Friday, November 07, 2008

Guide to Blue State Living

I contributed this piece to the Beachwood Reporter for my friends in states that recently turned from Red to Blue. (Tongue obviously planted firmly in cheek)

Guide to Blue State Living

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Media Notebook (Nov 6, 2008)

Collected and Edited by Rick Kaempfer

Highlights and links to the big stories in the news this week about the media. This column appears twice a week at MEDIA NOTEBOOK

Obama to fight media mergers
(Bloomberg) Hallelujah! "President-elect Barack Obama will try to use his office to hinder media concentration and to increase local TV news coverage, objectives that have stirred resistance from industry groups. The Illinois Democrat, who will succeed George W. Bush on Jan. 20, `is going to push for a more open, more diverse media,' Gloria Tristani, a former Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission, said in an interview."

Why even Rush Limbaugh shouldn't fear the Fairness Doctrine
(Huffington Post) A liberal writer at a liberal website with an essay that should calm all conservatives. He's right on the money. "The Fairness Doctrine was a longstanding, if seldom enforced, regulation that required broadcasters using the public airwaves to present contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues. It was taken off the books by the Reagan administration in 1987 -- a move that is often credited/criticized for sparking the rise of right-wing radio. Now it seems that anytime the GOP dips in the polls, up pops news of a secret plot to "drive political talk radio off the dial," to quote the Post. It's red meat for the right-wing base. But here's the truth: The Fairness Doctrine is never, ever coming back. And that's a good thing."

A star is reborn
(New York Observer) Felix Gillette writes: "Not long ago, the suggestion was put about that time was not on Ms. Couric’s side at CBS. According to various news reports back in April, CBS, disappointed with her performance but unwilling to pay the ghastly sum the premature termination of her contract would entail, was letting her run out the clock and then planning to cut her loose. Or it was she, frustrated with the network’s handling of her and her show, who was planning to cut the cord at the earliest possible moment. But against the odds—she wasn’t allowed the opportunity, for instance, to anchor a single presidential or vice presidential debate for CBS—Ms. Couric has used the 2008 presidential elections to make herself a commodity again. Not the too expensive piece of furniture the Tiffany network had bought and regretted, but the game-changing political journalist she aspired to be when she first took the Evening News. Hers was the most memorable interview of the 2008 election. Über political blogger Mark Halperin named her one of the five most important people in politics not running for president."

How to waste time online now that the election is over
(Slate) I was going to write this column before Farhad Manjoo beat me to it..."The election's over, and you're bored. You're not really elated that your guy won or dismayed that he got crushed—really, you just wish you knew what to do with yourself. Over the last few months, you've spent hours each day poring over polls and reading every pundit. Now all that is done, and the Web seems so ... empty. Politico is full of stories about the transition team and RealClearPolitics is focused on 2012, but it's just not the same. I'm here to help because I'm pretty much in the same boat. Now that the election's over, I've got several spare hours a day."


FCC Expands Use of Airwaves
(Washington Post) Cecilia Kang writes: "Preachers on the pulpit, Guns N' Roses and others who fear their wireless microphones would be disrupted by widespread public access to certain unused airwaves were drowned out by high-tech titans Google and Microsoft in a federal ruling yesterday. The Federal Communications Commission approved a plan that would allow those airwaves, called white spaces, to be used by gadgets such as cellphones and laptops connected to the Internet once that spectrum becomes available after the national transition from analog to digital television in February."

Supreme Court debates expletives
(Chicago Tribune) Tell me this doesn't sound like an SNL skit. Jerry Markon writes: "It's not every day that a top lawyer for the Bush administration, standing before the black-robed justices of the Supreme Court, invokes the specter of "Big Bird dropping the F-bomb on Sesame Street." Justices on Tuesday heard arguments on a new government policy that can punish television networks for a one-time, or "fleeting" expletive, as opposed to a stream of profanities. The case came about after singer Cher dismissed her critics with an expletive during a live 2002 awards show, and celebrity Nicole Richie used some in 2003. The argument began with the typically sober discussion of weighty legal issues. But the lawyers were soon jumping through verbal hoops to avoid saying the words at issue, trying everything from "these words" to expletives, swearing, the F-word, the F-bomb and "freaking." Chief Justice John Roberts debated with a lawyer for Fox network, which aired the Cher and Richie remarks, whether such words inherently denote offensive "sexual or excretory activities" — the definition the Federal Communications Commission's used to cite Fox for broadcasting indecent material. Roberts asked, "Why do you think the F-word has" such power? "... Because it's associated with sexual or excretory activity. That's what gives it its force."

