Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More Silent Nights?

I usually get several calls in November and December about playing corporate Christmas parties or New Year's Eve celebrations, and I've played several Christmas parties over the years. They're always a lot of fun because everyone's in a festive mood, and we try to play songs especially for the client and the occasion. This year was different. I didn't get a single call.

I ran into a friend of mine, and he was telling me about a Nashville blues singer with whom I've shared several bills in the past. The guy's really good, especially for parties. He said he only had one holiday party booking this year, and it canceled. Another friend asked me where we were playing New Years Eve as it was the first time he didn't have a gig on New Year's in 35 years. The truth is, because of the economy, there weren't nearly as many company Christmas parties as in years past. I know of several companies locally which canceled their parties altogether. The effect of the economy on live music is very real. There were a few gigs, but not many.

I read one satirical article, which commented on the sad state of the music economy. The article's funny, but the hard times for musicians are real. In times when people have to choose between milk, bread or music, music's out! Music sales in general are down, especially country music, which has fallen almost 25%. The effect would have been even more dramatic if not for Taylor Swift, and she's much more Pop than Country. Of course, part of Country music's problem may lie in the quality of Country music being put out these days. Tom Petty called it "bad rock bands with fiddles."

Earlier this year, touring musicians were in a bind because of the price of fuel, but now everybody's in a bind because of the economy in general. I'm lucky in that I don't depend on my music for food on my table, or I'd be starving, but I feel for those who do. They're already feeling the pinch and turning the corner into a year with an uncertain future.

Here Comes 2009

I got this e-mail from a longtime friend of mine who is a GM in a Top 20 Market:
"2009 is going to be terrible for the industry as a whole. I think you will see more of the cuts that most groups have announced. The word is that FOX and Univision are waiting until the holidays are past to do their trimming. All we can do is hold on for dear life and hope that 2010 comes very quickly."

Here's to 2010!

I, too, have a feeling that 2009 will bring more of what we saw in 2008 as far as the broadcast and newspaper industry is concerned. More and more experienced journalist will either be fired or accept "buyout" deals as payrolls undergo shrinkage. More and more "behind the camera" types will also be done away with through a combination of technological advances and payroll cuts. Big time news anchors, especially on the local level, will be a thing of the past. We'll see more single anchors along with anchors who report extensively and they'll be making less money. In at least the short term, at more and more stations and newspapers, the trusted and seasoned reporters and meteorologists will be out, in favor of lesser experienced, cheaper labor.

In the bigger picture, I expect to see a bit of a fire sale on television stations and newspapers. They're not worth near what they were only a few years ago. It's a buyers market for many stations, with over-leveraged owners willing to cut their losses, at any price. Newspapers, especially are seeing their value limbo under a line few would have thought possible ten years ago. They can still make money, but they have to change everything, including and especially their business models. Maybe they should work more on their website and web sales.

To quote University of Memphis journalism professor Joe Hayden, "I dread the quality of newscasts cobbled together by skeleton crews," he said. "Forcing fewer people to do more work is always a disastrous recipe for journalism."

His conclusion: "I think the market will eventually compel newsrooms to either emphasize quality or disappear. The phase we're going through now isn't a pretty one."

At least one of the more respected columnist has an even dimmer view than me about the coming year for the media.

I think we'll eventually come out of this with more multitaskers (one man bands) as far as journalism is concerned. That's not such a bad thing in some aspects. That's how I started my career at WBBJ in the early 80s, and I did some of my best work. That will help weed out the pretenders, as viewers eventually flock to those who know their craft, over those who simply love "being on teevee." In some ways, it's just like the economy in general, we'll see the quality "bottom out," before it begins improving. Quality and excellence will eventually separate the pros from the wannabes, although I think everyone in the media, especially on the local level, will draw a smaller paycheck than in the glory years of television.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cable TV Pulls The Plug

The good news is that HDTV is coming soon! The bad news, at least for some, is that HDTV is coming!

I actually have HDTV and it's truly amazing. I especially love watching sports, music concerts and nature programs in HD. The Weather Channel in HD is pretty cool too! I don't have to worry about the cable company though. I live so far out in the sticks there is NO cable TV.

