Saturday, June 03, 2006

Guest Blogger: Dave Stern

This is Dave with his three daughters. As you can see...Dave

Last year he wrote the following column. After reading this, we both realized there was potential here. Six months later we had written an entire book, "The Bald Handbook".

I asked him if he would allow me to publish the original column as this week's Guest Blog, and he graciously agreed.

By Dave Stern

It was one of those “I’ll never forget where I was when I found out” events.

The year was 1989 and I was at your typical nondescript Seven Eleven. After grabbing an extra large bag of Funyons and one of those fruit hybrid drinks (I’m almost certain it was Guava/Nectarine), I deftly ambled to the counter where the clerk was cleaning the green and red sludgey ice drink machine and had his back turned. Not wanting to be rude, I waited patiently for the clerk’s attention and spent the brief moment reconsidering my drink choice mainly because I had no idea what a guava was. After deciding that the right choice had been made, I glanced toward the little closed-circuit TV behind the counter.

On the screen, I watched a man who was easily ten years older than me waiting at a similar counter. Coincidentally, he was wearing the exact same Hawaiian shirt that I was. What I couldn’t understand was why this Seven Eleven was interested in the counter of one of their other locations. Some Harvard MBA must have thought it would encourage company togetherness, I surmised. Anyway, after a few seconds I raised my hand to my mouth and did the, “hey Ramesh stop cleaning the friggin machine and ring me up” cough when I noticed that the older man on the screen did the exact same thing. How could this be? Had I stumbled into some weird convenience store parallel universe? I raised my hand, so did the old guy. I shook my head, so did the old guy. This was eerie. I mean this guy was my identical twin if not for the fact that he had the beginnings of a pretty nice bald spot.


It’s been fifteen years since I first diagnosed my problem and I have to say I thought I was doing OK. I’d gone through all the stages: Denial – That’s not me on that TV screen, Anger – Crap that’s me on that TV screen, Bargaining – Dear God, I’ll never again mix carbs and proteins in the same meal if you give me my hair back, Depression – I look like Denis Franz and finally Acceptance – Oh well, at least I don't have to buy shampoo. I had gotten to a place where I accepted my fate and actually felt good about myself.

Then it happened.

A simple little statement uttered by the lowest form of humanity, a fullhead.. An insensitive remark that cut to the core of my being and made me regress three stages. I am of course talking about the words, “Look, I’m losing my hair”. This wouldn’t have hurt if the lowlife who uttered these words was also on the combover superhighway. Nope. They came from a guy who currently has more hair than I did in the sixth grade. Either he really did believe he was losing it or he was the most heinous creature to walk the earth.

Let's assume his motives were pure. Did he think I would empathize or show him our secret handshake? Did he think I would take him to some frontal tuft fluff up clinic? Buck up pal, there’s no hand holding in this cruel world.

So here’s a little advice to those who need to pull back their hair and shine a high watt halogen bulb to see their scalp: Don’t peddle your wares to us bald guys. As the saying goes, anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Let’s just say we’re stronger than you could ever be. We don't need your help, or your comments, or your sympathy, or your breath. Unless you can feel a rain drop travel from the top of your head to your ear unimpeded, please keep your thoughts to yourself. Even then, this is one instance where misery does not love company.

Whew. OK, back to stage three bargaining.

Dear God, I’ll never again have Rick’s mail forwarded to Guam if you give me my hair back.

(click here for more bald humor... but consider yourself warned--it's co-written by someone I consider a damn fullhead: Rick)

Have you been following the bald controversy in the Chicago Tribune? I have.
John Kass column

To see the other guest bloggers, click here:

Thursday, June 01, 2006

From the Archives: Burt Constable column

At the end of June, I will be discontinuing my "From the Archives" feature and replacing it with highlights from my new blog; Media Notebook.

Check it out here:

It examines the finances, politics and personalities in the media. There are no opinions, just links to news stories that you might have missed. In short, it helps explain how the news media really works. And yes...It just happens to be the subject of my upcoming novel: $everance.

It's currently running every Tuesday and Thursday at

And now on to this week's "From the Archives"...

Burt Constable is a columnist for the Daily Herald. On May 18, 1999, he wrote the following column about me.


With most contests, veteran radio producer Rick Kaempfer is merely the guy behind the scenes crushing the hopes of listeners vying to be that lucky caller.

"Oldies 104.3, you're caller 6, sorry," the 35-year-old Mt. Prospect man tells the disapointed near misses every weekday in WJMK's $1000 Song of the Day giveaway.

Kaempfer showed up for work at 4:30 a.m. Monday with a new perspective on contests--as a grand prize winner.

"He's an award-winning-writer," gushes on-air personality Catherine Johns, who joins co-host John Records Landecker in telling the world how their show's producer spent the weekend hobnobbing with publishing bigwigs and best-selling authors.

