Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'm Just a Bill Parody - Saturday Night Live

Pax et bonum

Radio Days

I got my first Christmas card yesterday. It was from a priest who used to be a high official in the diocese back when I was a reporter/editor for the diocesan newspaper. I always respected his intelligence and spirituality, and once even asked if he'd consider being my spiritual director; alas, he had to turn me down due to commitments, and, indeed, later became the rector of the cathedral.

We exchange Christmas cards still, though it's been years since we have had direct contact.

In this year's card he wrote, "I still miss your dulcet tones on W_ _ _ on Saturday."

That brought back a flood of memories. For some 21 years I was a radio announcer/newscaster/reporter for a local PBS affiliate. For most of that time, I was the Saturday morning host from 6-noon.

My radio career began while I was teaching at a Catholic high school that paid poorly, and had a growing family with a stay-at-home wife. I was doing coaching to supplement my income, but I needed something more steady - and that had better hours.

On a lark I applied at our local PBS affiliate, which had just begun an AM station to go along with its FM and television stations. The AM station had begun to take the news/public affairs programs from the FM station, allowing the FM station to focus on classical music.

I'd been on my college radio station, but other than that, I had no real experience. I had no sound samples, nothing. If I were applying today, I'd have no chance. But somehow, for some reason, they hired me to be the Saturday night board operator.

The programming on Saturday nights (6-12) was basically all recorded jazz shows. I did the announcing in between shows, did spot weather casts, made sure tapes - it was still the reel-to-reel tape days! - were cued up, played all the required promotions. Pretty easy. It gave me time to read and grade papers.

My voice seemed to sound fine on air, and I was reliable, so my bosses were generally pleased. Except for the night I had a problem with a tape and quickly shoved in what I thought was an emergency music cart to go out on the air while I fixed and cued the tape. Turns out it was joke cart  recorded by another announcer. The station manager came in fuming. I was lucky not to be fired.

After six months, the announcer who had been doing Saturday and Sunday mornings left. I applied, and got the shifts - and ended up staying with the Saturday shift for 21 years.

The weekend morning shifts focused more on news, public affairs, and talk programming. I got to play some great shows (Inside Europe, Only a Game, and Studs Terkel's Almanac, for example). The Saturday shift also at first included an hour or  two of jazz. I got to plan what recordings to play, coming up with all sorts of themes - like noting performers' birthdays, playing music by Irish-sir-named performers for St. Patrick's day, and so on). I loved that. But then more shows came on air, including Weekend Edition, and the jazz programming ended. I did do some sub shifts overnight when they had jazz and blues programming, but then they ended the local playing of music (letting the overnight guy go as well).

One happy consequence: Working Sunday mornings meant going to Mass Saturday evening. I sat at the back at church, and spotted an attractive woman who was always at the same Mass sitting at the back. We were soon sitting together - and have now been married 20 years.

Early on, a part-time newscaster came in to do the news for those morning shifts. But he was inconsistent about making it in on time - or at all - so to make sure we had something I started putting together newscasts and doing them myself. Plus, I had left my teaching position and was working as a weekly newspaper reporter, so I knew the local news scene anyway. The news director heard what I was doing, fired the newscaster, gave me a small raise, and I became the weekend morning announcer/newscaster. I also provided news for the FM announcers, recorded newscasts for later in the day, and put together short pieces to be used on Monday morning.

I eventually gave up the Sunday shift. It was the less interesting one, anyway, and I was then able to play music and sing in the choir at church.

I watched as the station grew and the technology changed. Reel-to-reel tapes gave way to computers and satellite uplinks. We began using digital recorders for news reports. I kept learning and adapting.

My greatest  - and saddest - news coup was when the Shuttle Columbia broke up on reentry. I happened to be monitoring the news wires, caught wind of the problem, notified our news director, and went on the air to announce that there was a problem and we were monitoring the situation and would break into regular programming when more information became available. My announcement was the first on local radio - we basically broke the story locally. NPR started live coverage, which I put on the air. Our local news reporters supplemented the NPR pieces with local angles including ones on a shuttle astronaut from our region (who was, fortunately, not on the Columbia). The Station manager later complimented the news team for getting on the story so quickly and the good job we did.

