John Rowland, Alan Freed and CBS

Once at Brass Mills Center he was mistaken for me. He gave her the autograph anyway.

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Oh, John Rowland. You never cease to amaze me.

Governor John Rowland was a moderate Republican from Connecticut. He went to prison for his thievery in office.

I met him a few times. He was charming. Worked crowds well. Likable.

Once at Brass Mills Center he was mistaken for me. He gave her the autograph anyway.

I’m not in Connecticut to really hear about this, but from what I’ve read (especially the excellent piece by Ed Mahony and Jon Lender in the Courant) he was selling his opinion and access to his radio show.

There’s nothing wrong with espousing your opinion. There’s nothing wrong with selling access and support. What’s wrong is doing it secretly.

We allow commercials. We allow infomercials. They must be disclosed as such.

Here’s why Alan Freed’s in the title. Back in the 50’s Freed was hugely influential as one of the first rock and roll disk jockeys.

Freed’s career ended when it was shown that he had accepted payola (payments from record companies to play specific records), a practice that was highly controversial at the time. There was also a conflict of interest, that he had taken songwriting co-credits (most notably on Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”), which entitled him to receive part of a song’s royalties, which he could help increase by heavily promoting the record on his own program. However, Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows insisted Freed co-wrote “Sincerely”.

Freed lost his own show on the radio station WABC; then he was fired from the station altogether on November 21, 1959. He also was fired from his television show (which for a time continued with a different host). In 1960, payola was made illegal. In 1962, Freed pleaded guilty to two charges of commercial bribery, for which he received a fine and a suspended sentence.- Wikipedia

Freed was the whipping boy in the payola scandal. He was destroyed. New laws and rules were implemented.

From the FCC:

Federal law and FCC rules require that employees of broadcast stations, program producers, program suppliers and others who, in exchange for airing material, have accepted or agreed to receive payments, services or other valuable consideration must disclose this fact. Disclosure of compensation provides broadcasters the information they need to let their audiences know if material was paid for, and by whom.

Rowland is responsible, but so is CBS. Guarding the public airways is part of the licensee’s responsibility. It was they who entrusted WTIC to him every day.

CBS actually signed a consent decree in a payola case in 2007. They should know the rules. They are on the hook.

This will be very complex. I hope it’s well reported. I want to follow along.

I’ll Take The Stairs

Last week I was huffing and puffing when I got to my desk. Today just puffing.

This work thing has sliced a pretty large chunk from my pajama time! That in turn has reduced my ability to work out. Helaine and I had been very dedicated, but now we’ve (OK – it’s me who’s responsible) sloughed off a little. That’s why I’m using the stairs at work exclusively.

The newsroom/studio complex is on the third floor, but this is not an office building. This is a plant! The presses for the Hartford Courant are underneath my feet. The ceiling in the studio is high enough to hang TV lights. Each floor of stairs looks to be more like a floor and a half… maybe two.

I’ve been up and down twice so far today. That’s two round trips in the blue bricked staircase. Last week I was huffing and puffing when I got to my desk. Today just puffing.

The elevator is very slow anyway!

A Busy Day At Work And I’m Not Even Working Yet!

I love my friends back in New Haven, but only now do I see what we were missing.

I’m suffering jet lag without leaving the state! Up very early (for me–not real people) the last two days I’m in some sort of blurry stupor. One more early day to come Friday. I’ll be on with Chaz and AJ on WPLR 99.1 at 8:00 AM then Colin McEnroe on Connecticut Public Radio ( at 1:00 PM. I hope the car knows the way home on its own!

I was at work by 10:00 AM to join the celebration of FoxCT receiving three dozen Emmy nominations and to be officially announced as a new hire. Three dozen Emmy nominations at one station is a pretty big deal.

The rest of the next few hours were taken up shooting photos with the weather team and taping pieces of promos which begin airing this weekend.

I want to try and explain the differences between FoxCT and WTNH. The most obvious is size!

With both newspaper (Hartford Courant) and TV station sharing a large newsroom there’s an obvious focus on news gathering. Desks were populated. Folks were on the phone working stories. The assignment desk was buzzing.

The whole place is orders of magnitude bigger than where I’ve been working. In New Haven we had around 100 employees (maybe less by now?). In Hartford there are over 600. There are departments of people the economies of scale wouldn’t allow at the old place. It shows in how the vehicles and equipment are maintained.