Obama’s win won’t immediately change the FCC
( Tom Taylor writes: "Chairman Kevin Martin now shows signs of wanting to hang around longer than expected, and it could be a while before the new Democratic Administration gets its ducks in a row to nominate a new Chairman and new Commissioners (both Dem and GOP). Would Martin accept a demotion to just-plain-Commissioner, since his term’s not up yet? That’s almost never happened, historians tell me. And if Martin really does want to rev up a political run back in North Carolina (for Sue Myrick’s House seat in 2010?), he’d want to get going pretty soon. An Obama presidency might be interested in elevating Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein to Chairman, and he’d be a good consensus builder. If that happens, expect fellow Democrat Michael Copps to turn a deep shade of green - for jealousy. But Obama could well look for a fresh face to run the FCC, and if that’s his wish, Martin could be around the 8th floor for quite a while."


The Loop cuts loose two Chicago radio veterans
(Radio Online) When a station cuts loose real radio pros like Bill Klaproth and Tommy King, it's a sign that they aren't even trying anymore. Or, as the company puts it..."Emmis Radio said on Friday that it had "instituted a series of steps to better position it for success" with a 4% reduction in its workforce nationwide. 29 fulltime staffers and six parttimers were affected at its clusters in New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. The company also announced a 3% salary reduction for Emmis Radio and corporate employees earning more than $50,000. Last week, PD Bill Klaproth and marketing director Tommy King exited Classic Rock WLUP-FM (The Loop)/Chicago after ten years."

Chicago Radio Spotlight interview: Spike O'Dell
(Chicago Radio Spotlight) Last weekend I spoke with WGN morning host Spike O'Dell. We talked about his upcoming retirement and looked back at his impressive 30-plus-year career in broadcasting. Coming this weekend: Mancow.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Suburban Man: Election Day

By Rick Kaempfer

When you’re a little kid, there’s really nobody in the world more impressive than the President of the United States. It doesn’t matter what your parent’s political affiliations are, the President is in charge of this whole country. If you aren’t impressed by that, you aren’t easily impressed.

I guess my oldest son Tommy isn’t easily impressed.

I’ll let you judge for yourself if he is a fan of the current President. When I took him into the voting booth with me (as part of his Cub Scout requirement) for the last presidential election (November of 2004), he was aghast when he took a sideways glance at my ballot. He screamed it—“Dad, I think you accidentally voted for George Bush!”

I smiled weakly at the old people voting alongside me in my staunchly Republican district. Tommy wouldn’t let it go. “Dad, you better ask for another ballot.”

I said “Don’t worry, Tommy.”

I’m not going to tell you if Tommy saw it correctly or not, because that’s why we have secret ballots. My Dad hammered that into my head every election day. I would ask him who he voted for, and he would say; “None of your business.” (All part of the touchy-feely German love we shared at my house). In this case, though, I think he was right. Don’t insist on your son believing in certain politics, let him find his own way in the world. If your party of choice can’t convince him, they don’t deserve his vote.

I’ve tried to follow the same model with my kids. As a humor writer, I’m admittedly always going to be poking more fun at people in power than those not in power, but other than the occasional joke—I try very hard not to get into “I’m right, you’re wrong” politics with my kids. There is no reason to make this into one of those “if you don’t believe what I believe, you can’t live under my roof” kind of homes. I learned my lesson about the effectiveness of that strategy when my rabid Cubs-love inadvertently turned my baby brother into a White Sox fan.

