Friday, December 5, 2014

Final Internal Programming Note

I've been at this blog for the better part of five years. I've written a ton. Sometimes more than is probably mentally healthy. But I know I've been slacking lately. There's been way more filler than there should have been, and that's dragged down the quality of content, hurting things when I actually put forth something of worth. Writing about anything and everything gives you freedom to roam around, but it can also leave things unfocused if you're not careful, and lately, I haven't been careful.

And you'll note I've been missing days lately. In fact, I haven't been here for a week. That's because I've been moving operations to Wordpress. In the effort to try to get that soccer podcast going, I discovered that Blogger doesn't take audio files. Which is a big problem. If I was going to get anything done regarding that, I needed a place that would take audio files, and that turned out to be Wordpress. In the process, I decided that it would be a good time to refocus.

So say hello to The Minnow Tank, a soccer-exclusive site ('minnow' being a term for a team towards the back end of the quality scale in a given competition). Being soccer-exclusive does not preclude talking about the larger issues in the world, as soccer and the larger world commonly intertwine. But it does provide some sort of direction. I don't intend to attempt to update it every day like I've tried to do here; only when I have something I feel is worth posting.

I'm not going to take Random Human Neural Firings down, but me manning The Minnow Tank precludes me being over here. This site will be left up as an archive. Hope to see you over there.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

96 X'ed

Some time ago, I linked to the website, a site that chronicles the moments when radio stations swap from one format to another. The first thing you'll notice if you poke around is that a lot of the same formats get used in a lot of markets, no thank you very much Clear Channel. (A fair amount of the time, stations will swap around this time of year, airing exclusively Christmas music to mask the change. A station will be one format going into the season and another format coming back out of it.)

But almost always, a station signing off will in fact become the birth of a new station at the same frequency. It's almost unheard-of for a radio station to actually straight-up go off the air, where one moment you hear music or talking and the next you hear only static.

But it has happened. shows one- and only one- instance of a straight shutdown, when Top 40 station 96X in Miami, call sign WMJX, shut down in 1981. The FCC had pulled its license. (This paper from Justin Levine of Indiana University shows only one other, KIKX in Tuscon, which staged a kidnapping of DJ Arthur Gropen in 1974, causing listeners to call the cops, causing the cops to call the station, causing the station to insist the kidnapping was real, causing the FCC to also yank their license in 1981. That shutdown is not in's database.) In 1975, 96X was borne out of a format change, or really I should say an ownership change. Bartell Broadcasting was out, handing off to Charter Broadcasting. Bartell, also doing top-40, had used the call sign WMYQ; Charter went through a couple others, plus a brief switch to disco, before returning to top-40. But in inheriting the station, Charter also inherited the station's legal troubles with the FCC.

WMYQ, you see, had done some very stupid morning-DJ things in the 70's, prior to the handoff to Charter, as I link you to a message from Stuart Elliott, the DJ tasked with pulling the plug. As Elliott explained back in 2005, there were two things the FCC mainly took into account, though the Indiana paper notes that they considered nine contests over a two-year period. The first of the big two was a prank, for which the FCC would eventually use KIKX as precedent to act, in which morning DJ Greg Austin was said to be broadcasting from out at sea and then 'disappeared', causing all manner of law enforcement to launch a huge search party to find him. The news anchor was instructed to keep the disappearance story going to promote a 'Find Greg Austin Contest'. He turned up in a Howard Johnson just down the road from the radio station.

Second was a contest in which the station claimed to be giving away "a warehouse full of 10 speed bicycles". The station would give out clues on the air saying where the bikes were hidden, you'd go find one, call the station, they'd give you a combination to unlock the bike, and if it unlocks it's yours. The thing the FCC honed in on was that here, 'a warehouse full' wound up being defined as 'a half dozen to a dozen'. Elliott didn't say the exact number, but it sure was not a warehouse. These days he'd be thinking more like a storage locker, which wasn't nearly as much of a thing in the early 80's, but in any case, 'warehouse' still means a certain rather large thing.

The Indiana University paper points out another contest from 1973 called 'Magnum One', in which listeners were led to believe they were winning part of a company with "valuable assets". It was actually a shell corporation. The FCC had already warned the station over this one.