HDTV requires more bandwidth though, and that's making for some interesting decisions for some local cable TV systems. In Dyersburg, they're dropping WPSD , KFVS and maybe WBBJ. In Union City, they're dropping WREG, WPTY, WMC and WTVF. Same thing in Martin, Do they HAVE to drop them? They say it's to make way for channels their viewers have asked for. Many of the viewers are saying, "no, we didn't!" Hmmmmm.

Viewers in Dyersburg seem mostly unconcerned about losing KFVS in Cape Girardeau, and WPSD in Paducah, but many are upset about losing WBBJ in Jackson, TN. Although Dyersburg (Dyer County), is in the Memphis television market, Dyersburg is closer to Jackson than Memphis. Although KFVS and WPSD are no doubt unhappy to be dropped from the Dyersburg cable system, the fact is their main audience and revenue base is in Southeast Missouri, Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois. Naturally, that's where they focus their coverage. WBBJ focuses a lot of coverage on Dyersburg. It's relatively close to Dyersburg (47 miles), even though it's not officially in their "market." According to Dyersburg's cable company, if enough viewers voice their opinion, WBBJ might stay.

Nationally, part of the situation has been brought about by the television stations themselves. It's called retransmission and the haggling is going on all over the place. Many of them are demanding payment from cable systems for carrying their signal. In some instances, this had led to playing hard ball.

In Union City, we've heard from many viewers who are upset with Charter Cable. Charter doesn't scare easily though. Unless a last minute deal is worked out, they're yanking KMOV, the CBS affiliate off cable in St. Louis. Congressman John Tanner, a Union City resident, even sent an official letter to Charter urging them to reconsider dropping the channels in his hometown. In this case, Tanner was treated like any other viewer. "Forget it." Contrary to what you might have heard, the customer is not always right, at least to some cable companies, even if he's a ranking member of Congress.

It's like my dad used to say to me at supper time when mom served up asparagus, "You'll eat it, you'll LIKE IT." Well, I might have eaten it, or at least some of it, but...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ice, Ice Baby!

I have a 50 mile commute to work each day, from Fulton to Paducah. It usually takes about an hour. Today it took all of THREE HOURS because of black ice on area roads. As I started out this morning, roads were just starting to ice in Fulton County. As I started down the Purchase Parkway at a blazing 25 mph, I made sure to leave my cruise control OFF, and leave plenty of room. Sure enough, a red Chevy Aveo shot by me at around 60 mph. I said to myself, "I'll see you again later." I did. About 3 miles down the road. He had spun 180 degrees and gone down an embankment. Luckily, he missed the trees and the guardrail.

My friend in the Aveo was not alone. I must have seen 25 wrecks along the way, and actually witnessed 4 of them. Perhaps the most ironic were the three guys who ran their four-wheel-drives together. Four-Wheel-Drives are cool, but on ice it's merely 2 more tires spinning out of control.

To be honest, I wouldn't have gone to work at all but needed to get to the transit for a public hearing. I knew it could be a tough commute because I had checked the forecast myself before I left home. Nothing against the TV Meteorologists, but I still trust myself more than anyone else when it comes to meteorology. I guess it caught some of them off guard, because they didn't start issuing "alerts" until I was an hour and a half into my trip, and had seen a dozen vehicles in the ditches and into the guardrails. Black ice, of course, can cause a fender bender for even the best drivers, but the novices don't have a chance.

Here are some Winer Driving Tips:

Tips for driving in the Snow & Ice:

  • Don't use the cruise control!!! You hit a patch of ice and INSTANTLY lose it. Don't believe me? Give it a try. Please wave at me as I pass by and I'll call the KSP for charge.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Appling the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for retraining traction and avoiding skids. Don't try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning - nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
  • The normal dry pavement following distance of four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety in front will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Don't stop if you can avoid it. There's a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until the light changes, do it.
  • Don't power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.
  • Don't stop going up a hill. There's nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
  • Stay home. If you really don't have to go out, don't. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don't tempt fate: If you don't have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.
  • Stay Away from ME! (OK...I made that one up....but I'd really like it...)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas

There are things I love and dislike about the holiday season (I don't hate....anything or anyone...but somethings I dislike).

