Why I’m Envious of Rick Allison

When I was a kid, growing up in the heart of the 50s, I knew the name and voice of every booth announcer on TV. There were men like Wayne Howell, Gene Hamilton, Don Pardo, Bill Wendel, Ed Herlihy, Fred Foy, Don Robertson, Bill Baldwin, Carl Caruso – you get the idea.

Back then, even when the show wasn’t live, the announcer was. There was someone sitting in a darkened announce booth at each station every hour of the broadcast day. It was all part of the agreement the New York stations, and networks, had with AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – I’m a member).

So, when you heard someone say, “This is NBC,” or “That’s tomorrow at 8, 7 Central time,” it was one of these guys, live. I knew them all. Secretly, I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to say, as Mel Brandt did, “The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC.”

It was not to be. In order to be a booth announcer you needed something I never had, and even at age 54 still don’t have – pipes.

When I was a disk jockey, doing mornings in Philadelphia, Julian Breen (who was in charge of programming at the station I worked for, WPEN) thought it might be a good idea to use a “Harmonizer” on my voice. That’s a device which would allow them to change my pitch – make me sound more grown-up.

When I worked at WIP in Philadelphia, at that time the premiere adult station in town, they gave me a pass on doing voice over production. With Tom Moran, Dick Clayton and Bill St. James on staff, there was no reason to use me.

It’s been a disappointment, but I understand. I just don’t have the most important natural tool for the job. My voice is unique, just not in the right way.

Today, I got an email from Rick Allison. He’s a friend who lives here in Connecticut. He is an announcer.

I’m not sure if that’s the job description he would use, but that’s what he does. From a studio in his basement, as well maintained and acoustically perfect as any, Rick reads other people’s words into a microphone and cashes checks. With high speed data lines carrying his voice, it’s usually not necessary to leave the house.

He is the voice of MSNBC and Bob’s Stores. He’s on ESPN, HBO and USA and a load of radio stations. You have heard him on a thousand commercials, a deep voice with a touch of gravel. It is friendly and assuring.

In person, he resembles everyone I knew in the 60s and 70s. That is one of his most charming features. He is at once commanding and disarming with long hair on his head and more on his face.

Rick does a show on Sirius satellite radio. My guess is, he does the show for the same reason other men raise tomatoes. It takes time and money to raise tomatoes. It’s not like you can’t buy them at the store – maybe for less than you can grow them. Still there’s an immense satisfaction in creating something of value.

Rick’s in radio for the satisfaction of growing something. I can’t believe he’s in it for the money.

Anyway, hearing from Rick today just reminded me of this childhood fantasy that would never be. It’s what got me into radio – and probably what finally got me out and into television.

I am envious of Rick, not because of the work he does, but because of the talent he has. It’s a talent I always wanted – a gift I never received.

Sunday at Foxwoods

Stefanie has been away for this entire week. So, Helaine and I have been taking it somewhat easy at home as temporary empty nester’s.

Earlier, Helaine had asked if I wanted to go to Foxwoods for their brunch. Foxwoods is a casino – the biggest in the world – and it’s about an hour’s drive away in Eastern Connecticut.

There are certain givens when going to a casino.

1) You will gamble

2) The food experience will be over the top

I had worked Saturday night (unusual), but didn’t stay up as late as usual and was out of bed by 10:30 to shower and make the drive. Our reservations at Fox Harbor were for 1:00 PM, so we’d have plenty of time.

Today was a spectacular winter’s day. The sky was blue with some high, wispy cirrus clouds. Even as we left home, before noon, the temperature was approaching 50&#176 (and got to 53&#176 at Willimantic, CT, not far from Foxwoods), well above the late December average.

I was apprehensive as we drove because normally light trafficked areas on I-95, The Connecticut Turnpike, were moderately loaded with cars. It was the last day of the Christmas holiday, and for many ‘going home’ day. As we passed the first entrance for valet parking, I realized this traffic hadn’t gone to the casino but was just passing through.

Originally there was poker at both of Connecticut’s casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. A few months ago, Mohegan Sun’s room closed (about a day before the huge new interest in poker began). Foxwoods is now busy day and night. Today was no exception.

I headed into the poker room before heading to brunch. I knew it would be smart to get on a list early, and did just that. There must have been 50 names for the half dozen tables at my limit.

While walking through the room I ran into Jimmy Christina, one of the floor bosses. Jimmy has been at Foxwoods since they opened their doors. He has the kind of gravely voice that shrieks of whiskey and cigarettes… and a ponytail that is seldom seen by people who wear suits. When I grow up, I want to be Jimmy Christina. I have no idea what his official title is, but he wields power and settles disputes and is a poker room fixture.