Elmore Leonard, Mary and Chrissy Donnally, Nora Roberts, Lisa Scottoline, Barbara Taylor Bradford, and Maeve Binchy served as judges and selected Kaempfer's story from among more than 4000 entries.

It all began a months ago when Kaempfer, 35, saw a Daily Herald story about Diet Coke's "Living Life to the Fullest" contest.

"For some reason that made me think of my grandfather," says Kaempfer, who used the memory as inspiration for a table about a man who honors important people in his life by adding their names to his own. The story ends with the man dying, and his granson lovingly naming a son after the old man."

Kaempfer's grandfather did die in 1993, and Kaempfer does have a three year old son named Tommy, but "I didn't actually name him after my grandfather because my grandfather's name was Engelbert," Kaempfer notes.

Young Tommy and his one year old brother Johnny got left behind as Kaempfer and his wife Bridget jetted off to New York where they spent the weekend in a $400-a-night room at the Plaza overlooking Central Park.

In addition to talking with writers and publishers about his writing, Kaempfer and his wife dined with authors at the Algonquin Hotel, made famous in the 1920s by Dorothy Parker and other writers of the Algonquin Round Table.

"I had a 14 dollar corned beef sandwich," Kaempfer says, adding, "The authors were really nice."

The couple flew back Sunday night and "I was immediately brought back to earth when I realized it was garbage night."

A graduate of Prospect High School and the University of Illinois, Kaempfer honed his comedy writing skills at Second City, once produced the popular Steve Dahl and Garry Meier radio show, and has been writing comedy routines and wacky parody songs with Landecker for the last six years at WJMK 104.3FM.

"I've always wanted to be a writer," Kaempfer says. "That's my ambition."

While his songs "Viva Viagra" ("Maybe that's not a good example for the Daily Herald") and "Sink the Titantic" ("The movie's too long, he's drinking a Coke, and every scene has water gushing everywhere--you get the picture") won't wow the Nobel Prize folks, Kaempfer now says he has the inspiration to work on a book.

"I just can't tell you how proud I am of him," Johns says. She says everyone at the station is pulling for Kaempfer to make his writing dream come true--up to a point.

"The last thing I want is for him to become a full-time writer and ditch us," Johns says.

Kaempfer's winning story will soon appear on the Diet Coke website as an e-book, and the authors and publishers he met gave him their phone numbers and promised to help his career.

"So now all I have to do is come up with a book idea and write it," Kaempfer says with a laugh. "That's all."

UPDATE: It took me five years, but in 2004, my first book, co-written with John Swanson, "The Radio Producer's Handbook" was published by Allworth Press. Later this year my first novel "$everance" will be published by ENC Press.

For more information about the Diet Coke contest I won (including the original poem that inspired the winning entry), click here:

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Half Empty: Nine Fine Television Whines

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

You know those little moments that irk you, that get your blood pressure boiling for no good reason, that make you grit your teeth and pretend you aren’t incredibly irritated? You don’t say anything because it’s obvious that whatever is bothering you is your problem—not anyone else’s—and why should you bother other people with something that is probably just a pet peeve?

Ah, but there’s your mistake. A glass of fine whine goes with any dish. When you get a taste for it, stop by and visit one of us. Our whine cellars are particularly well-stocked.

Today we’re serving nine fine television whines.

1. Labeling something as a “Reenactment”
“Honey, look! They have film of George Washington crossing the Delaware! Oh...never mind. I didn’t see the graphic on the bottom of the screen there. It’s a reenactment.”

2. Joan Cusack, Rita Cosby & Ryan Seacrest
Joan Cusack’s contorted face on those cell-phone commercials is like a dagger in our eyes. Rita Cosby’s voice sounds like she gargling with razorblades while smoking. And Ryan Seacrest’s career is the most inexplicable American phenomenon since John Davidson. We’re hoping he’ll have similar staying power.

3. The volume on cable television ads.
We’re both wearing casts on our volume-control thumb from switching it back and forth during the commercials. LOUD, soft, LOUD, soft, LOUD, soft. Aarrrgh.

4. Yes, we see you! You’re on TV!
Like, that was so cool. The TV reporter was talking about the grisly crime scene details, and you were like, so totally hopping up and down behind him. We saw your Megadeth t-shirt! Did you TIVO it?

5. And they’re worried about the content of the shows?
The FCC may be fining television networks for objectionable content in their shows, but they obviously aren’t watching the commercials. Any commercial that talks about a four hour erection shouldn’t be on TV. Any commercial featuring a mother and daughter talking about douching shouldn’t be on TV. Any commercial that mentions “loose stool” shouldn’t be on TV. Please, we beg you.

6. Post-Speech Coverage
“Joining us now to give analysis of the politician’s speech is the best man at his wedding--the godfather of his child--and the man who wrote the speech. What did you think of the speech? And next to him is the sworn enemy of the politician, a man who has written eight books criticizing everything the politician has ever said or done. What did you think of the speech?”

