteorologist Bruce Sussman. We had live road condition updates from our traffic reporter Jeff Mitchell adding to a sense of community on AM radio that is fleeting but still wanted and useful. None of this was offered by any of the big box owned stations in town. The competition wouldn’t have had enough bodies left in the building following their last round of layoffs. I am not writing this not as a hate letter, but as someone who has spent his entire life in this business, has great admiration for it, has interest in providing a quality product for listeners and is one of the fortunate few still able to crack the mic live on the air daily.

Musings At Midnight

There’s so much to think about these days I don’t know where to start. Nelson Mandela is dead, over 18-million people admit to watching a live NBC-TV production of the Sound of Music although few seemed to think it was time spent wisely, the government loses $10 billion bailing out General Motors and the country is in the grips of what we in the media have cleverly coined “The Arctic Blast.”

This is supposed to be a joyous holiday season. I tried to make it so by visiting the zoo, which boasts a spectacular outdoor light holiday show with animated rhinos, swans, giraffes and a Noah’s arc of LEDs among real animals including baby elephants all in minus 10 degree wind chills. It was fun. Over the weekend, just hours before being scheduled for root canal (can you think of a more festive way of ushering in the holidays?) I was rear ended by an suv containing a family with a dad driving who was not paying attention.  My nearly 20-year-old Volvo wasn’t badly damaged. Its tank-like construction makes it the perfect combat vehicle to conquer a small third world country.  What ever hits it always sustains significant damage if not totaled. The Volvo just shrugs it off with a scratch or two and merrily continues its journey. I have noticed people are very frightened these days once they hit you and relieved you are not armed or short, thin and unarmed.

I arrived in the newsroom yesterday shortly after the root canal was completed to the curiosity of co-workers who thought I should be home convalescing after what turned out to be a serious operation.  With a promise of more icy roads, power failures closing off the downtown area and pipes bursting, I didn’t want to waste a minute being left out of all these things news people hold so dear.  With the hype of the continuation of the “The Arctic Blast” and plunging temperatures for the rest of the week, the offer went out to put us up at a hotel close to the station just in case the roads became dangerous.  That’s where this posting is being written just before midnight.  I saw no less than four flakes of snow on the drive over, enough to create panic throughout the metro area. Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to advising listeners to thaw their frozen pipes with a hair dryer and to pick up live fallen power cables to show them off to friends.

Long Live the Obese

I was going to write about how fortunate we are that at least some politicians came to their senses this week to reopen the government, after a couple dozen radicals prompted and bankrolled by zillionaire brothers, egged on by screaming talk show hosts owned and operated by equally outrageous Bain Capital tried in vain as they always do to wreck the country.  We’re all pretty tired of our two party political system that ceased to be effective long ago.  Most Americans have made incredible sacrifices; working for much less if at all since the great recession, many lost everything they worked their lives for.  Politicians of both parties didn’t seem to care that they’ve added more pain to the country. Throwing the bums out only makes way for new bums. What other developing country would want it?

Enough of it.

Instead, the atmosphere around me has helped determine the topic this time around: morbidly obese people.  There are far too many of them. Not everyone is of course, but a growing majority encompassing all generations have become bulls in the china closets of public places everywhere. Those of a certain age will remember when people of all ages prided themselves in their appearances as they donned tight polyester clothes over their thinner frames to go out anywhere. The small percentage of the population that was a little overweight were viewed as having low self-esteem. Peer pressure dictated staying in some acceptable physical condition.  Here comes the part I guarantee will generate hate mail. But, I stand by all observations.

Within the past five minutes as I write this in my favorite coffee shop, two patrons totally oblivious to their girth have unapologetically poked their doughy posteriors in my face. On my right, someone who’s gender I cannot determine pulled up a chair, plunked themselves down a couple feet away, oblivious that their saggy butt cheeks are not only hanging far over their own chair, but settling on my arm in my chair. I’m not sure what social and politically correct response is appropriate these days since everyone’s feelings get hurt over one pithy thing or another, so I got up and moved to another chair. Within a minute, another potato like figure who seemed to be wrapped in a queen sized bedspread unraveled an extension cord to plug in his (or her) laptop, again rubbing their rear end up against me.

