Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Showgrams

The past two days we heard the best and worst of The Hardline.

The showgram's coverage of the Ranger's bankruptcy announcement was amazing.  They had Chuck Greenberg on within hours -- great work by someone there, a producer, station management.  Possibly Greenberg's public relations people.  Doesn't matter.  And although I missed some of the broadcast, I thought I caught a bankruptcy expert on a little bit later on the same show (it might have been the end of Greenberg's interview, but it sounded like whoever it was was talking technicalities).  Great job, the interviews were good.  The Ticket and The Hardline at their best.

Then  .  .  .  yesterday.  You can't even call this a failed bit.  You could sense the train wreck coming from the second that Mike tried to introduce it.  They were going to be interviewing a bankruptcy lawyer, but Mike couldn't seem to read his name, and in any event he couldn't pronounce it.  Pronounced it several different ways -- Defoe, Dafore, Dayfoe.  Danny didn't know, either.  The next time Mike teased it, he got the guy's first name wrong and had to come back and correct it a little later.  Show prep, hmm.

Let's stop here for a minute.  Even before the interview, I'm thinking:  OK, what's happening here?  This isn't one of those lawyer "friends of The Ticket" who come on from time to time to offer informed commentary on specialized issues.  This is someone new.  Now, Ticket guys and Ticket management know lawyers.  In the first place, you can't avoid the damned things, and in she second place, The Ticket is a multimillion dollar business even apart from Cumulus, and those businesses usually have very capable lawyers clustered around them, although one would not expect The Ticket to be needing any insolvency counsel.  Mike and Corby probably had legal counsel the last time they signed Ticket contracts.  Is this a guy that someone at The Ticket invited to come on the showgram?  Was he recommended by one of Cumulus's corporate lawyers?  If so, you would think that the show prep would have included somebody knowing the guy's name and how to pronounce it.  And -- more importantly -- might have done a very brief pre-interview to see if the guy was ready for drive time.

But I had another thought, which may excuse The Hardline.  This lawyer might have been a gigantic P1 who called a producer or someone and begged to come on the show, claiming bankruptcy expertise.  (A professional can't buy any better advertising in this radio market.)   And The Hardline, being a generous and soft-hearted and definitely a P1-friendly bunch, said sure, we'd like to learn more about this bankruptcy caper.  Good idea.  So they wrote the guy's name down, and no one was quite sure how to pronounce it, and they slotted him in for a segment.  Had no idea what they were getting.  Poor Mike, underinformed, struggles through the teases.

Then the guy comes on, and he is an utter buster.  He sounded nervous.  His voice was radio-adverse.  He was unspeakably dull and slow (although knowledgeable enough).  Mike conducted the interview, and soon sounded like he would have preferred to be surrounded by a pack of consultants wearing Cubs paraphernalia.  I tried to imagine he and Corby and Danny and Grubes looking at each other, rolling their eyes, grabbing their throats, searching desperately for a way out of this segment which was in the process of single-handedly raising the drive-time ratings for 103.3 KESN by five points.  The guy droned on.  Mike manfully attempted to maintain interest.

Finally -- a new voice.  Corby.  He spoke very slowly, in an unaccustomedly low register, his voice dripping with contempt and disgust.  Well, sir, he said, this is a very technical area -- or words to that effect -- and then:  "but you've made it fun for us."   

At that point I pictured Danny and Grubes unable to contain their mirth, blowing bits of their earlier Taco Bueno repast out their noses and severing their optic nerves.  A perfect ending to a Three-Mile Island segment -- Corby going from delightfully abrasive, falling all the way through annoying asshole, and skidding to a stop at ungracious prick.  A very funny prick, but a prick nonetheless, and I'm a big Corby fan and defender.  An amazing performance:  this esteemed BK counselor had managed to focus a spotlight on everything that Confessors criticize about The Hardline and to undo their really superb work of the day before.

No one was saved.

The Musers could retire the E-Brake award on that segment.

God, I'd love to know the inside baseball on that one.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Time Has Come to Speak of Syndication

Since I began this page I have offered many sound pieces of advice to Cumulus:  Give KTCK-FM the 93.3 signal; buy Michael Gruber some better equipment; work Mike Bacsik into The Hardline.  OK, two out of three.  Number 3 seemed like a good idea at the time.  The Hardline got better, Bacsik got drunk.  Who can predict these things?

Here's number four:  Give some serious thought to syndicating some of The Ticket original programming.  Below I'll offer some priceless advice on what's more likely to appeal to remote entertainment-starved 25-54 males.