I became somewhat well-known locally - at least among folks who listen to public radio. When introduced to people they'd know who I was. I knew local newsmakers on sight - and they knew me. Even the county executive knew me well enough to sneer at me whenever he spotted me. When I applied for my current teaching job the principal arranged to meet with me even before the actual interviews just because he knew of my work on air and wanted to meet me!

Getting up Saturdays at 4 a.m. got to be a bit of a drag, and I began thinking about how I could move up in the news department and the station. During school breaks I sometimes subbed as the local announcer/newscaster for Morning Edition, and I like it. I also began to do spot news coverage.

Then the local All Things Considered local anchor shift opened. That was the flagship news program on NPR, and would be a great career move. I applied.

The new news director (the fourth I'd been under) who did not know me well, gave me the courtesy of an interview, and later admitted that he was surprised by my knowledge of local news, my newspaper and writing background, and the quality of my reports. I became one of the finalists.

BUT there was a problem. (Shh: No one could say it openly.)

To be blunt, the news department at that point consisted entirely of middle-aged white males (there was one woman who did some reports, but she was not interested in news, and was primarily an FM announcer who later become a great classical music host).

The other finalist was a young Hispanic female from out of state.

She got the job.

The reason I was given was that she had more sound clips and some full-time experience. Okay. I understood.

She was terrible. She did not know the community. Her on-air delivery was poor. She lasted one year.

Meanwhile, I had been busy doing more spot news coverage and mastering the equipment.

When she left, I became one of the three local rotating hosts of All Things Considered. We did that for an entire summer. But when it came time to apply, one of the senior members of the news staff took me aside. He said I was qualified. I knew the local news beat. I knew the shift. But ...

The news staff was the same as it had been the year before. White. Middle-aged. Male.

I didn't even get a formal interview.

They hired a young Jewish woman from New York City. I will admit, however, she was very good. She did an excellent job. She's still on the air, though in a different capacity.

But I realized at that point there was no full-time future for me there.

Other factors came into play.

One came over the issue of abortion.

In the news department we received a directive about how we were to cover abortion stories - giving the newscasts a clear pro-choice bias. I objected, argued for balance. I was overruled. I should mention that at the time the directive was issued the head of the station's board of trustees was the president of the local Planned Parenthood.

So, after 21 years, I gave notice.

The last news director I worked under was later let go - replaced by a woman. He now works in public relations.

The news director before him - who had remained with the station as a reporter - was also let go. I now hear him doing fill-in shifts and reports for another local station (I hope he gets a full-time gig. He's a good guy, and a good reporter.)

The overnight guy who had a national reputation for his knowledge of jazz and blues - and whose shift I occasionally subbed for - was let go.

The morning guy who's shift I often took over during vacations was let go. He was working odd shifts at another station, last I heard.

The midday guy moved to mornings, then when ATC Jewish female moved on to other on-air programming,  moved to ATC - and a woman (who'd been let go by another local station) was hired for the morning shift.

The station did later hire another male news reporter (who'd been let go by another local station).

The radio business is not a secure one. It's probably for the best that I did move on when I did.

To be honest, I don't miss it. It's much nicer to be out walking my dog in the wee hours on Saturdays than it was putting together a newscast and getting ready to go on the air at 6 a.m.

So thanks father. But I'm happy with my decision.

Signing off.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Ferguson ... and lying

I'm tired of all the racial hoopla.

There's too much lying going on.

Yes: Racism and bigotry exist.

But it goes both ways these days.

And too often, it's used as an excuse for not getting off your butt and making something of your life.

Many minority groups have faced discrimination. My own Irish ancestors did. But instead of sitting around and just decrying what was, some of them did something about it. Legally. Thoughtfully. Deliberately.

They went to school - often to substandard ones - and actually learned something and even graduated. They got jobs, even if the jobs were menial and low-paying. They got married before starting families. They did not buckle to the abuse, but they knew when to pick fights and how to fight strategically. They knew when to speak and how to speak respectfully, and when to keep their mouths shut.

Yes, there were criminals and drunks and drop-outs and those who did use discrimination as an excuse. But they were not the ones who lead. They were viewed with shame and embarrassment.

The rest moved on - and up.