An additional sample incident, which is unclear if the FCC noted in its hearings, was recalled in 2012 by B. Eric Rhoads. In 1975, the station was in a ratings war during sweeps with rival Y-100, and the instructions from programmer Jerry Clifton were, "We're neck-and-neck with Y100 and we can win this, but it's going to require extra creativity from you guys. Pull out all the stops. No holds barred. Just don't lose the license." Rhoads went on the air that night and claimed he'd been fired. The rest of the staff "reacted" to the firing. The next morning, Rhoads "broke in" to the studio and "took over" the station and said he'd play a novelty song called 'Eat A Fish' until he got his job back... which led to some very real cops showing up not long afterward, holding him at gunpoint, and dragging him off to a squad car outside. After some explanation to the cops, the mayor of Miami Beach forced the station GM, Carl Gomo, to issue one apology every half hour on the station for the next two weeks. (Y-100 beat 96X in sweeps that year.)

96X would spend a few years defending itself to the FCC, ultimately unsuccessfully. The decision was made final in January 1981, with the station having to be off the air by April. The change in ownership counted for nothing. Charter had taken over with full knowledge of what might end up happening, and knowing that Bartell getting out of Dodge while there was still a Dodge to get out of didn't do anything to change the equation. And given that the license was gone and extremely unlikely to be put back on appeal, they didn't see much point in prolonging the station's demise.

The shutdown can be heard here. Elliott was unable to hold it together as he hit the switch. The calmer-sounding message from station manager Bob Allen was prerecorded. The station would eventually come back on the air, but it wouldn't be until 1985. It's currently WPOW, a dance music station.

Going down like it did, 96X has acquired a tribute website, playing the kinds of music 96X used to play.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Adventures In Marketing

Let's say you're Malaysian Airlines. You're the subject of constant scrutiny and anger every day that the plane of yours that went down... somewhere or other... all the way back in March remains unfound, which is bogged down right now in squabbling over theories, and the odds are at worst pretty fair that it in fact never will be found. You have a second plane that was shot down by Russians mid-Ukranian invasion in July. That's more on the Russians than it is on you, but it still doesn't exactly look good. You are, at this moment, undoubtedly the least-trusted airline on the planet.

Let us also say you are part of Malaysian Airlines' marketing department. You are tasked with figuring out how in the world you are going to get people back on your airplanes that have been frightened into the arms of your competitors. It's getting to be the late stages of the year, and even if you're Muslim and don't observe Christmas, the close of the year is still a big marketing opportunity. Which of the following two things do you tweet?

A) "Want to go somewhere, but don't know where? Our Year-End Specials might just help!"
B) Literally anything other than A short of expressing admiration for the Unabomber.

Needless to say, the selection here was A. Shockingly, that didn't work too well. (The tweet was deleted some hours later. I do not suspect the person that sent it will be employed very much longer.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

One Thing

I've made note here, a couple times, that a small town doesn't get too many opportunities to define itself to the world. A large metropolis, such as St. Louis or Los Angeles, gets in front of the world regularly, and has the opportunity to present many different sides of itself. One can look at Los Angeles and see primarily a celebrity playground, or a media center, or Disneyland, or beaches and surfing, or outrageous urban sprawl, or any of the local sports teams, or its ethnic diversity, or Skid Row, or a culinary mecca, or a parched desert with a city on top of it, or a multitude of other things. The world sees Los Angeles often, and so it sees more sides of Los Angeles.

A small town doesn't have that luxury. Small towns as a whole get in front of the world regularly. But there are a lot of small towns out there. A specific small town in particular, and even some medium-sized cities, may never get its face shown in front of the populace at large in any remotely significant way. Even if it does, it will almost certainly be known for one thing, and one thing only. That's it. One Thing. The town simply isn't large enough to have enough facets to it that people are likely to see more than one of them to any appreciable degree; it may have more, but one is far too likely to outshine the others.

Sometimes, that one thing is sports. Auburn, Alabama is only ever going to be known for the Auburn Tigers. Despite being the birthplace of James Fennimore Cooper, and despite his family being the town's namesake, Cooperstown, New York still has only One Thing, and that is being the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Green Bay, Wisconsin is home to over 100,000 people and has always been a major player in the paper mill industry, but paper is not Green Bay's One Thing. It's the Packers and everybody knows it.