Which brings me to my middle son, Johnny. Johnny is a traditional kid. He respects authority. He loves the President. In fact, he thinks the President is just about the most impressive person in the world. I’ve actually seen him clap when Bush appeared on television. It’s kind of cute.

The morning after the last presidential election, the first thing Johnny asked me was: “Who won, Dad?”

I said; “George Bush”

He clapped, then raised his hands in the air triumphantly, screaming “Yeah!”

Tommy hung his head. He asked: “Was it legitimate this time?”

I said: “Looks like it.”

Johnny clapped again and said; “I can’t wait until I’m an eagle scout.”

Tommy and I looked at each with confused expressions. “Why is that Johnny?” I asked.

“Because then I can write a letter to the President!”

Someone along the way had obviously told Johnny that writing a letter to the President was among the perks of being an Eagle. When I mentioned to him that he didn’t have to wait until becoming an Eagle, he was so excited he went downstairs and wrote it immediately. Keep in mind that he was in 1st grade at the time, and was just beginning to learn how to write. This is what he wrote:

“Dear Mr. President: My name is Johnny. I’m 6 ½ years old. I have 2 brothers. Their names are Tommy and Sean. I like your job a lot. I’m only a Tiger Cub Scout. Well, that’s not all, Mr. President. I hope you have a nice day today. You’re my fav! From Johnny Kaempfer”

I love that letter.

I got the White House address and made him address the letter himself, figuring there was a better chance of getting a response if the envelope was clearly addressed by a little kid. For the next few weeks, every day after school Johnny would ask me if the President had written him back yet. I could see the disappointment in his eyes when I told him he hadn’t. I told him that the President receives millions of letters, and he can’t possibly answer all of them.

A few months later a big manila envelope arrived with the return address: THE WHITE HOUSE. I must admit, I was shocked. Johnny set his own personal vertical jump record (about three inches—Kaempfers can’t jump) when I showed it to him.

“Oh boy!”

I helped him open it. It was picture of George and Laura Bush, and a letter addressed to Johnny. Here’s a scanned copy of the letter...

I know, I know. It's way too hard to read at this size. Here is what the letter says:

“Dear Johnny,

Thank you for writing. I always enjoy hearing from young Americans. During this important time in our history, you can help America by setting high goals, working hard in school, and helping others in your community. Our country needs your idealism, hope, and energy.

I also encourage you to strive to learn something new every day. You can read more about issues that interest you, current events, and the history of our country by visiting your library or by logging onto the White House websites, and By understanding the events of today and learning more about our past, you can become a responsible citizen and help make the world a better place.

Mrs. Bush and I send our best wishes for your future success.


George W. Bush”

Johnny will savor that letter for the rest of his life. Tommy wasn't impressed in the slightest.

As you can see, my two oldest children have slightly different political points of view. I agree with one of them more than the other (hint: I work in the media), but is there a reason to pick sides? One side isn’t always right, and the other side isn’t always wrong.

The only certainty is that both of them are wrong sometimes. To think otherwise kills your sense of humor. Look at what it’s done to Dennis Miller and Al Franken. Those guys used to be funny.

Raising a Democrat (Tommy), a Republican (Johnny), and an Independent (Sean) is just fine with me, because they'll realize there is more than one perspective in the world.

Raising a humorless kid?

I don't think I could ever forgive myself.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Chicago Radio Spotlight: Spike O'Dell

Spike O'Dell is the morning host at WGN Radio. After a distinguished 30+ year broadcasting career, he is retiring in December.

Rick: Are you really going to do it?

Spike: Oh yeah, I'm doing it. Anyone who has worked with me over the past 10-12 years knows that this has always been the plan. 55 has always been the magic number for me, and Karen and I have been planning for it now forever. We packed it away and knew we were going to do it. Now, I will say in all fairness, if I knew what was going happen with the market, I might have stayed another year , but we're gonna be fine. We're absolutely ready to go.

Rick: So, it's not a matter of being sick of the hours?

