Saturday, April 15, 2006

Guest Blogger: Peter Kaempfer

The Kaempfer Family (minus deceased Dad). That's Peter on the right--the baby of the family. The two women in the picture are my sister Cindy and my mother Hildegard. Peter lives in the Detroit area with his wife Julie and their two sons Andrew and Bryan (my Godson). I resisted the urge, by the way, to post an embarrassing picture of Peter. At some point, big brothers need to stop tormenting little brothers. I also resisted the urge to point out that my mom still calls him "Butzie"...oh crap. Sorry, Peter.

I asked Peter to guest blog on this traditional tax day because he is a CPA...and he doesn't know anything about taxes. But I'll let him explain further...

Just Because I'm a CPA, doesn't mean I know taxes

It usually goes something like this…

“Hi. Nice to meet you. So what do you do for a living?” Innocent enough question.

“I am an accountant.” Oops! Why did I admit it so quickly?

“Oh, you must be really busy this time of year with taxes and all.”

Rolling my eyes, “Well, actually I have been very busy at work, but I don’t have anything to do with taxes.”

Then the dance begins, trying to explain what I do in my corporate accounting job. I have had to do this countless times in the past 14 years. Don’t worry – I won’t try to explain it here. Some people get it, most people don’t, others just get bored to tears (and rightfully so.) There are some family members and really good friends of mine that still don’t understand that I have nothing to do with taxes, that I have a hard time preparing my own tax return every year (and TurboTax makes it pretty easy.) In fact, I actually end up doing some of their returns for them just so I don’t have to go through the dance.

All they know is that I am a CPA, so they assume I am a tax accountant. I guess that’s really not too bad of an assumption. Why should anyone be able to distinguish among the various specialties and disciplines in accounting unless they are an accountant? This stuff just isn’t common knowledge - it’s not like accounting gets a very glamorous portrayal in movies or on TV. Face it, unless you are a cop, lawyer, doctor, politician or bad lounge singer, chances are you won’t be seeing too many shows featuring your profession, let alone accounting.

I’m OK with that. Accounting really isn’t that fascinating. It just happens to be something that I can do fairly well and it happens to pay the bills just fine. Yes, I am an accountant; a CPA. I admit it. More accurately, though accounting is what I do for a living.

I don’t get excited about tax deductions. I never played Dungeons & Dragons. I wasn’t part of the Audio-Visual club in high school. I don’t wear glasses (all the time.) I don’t even watch Star Trek re-runs. I like to think I’m a pretty regular guy who just happens to have a dull job.

So next time you meet an accountant, don’t ask him about taxes. Try asking about his family, what he thinks of the White Sox’ chances of repeating as World Champions (had to get that in there Rick), his thoughts on who will fill the void as boss of the Soprano family until Tony recovers. You might be surprised to find he actually has a life outside of work.

On the other hand, you could end up being stuck talking to one of the accounting majority, the really geeky, boring guy that you just can’t get rid of.

Good luck out there and best of luck with your taxes.

If you missed any of our previous guest bloggers, click here:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

From the Archives: The Radio Producer's Handbook (an excerpt)

About this time of year college students are starting to get internships lined up for the summer. I've probably had close to a hundred interns during my radio career and maybe a handful of them (5 or 6) took the job seriously. Of those, all of them eventually got jobs in the highly competive radio business. The rest did not.

This excerpt from my book (co-written with John Swanson) "The Radio Producer's Handbook" is my best explanation for what to do if you manage to get an internship. It sounds like I'm joking here. I'm not at all.

The Unwritten Intern Commandments: Dealing with the Host

We both began our major market radio careers as interns. We didn’t know these rules when we walked through the door. However, we didn’t break them. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, it’s really not that hard to follow these rules. There is nothing unseemly about them. Secondly, we naturally treated the hosts with respect because we naturally respected them, and we treated the hosts as stars because we really thought of them stars. If you do the same thing, you won’t have any problems.

The unwritten Intern Commandments are as follows:
*Thou shalt not “sass” a host, even jokingly, even if the host is jokingly “sassing” you.
*Thou shalt not speak to a celebrity guest, unless spoken to.
*Thou shalt never repeat a story you hear the host or celebrity tell “off the air.”
*Thou shalt not make any references at any times to the host’s physical imperfections.
*Thou shalt not bug the host to pay for something just because he “makes a lot of money.”
*Thou shalt never bug the host to put you on the air.
*Thou shalt not bring your friends in to see the show.
*Thou shalt not eat the free food before the host gets a crack at it.