I could move outside, but the smokers have settled there just a couple feet from the door nibbling on cupcakes while taking another drag between bites.  Many smell terrible either from body odor, cigarette smoke, or a combination of both.  How can people work with them? Are H.R. departments in workplaces now in the uncomfortable position of politely telling people they smell and are making coworkers ill? My guess is yes.

With all the hubbub about Obama care, and medical care in general, it makes one wonder just how long these people plan on living and why on earth would I want to contribute to a system keeping them alive. After seeing the commercials for Cover Oregon, (our statewide Obama care system) I get a laugh out the thin, healthy actors strumming guitars and singing  “Long Live Oregon,” whose appearances bare no reality to those surrounding me.

I haven’t seen any of these commercials end with cigarette smoking blobs wrapped in horse blankets shoveling cupcakes into their mouths while waddling back to oversize pickups as I’m observing right now. Of course many are fuming right now over these observations. The most common boisterous response is “How dare you! Some people have medical difficulties and can’t help it.” The medical difficulty may very well be not having enough strength left to push themselves away from the table.

Buying A New Car

I have spent the entire weekend looking at new cars online. No, I am not in the market for one.  The search was out of curiosity and the question “If I had to buy a new car right what now, what would it be?” My old Volvo continues to run flawlessly after over 200,000 miles. It is pitiful on gas, but that’s the price paid for the safety of sitting behind the wheel of something built like a tank, has the most comfortable seats found in any vehicle and has saved my life in no less than a half dozen accidents over the years none of which were my fault. The other cars ended up with serious damage. The Volvo just has a few dings, never anything serious.

It’s been many years since I’ve owned an American brand car.  My first car at 16 years of age was a 1970 Ford Torino with a 302 engine, that ran great until it got past 80,000 miles which was probably the maximum mileage American cars were built to last back then.  This was around the time of the Arab oil embargo. Most people had bigger gas-guzzlers and had to wait in line on odd or even days to fill up. The Torino got better gas mileage than most of the huge Chevys common at the time and had a CB radio that was all the rage back then. It was about the time smaller Japanese cars including Datsuns and Toyotas caught on. These imports actually lasted over 80,000 miles converting this generation away from American cars, which by then were also very unreliable. Sadly today, the average overweight American would not be able to fit in any of these 1970ish imports. This is why we see so many giant American made trucks everywhere.

I had been curious about the possibility of owning an American car again. Or an American brand car since many are more than likely assembled in Mexico.  The best way to avoid the headaches of actually going to a car lot for a test drive is to rent a new car for a long trip.  A couple years ago I got a Chevy Aveo driving from Boston to Kennebunkport Maine, about an hour and a half trip. Although economical, I had such back pain from the uncomfortable seat; I thought I’d need a chiropractor. The trip was nearly ruined. Later, feeling guilty of not giving American cars a chance, I rented a Chevy Cruze for an overnight Seattle trip last year.

The Cruze is promoted as the equivalent to anything decent made by the Japanese, maybe as great as something German. I was suspicious of the spelling. It’s not named after Tim Cruise, Penelope Cruz, or even Senator Ted Cruz. There is nobody or anything out there with this spelling of Cruze. The seats seemed comfortable; it had lots of colorful blinking lights on the dash, the hallmark of a good car these days since they keep your eyes off the road and in awe of bursts of light.  The next morning, I clicked the electronic key to roll down the windows and tried to start it. The battery was dead. The key did manage to open the windows but not close them in what seemed like a dangerous alley as I waiting for emergency help from the rental company.  The guy who got it started said these Cruze batteries are a problem. Later, safely home again, I tried starting the Cruze to return it to the rental office. It it was dead again. It was eventually towed back. Any thought of owning an American vehicle again went out the window.

Getting back to the original question. If I had to buy a new car what would it be?  Wow, you can’t get anything decent for under $30,000! I suppose you could wrangle someone down to the mid $20K range if you’re a slick tongued devil. Nothing worth owning is ever on sale. Apple products are a typical example. BMWs would be at the top of the wish list.  Maybe not a brand new one. Again, they’re not that economical to run. They do have very comfortable seats, are very safe and well built like a Volvo. So, how about a Volvo? They are still bad on gas economy. Their seats are still among the most comfortable out there and they still retain an illustrious record on safety. I noticed they got rid of last year’s model that looked like a Volvo sliced in half with a hatchback window. That’s a good sign.  Like the BMW, Volvo still hasn’t come up with any hybrid models.  It’s almost as if buyers concerned mostly with comfort and safety shouldn’t care how much about the cost to fill up. All these factors being the case, I guess I’ll just hang onto my old Volvo for now.