Dr. King knew what he was doing. Follow his lead. Speak out, but in a way that addresses the issues in a rational way, in a way that does not seek to shut down - or shout down - others. He was willing to put his life on the line and face legal consequences for his actions. He was himself: He didn't hide behind masks. Or look for cameras to scream and carry on.

He was no coward.

He stood for the truth.

Robbing stores to "protest" injustice is a lie.

Burning innocent peoples' cars to voice frustration at discrimination is a lie.

Throwing bricks through windows or at people - including police - to voice anger is a lie.

Racism is a horrible thing and must be opposed, but using it as an excuse for bad behavior is a lie.

Quit lying.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Next day's early haiku batch

watching a movie
about giant killer ants -
no picnic today

fund raising dinner
where black ties are optional -
I will change my socks

white-bearded fellow
avoids "Santa Land" set at mall -
a contract dispute

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 22, 2014

10 haiku a day?

The most recent issue of Frogpond contained an interesting article about "The Buson One Hundred," a challenge to write 10 haiku a day for 100 days. That means creating 1,000 haiku.

I haven't written 1,000 poems - let alone haiku - in my entire life.

The article by J. Zimmerman and Gregory Longenecker notes that Buson himself tried the challenge twice, but did not meet the goal of 1,000 haiku. The article includes observations from five contemporary poets - the two authors, along with Eleanor Carolan, Patricia J. Machmiller, and Phillip Kennedy - who tried the challenge. They likewise admit that they didn't always make the goal of 10 a day - so they sometimes had to write extras to make up for missed goal. Plus, they acknowledged that many of the haiku were more drafts than polished haiku, and a relatively small percentage were eventually polished and even submitted for publication - some 5-10 percent. Still, that's 50-100 poems, a decent number.

It's sort of like those "write-a-novel-in-a-month challenges. A fun idea, but not condusive to high quality.

I scribbled a few this morning -

this haiku poet
must jump into the shower -
morning Mass awaits

counting the tweeters
who've begun to follow me -
new paranoia?

son of a sailor
studies this morning's red skies -
changes are coming

garbage day -
ignoring all the stains on
discarded mattress

Um, okay.

I doubt I'll take up the challenge. I don't know how I'd come up with 10 a day. But the discipline of writing a least a few each day is a good idea. It's like exercising. The more you do, the better, stronger you get.

And I might even come up with a few haiku I can actually revise and submit.

Probably not that mattress one, though.

(Added later -

 incident at mall -
small boy stops, points at me and
intones "Ho! Ho! Ho!")

Pax et bonum

Singing and playing at a Fraternity meeting

Yes, the Fraternity really does let me play ...

Pax et bonum

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Kneeling is now the norm - Alleluia!

One of my ongoing disputes at my parish has been over following (or in the case of my parish, not following) liturgical norms. It's been fought in stages.

A couple of years ago, the main issue was lay people preaching. After discussions with the pastor, I finally wrote to the bishop. The preaching did not completely end for a while, but the more blatant preaching did end, and the even the indirect preaching (Father saying something, then giving way to a lay person) was gradually phased out.

There were other minor issues that I didn't push - such as Eucharistic Ministers standing at the altar while the priest received Communion. The bishop put an end to that one across the diocese this fall.

But one area I did raise concerns about was standing at the Eucharistic Prayer, even though the national norms called for kneeling. I had spoken to the pastor, and when that didn't work, even wrote two years ago to the former bishop, who was, admittedly, less formal about norms. He backed Father, so I kept quiet and stood with the rest of the congregation.

This past summer during daily Mass when a few people knelt during the Eucharistic Prayer - including me, thinking I wasn't being confrontational as others were doing it - Father had even stopped Mass and instructed us all to stand. I was troubled by this, and attended daily Masses elsewhere from that point on. 

But with the new bishop cleaning up liturgical practices, I had thought of writing again. I hadn't yet, but apparently no longer need to. Today at Mass we knelt. I'd been away from the parish for a couple of Sundays, so I asked someone who'd been there every week. He said the pastor had announced a couple of weeks ago that from now on we would kneel.

Did the Bishop say something? Did Father just realize what the norms called for, or perhaps sense that conformity to the norms was finally becoming standard practice in the diocese?

I don't know. I'm just happy to see it.

Now about liturgical dancing ...