We’ve seen some very smart interns fall victim to the unwritten intern commandments. We’ve seen interns accidentally break them even after having been warned repeatedly. It happens most often after an intern begins to feel a little comfortable. He starts joking with the host, who initially appears to be enjoying it. The intern forgets that he is not the host’s peer, and begins joking with him like he would joke with his buddies. The host doesn’t take kindly to being ribbed by someone who hasn’t “paid his dues.” That’s usually when the hammer falls.

Here is a tip to make sure you never accidentally break the unwritten intern commandments. Imagine the host as Tony Soprano or any Joe Pesci character. You are allowed to get comfortable with him, but anything you say or do can still get you whacked without warning if you don’t show the proper respect. It really isn’t that hard to do.

The Unwritten Intern Commandments: Dealing with Everyone Else

Now that we’ve gotten the etiquette of treating a star out of the way, let’s address the etiquette in dealing with everyone else at the radio station. If you have any common sense at all you’ll follow these rules naturally. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to spell them out. These are rules any intern in any business should follow. Let’s not forget that radio is a business too. And if you don’t treat this internship the same way you would treat a job, no one will ever consider hiring you for a real job.

The other unwritten Intern Commandments are as follows…

*Thou shalt not complain about gofer tasks.
*Thou shalt not complain about (lack of) pay.
*Thou shalt not show up late or completely blow off work.
*Thou shalt not complain about the hours.
*Thou shalt not ignore basic human hygiene.
*Thou shalt not work on a personal project without permission.

Every paid employee at the radio station will expect you to live by those rules. You have to always keep in mind why you are doing this. Yes, you’d rather be doing something more rewarding than getting someone coffee at 4:30am for zero dollars, but think of the big picture. You can’t complain about the pay, or the hours, or the gofer tasks because you knew what you were getting into when you took the internship.

If you didn’t, let us spell it out. You are at the bottom of the totem poll. The bottom. There’s no one underneath you. Just do what you’re asked to do and do it with a smile. Even if you get frustrated occasionally, you’re going to have a great time more often than not. Radio is fun. It’s not like people will try to torture you or take advantage of you. Most people at most radio stations are very nice. And if you go in with a positive attitude, those people will notice. When the time comes, they will do whatever they can to help you get a paying job.

I know this sounds a little harsh, but that's my best and most honest advice. In a future post I'll share some true interns stories that you won't believe. How do I know this? My editor didn't believe them either and asked me to take them out of the book, which I did.

The Radio Producer's Handbook, by the way, is still available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and also through my publisher Allworth Press. There are several easy links to get directly to the book on the right hand side near the top of the blog.

If you missed a previous "From the Archives", click here:

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Suburban Man: V-S Day

By Rick Kaempfer

Last fall I went to the florist with my three year old son Sean. I’ve always wanted some tulips in my flower garden, so I let Sean pick out a half-dozen colors, and we went to the register to pay.

“Be careful with these,” the woman at the register said.


“Squirrels love them,” she said. “You can’t even leave the slightest tulip bulb residue in your garden because they’ll dig up the whole garden until they find the bulbs.”

I eyed her suspiciously. It sounded a bit extreme. “What do you mean by tulip bulb residue?” I asked.

A tulip bulb looks a little bit like an onion, complete with a paper-like peeling. She pulled off a tiny piece of the peeling, and crumbled it into even tinier pieces, then held out a microscopic piece of that crumble at the end of her finger.

“C’mon!” I said.

“I’m serious,” she said.

That advice just sounded so ridiculous, I didn’t give it a second thought. Sean and I went home, and after giving great thought to the color scheme, we inserted the bulbs into freshly dug holes and covered them with dirt. We went inside and sat by the front window trying to imagine how great those tulips were going to look. I couldn’t wait until spring. It would be a moment that Sean and I could enjoy together, a beautiful merging of nature and nurture, two men and their flower garden; a Norman Rockwell painting.

My bliss was disturbed only moments later by a little rat with a cute fluffy tail. Disregarding my feelings entirely, he hopped right into the garden and started digging. I pounded on the window. He didn’t scare easily, but I finally got him away. When Fluffy was safely gone, I went outside to see what had attracted him to the garden in the first place. Sure enough, just like the florist had warned me, a tiny tulip bulb peeling rested at the edge of the garden like a flashing neon welcome sign.