Spike: I think Rob Feder made a big deal about that awhile back, but that didn't come from me. I really don't mind these hours at all. It's been a lot fun. Heck, for the money they pay, heck yeah, I'll get up in the middle of the night. Now, it's not normal hours, that's true, and it will be nice to have a social life again after going to bed around the time most people get home from work—6 or 7 at night—but the hours really had nothing to do with my leaving.

Rick: And the new ownership team at the Tribune wasn't a factor either?

Spike: No not at all. I know people still wonder about that, but I made this pretty clear to everyone here when I renegotiated my last contract two years ago. I wanted a two year deal, and told them it was going to be my last one. They wanted me to sign for at least three—and I didn't want to do it, so we compromised on a three year deal, with the last year being my option. I even told them I'll be nice enough to give them six months notice if I decide to go...and I did that in July.

Rick: Were they surprised?

Spike: Actually, I think they were-- which surprised me. This wasn't a big secret. I've been talking about it for a long time.

Rick: Did they try to coax you to stay?

Spike: Yes, they did want to me stay, at least for a few more months, but I talked to my wife Karen about it, and we just said, no—this is the time. It's time. But it didn't have anything to do with the new guys at all.

Rick: And it didn't have anything to do with the new clock, either? That must have been a bit of a culture shock to you after so many years of doing the show one way, to suddenly drop whatever you were doing for weather and traffic at the 7s. Did you feel constrained in any way by that format, or do you think it's been a good thing for the show?

Spike: I came up through personality radio and that was my background. Top 40. Personality talk. Whatever you want to call it. Not really news-talk. I'm personally not a huge fan of the strict format we have now, but they did the research and presented it to me, saying that the listeners really wanted this. For me, it takes a little bit of the 'person' out of personality radio, but in all fairness, there's only one way to see if it was a good decision or not, and that's by looking at the numbers after a fair amount of time. If you're asking me my opinion, I'll say this: For years WGN has always had a different sound to it than any other station on the dial, and we took our lumps for that. But we laughed all the way to the bank, because nobody else did what we did and that's what made us so unique. With these strict formatics, it makes us sound like just another radio station sometimes...but again...we'll see if they're right about it. Time and numbers. That's the only way to really judge it.

Rick: I've said this about you for years, and I really mean it. I think you are one of the most underrated and underappreciated radio personalities in Chicago history. Why do you think that people in the industry have been so reluctant to give you credit for your incredible success?

Spike: I don't look at myself as a publicity seeker, and maybe that's a bad thing when you're headlining a radio show. After all these years, I'm not your typical radio person. I don't like the limelight or the spotlight—I really don't. I know that's a little unusual. In this business, most people can't get enough of it. I've always maintained that it's an honor to do a radio show while you're doing it, but six months after you leave, you're lucky if people even remember you. I know I could get headlines by saying or doing something outrageous, but that's really not who I am. It's never bothered me that I don't get the credit that other more outrageous personalities get. I'm fine with that. I've always been fine with it.

Rick: You got the morning slot under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. One day Uncle Bobby was the king of Chicago morning radio, and the next day after his tragic plane crash, the microphone was handed over to you. What was it like during those days?

Spike: I was numb to be honest with you. I always felt like I was just filling in for Bob (photo) and it took a long time before that show became mine. I totally understand the cautiousness on the station's part. To start with they wanted me to do it just like Bob—after all, he was the franchise. But after awhile I had to say to them: "Look, I'm not Bob." They finally warmed up to that, and I started doing my show instead of his.

Rick: "I Like Spike" isn't just catchy slogan. When your fans are asked why they listen to you, they usually say that they like you. I know it sounds simple, but that really is your secret isn't it?

Spike: I hope so. I hope that would be part of it. I had a guy back in the Quad Cities who said to me: "There will be days when you're in a bad mood, and don't really feel like doing a radio show, but you know what? The person listening to you doesn't care about that. Why give them a bad day just because you're having a bad day?" I've always remembered that. I tried to be the good neighbor, and if what you say is true about how people look at me, that's a great compliment.

Rick: Looking back over your career now—what are some of your proudest moments, and are there any moments that you would handle differently in retrospect?