Pax et bonum

"O'Holy Night" Patti Smith

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 15, 2014

PATTI SMITH - Constantine's Dream.wmv

Pax et bonum

Patti Smith to play at Vatican Christmas Concert

I've heard that Patti Smith is going to play at a Christmas Concert at the Vatican.

Yes, the Godmother of Punk.

Actually, she's already encountered the Pope.

And she has a religiously "themed" song on her album Banga, so not totally off the wall.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Victory for prolifers and those heeding Catholic teachings? Well ...

This past week's election saw a number of pro-life candidates winning, and number of blatantly pro-abortion candidates losing. In addition, some folks are suggesting Catholic or Catholic-supported candidates did well.

Is this a positive sign for 2016?

I'd like to hope so, but I'm not that optimistic.

This time around I think it was a combination of good pro-life and poor pro-abortion candidates, anti-Obama/anti-Democratic Party sentiments, and unease about the current world situation due to such things as the Ebola hype and terrorists.

I don't think that will hold in 2016. If the Democrats put up a charismatic candidate and the Republicans put up a bland one, the voters will ignore positions on moral issues and abortion and vote for the candidate of the party of death.

Plus, while some winning candidates this time around seem to pay lip service to moral and life issues, how many of them will actually try to do anything once sworn in? We've seen that not happen before - all too often.

Pro-lifers need to work even harder; Catholic leaders need to wood even harder; moral leaders need to work even harder.

If we just sit back and rest on our current "success," the pro-abortion forces will come back.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Vote according to Catholic beliefs

I live in Rochester, NY - a center for liberal ideas. It's a very pro-homosexual, pro-homosexual so-called marriage, pro-abortion community - even among Catholics. And, of course, until the last year, the diocesan policies (or lack of enforcement) tended to be more heterodox than orthodox.

But the Rochester scene is a reflection of the state-wide NY-City/urban scene - including having a governor (Cuomo) who was raised Catholic but who promotes all sorts of policies that go against Catholic teachings, and a Catholic Senator (Gillibrand) who is pro-abortion.

Too many politicians - and voters - have been seduced and deluded by what's been deemed acceptable by the culture.

Tuesday Catholics have a chance to make a statement.

They need to vote according to their faith. There are issues on which Catholics can legitimately disagree - taxes, gun legislation, Common Core, etc. But there are non-negotiables over which there cannot be disagreement, especially if one claims to be Catholic.

Catholics should not vote for a politician who is openly, defiantly, pro-abortion, or pro-homosexual marriage. I note that in a number of close races the Democrats - the party I belonged to and worked for 35 years - are making it clear that they have made support for unlimited abortion one of their core beliefs. So unless a Democrat clearly says he/she does not support that position, and given that there are alternatives (even if not ideal and who support positions on other issues with which I disagree), there's no valid, legitimate, moral reason to vote for a Democratic candidate in most races.

I don't say never vote Democratic. There may be choices in which, for example, both major party candidates take the equally wrong positions on abortion or so-called homosexual marriage, and so other issues can come into play. (And yes, I acknowledge that many who take positions against abortion don't have a strong track record of actually doing something to reduce or eliminate it.)

But none of the local/state-wide races in which I can vote have such situations. I may not be happy with some of the alternatives, but at least they don't hold positions on non-negotiables which prevent me from voting for them.

Let's vote for the candidates who at least say they are pro-life, pro-morality. Then let's push them to actually do something about abortion, marriage, and other moral issues. But we can only push them if they get elected in the first place.

I say all this acknowledging that when I was young I was myself subject to the culture on some issues. For mistakes I made then I am penitent. 

I also keep in mind that even those Democrats, politicians, and voters who have fallen prey to the culture need our prayers that their hearts and minds might be open. They are my brothers and sisters, and I must keep that in mind as I speak to them and about them (I often fail: More instances for which I must be penitent.)

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Who are the prophets?

My Scripture reading of late has involved some of the prophetic books - the minor prophets.

I wonder who are the prophets today?

Do they post on Blogs or Twitter or Facebook or others?

Are they also treated with disdain and mockery?

I can't think of anyone who qualifies as a prophet - but then, I also wonder if that was true of the biblical prophets in their day. Were they considered loudmouths and kooks by their contemporaries, and only later became enshrined as prophets?

Pax et bonum