Other times, it's a particular attraction in the town, a landmark. In my case, Watertown, we like to put the fact that we're home to astronaut Dan Brandenstein on the signs entering town, and we name our football team the Goslings over our history fattening up geese for foie gras, but those are not our One Thing. We're the home of the country's first kindergarten. That's our One Thing, and it's really a rather boring one. Neighboring Oconomowoc's One Thing is the unorthodox name of the town itself. Despite secondary reputations as a spring break destination and a fair number of sporting events revolving around the lake, Lake Havasu City, Arizona acquired its One Thing when London Bridge was relocated there, brick by brick, in 1968. Some towns that don't even think they have a One Thing at all try to force it by building a blatant roadside attraction, often the World's Largest something or other. A typical example is Hebron, Nebraska and the World's Largest Porch Swing.

And sometimes, it's historical. Nobody will ever know Kitty Hawk, North Carolina for anything except the Wright Brothers. Nobody will ever know Plymouth, Massachusetts for anything except the landing of the Pilgrims. Nobody will ever know Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for anything except the Civil War.

And this can be rather problematic for a city if its One Thing is an incident that gives the town a bad name. Again, it is hard for a small town to get everybody's attention, and if their one moment in the spotlight is for something bad, that's that. People will go away, remembering only the facet of town that brought them there, and the town will be forced to deal with their One Thing single-handedly dragging down their reputation even if they fix the problem that caused it, because no matter how much effort they put into rebranding themselves, it will probably fail as the nation will go right back to ignoring them after gawking at the One Thing.

Compton, California has gotten far safer since the days in the early 1990's when N.W.A, the Bloods, the Crips and involvement in the Rodney King riots gave Compton their One Thing. But despite working to improve matters ever since, Compton has failed to get the attention of the public at large for any of it. They still labor under their One Thing. And when you labor under your One Thing, it can be very, very difficult getting people or business to move in afterward. It can cost the town dearly going forward, until and unless they can convince the world that their One Thing no longer defines them.

Columbine, Colorado was charged with its One Thing later in the decade, when it became the victim of what would prove to be the most famous school shooting in America, even now, 15 years and far too many school shootings later. The word 'Columbine' has become a byword for school shootings, as school districts across the country, no matter who gets shot up in the meantime, still wonder how to prevent 'another Columbine'. The town's Wikipedia page doesn't even list anything else about it save for basic geography and demographics. Neighboring Littleton, whose previous One Thing was not much better- being the burial site of Alferd Packer, America's only convicted cannibal- found itself in the same shoes as Columbine when, finding that Columbine itself was (and still is) unincorporated, the media falsely reported Littleton, which was incorporated, as the location of the shooting instead.

Whatever it is you may say regarding the events or legitimacy thereof surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson- and I've said plenty myself- what is surely beyond dispute is that Ferguson, Missouri has, by now, been saddled with its One Thing. It is the town where Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, got acquitted, and riots broke out upon his grand jury acquittal. That is Ferguson's claim to fame, and unless Ferguson finds a way to get some other, bigger claim to fame, that is how it will always be remembered, and the town, blacks and whites alike, will simply have to live with that stigma. Ferguson will, eventually, leave America's eye for good, and it will be long before any of the larger issues surrounding the crisis even begin to be resolved. If they ever are. People will, more than they already had, think twice before moving to Ferguson. Businesses will think twice before opening locations in Ferguson, and those who saw their businesses burned down last night will surely think twice before deciding to rebuild, presuming they even have the ability to do so.

Ferguson may never get a chance to find itself a new One Thing. But if they do, let us hope it isn't something even worse.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Name The Ha Ha You Thought It Was Presidents

Trying to figure out if I'm able to make a new website in order to host the files for that soccer podcast because it looks like I may not be able to do that on Blogger. Looking around the place I've got here and the mess I've made of it any time I've tried to make any alterations to the default template whatsoever. Not liking my chances.

So since it's getting into breakfast hours in Europe right now, the Sporcle quiz I'm bringing out tonight might as well be for Europe. I do enough of these for the US; might as well indulge them.

Of course if you ARE American, the old name-the-Presidents list gets turned on its head a bit when all of a sudden it's a list of British Prime Ministers. Or, heck, Australia or Canada. Or India. So good luck with that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A 10-Step Guide To Deer Season

Deer season in Wisconsin has started; it began Saturday the 22nd, and runs until the 30th. And as is tradition, Wisconsin empties itself into the forests as a result. I am not a hunter, not a gun person in any way, but if done responsibly, and the deer is fully utilized afterward and not just mounted on a wall or something, then you go right ahead.