The Cockfighting Princess

 

Imagine a Romanian princess living in eastern Oregon. Who knew until this past week that we’ve had royalty living among us? Who knows anything about Romania or cares about a princess who isn’t the lovely Kate Middleton? We do care when she gets in trouble for alleged cockfighting in a small Oregon town and has a mug shot taken. It’s very unroyal and provides many evil chuckles. Sixty year old Romanian princess Irina and her husband, former sheriffs deputy John Walker are alleged to be in cahoots with several like minded folks involved in a blood thirsty cockfighting ring at the couple’s ranch outside of Irrigon in Morrow County. It’s just a few miles from the Umatilla Chemical depot, a dumping ground for the nation’s unwanted chemical weapons dating back to WWII, hardly the place where one would expect to find a princess. Those who work at the depot probably welcome the excitement of a good cockfight after destroying GB, VX nerve agents or HD blister agents all day long.  Everyone’s first question: Is Irena an actual princess? Second question: Where is Romania?

 

The answer to the first question is yes she’s the real thing. According to the Romanian royal family website: Their Majesties King Michael and Queen Anne have five daughters: HRH Crown Princess Margaret, HRH Princess Helena, HRH Princess Irina HRH Princess Sofia and Her Royal Highness Princess Maria.

 

Romania is in southern Europe bordering Hungary and sad little countries like Bulgaria and Moldova. The most famous person to leave Romania was actor Bela Lugosi (“I vant …to suck your blood”) who played Dracula in the movies. Transylvania is also in Romania, which has given much to the world with its blood-sucking vampires. This bloodlust may have been passed down in the form of the princess’ cockfighting venture. The ranch may be her little Transylvania.

 

Back to the family history. Romania was taken over by communists after WWII. Communists have a habit of killing royal families. They made quick work of disposing of the ruling Romanov family of Russia once taking power in 1918. Princess Irina’s family was forced to abdicate in 1947, under the threat of murder, in case of refusal. The royal family contends the Abdication Act signed under duress is illegal and void. Moreover, the act has never been sanctioned by Parliament. Therefore they believe they are still in power. Nobody in Romania seems to care about bringing them back.

According to their website, “Exile for HM King Mihai and Queen Ana began with the return from the wedding in Athens. They lived by the end of 1948, the Villa Sparta, Queen Mother Elena home. Since 1949, King Michael and Queen Anne moved to Lausanne and then in England, where they lived until 1956.“ Not a very good English translation here, but apparently they did a lot of traveling after being kicked out of Romania. It continues, ” To earn a living, the King and Queen have built a chicken farm and a small carpentry workshop. “ An honest living and no mention of cockfighting here.

“Royal Family returned to Switzerland in 1956. King Michael signed a contract with the airline “Jeats and Co Lear.” Geneva.” Is this Lear Jet? The family moved to Versoix, a small town on the shores of Lake Léman, a few kilometers from Geneva. Lived here over forty-five years.  This is where three of the five princesses were born.
In 1958, King has stopped working with “Lear” and a year later founded an electronics company and automatic mechanisms, called METRAVEL, which sold it five years later.

 

By 1989 with communism on the way out everywhere in Europe, irate Romanians had enough of despised longtime dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, pulled them out of a tank and shot them to death live on national TV on Christmas day. Joy to the world! King Michael put out a few feelers wondering if this was a good time for the royal family to return to Romania. No it wasn’t. They stayed in Switzerland. The first two princesses were married there according to the royal website: The youngest of the two princesses, Sophia and Maria were last to get married. Sophia gets hitched in France in 1998, Maria in New York in 1995. First was Margarita in June 1960, Elana in September 1983. Irina was married to John Kruger, a school friend from Europe a month later in a civil ceremony in Scottsdale, Arizona followed by a religious ceremony in a Phoenix church in February 1984. Children from this marriage:

  1. Michael Torstein de Romaine Krueger
    * Bay Area Hospital, Coos Bay, Oregon, February 25th, 1985
  2. Angelica Margareta Bianca de Romaine Krueger
    * Bay Area Hospital, Coos Bay, Oregon, December 29th, 1986

 

She divorced Kruger in 2007, marrying family friend John Walker who her daughter called “bad news.” Friday, Princess Irina and her husband pleaded not guilty to operating an illegal gambling business and conspiracy to violate the federal Animal Welfare Act. Each of the offenses carries a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Federal prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of the ranch.  She had to turn in her passport at least until the October trial and can only travel to nearby Hermiston. This cockfighting shame runs counter the royal family’s website boast:

Royal Family of Romania by all its members, through all its activities and projects, promoting the positive image of Romania abroad, support the cause of the disadvantaged, young talent and encourage entrepreneurship Romanian, is a bridge between the country and the Romans beyond, between past, present and future. Bela Lugosi left a more positive image than this latest bloodthirsty affair.