I've been mulling over syndication for all or part of The Ticket for awhile.  My interest increased when I read that John Clay Wolfe was thinking of syndicating Greg Williams after they made a deal for Hammer to join the former's radio organization.  And the subject screamed for an article when Junior Miller advised the P1 Nation that The Ticket was the number one ranked station on Wunder Radio, the iPhone app that lets users listen to radio stations from around the world.  The BBC was ranked second.  I looked for those rankings online and couldn't find them.  If any Confessors know where they can be found I would appreciate the advice.
What does this tell us?  Well, it may tell us nothing more than that former Dallas residents are scattered far and wide and keep in touch with Wunder Radio.  Or it may tell us that lots and lots of Dallas listeners tune in via Wunder Radio. 

But enough to account for the number one ranking?  I think it is quite possible that it means that word of The Little One has spread beyond its meager signal and that listeners with no other connection to Dallas are tuning in.  And didn't I hear Bob Sturm tell us one day that KTCK segments are among the most popular downloads on iTunes, not number one but way up there in the rankings with world-renowned broadcasts?

More to the point -- as Michael Rhyner never tires of reminding us, It's Great to Listen to The Ticket.  It's an amazing broadcast property up and down the broadcast day.  Even if all those Wunder Radio guys and podcast downloaders are local, it's a heckuva thing for The Little One to be at or near the top of those rankings.  That means that it is, indeed, great to listen to The Ticket for reasons other than its spotty local sports coverage.  (My acquaintances who listen to other sports stations do so for exactly that reason -- more sports.)  That's my Confession -- I'd love to tinker with it as I report from time to time, but when all is said and done, it's pretty much an unalloyed pleasure.  And there is little reason to think that it would not find listener approval in lots of other markets.

I spent about five years in San Diego.  When I lived there, Jim Rome got his start a fill-in weekend host on XTRA 690, the Mexico-transmitter-based sports-talk station out there (actually, XETRA).   Then Rome got a midday show and The Jungle was born.  Then he moved to Los Angeles.  And then he was syndicated.  And now he's a big deal.  I am a Jim Rome radio fan and wonder when another sports talker here is going to sign him up.  He'd be formidable competition for BaD Radio.

(DIGRESSION:  XTRA 690  is the same station that featured the amazing Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton. The Hardline makes vicious fun of him, and there's a lot to make fun of, but his afternoon drive show was an astonishing piece of broadcasting. If you can imagine Norm without the stats and gambling, but with all the enthusiasm and accompanying irascibility, and one of the greatest radio voices you will ever hear, you've got Hacksaw. His introduction in which he places "topics on the table" is a perfect encapsulation of the sports news of the day. And his play-by-play for the Chargers was on a par with Brad Sham. Really. [Hacksaw and the Chargers parted company some time ago.]   His show was very caller-driven, unlike The Ticket showgrams -- might not work here.  But man, the guy brought in the listeners.  The Ticket could do worse than bring Hacksaw out to do a nighttime show, just like they brought former enemy Norm into the fold.)

The point being that a local program can easily succeed in other markets if the quality is there.  And I think most Confessors would agree that The Ticket -- although in many ways unique in a local sort of way -- represents radio broadcasting of a very high order.

Let me hasten to add that I know approximately dick about syndication.  I have the notion, for which I have no support, that other than the cost of the sales effort, it would require almost no additional capital investment.  The production of the programs is already financed -- all you have to do is get the feed to the syndicatee, let it sell some commercials, and Cumulus watches the mail for the checks to come in.  I'm sure it's more complicated than that, but really -- what could it cost?  If you can get it on Wunder Radio, if you can get it online, you can provide it to KXXX Sports Radio 790 in Odessa.

So how would The Ticket fare in syndication?  A few thoughts.  (I told you I've been cooking this one for awhile.)

(1) Much of The Ticket's sports content is not local.  All of the shows highlight sports news of national interest.   I wouldn't want them to deemphasize their local sports coverage, but there would have to be some adjustments in content.  Frankly, expanding The Tickets list of topics couldn't hurt.  There's only so much you can say about a team at an particular time of the year.  

The non-sports local content is more of a problem.  (For example, Community Quick Hits, which Everybody Probably Wouldn't Love in San Antonio.)   But I don't think it's a big problem.  The broadcasting is inherently interesting, and it doesn't really matter that some of the topics relate to matters that are not taking place in the syndacatee's hometown. 

Besides, fart humor is universal.