I love the football bowl season, even though the bowl games are meaningless. I love watching the NFL games......especially in the snow.

I love smoking turkeys for my family and cooking and eating tailgate food.

I love visiting with my family, hugging all of them, telling them I love them and meaning it when I tell them I wish I could spend more time with them.

I love making my resolutions to work out more, eat better and lose weight....even if I don't.

What do I dislike about the holidays??? Year-ender stories, "best ofs". Whatever you want to call them. The truth is, there is NO NEWS to speak of to cover around the holidays and NO REPORTERS since so many are taking time off. These are nothing more than time-fillers to fill out the newspapers and newscasts so there won't be blank paper and dead air from the network all the way down to the local level. Keep that in mind during the Today Show's "look back at 2008." (yawn)

It's funny how the holidays have changed for me over the years. When I was a child, I dreamed of "what I would get." The older I got, the more I cherished what I had, especially the relationships. Now, I don't want for anything. The most precious gift is to share precious time with loved ones. This Christmas could be a tough one. All of us, may not be together next Christmas. Let's share a meal, a smile and a laugh and keep our fingers crossed that we're blessed enough to do it again next year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

15 Things They Don't Want You To Know

OK....the "15 Things" & "Don't Want You To Know" are marketing ploys, but here's what I have learned from my travels across the nation in the past year.....

1. If not for us at PATS and others in rural transits, many senior citizens would never leave an 8x10 room. One of the drivers we trained in recent months recently carried a man to a store, who had not left his home in 2 and a half years.

2. On the road, at many convenience stores, a 20 ounce soda is $1.89 while a TWO LITER soda is $1.79. Why don't consumer reporters do a story on THIS? Have they all been laid off?

3. There are stores which sell miniature roses in crack pipes and electronic scales ("for tobacco use only" ...yeah), but if someone buys them, they could be arrested immediately upon leaving the store for possessing drug paraphernalia. Why doesn't law enforcement stop the stores from selling these things in the first place? Aren't they selling drug paraphernalia?

4. Deer are really stupid animals. If you take one with a bow, a black powder rifle, a .270 rifle, a Dodge Ram or a Ford F-350, is there a big difference? Why do deer want to die so badly? It's a tragedy they don't taste more like Black Angus.

5. I already knew drinking and driving do not mix, but when I saw the tears well up and heard," my father died while driving drunk," "My brother was killed by a drunk driver," etc. Just don't do it.

6. We cannot preach about defensive driving enough. We trained one driver who told us about the child who ran out out in the road, and who he struck and killed in 1963. "There's not a day that has passed since that I have not thought about that kid and seen his face, and there never will be." Slow down. Watch out. It's worth it.

7. Put in for wake up calls, but don't trust 'em.

8. There's nothing more depressing than being on the road, nearing the holidays, hearing Christmas Carols on the radio, and being alone, away from your family.

9. There's nothing more rewarding than seeing that "light bulb" go off in a driver's head, and knowing that tip you gave him/her, might save someone's life or prevent an injury.

10. Some of the BEST places to eat are the Mom and Pop "Meat and Threes!"

11. Some of the WORST places to eat are the Mom and Pop "Meat and Threes!"

12. There are more people than you think who cannot read, write, add or subtract. That doesn't mean they're not good people.

13. Waitresses can make your food taste a lot better, or a lot worse, depending on their smile.

14. EVERYBODY knows where the BEST BBQ is!

15. EVERYBODY knows "what is wrong" with the Kentucky Wildcats.

Merry Christmas Y'all. Let's love each other and try to get along.....even if we're family!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Ax Continues Falling...

Layoffs in the media, along with other businesses, in the past few weeks have been coming as fast as rounds from a Thompson machine gun, but the bullet has hit the bullseye at Raycom with deadly results for more journalists, engineers, marketers and production types. They called it "Bloody Tuesday." It really hit home in one of my favorite towns and favorite stations, Memphis' WMC.