Spike: Oh yeah. I've definitely said some things I wish I didn't say. We're all guilty of that, especially in talk radio. You know as soon as you say it, and think to yourself, "what did I say that for!" or "I shouldn't have said that!" and you wish you could reach back into the microphone and pull those words back out. I've been wrong on so many things. But I don't have any specific regrets, because I'd like to think that I've been big enough to say when I was wrong. I've apologized on the air many times.

I also happened to have been on the air a lot when bad things happened. We already mentioned Bob's crash, and it was horrible to be here when that news came in, but I was also on the air on 9/11 when the planes crashed into the towers. And I was on the air when the Oklahoma City bombing story broke. Heck, my first month or two on the air here, Mayor Washington died while I was on the air. None of those were pleasant memories, but in a strange way they were good learning experiences—they helped me develop my craft. Taught me how to handle the toughest situations.

I'll remember all those times, but I'll also remember all the great times...laughing and scratching with some of the greatest people you could ever hope to work with. So many great folks, too numerous to mention, the different crews, like my morning crew now (featuring among others, Andrea Darlas, shown here). And the afternoon crew we had back in those days had an absolute blast every day too. That was free form radio—exploring things and just taking things wherever they went. I'll always remember that time with a smile on my face.

Rick: You've also been around long enough to see radio undergo some dramatic changes. What in your mind is better about radio today compared to the day you started and what is worse?

Spike: Well, the money's better today (laughs). It took me 30 years, but I can't complain about that. That's better for sure. I think the corporate end of the business has made it worse, though. The whole industry has become so corporate. Believe me, that's not just here—it's everywhere. I understand sales is in a tough situation in the current climate, but sales seems to dictate programming in ways that it never did before, and that has taken a lot of fun out of it for guys like me.

Rick: Of all the people you listened to on the radio, or worked with at a radio station, who had the biggest impact on your development as a broadcaster?

Spike: When I was working in a factory on the banks of the Mississippi, I would listen to all of those WLS guys on the Big 89 and the guys at Super CFL. I remember thinking: "Hey these guys are having too much fun." I wanted to do what they were doing. I loved 'em all. Fred Winston was great—he and Lyle Dean. Larry Lujack and Little Tommy with Animal Stories—that was tremendous. But to me, John Landecker (photo) was the best. I listened to him every night—and I still think he is the best rock jock that ever lived. The best of all-time.

Now when I came here to WGN, I really never thought I had a chance of getting this job. I was just this kid from Moline, and thought they'd just give me a tour of the place and that would be that. Just walking the hallways here was humbling. When I got the job I couldn't believe it. Think about some of the people who were working here then. I learned so much from Bob Collins. Just watching him. He was a real mentor to me. (Spike is saluting Bob Collins at this year's National Radio Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Chicago)

I think another underrated guy in this town was Roy Leonard. He was a class act, a consummate pro—I learned a lot from him too. Not to mention Big O--Orion Samuelson, and Max Armstrong. I also always admired Clark Weber. I don't know him well, but I consider him to be a class act too.

Rick: Do you have any preferences for who should take over for you, and have you been consulted about that decision at all?

Spike: No I haven't been consulted. I thought I might be, and I would like to be, but it hasn't happened. I just hope that they don't bring in somebody who has made a career out of beating up WGN. I hope they promote somebody from within.

Rick: If I call you up five years from now, where would I need to call you, and what do you hope to be doing?

Spike: I would assume that I'll be a couple hundred miles south. We have a house in the Nashville area, and our kids are down there. What will I be doing? I'm not sure. That's a good question. I'm definitely hanging up the headphones. I don't foresee ever doing it again. I know I'm walking away from a good paycheck, but it's time. I told my wife that she's followed me around all these years, now it's my turn to follow her wherever she wants to go. I'm not ruling out going back to school. Maybe I'll work with my son. He's got a couple of businesses there. I'll definitely be doing some fishing.

Rick: No regrets?

Spike: No regrets. I've done radio for 31 years, and worked at 5 different radio stations, and I know this is a rarity in the business, but I've never been fired. Although...I guess I shouldn't say that quite yet. I've still got a few weeks left to go.