(2) Syndication could start with Texas properties or possibly other Cumulus properties (which probably wouldn't be technically classified as syndication at all).  And they might start with syndication to North Texas stations whose listeners have an interest in the Dallas teams.  I have to believe that would be a low-risk proposition.  Syndicate to Amarillo; Longview/Tyler; and the like.  See how it goes.  Why wouldn't a struggling radio property outside of a major city (and believe me -- and as someone who has investigated purchasing radio stations, I know a little whereof I speak here -- they're all struggling) want to jettison the costs of producing some of a day's broadcasting but still get advertising revenue?

(3) You can syndicate to non-sports-talk stations.  You can imagine that a rural station might want to run local-interest stuff during the day, but would run sports-talk in the evening or sometime when men might tune in.  (Since The Ticket is not caller-intensive, a non-real-time broadcast isn't such a weakness.)

(4)  What, if any, of the Ticket is syndicatable?  (Syndacatable?)  My current view:

Musers:  Yes.
Norm:  Possibly, probably.
BaD Radio:  Probably not in its current configuration.
Hardline:  No

Let's focus on the anchor showgrams, The Musers and The Hardline.  Love Norm but it's a two-hour showgram and possibly not so attractive as a stand-alone.  But possibly worth offering as a package with The Musers.  BaD Radio I have some thoughts about that I'll save for another article.  Obviously a popular property, but not an immediately acquirable taste, in my view. 

I treasure The Hardline, but they would have to take show prep more seriously, and I assume that syndication requires a little more attention to things like, oh, I don't know, the clock?  And they would have to clean the show up considerably.  The casual profanity, misogyny, and sexual and excremental references would have to reined in if not eliminated.  I happen to think that the show would not be adversely affected by these changes, but it would unquestionably change its character in a way that DFW listeners might not like.

The Musers are a different story.  That showgram does seem to have a greater respect for show prep, and it has a smoother feel overall.  It is not as vulgar as The Hardline (again, I'd like to have a less vulgar Hardline, but I acknowledge that that's part of what makes it Hard, and I listen to it religiously), and it has a more conventional feel to it that would go down easier issuing from foreign transmitters.  It would be very liberating for Gordon, who would instantly have a reason to expand his repertoire of targets.  George and Junior are likable without a lot of learning time, and Gordon, when he's not wrecking the show, could be a breakout national talent. 

I acknowledge that The Ticket is a unique broadcast property.  It doesn't sound like much of anything else on the radio, even if you limit the universe to sports radio.  It might be a tough sell, although the Gentleness of The Gentle Musers seems to me to be tailor-made for a wider audience.  Throw Norm in, and program directors in East Jeebus could solve their morning problems.  If that worked, you see if Austin and Oklahoma City might have an interest.  From there, who knows?  Omaha?

And then you could buy Michael Gruber some better toys.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Those NPR Moments

I've had this one on my list for awhile.  I'd started a list of things on The Ticket, those few islands in the ocean of excellence that is The Little One where I just have to change the channel.  Since the boys have been reviewing their own "Ticket Krytonite" these days, I thought this might be a time to roll out this series.

(I don't always turn to NPR.  In fact, I don't like NPR all that much, but if I'm not going to listen to The Ticket I might as well get some news.  A fair amount of the time I'll flip to KNTU 88.1, the University of North Texas jazz station, or Little Steven's Underground Garage (Sirius 25) or one of the satellite jazz offerings or the Sinatra channel.  Seems odd that with my tastes I'd be listening to The Ticket instead of these joints -- but, as Mike R says, its great to listen  .  .  .  .)

There are several things that tend to make me wander off the dial, but I'll just hit one of them today that I was reminded of listening to The Musers yesterday: 

The Ticket hosts should never, ever, discuss serious current events.

Sure, everyone's entitled to his or her dumb opinion.  And heaven knows it's all over the radio.  But one of the reasons I like The Ticket is that the hosts give an impression of intelligence and knowledge.

This impression is seriously damaged when they talk politics or other more-or-less serious non-sports topics.  You know, stuff other than farting and conspicuously hot and non-hot women.  And this is the impression I get even when I agree with their viewpoint.  Yesterday, for example, Junior dreamed out loud of a day when someone would create a third party called -- hell, I forget, something like "the Centerist" party.  It just sounded puerile and dumb.  George sounds awful when he tries to defend his views, views that I agree with most of the time.  The one guy who seems like he might  read news articles all the way to the end is Gordon.  (Gordon is an interesting case in this regard, and I'm going to write about him sometime in the near future.) 