I had to get to Fluffy before he put the word out. All witnesses had to be eliminated. I saw him in the nearby bush and charged at him like a wild boar. I was screaming at the top of my lungs like a Yoko Ono record, trying to be so menacing and intimidating that he would let squirrels know far and wide that this garden was strictly off-limits. Only a crazed fool would dare try to eat one of those delectable bulbs. Not with Yoko the charging boar ready to attack at any given moment.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite pull it off. Fluffy just stared at me for a few moments before calmly running about ten feet away. I didn’t stop charging until he ran another twenty feet or so. He wasn’t scared of me (or Yoko) in the slightest. He ran onto my neighbor’s driveway and held his ground.

I realized that this technique wouldn’t suffice. I had to take further action. If I couldn’t kill the squirrel or scare it away, I had to make my yard so unpleasant that he wouldn’t come back. I researched on the internet about the best ways to do this, and the first suggestion sounded like genius to me. Squirrels mark their territory like many other animals. If they smell of another, they will stay away. I could do that. I could produce markings. I did it successfully in the backyard to keep the skunks away a few years earlier.

But this time marking my territory was a little more difficult. Did I mention this garden is in my front yard? The direct approach was out of the question. (I didn’t feel like going to jail.) So I re-created a typical doctor’s office visit and “produced” a sample into a plastic cup. I then went outside and nonchalantly spread the sample around the garden.

About ten minutes later the squirrel returned. This time, instead of hopping right into the garden, he walked back and forth a few times. He seemed genuinely repulsed. Sean and I were elated and started celebrating, but Fluffy killed the self congratulatory celebration mid-high-five when he hopped right back into the garden and starting digging again. I had to run outside and do the wild boar-Yoko routine until he ran away, but I knew I was just buying myself a few minutes.

Now down one perfectly good plastic cup, I went back on the internet. The same website gave me another idea. It said to sprinkle red cayenne pepper all over the bulbs. The squirrels will still dig them up, but they won’t eat them. It was worth a try. Sean really enjoyed the digging up process, and I even let him sprinkle the red pepper on the bulbs. We went back to our station at the front window and watched. It only took a few minutes for the relentless Fluffy to return to his prey. This time Sean and I let him dig. Fluffy got the bulb out of the ground and started carrying it away to his lair, when he suddenly dropped it on the sidewalk in front of my house, and ran away. Apparently the undamaged bulb was not to his liking.

For the next few days, we went through the same process. Squirrel digs up bulb, squirrel drops bulb, Rick and Sean re-bury bulb. One morning there were a dozen bulbs on the driveway. But we never faltered, never gave up. Each time we calmly reburied the pepper-laced tulip bulbs. We knew we could outlast him. We were more resilient than Fluffy. Our life expectancy was more than 20 times his life expectancy. We were bigger, stronger, and smarter. He was just a squirrel and we have opposable thumbs. He was no match for us.

But here’s the thing about tulips. Your gratification is delayed for months. It wasn’t until last week when I saw the green sprouts emerge from the ground that I realized we had officially won the battle.

“Victory!” I screamed. I looked around for the sneezing squirrel. “Take that Fluffy! In your little face!”

Next time I’ll listen to the florist.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, April 09, 2006


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

It is said so often that it’s now considered a cliché: “I gave it 110%.”

We’re not here to argue the mathematical impossibility of that statement. We accept the fact that some people are so driven, so hard-working, and so intense, that to describe their full effort as merely 100% seems insufficient. And we tip our caps to them.

The Rest of Us

“If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike! You just go in there every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way!”

--Homer Simpson

Unfortunately, for those of you who like to do things a little ...ahem... half-hearted, that raises the bar for you too. It’s no longer good enough to simply give it 50% effort. You’re now expected to give it 55% just to remain half-assed. We know what you’re thinking. Where are you going to get that extra 5%?

This is where your good buddies Rick and Dave come in. We’ve done a careful analysis of some every day tasks in life, and have managed to identify a few tasks that can very easily be done with one-third effort, one-quarter effort, and one-fifth effort. By decreasing your effort on these tasks, you'll have just enough energy to increase your effort on the important tasks in your life. Who knows? You could even creep up past the 60%-overall-effort mark.

Don’t worry about having too much effort on your hands. It’s just a matter of time before someone takes it up to 120% effort. When they do, you’ll be able to wear your half-ass like a comfortable old shoe.

33% Effort Required

“A pint of sweat, saves a gallon of blood.”
--George S. Patton, General (1885-1945)

What General Patton said may be true, but remember this: The blood banks give you a free snack for the blood you donate, and nobody gives you anything for your sweat. You might as well keep that precious moisture in your body. You’re going to need it, because let’s face it, the refrigerator is all the way on the other side of the room, and that beverage won’t come to you by itself.