 

In closing, the Press Office of His Majesty King Michael I is authorized to submit the following statement:

His Majesty King Michael I noted with deep sorrow about the events related to Princess Irina of Romania, daughter. His Majesty and the Royal Family hopes justice throughout American and Oregon State courts will settle the just and fastest way possible case.

His Majesty also hopes that the presumption of innocence to function as legal and moral, from the beginning to the end of this unfortunate event.

 

It is unfortunate, morbidly fascinating and a new low for anything royal providing fodder for many tasteless, juvenile jokes that almost everyone enjoys.

1376699038000-AP-Cockfighting-Ring-Princess

Vacation Time

How many regrettable summer vacations have you been on?  We can probably agree that many been a mixture of awkward, exhausting and sometimes downright dangerous escapades.  With the economic downtown beginning a few years ago, many have been forced into so called “staycations,” the media’s attempt to convince us that being stuck at home penniless is a long forgotten art to be embraced. This fools no one.  Nothing’s worse than the gas gauge on empty with days to go before the next unemployment check arrives, flipping through infomercials of neglected seniors falling and not being able to get up wondering if this is all the future holds. Moments like these bring back long repressed vacation memories.

 

 

How about the times you were forced to spend days at the beach digging for clams with your parents? You hate clams to this day. One summer day after clam digging my dad kicked open what seemed to be the stuck door of a restroom. He thought the sign said “toilet.” It actually read, “to let” which means “for rent” in some parts of New England and England itself.  He realized his mistake after we all used the facilities in the cottage and walked away unrepentant.

 

 

How about that high school road trip to Canada in the drunken friend’s brand new car which he wrecked, learning later that his insurance didn’t cover Canadian crashes?  Later in life, there was that trip to Tijuana highlighted by nearly tumbling into an open sewer since all the covers had been stolen.  One could argue all Tijuana is an open sewer.  While walking back to the motel there’s the unavoidable right of passage of being grabbed by a large, older Mexican woman smothering young men in her bosoms demanding. “Are you were looking for a good time?”  Well, it may have been preferable to falling into an open sewer, but it’s best to turn down such an generous offer.  This encounter is no reflection on the many lovely women of Mexico who wish to observe more traditional dating etiquette. I’ve also experienced similar treatment in the vice laden St. Pauli district of Hamburg, Germany, another open sewer.

 

European vacations offer many cherished memories. Driving in foreign countries is always an eye opener for Americans. There’s the German Autobahn where Mercedes and BMWs rocket past as you chug along in a compact French rental car. Driving anything French makes you feel a little less of a man.  Then try unsuccessfully to return the rental car only to be told it’s impossible because the employees are on strike. Turns out the French are always on strike. 

 

 

At the airport in Warsaw, I mistakenly took out my wallet and passport, leaving them on a table in the middle of a terminal and walked away. Discovering the mistake further down the terminal, I sprinted back and fortunately found the wallet and passport undisturbed.  Lucky nobody else seemed to arrive at the Warsaw airport that morning. If anything, everyone seemed to be in a rush to leave permanently.

 

Food in foreign lands may not be as it appears. What I thought was a cookie on a breakfast plate in Scotland turned out to be a lamb’s tongue. After one bite, it was obvious this was a grave error. Germans eat a hard boiled egg on a decorative stand and bread that will break an American’s teeth. The French who drive “girlish” cars make croissants that melt in your mouth. At least they do something right, managing to bake them every morning without going on strike. The English sort of eat American style breakfasts. They do insist on drowning the eggs and toast in watery tomatoes on the same plate. Also, the English have no idea how to make coffee. Somehow they manage to burn it or add a barbecued taste to every cup.  Trips to the U.K. always seem too short.  My favorite country after the good old USA.