The Musers stray into this unfamiliar territory more frequently than the other shows, and I'm not entirely sure why.  Maybe because it's the morning, which is generally more news-intensive across the board.  By the time The Hardline rolls around, there's some fresh sports meat for consideration.  When The Hardline strays from sports its usually into show-biz or some pop-culture scandal or the like.  But when they do talk politics -- whew.

Anyway, there's one of my NPR Moments.  Yours?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Once Again, the Teebox Seems to Be Broadcasting from Pluto

On April 10, I made a note of particular horrible-sounding broadcast of The Teebox.  I don't mean the content was bad -- I mean the sound was atrocious.  A week or so later, even Danny made note of it on the handoff to The Orphanage.  RickArnett seemed very surprised that Danny had remarked on how bad the broadcast sounded.  So apparently he and Craig Rosengarden aren't aware of this.

I'm listening to it right now and I can't believe that The Ticket hasn't corrected this.  Other remotes don't sound like this.  This is not a signal-strength or reception problem -- this is a hardware problem.  Somewhere between the hosts' lips and the transmitter some foul and awful thing is happening to those soundwaves. 

I'm not sure how I can describe it.  It sounds like a digital broadcast where only about a third of the bits are coming out of the speaker.  A very rough sound, like these guys should be clearing their throats after every word.  Incredibly unappealing.  Other remotes don't sound this way.  I'm wondering if The Avid Golfer buys this time and uses non-Cumulus equipment. 

The Orphanage has just come on and it sounds fine.  Nope, something is rotten in the bowels of The Teebox's technology.  Someone should tell these guys.

Too bad.  It's a really nice show.  And I don't even play golf or particularly like anything about it.  But, like a lot of stuff on The Ticket, it holds your interest because of the skill of the hosts. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Nice Moment

It's always refreshing when the hosts take a moment to send out some props.  Yesterday, I believe it was, George took note of Ron Washington stepping up to take responsibility for the pitching moves that resulted in a Ranger loss.  He observed that other local head coaches seem never to acknowledge any responsibility for a loss.  While they're frequently correct, it cannot be the case that good game management leads to victories but game management coaching never leads to losses.  Washington stepped up, and even though the guy has become something of a punching bag -- and gets little credit when the team plays well for stretches -- George made note of Washington's concession.  Don't hear that a lot in sports-talk radio. 

Another reason why:  It's great to listen to The Ticket.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

George Proves My Point

Yesterday I wrote about Jumior Miller's consummate skill as the larfing sidekick during the 8:40 bit.  Hard to seem sincerely amused -- which brings the listener in, keeps him listening -- without overdoing it.  Junior is the Picasso, yes, dare I say, the Norman Rockwell of this delicate art.

Yesterday he got some relief from his larfing chores because Gordon did the Snapper John M.D. bit solo, so George could carry some of the pretend-audience burden.

It was an OK bit, middle-of-the-road, predictable naughty anatomical-feature jokes, a peculiar choice of voice, but OK.

George seriously, seriously overlaughed, to the point where I actually began to question whether George has  a sense of humor.  He was practically breathless as he wheezed out peals of mirth. 

Of course, in comparison to the subtle master, Junior -- who was doubtless looking on disapprovingly as George chortled uncontrollably -- anything would have sounded contrived.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Guy with the Hardest Job at The Ticket

No, it's not the grossly underpaid but highly talented guys like Michael Gruber, Danny Balis, and some of the other guys who put in astounding hours for low-five-figure revenues.

It's Craig "Junior" Miller.

Junior is blessed with high intelligence but cursed by not being a good mimic or comedy writer.  He is further cursed by sharing his program with two guys that are good mimics, and one of those (Gordon) is both an excellent and prolific writer, and the other (George) has unexpectedly good timing and even weaves some improv around what I expect are some fairly skeletal Gordon scripts.

When you have to come up with a couple of sketches per show, some will inevitably hit and others will miss.  I'm constantly impressed at how good this work is, and how consistent it is. 

But this is comedy that is played to one listener at a time, over the radio.  Comedy is impossible to perform convincingly without feedback. 

The feedback is Junior's gift.

He is charged with keeping these sketches going by reacting with laughter.  This must be incredibly difficult.  He has to provide enough audible yuks to bring the individual listener into the fun as a participant in the hugely dispersed audience, but not overlaugh and draw attention to himself, or sound like an idiot by exhibiting a degree of hilarity that is not justified by the yuk-value of the material.  And it has to sound sincere, not merely polite.  How often do you laugh out loud when sitting in your home alone watching a comedy on TV, or reading a humor piece?  Like, almost never?  And how often have you been buttonholed by someone telling you something they think is hilarious, and you feel compelled not to give offense by offering up a few ha-has?  And you feel that same dilemma -- show appreciation for the story, be nice to the speaker, but don't overdo it.