Two of their more popular anchors, including one of the main nighttime anchors got pink slipped. One of them, on the day after she commented on the air about how lucky she was to work there. Ouch! Memphis Mediaverse has been following the story. I found this quote from the newly unemployed Bill Lunn the most interesting.

"The standards of journalism have changed since my days as an intern at WBBM-TV in Chicago 20-plus years ago. They will continue to change as budgets grow tighter and tighter. But we are a consumer-driven economy. Demand excellence and you will find it."

I never met Lunn, but everybody I know in Memphis says he's a good guy and a solid journalist. Nighttime co-anchor Donna Davis, along with a sports reporter/anchor were also sent packing.

"Davis got the bad news from her news director, who leaned on her shoulder and cried."

I used to work for that news director, Tracy Rogers. She's a good person, and I know it broke her heart to see them go. A sad footnote to the whole situation is while the three on-air personalities were let go by WMC, WMC, at this writing, plans to enforce the non-compete clauses in their contracts, so they cannot work at any other Memphis station in the near future. Non-compete clauses for broadcasters are illegal in Illinois and Missouri, but are still very much alive in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Closer to home, there were also layoffs at Raycom stations in Jonesboro, Arkansas (KAIT) and Cape Girardeau, MO (KFVS 12) although you couldn't find stories in the Southeast Missourian, or the Jonesboro Sun. Perhaps they've also laid off to the point that they're missing stories. Newspapers have their own problems these days. Maybe worse than TV Stations.

One thing I find interesting, is the quote from WMC general manager Lee Meredith. "For the station to properly position ourselves for the business challenges ahead of us, we have taken the difficult step of making a work force reduction."

In other words, although I'm sure revenue predictions were way off for this year, they anticipate the coming year to be even worse. Not so long ago, election years, especially presidential election years, were cash cows for stations. I remember one year when I was working in television, we had a presidential election, the Olympics and a Super Bowl in the same year! Now THAT was a great Christmas bonus!!!! This year? It didn't work out that way. There wasn't as much political advertising for local stations and many auto dealerships have slashed advertising budgets in the wake of their own problems. Those car dealerships can represent up to 33% of a station's total advertising revenue. The result? Layoffs, no Christmas bonuses, no corporate Christmas parties, and for some, no more job.

While some may argue if local stations improve their product, they might get more viewers and improve ratings, the fact is that it doesn't matter what their ratings are or how many viewers they have, if the advertisers don't spend money with them in the first place. Much more important than the number of viewers, is total revenue.

We'll keep our fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Hard Candy Christmas

Merry Christmas! You're fired! It seems like that's what more and more people are hearing in so many industries, and the TV Biz is no exception. Many local stations , including WMC in Memphis are cutting their news staffs, again, and nationally, NBC is laying off, including some big name correspondents. A generation of local TV anchors are being shown the door, and the list goes on and on. Of course, newspapers, including several in our region, are also feeling the pinch, and folks are getting their walking papers. All, just in time for Jesus' birthday.

The most troubling part, for many, is more than the loss of jobs. It's the loss of experience. From one of the articles, "When the anchors depart, they take decades of experience and insight with them. “Basically, you replace someone who knows City Hall with someone who can’t find it,” said John Beard, who lost his job at KTTV last December after 26 years as a news anchor in Los Angeles." Of course, consumers notice a difference, no matter the product.

The tough part for today's newspapers and television stations is trying to attract the younger consumers. That's another reason many of the "old" anchors, reporters and meteorologists are put out to pasture. The thinking is that younger viewers don't want to see "old" personalities, and TV and newspapers are desperately trying to find new viewers and readers to replace the ones who have defected to the internet and cable/satellite TV. In many cases, they risk alienating the viewers they still have left. On the other hand, with the economy in it's current state, it doesn't matter how many viewers or readers you have, if your advertisers don't have the money to advertise.