I love my friends back in New Haven, but only now do I see what we were missing.

More than anything the attitude is different. At FoxCT people seem to feel they’re working with a viable product and the business can be grown. Back on Elm Street it often felt the main goal was to control the bleeding.

Maybe this sounds like sour grapes? I’m the first to admit I’d still be driving to Elm Street had I been offered continuing employment. On the other hand I wouldn’t have known any of this had I not lucked into this situation.

Media Matters

Businesses that run on ad revenue are really hurting. Old media. New media. No difference.

My editor emailed earlier today. Tough quarter. Would I be willing to blog for them a little less? Sure.

I feel bad. Businesses that run on ad revenue are really hurting. Old media. New media. No difference.

Two editors left the Courant today. One jumped, the other was pushed. The one who left on his own volition said he couldn’t do what they wanted him to do. It’s good to be principled–and costly.

The Courant and WTIC are consolidating news operations. I’m not sure if that was part of the now-former editor’s decision, though it sounds feasible. Even though the FCC has tried to get the Tribune Company to own one or the other (not both) for years they will combine. Chutzpah.

On The Radio – WTIC With Diane Smith

I get to go on the radio often enough so it’s a treat – seldom enough that it’s not a pain in the ass. This was my morning to sit in with Diane Smith on WTIC.

I’ve known Diane since I came to Connecticut. She used to report and anchor at our TV station. That she’s not still there is a major shame – but I think she’s happy in radio, where she’s half the morning team on WTIC.

WTIC is one of the last of the blowtorch 50,000 watt AM stations. It is an AM station that still has an audience. That’s a rarity all by itself.

There was a time, not too long ago, when WTIC had the highest rated morning show in the country with Bob Steele. The show itself was an anachronism – something that could never be restarted today. But, Bob had the most important ingredient for a successful morning show – longevity!

My alarm was set for 4:15, but as I wrote in an earlier post, I couldn’t sleep. By 4:45 I was out of the house and on my way to Farmington.

Any time I’ve gone online for directions to WTIC I’m give a route through the next town to my north. It’s a trip full of stop lights and traffic. But at this time of day… well, I just headed north.

The first Dunkin’ Donuts was closed, but as I approached a second I could see lights on and cars in the lot. I parked, got out, and found the door locked. The folks sitting there in their cars knew what I’d find, but kept their silence. I don’t quite get that.

I didn’t think I had time to wait, so I headed north again.

A few minutes later I drove by a health club – also not open and with cars in the lot. This time there were people standing in front of the entrance. Just standing there, aimlessly, at 4:55 AM.

I guess it’s wonderful when people want to exercise and be healthy and fit. Waking up before 5:00 to do that seems troublesome… and then to be kept waiting. Isn’t that just a little cruel?

WTIC is in a low rise brick building in an office park in Farmington, not far from Robertson Airport. The building itself is the poster child for nondescript. There’s nothing that sets this building apart. It’s not pretty. It’s not ugly. It’s just sort of there.

WTIC is part of Infinity’s group of stations in Hartford. They’re all clustered together on the ground floor.

The WTIC studio is quite functional and very nice. Diane sat behind the console, where her partner normally sits and I sat facing her. Along the edge of the studio were microphones and room for more guests to sit in.

Off to the side, and behind, are other control rooms used for production and news. The place was pretty busy Monday morning.

Being an old line AM radio station there’s plenty of service in the morning. The station features a full newsroom – a real newsroom staffed by actual adults! Wow! There just aren’t too many of those left (Newsrooms that is – there are plenty of adults). Our show also had a sports reporter and meteorologist.

I knew most of the people there, though not that well. Everyone was friendly. Everyone was nice. Everyone on our show was a pro who could easily move to a larger market, if they could find a station that still had news and service features.

If there’s one problem with the morning show, it’s that there’s too much service!

Between news, sports, traffic, weather and commercials, Diane and I were hardly on for the first few hours. Even when we did appear, it was a disjointed few minutes of banter before… more news, weather, sports and commercials.

There were a few interviews planned. The one I was looking forward to the most was with Senator Joe Lieberman. The New London Sub Base has been slated for closing and there was lots to talk about.

Interviewing newsmakers on real subjects is something I seldom get to do at the TV station. It was a welcome change and I wonder how Senator Lieberman felt, since he mostly knows me as the somewhat hyper, off center, weatherman?