So to all you hunters out there, let us be clear about the protocol:

*Live deer are your targets, as your hunting license indicates.
*Do not shoot another person instead.
*Especially if it's your daughter.
*And especially especially if it's a 5-day-old infant.
*Do not shoot yourself.
*Make sure the deer has not already been shot by another hunter.
*Do not shoot that other hunter.
*Do not shoot a hunting dog. It does not matter whether or not said dog belongs to you.
*Do not drive-by shoot a deer.
*Do not shoot a house.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What I Was Watching The Past Week

Desert Bus 8 has ended after 158 hours. They're still working out the exact amount to hang on the toteboard; they put in some stand-in donations to reflect people who'd bought something in an auction and whose money wasn't actually going to come in until sometime after the run, and now that the run is over, those stand-in donations are back out of the system, and meanwhile, some scattered postgame donations have been trickling in. But the final number is going to be somewhere north of $630,000. They figure $637,000 is where it'll end up.

What they do know, however, is that at one point in the last day, the winner of an auction for a stained-glass figure of the Desert Bus 8 logo immediately donated it back to be part of another lot, which worked basically as a raffle that you could enter by donating a target amount or exact multiple thereof (in this case $13.37). And then this happened.

And then that kept happening for like 20 minutes straight.

The night prior, there were other social functions going on at the venue in Victoria, BC's Fort Tectoria, and the group decided, hey, why not conga-line right into the other parties? As you do. It just so happened that in that other group of people was the British Columbia Minister of Technology, Andrew Wilkinson, as well as a member of the legislative assembly, Greg Kyllo (analog, state legislator in the US). They decided to crash Desert Bus right back. It probably wasn't the best decision to follow a tradition of showing newcomers the video 'Going To The Store'- a clip of a naked, genital-free inflatable doll being marionetted around town- as the chat room was insisting upon (and it didn't get a reaction), but the two were good enough sports about it that Kyllo, who runs a rental houseboat fleet, decided he would contribute a week vacation on one of said houseboats as an auction lot.

As the participants of Desert Bus will tell you themselves, that last clip stands as the all-time strangest moment in the history of the telethon. They didn't even really think Kyllo was serious until he started going into detail about the houseboat, which ended up going for $5,000 (which got Kyllo and Wilkinson to high-five each other, so you know they were happy with it). The thing is, it's not normally a thing that would seem weird. In most places, a houseboat vacation being auctioned off wouldn't raise any real eyebrows, at least, none that didn't want a houseboat vacation. It would just appear to be one more item up for bids along with the furniture and the vases and the grandfather clocks.

Desert Bus, though, deals in geek-culture items. Five hours after the houseboat auction, they put up a replica sword from the anime series Kill la Kill that was in the shape of half a pair of scissors. THAT was what the audience was expecting to fight each other over that night more than anything else (and it went to the representative from Twitch that happened to be in the room), and that came on the heels of a new record for largest-ever bid, $10,001 on rare Borderlands merchandise along with a visit to Dallas to meet creative director Mikey Neumann. Both, you'll note, went for more than the houseboat vacation.  Here's what the scissor sword auction looked like.

In the setting of Desert Bus, while it may be weird to see someone put on the costume head of a giant anglerfish, or perform Caramelldansen multiple times in a row, or espouse on the crafting potential of human entrails, it is quite expected that you will see things along those lines. And all of those things happened in Desert Bus 8. It is normal to be bizarre, and the unexpected part is simply what exact brand of insanity you will see at any given moment.

When you drop normal folks, in suits, from the government, into such a situation, now there's a fair amount of trouble trying to process it. Wait a minute. This isn't weird. This is a perfectly normal thing being done by perfectly normal people that also happen to be from the government. The closest thing to 'normal' is a guy who people feel comfortable asking to recite the periodic table, in order, with no misses allowed (but nonconsecutives allowed). And then watching him rack up 36 before bowing out. And then asking him to read 'Go The Fuck To Sleep' (but with the all-expletive-replacing word 'bus' substituted).

Weird is a relative thing. In the world of government, it is not expected to have a conga line from next door barge into your social function, and it is not expected to watch weird and slightly risque videos from the Internet. In the land of the weird, the Internet geek-culture telethon, it is similarly unexpected to see politicians acting like the elected officials they are. In the land of the weird, he who is normal stands out most of all.

But through that, despite the wide gulf in personal subcultures involved, they did all see eye-to-eye on the important thing: the kids in the children's hospitals- and domestic violence shelters, although that never came up during the meeting- that were counting on all of them to do their bit, whatever bit that happened to be. And they absolutely did.

Now if we can just get that kind of thing going a bit more often on the American side of the border.