Brunch at Fox Harbor was no disappointment. When we eat at a buffet brunch, Helaine and I know it will be our one meal of the day. This was perfect. I started with clams and shrimp then added lamb chops (incredible). After a few trips through the line I had sampled crepes, pasta, more lamb, and baby lobster tails like I had never seen before. And then there was desert!

We waddled out of the buffet and headed toward the poker room. Poker and Fox Harbor are at the opposite ends of the casinos… but we could have been walking to Las Vegas and not walked off this brunch.

I quickly sat down at a $4-$8 fixed limit Hold’em table. I hadn’t played poker at a casino since we began playing online in earnest. The casino was going to be slower and any ‘tells’ I had (hidden while I play online in my pajamas) would be obvious to all who watched. I pulled out 5 – $20 bills and bought chips from a neighbor at the table who had obviously done well over time.

It’s true. You do play more hands per hour online. On the other, the conversation was reasonably good and I had a nice time. Before long, I slow played a well hidden straight, check bumped one of the other players, and won somewhere around $75 on one hand. This was my high water mark. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

Before long Ashley Adams came up to the table and said hello. Ashley had been our union rep from AFTRA (The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) at the station. Though now repping teachers, I had sat alongside him during contract negotiations and knew him well. And, of course, I knew he enjoyed playing poker as much as anything else.

For years, Ashley has been an active participant in the Usenet group dedicated to poker and is recognized as an expert. Now, he pulled out a paperback book, and I realized he had also become the author of “Winning 7-Card Stud.”

Currently 62,418th on Amazon’s sales list, Ashley won’t be able to quit his day job just yet, but the online reviews are excellent. Five reviewers, and each gave it the 5-star maximum!

I’ve been skimming through it, and though 7-card stud is not my game of choice, it reads very well. If you miss losing one hand because of what he says, the book has paid for itself, even at very low limit tables.

Meanwhile, at my table the cards were not coming. In fact, during 4-5 hours of play I can’t remember being dealt a pair of face cards or Ace/King once!

My Waterloo came when I was ‘blinded in’ and flopped 2 pair, Aces and Jacks. I felt pretty good and started betting, only to have another player return and re-raise my bets. By the time all was said and done, I had invested well over $60 in my two pair, only to face 3 – Aces.

You want the odds? If I have Ace and Jack, and the flop turns up another Ace (and Jack), then there are 47 cards I don’t know about, with 2 Aces remaining. It’s 2 chances in 47 for him to have gotten an Ace on the first card and then 1 in 46 to get the second. All in all, his two Aces against my hand comes up less than 1 in 1,000 (.000925069)!

By the time the day was over, I was down $132.

I didn’t play poorly. Once, I peeked at my hole cards on a flush draw – tipping off my hand. Still, that was the exception, not the rule. I lost, mostly, because of bad cards. And, because my cards were so bad, and I looked so tight as a player, when I finally did go in, everyone knew I had a made hand and folded, reducing my win.

Helaine spent the afternoon playing blackjack, and left with some cash in her pocket.

On the way out we played some slot machines. Foxwoods seems to have less machines featuring licensed concepts, like TV shows or characters, than you see in Las Vegas. We played a Dick Clark Bandstand slot and quickly walked away. Monte Hall treated us very nicely at Let’s Make a Deal. We left the slots about even.

One more comment before I go.

Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun cater to a large contingent of Asian client

Men (and Women) In Black III

I was surprised to see a half page ad in today’s Hartford Courant from the air staff (members of AFTRA) at WFSB in Hartford. Their union negotiations have been contentious, to say the least, over the past few years.

Some long time employees have worked for Travelers Insurance, Post-Newsweek and now Meredith as station owners.

Travelers was local, which always makes a difference. And, at that time, the money was flowing in like water, to a station that had cost them a pittance to put on-the-air.

Post-Newsweek was a print oriented company and, though many people felt they weren’t as employee friendly as Travelers, the station continued to be a good place to work.

Meredith is also print oriented but it’s a different situation from Post-Newsweek. I am not involved in their labor negotiations, but I have heard that Meredith declared an impasse and implemented their last/best offer. There’s not much the union members can do short of walking out.

Today’s ad said the anchors and reporters would all wear black as a sign of solidarity – and they did. The ad also listed some of their grievances. A friend called me from their newsroom to say the tension was high and management had spoken to some on-the-air people.

Meredith is going to have to make a decision on how they value the folks on-the-air. Considering the preponderance of research that says, to a large extent, people watch TV stations because of whose on the air, I will be interested to see how far this goes.

This isn’t a grade school fight. Would Meredith really cut off their nose to spite their face? Will the union cripple the station by walking out and risking their own jobs at the same time? Are there more job actions to come or will cooler heads prevail? How can it benefit any company to be at war with their own staff?

I work for the competition and I want to win, but not by default against a crippled opponent. This time, the news will be from the newsroom.

(The Hartford Courant featured an article about the situation, which is attached below)

Continue reading “Men (and Women) In Black III”