It was really a lot of fun. Television is a much more powerful medium than radio, but on the radio you have the freedom to speak your mind. I tried to be careful and not to be a partisan, but there’s a lot more I can say – and I did.

10:00 AM came much too soon.

I went around and said goodbye and tried to plant the seed that next time, maybe I could fill in on WTIC FM. I was looking for that one more chance to be a ‘jock’ like I was 25 years ago.

Back on the Radio

When I was a teenager in high school I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up – I wanted to be a disk jockey. And sure enough, when I got myself tossed from college (or the ‘accelerated dismissal program’ as I like to call it), radio is where I went.

It was a reasonably good career working at some of the classic stations of the AM radio era, being program director of what was known as an ‘underground station,’ and doing mornings in Philadelphia. I miss it all the time. Any time I run into a radio person here in Connecticut I offer to do some fill-in work.

They smile, but seldom call. I’ve done a few talk shows on WTIC and it was like a fix to an addict.

Today I had the opportunity to be on the radio and in a situation I had never experienced before. I was one of three guests on a Sunday morning public affairs show which was taped for Star 99.9 and WPLR.

This all has to do with my involvement in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I have been their celebrity spokesperson for 11 years – though I’m not sure what that job actually entails. JDRF is a wonderful organization. I feel touched every time I do something on their behalf. And, their Walk to Cure is coming up in early October.

The program was taped at the Cox Broadcasting studios in Milford. It was the most corporate radio facility I had ever been in. Everything was neat and clean. The equipment looked like it was all working. There were no slovenly disk jockeys yelling at the top of their voices!

It seemed too sterile to really be radio.

The station’s lunch room seemed sanitary, as if you could eat there. How is this possibly radio? Certainly it is not radio as I knew it, where your clothing choices were always promotional t-shirts and jeans.

Every time I write about it, I wonder why I miss radio so much… and when I’ll be back on?

Seven Thousand Three Hundred Five Days

Seven thousand three hundred five days ago, Connecticut still had toll booths on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway. There was no state income tax. Our governor, William O’Neill, was a tavern owner.

Back then, WTNH was a middle aged television station, owned by Capitol Cities Communications – before it bought ABC. It was second place in what was, for all intents and purposes, a 2 station market. A station with an identity crisis, not knowing whether to be Connecticut’s station or just concentrate on New Haven. It was making money hand-over-fist, which tended to minimize their concern.

On May 21, 1984, One thousand forty three weeks and four days ago, I walked into Channel 8 as an employee. If you would have told me twenty years ago that I’d still be there today, I’d have called you a fool. In my 11 years in radio, I had worked all over the country. No job had ever run more than 3 or 4 years – and most were much shorter.

Al Terzi (WFSB), Gerri Harris (who knows) and Diane Smith (WTIC radio, CPTV), were our main anchors. Bob Picozzi (ESPN radio, UConn Women’s basketball play-byplay) was our sports director. Our news director, the guy who hired me, was Mike Sechrist (General Manager WKRN – Nashville). His assistant, Wendie Feinberg (Executive Producer Nightly Business Report – PBS). In the control room, Tom O’Brien (General Manager KXAS – Dallas) and Jeff Winn (Fox Sports “Best Damned Sports…”).

Of all the on-air and management personnel at the station that day, only I am left. I have survived 4 different owners, 4 general managers, 10 news directors and countless dozens of assistants, producers, reporters and anchors.

Still, I often ask myself, where have I gone wrong?

That’s not to say my professional life hasn’t been good. In fact, it’s been great. This is a very rewarding job and the people who watch have been generous in their support, while my bosses have been… well, they’ve been generous too. I just wonder, what if?

Have I missed the bright lights of the big city? Would I have been able to compete at that level?

Today, if I were looking for work elsewhere, would I be taken seriously? A few years longevity is a good thing, but twenty years in New Haven makes it seem like I’ve been unable to escape.

Since I have been at WTNH, only four of the on-air people hired were older than I was at the time – and three of those came within my first year. This is a business of the young… and I say that even though this station isn’t anywhere near as youth obsessed as some others.

I remember early in my radio career, seeing people who’d been in one place too long, who were now just going through the motions. I promised myself that would never be me. I’ve kept my word.

It is still important to me, after all this time, to know whether I’ve entertained or not. There are no gimmes. A bad Friday night 11:00 weathercast can ruin my weekend… ask my wife.