So where can you cut back? Since you’re already giving it the full 50% at work (because they are paying you do to so), the first place to look for opportunities is at home. While your family does expect you to do certain things for them, they don’t expect you to do them well. After all, these people are your blood. Right, General Patton?

Here are a couple of examples in which the good ol’ 33% effort is more than enough.

*Giving Backrubs To Your Wife – Now, we’re not saying don’t give your wife a back massage. We’re just saying don’t get particularly good at it. Two reasons: 1) The better you are, the longer she’s going to want you to do it and quite frankly, it hurts. 2) If you get really good at it, she’s going to tell all her friends and that’s going to tick off your buddies. Go through the motions and make sure you can still see the TV.

*Reading to Toddlers—They can’t read, and there’s very little chance they will care or notice if you skip paragraphs or entire pages. They’re looking at the pictures. Point out the different things in the pictures. “Look, honey, the pig. Can you say ‘pig’? Good. Can you say ‘The End’? Good. Sleep tight, sweetheart.” We know you just read her a Duck on a Bike and went from the pig to the goat and totally blew off the chicken, mouse and cow and it made no sense, but remember this: It’s about poultry riding two-wheelers. How much sense could it ever make?

25% Effort Required

“If you cut every corner,
It is really not so bad.
Everybody does it,
Even Mom and Dad.
If nobody sees,
Then nobody gets mad.
It’s the American Way!”

--Mary Poppins (on the Simpsons)

While it’s important to start cutting corners wherever you can, you have to give it some thought and plan ahead. With a little forethought, your every day tasks can be done with little to no effort. It’s a crucial component for eventually reaching that magical 55% threshold.

*Selecting Fruit –We’ve all seen the way people pluck, smell, rattle, shake and listen to kiwi before they buy it. There is absolutely no proof that any of this helps. Here’s a tip, if you see any tire tracks or hypodermic needles in the fruit don’t buy it.

*Grilled Cheese Sandwiches – You could get out the frying pan, butter both sides of the bread, and make it the old fashioned way. Or, you could put two pieces of bread in the toaster, then put a piece of cheese between the toasted bread, and microwave it for twenty seconds. Your choice—it tastes pretty much the same.

*Shoveling Snow – There is no need to clean the entire sidewalk. When was the last time the Vienna Boys choir walked in front of your house? Oh and by the way, have you ever heard of the sun?

*Washing the Car – You’ll hear all sorts of doomsayers tell you that allowing the winter salt to remain on your car will cause it to rust. This is true. Ten years from now, when the car is worth squat, it will begin to rust. This may cost you a hundred bucks or so...ten years from now. Your time is worth much more than that. If the good Lord wanted you to wash the car, he wouldn’t have invented nature’s car wash: Rain.

*Balancing Your Check Book – In the history of the world there have been exactly three people who have found bank errors. Those three people got a total credit of $1.26. Have you gotten an overdraft notice? No? Then what’s the problem?

*Laundry – Wash everything in warm. Dry everything on medium. End of story.

20% Effort Required

“Why push when you go through a revolving door? Somebody else will show up sooner or later.”
--Milton Berle

There are some tasks that even the “110% effort people” don’t do with full gusto. (Those that do, quite frankly, should be put away before they harm someone.) Here are tasks that require no more than 20% effort. You owe it to yourself and your rest.

*Flossing – Most dentists feel you should count about ten up and down strokes on each tooth. Do the math. Most people have 28 teeth, that’s 280 strokes! Talk about overkill. Just get the big hunks of the Heath Bar in front and you’re fine. Our buddy Nick agrees and he’s a dentist. He also wanted us to mention that he takes all major medical and is open 6 days a week.

*Selecting Greeting Cards for Men – Just take the first card you see. He won’t care. Honestly, he doesn’t read them. If you don’t believe me, watch his eyes while he is “reading” your card. They don’t move. All of us have practiced that dopey smile and head nod.

*Making the Bed – Unless you live in a studio apartment, there’s an invention that can help you overcome the need to make your bed. It’s called a bedroom door. Close it. Let’s face it, you won’t be entertaining guests in the bedroom (if you do, we want to party with you), and you don’t care if your bed is made or not. Door closed: Case closed.

Doing the Math

Society is changing, and you have to change with it.

If you follow our simple suggestions, your effort reservoir will begin to fill up. A quarter effort here, a third effort here, a fifth effort there, and before you know it, you’ll be up past 55%--the new half-assed water mark.

No need to thank us for helping you get there. It’s not worth the effort.