I have been listening carefully to Junior's laughing, and I do believe the man is a master.  Now the fact is that Gordon is a pretty good comedy writer both for bits and his newspaper column.  With all the material he terns out, there is going to be some repetition of motifs and the rhythms and style have become identifiable.  But it's still pretty good, and both he and George have become accomplished radio performers.  So it's not like it's a terrible burden for Junior to show amusement.  But it must be difficult to pitch it correctly gag after gag, bit after bit.  He starts out with a gentle chuckle, and as Gordon back-loads the better gags as his scripts careen toward the punch line, Junior's laughing increases in volume and rises in register and concludes with a hearty belly-laugh as the dial-tone clicks on. 

It is a performance in itself, and I think it's time he got some credit for it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How . . . Great . . . Was It?

I heard most but not all of The Great Game.  Hoping one of  you Confessors will give us a report on what it looked like in 3-D.

I got the strong impression that this game wasn't a whole lot of fun for the participants.  There wasn't much horsing around.  Nothing that made it onto the radio, anyway.  Bad feelings from last year?   All of the gags used up in the prior games? 

Now let me say that broadcasts like this remind me of what a gift Norm Hitzges is to the metroplex.  The raw play-by-play sounded like a complete drag to be watching, but Norm worked very hard to make the thing entertaining.  After awhile I realized that there wasn't much going on on the field of much interest, and Norm was keeping the thing alive with Ralphie as best he could.

But the fact that Norm was the main attraction is the same as saying that the game sort of came and went, the guys went through the motions, Mike came out to argue once, and then it was over. 

The event seems like it should be a good time -- maybe a Confessor has some idea about how the thing could be livened up without destroying its essential baseball-y nature.  And, as I say, perhaps a first-hand report from one of y'all could bring a little perspective, for which I thank you in advance.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wanna go Camping?

That's a punchline to a pretty good, but pretty dirty joke.  If you don't know it, let me know.

So what did we all think about the camping experience?

A couple of random observations.

First, it reminds us that listening to a drunken conversation is a lot funnier, and a lot more fun, when you are a drunken participant in it.   I'm sure we have all had the experience of being the only sober person when everyone around us is drunk.  (Haven't we?)  It can be fun, but it can also be vaguely discomfiting, as we are embarrassed over the behavior of people we know to be, in the usual case, honorable and civilized.  Interesting how being drunk makes one thinks certain utterances are howlingly funny, but when those utterances are received by unebriated ears, the only reaction is bafflement and embarassment. 

Second -- there seems to be a schizophrenic reaction at the station.  I had thought that the hosts who commented on it -- even Mike R -- were fairly positive about it.  But I was listening to the Orphanage/Rant Saturday morning -- or was it the Newbery/McClaren show, I forget -- where there was a report that the participants were lukewarm on the thing.

In general, I liked it.  I thought it was worthwhile, and pretty funny, and different, and it's interesting to hear the mix-and-match hosts coming in and out of the various programs.  Kind of an informal Wife Swap.  Even the drunken broadcasting was, a a minimum, something one doesn't hear often from any kind of public media.  Mavericks Radi 1310 was a mild disappointment to me, because I was not watching the game at the time and the commentary itself did not state what was going on.  So when the boys would start howling it was not possible for me to hook it up with what was happening on the court.  In general, I thought it was a success.

I do have one question:  Was it really the "Musers'" Woodfood Reserve Campout?  Or is that just what the Musers called it?  Woodford Reserve is associated with Corby.  No big deal, just interesting the little ways the Musers and Hardline guys try to one-up each other.  (BaD Radio never tries to one-up anyone.)
I can understand why they're doing the camping instead of the Compound where they trash some poor developer's house that he can't sell.  It's hard for a radio station to destroy an entire forest over two days.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Listening Too Hard

So I'm listening to this AT&T ad that runs all the time about the guy who can't buy a lionfish because it would eat the anglerfish, and he can't buy the anglerfish because it would eat the clownfish, and he can't buy a clownfish because, well, he doesn't want a clownfish.

That's stupid.

If he doesn't want a clownfish, then he doesn't have to worry about the anglerfish eating it.

So buy the damned anglerfish, dumbass.

And while you're at it, switch to Verizon.