Even tonight, I brought home a snippet of tape because a few seconds of well timed on-air chatter with the floor director seemed memorable. Every show counts. I am never unhappy to go to work. I have never taken, or needed, a ‘mental health’ day.

I still have my fantasy jobs – things I’d like to do and sometimes even dream about. I’d like to do a game show. I’d like to do a sit down fun chat show. I’d like to fill-in again on Good Morning America. Who knows?

I worry about losing a little off the fastball – about someone up-and-coming who might want my job. I worry about a new owner or manager who might not care that I’ve put twenty years in. After all, in the 21st century, company loyalty is something employees have toward companies… not the other way around.

About 15 years ago, my agent said there would come a time when I’d want to shave ten years off my age. I think I could actually pass with that lie. Until recently, I’d regularly get viewer mail telling me to stop coloring my hair… even though it’s never been colored. But, I won’t lie about my age because I’m proud to have the experience and knowledge that only comes with being 53.

I am not sorry that I’ve made it to 20 years. I am not disappointed in what I’ve accomplished. I have a wonderful life. I only wonder where the other paths led.

On The Radio – WTIC

This was my morning to be on WTIC. Even though I had been in radio for 11 years, I was apprehensive. I’ve only done talk shows a few times, and haven’t done one solo in better than 20 years.

I feared there would be no calls. What would I do or say? How could I fill that much time? And, what about topics I wanted to shy away from?

I have a rule to stay away from partisan politics because I work in a newsroom. Even though talk show hosts would normally be expected to let it all hang out, I had my ‘real’ job to return to. Even the weatherman should be ‘above’ the political fray.

I woke up early – around 7:15 AM. For me, who usually doesn’t go to bed until 3 or 4 AM, that’s the middle of the night! Actually, knowing I’d be home in time to catch a little nap made it easier to get into the shower and get dressed.

A definite advantage radio has over TV is the dress code. I could wear anything and not even shave. I went with a black pullover sweater and jeans with sneakers.

Remembering the last time, I left the house about 5 after 8 and headed directly to Dunkin’ Donuts. Medium coffee, cream and sugar, I was set. I had a long enough drive to allow the coffee to reach the correct drinking temperature.

This being the day after Christmas, traffic was fairly light. I absentmindedly blew by Route 9 on I91 and ended up heading to I84 in Hartford. Though I’ve been to WTIC before, I never remember how to get there. And, the directions are only moderately helpful because I never remember if the phrase “I84 West” means I’m driving west on I84 or coming from the west on I84!

WTIC is located in a nondescript, two story building in a Farmington office park. It’s a perfectly fine place for a radio station, I suppose. Deep inside, I really feel WTIC deserves to be in a free standing building of its own. It is one of America’s storied radio stations, with a long and rich history. It should be in a building that makes a statement. This building does not.

Mike Constantinou, my producer, was waiting in the parking lot when I arrived. The lot itself was 10% full. WTIC and its three sister stations were, in essence, still closed for Christmas. Only the air staff was on hand, and even then it was a smaller staff than usual. There was a sub for traffic, a sub for news, a sub for weather, and me subbing for Jim Vicevich.

We walked inside and I said hello to Ray Dunaway, who along with the vacationing Diane Smith, does the morning drive show. Ray has the deep, ballsy voice I always wanted, and never got. Like me, he had known from childhood that he was going to be in radio and then just followed through.

Before long I had headphones on and was schmoozing with Ray. We talked global warming (both of us are somewhat dubious of the gloom and doom) and how kids growing up have a misconception of the cleanliness of our air versus the pollution I knew as a kid.

He’s used to working with a partner and plays well with others, so I had no problems.

Ten O’clock came along and Ray left… leaving me the studio. I had told Mike that I wanted to run the board for the phones, but let him handle the commercials, news and traffic. As the news played out from a small studio off to the side, I sat down and got as comfortable as possible.

The studio is average sized for a radio studio. There are three mikes at the table surrounding the audio console, and one mike at the console itself. Off to the left were two computers – one for the commercials and logged content and another for communications between the producer and me. Slightly behind me and also to the left a lone PC on the Internet.

I had noticed a memo in the newsroom admonishing the staff not to use company computers to check their private email accounts whether they be Hotmail (actually, in the note it was Hot mail), Yahoo or anything else. At the same time, I couldn’t call home on the studio phone because you needed an accounting code to place an outside call. This is 2003 and I’m paying 3&#162 a minute for long distance service at home; they must be paying less. What are they worried about? After all, the studios are full of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and there’s the liability that comes when the air staff is live. Internet and phone access should be way down the list of concerns.

News gave way to traffic and weather and then I was on. It was like getting back on a bicycle. I was ready to go.

In a talk show, you throw out topics in much the same way bartenders seed the tip jar. You’re trying to get your idea out to the audience. And, if they deviate or find a better place to go, you go there too.

Quickly, I started taking calls. After the fact, Helaine said I was trying too hard… and maybe I was. I didn’t have tomorrow to correct my mistakes. It was now or never. I wanted to limit calls – keep bringing in fresh ideas.

The common wisdom in talk shows is, it’s very easy to let someone go on too long. You’re better off moving through many calls. Of course to do that, you need calls.

A few minutes into the show, I started having technical troubles. It was my fault without a doubt. The controls for the phone lines were straight forward, but not very well marked. After a few calls I started pressing the wrong buttons and got trapped in some sort of talk show hell where I was camped on a line with someone who had been dispatched and no way to get to the next listener. Bad for the rhythm of the show.

I had received a note with the names of my traffic and news reporters. Next to the traffic reporters name, Rachel Duran, was a note saying, “Don’t call her Jill.” In some sort of radio insanity, the folks who report traffic on many different stations use many different names.

Best line of the morning (spoken on air but directed to Mike the producer): “Some people don’t call because they’re worried about being on hold too long. There should be a policy. If there are more than two callers waiting, we’ll open up another register.”

A woman called from Bristol. She had no idea who this new voice on the air was, and when I told her, she still didn’t know who I was. After nearly 20 years in the market, I’m entitled to have a little fun with that, so I told her we had given out $1,000 to each of our TV viewers last week and she had missed out.

From then on, I began to ask all the callers if they had gotten their $1,000 and everyone seemed to go along with the joke. Later, I began asking if anyone had gotten a hot tub from a friend… a not too veiled reference to Governor Rowland who had accepted a hot tub and is now in hot water.

I made it to the top of the hour newscast with only minor cuts and scratches.

Things went well as we began the second hour, but then trouble. The phone lines dried up. Beads of sweat began to form. I made a crucial mistake – a rookie mistake: I said we were out of calls.

As soon as I said it, I knew I had crossed some sacred talk show line. Sure, it’s not my job, but I’ll still kick myself every time I remember I did it.

With no traffic in Connecticut, every time Rachel (not Jill) came on the air, I asked her for a traffic report for some obscure area of the state, like Occum or Forestville or Union. She laughed and took it like a trooper.

The first rule of improv is going along with the bit. Rachel (not Jill) played the game correctly. Her willingness to have fun made the bit funnier. Actually, without her laughter it wasn’t funny at all. She made the bit.

As noon approached I was rolling and actually dreaded the end coming so soon.

I’m sure if I did it again, I would do some things differently. And, when I listen to the aircheck I brought home, some of my talk show shortcomings will come into sharp focus. I still have my amateur status, so that’s not a big deal.

Maybe there will be another time. You never know.

My blog – quoted in print

“It’s embarrassing to me,” Fox said. “Forget the movie. This was the perfect storm.”

I got a call from Pat Seremet at the Hartford Courant yesterday. She had heard how I missed my shot at WTIC. The weatherman, unable to attend because of weather. Now that’s news!

I’ve attached her story to the link below.

Let me explain the use of the term “Perfect Storm.” In order for us to have had this teeny bit of snow stop a significant portion of the state, everything had to fall in line in exactly the right order. It was an incredibly unlikely set of circumstances. If any single thing would have changed, we wouldn’t have noticed the snow at all.

Continue reading “My blog – quoted in print”

On The Radio – Tuesday

I was sitting here at my desk at home, doing nothing (a common occurrence) when the phone rang. It was Jim Vicevich from WTIC radio (and formerly every TV station in Connecticut). He was in a small pickle and was wondering if I would fill in on his radio show tomorrow.

This is like asking Christina Aguillara if she’d like to look a little more tawdry. Of course I would.

So, tomorrow I’m on from 10 AM to noon on WTIC – 1080.

This is a classic radio station; one of the few remaining dominant AM stations left. At one time, its morning show was the highest rated in the country!

I wonder if I was really his first choice? To quote Bob from the furniture commercials, “I doubt it.”