 

 

Being Americans, we take clean, spacious bathrooms for granted. In Amsterdam, the toilet, sink and shower are all together in a tiny broom closet. You have to leave your clothing outside since there’s no way of keeping them dry.  Also, former communist countries struggle to have actual flush toilets or private stalls in public buildings. At a museum in Poland, I can never erase the image of someone squatting over a hole in the floor in a restroom without doors and stalls doing their business, groaning in gut wrenching pain. It could have been due to the Russian made toilet tissue that seemed to be made from tree bark and rose bush thorns.

 

 

These are just a few experiences of vacations past that come to mind on another “staycation” weekend.  I’m sure you can think of plenty of your own. Now it’s time to find the remote control to see who’s fallen and can’t get up, who can be sued for inferior knee replacements or how to exercise using a rubber strap attached to a folding chair. 

 

Race: A Reporter’s Observations

The media is really bugging me lately. It seems to have returned to some 1960s mode, to a country that no longer exists. Al Sharpton is more than a little irritating. This left over fossil from the last century also seems to be stuck in a 1960s America. To massage his own ego, he called for 100 cities to have protests over the George Zimmerman verdict. First off, we all agree that Trayvon Martin should not have been killed. We will never know exactly what transpired leading to his tragic death.  We do know the guy who did it wasn’t white, which the media erroneously reported from the start and many of my white liberal friends hoped for so they too could pretend it’s still the 1960s. That’s not what this essay is about. It is a bit about race though since that’s we’re being asked ridiculous questions like, “Is it time for a conversation about race in your workplace?”

Many may not have been around when the demographics of this country consisted mostly of caucasians and slightly over 15% African Americans. Yes there were smaller populations of those of Asian and Hispanic decent, but they were very seldom acknowledged during the civil right struggles of the 1960s.  An email from Al Sharpton’s organization Friday brought back those memories. It was entitled Justice for Trayvon National Day of Action Vigils. Or should they be called Al Sharpton strokes his own ego day. “No justice, No peace!” screamed the headline straight out of the 1960s.  Did this get lost in a time machine?

It seems that the media in general is clueless that the demographics of this country have changed dramatically. Walking around my neighborhood on any given day, I encounter people who have moved here from India, Mexico and China.  I know here in Oregon we don’t have the larger non-white populations of California, Texas or New York. It sure doesn’t look like the white men held them back or they feel that the white population owes them something. Yes, they struggled to come here, educate themselves and contribute much to the economy. This doesn’t look like a white against black country to me.  In the interconnected multinational capitalist economy we are a part of, it’s no longer true that the white man is always running the show anymore.

Here comes the part that will make my liberal friends run for cover: Some reasons why many (not just white people) still have  concerns about their safety around African Americans. I do know from working in news that the media vilified white man helps the African American community on a daily basis here in our own community putting their lives at risk.  This essay is about to become uncomfortable. The Portland Police Bureau tries to save black men from killing each other daily, racing to the scene of drive by shootings repeated at an alarming frequency. The Police Bureau also tries to make black funerals peaceful, working with funeral directors to insure there’s no further gang violence during funerals between black males again trying to kill each other.  They also do community outreach because during the hot summer months they seem to want to kill each other even more.  Very uncomfortable stuff here.

Then, there’s the cycle of crime for younger members of the African American community: Hardly does an afternoon go by when I don’t hear of shoplifting incidents at the Lloyd Center on the police scanner. The suspects are almost exclusively African American youths often in groups. Police again spend a lot of time responding to these crimes and attempting to recover merchandise. Nobody is discussing any of this openly. If a white person does, they are shouted down as being racist, their lives and careers must be ruined for having the audacity for making these points known, usually using social media. Or is it anti social media.  Since it’s time to close this out, here’s a disclaimer: These are my personal observations, not opinions as someone whose job it is to follow police activities.  I do not have any solutions. There are those who will say that generations of welfare, public housing and affirmative action all with good intentions beginning with the Great Society programs of the 1960s have contributed to this crisis in the black community instead of improving it. Others will simply contend that the lack of family structure; one parent households and lack of  supervision are the starting point of shoplifting at the Lloyd Center that eventually escalate into drive-by shootings followed by armed funerals. No doubt these will be seen as racist statements to some since white people are no longer allowed to criticize anti social activities by those who are not.  This discussion about race has no conclusion.