Longtime newsman Joe Larkins, of Memphis, reported on his blog he received a note from the General Manager of one of the Memphis TV Stations:

It is as ugly as I have ever seen it — down right scary. TV gets 20% of its ad revenue from auto advertising. The Big Three are on the Hill with their hand out and as of yet, it is still out there, empty. What does that mean? Lower ad revenue. Not just auto but the housing bust takes its toll on furniture and everything else that a homeowner might buy.

Many, many media companies are over leveraged. When they took on that debt, the lenders put covenants into the agreement that said the debt to revenue ratio couldn’t exceed a certain amount. Well no one anticipated a drop in revenue like we are seeing across the board. Those ratios are not being met, which means default.

Not only will you see hiring freezes and layoffs, I predict within two years you will see many markets with only the top two stations producing a newscast — this will be particularly true in markets 50+. There is just not enough of a news pie to justify three or four stations producing news. Losing money is not an option.

So, there’s my Christmas Cheer for the day. Feel better?

Focus on being efficient and effective in your job because your company is doing the same.

The GM

Of course the same premise holds true for all industries these days. The higher salaried people are most at risk, especially if someone can step in and assume their duties rather easily , improving the bottom line. That IS the bottom line. Gas may have gone down, but apprehension is still running high, and we're all in "hunker down" mode. Keep your fingers crossed. My forecast calls for it to get even colder after Christmas. If you're looking for good news out of this, it's that more and more of the incompetent media/print managers might soon find themselves in the unemployment line.

I think local TV and newspapers will survive, but it won't be the same as it was, even 5 years ago. Gone are the days of the Media Czars. That's good and bad. Although you'll have more choices for your news, there will be fewer, if any, with the resources and experienced personnel to do the best job possible. That's not good news for us.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We Miss Ya, Glenn

I'll never forget, when Fat Moe's first opened in Paducah, someone said something to me about playing there. I went to "check it out" and thought it was such a cool place! I loved the old record album covers and instruments around the walls. The stage was SO small. I didn't think I could fit the band on there.....but we squeezed in there and played the night away. The food was great, too, but one thing that struck me more than almost anywhere I'd ever played, was how genuine and sweet Glenn and Mary Jordan were. Their personalities gave the place a special atmosphere that just makes you feel welcome and like family. In the years that followed, it became one of our favorite places, if not THE favorite club we played. I would often get off work, then head over to Moe's to kill time before the gig. I usually spent that time enjoying a Fat Moe Burger at the bar, and many times shared a stool next to Glenn. It was always a treat. We'd talk about anything and everything. He was always asking me about the TV Biz & Meteorology, then the Transit Biz, and always the Music Biz. His wit and wisdom always brought a smile to my face.

He had his share of health troubles recently, but the sudden passing of Glenn came as a shock when I heard about it Monday. His family called that afternoon, and asked if I could play and sing at his service. They said we were his favorites. There's no way I could refuse. He was one of our favorite persons, too. We decided I should sing one of his favorite songs we played, "Funny How Time Slips Away." It's a wonderful song, but I decided to change the words just a little bit. Instead of singing the original lyrics about an old, spurned love, I decided to change them to reflect how quickly this time on Earth passes with those we love, and how we should keep that in mind, and always treasure the time we have with our loved ones. I hope I did him proud, because he sure deserved it. For the record, he also really liked "Waffle House Woman"!! Local Attorney Tod Megibow and Pastor Don Young did wonderful jobs with the eulogy and the message. That's right, a Jewish lawyer, a Baptist preacher, and a blues singer! That just goes to show you the range of lives he touched. Glenn loved live music in his place, and we loved playing our best for him. Mary said he remarked that we got better every time we played there. Maybe part of that had to do with the environment of Fat Moe's and the love in that place.

I won't pretend that we were best friends, but we became friends over the years. I think just about everybody who got within an arms reach of Glenn became his friend in no time! I learned more about him after his passing, such as how he doted over his grandkids and supported them. How good his kids all turned out, and how much they all loved him. I wasn't surprised.

Say a prayer for Mary and the kids and the grandkids. They could use it. He was at heart, one of the good guys, and it's always sad to lose one of them, because there aren't as many as there used to be. I have a feeling, though, his spirit will live on at Moe's, forever.