7. Traffic reports on television
Why? No, really. Why?

8. Acting in Enterprise Car Rental Commercials
We appreciate that they’re saving money on actors so our rates are lower, but couldn’t they find anyone better than Nick from Accounting?

9. Production values on tragic news reports
“Ooh, this is going to be a bad story. Listen to that sad music. Wait for it...wait for comes the...sound effect stinger. Yup. This one’s going to be tragic.”

Got any others? Click on the word “Comments” below. Every response goes directly to Rick’s e-mail. We’ll feature some of the best ones in Friday’s post.

To see the rest of the Half Empty columns, click here:

Sunday, May 28, 2006

SHORE MAGAZINE ARTICLE: Breaking up with Technology

“Breaking Up With Technology”
By Rick Kaempfer

From the June 2006 issue of SHORE MAGAZINE (

I’ve probably seen that Nokia commercial now a hundred times. You know which one I’m talking about—the one where the woman says the final step in breaking up with her boyfriend is the moment she deletes him from her cell-phone. Something about that commercial has bothered me since the first time I saw it, but it wasn’t until today that I realized what it was.

Granted, I’ve been married for fifteen years, and haven’t broken up with someone in almost twenty years, but it seems to me that one little beep is hardly grounds for feeling such a great sense of satisfaction. It’s empty. Not much to it. Just a simple beep doesn’t say “See you never, loser!” to me.

It got me to thinking about the ways breaking up has changed over the past few years thanks to technology. The whole dynamic is different now. You can judge for yourself if the new dynamic is better, worse, or about the same.

Then: Put all of her pictures in a pile, and set them on fire; watching her face melt, blacken, turn into ash, and evaporate into dust.
Now: Click, highlight, and delete her photos from your hard-drive.

Then: Driving past his house and throwing microwaved tomatoes at it.
Now: Sending a digital photo to his cell-phone—of you giving him the finger.

Then: Having to make one last visit to her apartment to get all your records back.
Now: Sending an e-mail asking her to e-mail your music back to you.

Then: Risking it all by listening to the radio after the break up, knowing that at any moment the DJ could inadvertently play “your” song.
Now: I-Pod, baby. Either delete “your” song entirely, or don’t use the shuffle feature for a few months—just in case.

Then: Driving by to see if her lights are on.
Now: Using a scanner to listen in on the baby monitor.

Then: Sending him a pizza at 3 in the morning.
Now: Sending him a computer virus at any time.

Then: Re-reading her love letters from a happier time, glossing over the bad times and only remembering the good times.
Now: Looking at your cell-phone bill and tracking the memory of each call…she loved me, she started to get irritated with me, she told me I was a jerk, she broke up with me, she told me that if I ever called her again she would get a restraining order.

Then: Reliving the grief a million times each time an unsuspecting friend asks how he is doing.
Now: Emergency IM session with a few hundred friends—all at once.

Then: You can’t even recognize her face on those deteriorating old “Private Polaroid’s.”
Now: “Ex-Girlfriend” websites can give her the kind of world-wide audience she never expected.

Then: Throwing all of his belongings onto the front lawn.
Now: Selling all of his belongings on E-bay.

Then: Using the remote code to check her answering machine messages while she’s at work, only to hear her new boyfriend’s voice on the machine.
Now: Checking her cell-phone voicemail and deleting messages from her new boyfriend before she can hear them.

See what I mean? The whole world of break ups has drastically changed. Also, it occurs to me some of the old classics have been destroyed by technology forever. For instance, in the old days you could call a million times waiting for that one chance to get her on the line. Now, with caller I.D, automatic callback, and privacy manager, you would be exposed as the psycho boy you really are. Also, you can’t use her phone number when you contribute to a charity anymore. What’s the use of getting her number on every single telemarketer’s phone list when she’s on the national no-call list?

Sigh. Oh well, I guess time marches on.

On the other hand, now that I’ve given the subject more extensive thought, I know what the woman from the Nokia commercial should do to get a little more forceful closure. She could take the best of then and now, mix them together, and create a really satisfying break up stew.

For instance, what if she printed up his digital pictures before she deleted them so she could burn them too? I think one or two toner cartridges is a small price to pay for the satisfaction of watching his face melt.

Or, what if she sent a digital picture of herself throwing microwaved tomatoes to his cell-phone? She would need a friend to help with this, but let’s face it—all of her friends probably hated him anyway. Hearing that old fashioned tomato splat is well worth the trouble of a coordinated photo assault (or so I’ve read).

Or, what if she sent him a pizza at 3 a.m. while she e-mailed him a computer virus? That would allow her to wake him up on a work night AND destroy his most expensive belonging without leaving the comfort of her home.

I know she seems pretty content in the commercial after she hears that little beep, but whatever happened to “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?”

I guess I’m just a hopeless old romantic.

See some of my other published magazine pieces here: