Thursday, November 20, 2008

Media Notebook (November 20, 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

The Corpulent News Network
(NY Observer) Felix Gillette writes about the huge amount of money CNN spent during this election season..."All you had to do was tune in to the network’s wildly successful and, at times, overly rich election coverage. For much of the 2008 election, going-as-over-the-top-as-you-possibly-can might as well have served as the organization’s mission statement. Along the way, CNN sponsored seven debates (by contrast, CBS, the Tiffany network, threw exactly none). In the run-up to the election, it piled up a roster of all-star political pundits, in a free-agent signing frenzy that would make George Steinbrenner blush. Throughout the campaign, it unleashed an array of new audio-visual technology, some of it culled from the world of military defense contractors."

I thought this was brilliant...

Stephen Colbert previews his Christmas special on GMA

(Huffington Post) Watch the clip at the link and tell me that you're not going to Tivo this show on Sunday. It looks hilarious.

Dan Rather's Lawsuit shows role of GOP in inquiry
(NY Times) Jacques Steinberg writes: "When Dan Rather filed suit against CBS 14 months ago — claiming, among other things, that his former employer had commissioned a politically biased investigation into his work on a “60 Minutes” segment about President Bush’s National Guard service — the network predicted the quick and favorable dismissal of the case, which it derided as “old news.” So far, Mr. Rather has spent more than $2 million of his own money on the suit. And according to documents filed recently in court, he may be getting something for his money. Using tools unavailable to him as a reporter — including the power of subpoena and the threat of punishment against witnesses who lie under oath — he has unearthed evidence that would seem to support his assertion that CBS intended its investigation, at least in part, to quell Republican criticism of the network."


The post-election news flash
(Gelf) Adam Conor-Simons writes: "Several election stories surfaced after the votes were counted, thanks to confidentiality agreements between reporters and campaigns. But does a journalist have an obligation to report newsworthy information promptly? It might seem strange that the weekly news magazine would put off publishing such salacious bits as the real amount spent on Sarah Palin's wardrobe or Bill Clinton's reaction to Hillary losing Iowa, but that was all part of the deal. In a special arrangement, a group of Newsweek reporters received privileged access from the campaigns under the condition that they not publish anything until after the election."

Economic downturn could get ugly for media companies
(Press-Gazette) The outgoing chairman of News Corp’s European business, Marty Pompadur, has warned that the economic downturn will have a "very, very ugly" effect on the media – and could force some companies to put themselves up for sale. Pompadur, who resigned from the News Corp board last week after more than 10 years as one of Rupert Murdoch’s closest lieutenants, told the European Media Leaders Summit in London that the impending recession would be "pretty deep and pretty long. "As I look at what's going on globally, in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, it's very, very ugly,” he said. "It's not good out there. They're talking about a recession - I hope they're not talking about something worse than that." As stock values tumble, Pompadur predicted that a small number of media companies would change hands. "If a company has a lot of debt they're in trouble,” he said.

CBS/Viacom stock downgraded
(Marketwatch) David Wilkerson writes: "Wunderlich Securities analyst Martin Pyykkonen downgraded shares of CBS and Viacom to neutral from buy on Monday, citing a rapidly weakening"' advertising market. A meltdown of global financial markets since September, fueled by the subprime mortgage crisis, has dealt a crushing blow to media companies, as consumer confidence has spiraled, leading to lower revenues and cuts in spending by major advertisers. CBS shares have fallen more than 60% since the beginning of September, while Viacom's value has been nearly cut in half. Pyykkonen pointed out that CBS has more exposure to the deteriorating ad market than most of its peers, with a wide array of television, radio and outdoor display units."

Redstone: "I won't sell Viacom or CBS"
(Bloomberg) Sumner Redstone said he has no plans to sell more stock in Viacom Inc. or CBS Corp., and that talks to restructure debt at his National Amusements Inc. ``are proceeding in a smooth and constructive manner.'' Redstone's closely held company, based in Dedham, Massachusetts, owns controlling stakes in Viacom and CBS. Yesterday, the media companies closed below levels of Oct. 10, when a drop in their value forced National Amusements to sell $233 million of non-voting stock to satisfy lenders.

Time Warner playing fast and loose with figures
(Bloomberg) Jonathan Weil writes: "At $8.61 a share, Time Warner has a stock-market value of $30.9 billion. Yet according to the balance sheet Time Warner released last week, just one of its assets, goodwill, by itself was worth $42.5 billion as of Sept. 30. The company, which owns CNN, also showed $52.1 billion of other intangible assets, mostly cable-television franchise rights. The market knows those asset values can't be right. Time Warner executives just won't admit it. Meanwhile, Time Warner said its net income last quarter was $1.1 billion, down slightly from a year earlier. The stock, down 48 percent this year, now trades for about half the company's official book value, or assets minus liabilities."


Don & Roma sign new contract to stay at WLS
(Chicago Tribune) Phil Rosenthal writes: "Don and Roma Wade have agreed to continue doing weekday mornings for Citadel Broadcasting's WLS-AM 890 for the next four years. Financial terms of the renewal, negotiated by agent-attorney Eliot Ephraim of Ephraim & Associates, were not immediately available. Paperwork was still being finalized late Monday. 'They've been a huge part of the radio station and will continue to be for the foreseeable future,' WLS-AM President and General Manager Mike Fowler said. 'I love having them start off the mornings on WLS.' The Wades, who will mark their 30th wedding anniversary next year, have been on WLS-AM since December 1985. They shifted to mornings in the summer of 1989 after the station changed its formats, moving from music to talk. The couple's value has only surged of late, as Arbitron's recent switch from diaries to Portable People Meters to determine ratings in the Chicago market has shown them to be among the city's top draws."

Twenty years of WVAZ

(Chicago Tribune) William Hageman writes: "Two decades ago, Barry Mayo reconfigured America's radio landscape when he introduced the adult urban contemporary format to the dial. He took WBMX-FM 102.7 and transformed it into WVAZ-V103. The rest, as they say, is history. On the recent occasion of the station's 20th anniversary, some of those responsible for the station's success—on-air personalities Herb Kent, Troi Tyler and Ramonski Luv, program director Derrick Brown and Scott "Smokin' " Silz, production and imaging director—gathered in a studio and talked about life at V103, then, now and down the road."

Chicago Radio Spotlight interview: Jeff Schwartz
(Chicago Radio Spotlight) Last weekend I spoke with former WBBM, WLUP, WCKG, WSCR, and ESPN Radio veteran Jeff Schwartz about his 35 year radio career, including his involvement in Disco Demolition, and his role in creating The Score. Coming this weekend: WTMX afternoon man, Koz.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Suburban Man: 17 Things I've learned about my wife

This is my lovely wife, Bridget. Sunday was our 17th anniversary. Even though we dated for three years before we got married, there are quite a few things about her that I couldn't have known when we said "I do" to each other. In honor of those 17 years of on-the-job training, I thought would tell you 17 things I've learned about my bride since our wedding day.

#1: There has never been a more talented baby-entertainer. She could make a fortune touring the country entertaining the 2-and-under crowd.

#2: She is incapable of saying this phrase: "That's good enough."

#3: She has an 80% chance of coming out of a clothing store without a purchase, and when she does buy something, there's an 80% chance she will return it.

#4: She can be very funny off-the-cuff, but is completely unable to tell a story or joke without messing up the punchline.

#5: She secretly wants to be a carpenter.

#6: She has two personalities: Regular Bridget and Party Bridget. Both of them can be a lot of fun, but you won't be able to keep up with one of them. Trust me on this.

#7: When she says the checkbook is balanced, she's not being approximate. If you haven't deposited a check she's given you, she will hunt you down.

#8: Even though she was a cheerleader in high school, she will never ever do one of her old routines again, and no amount of begging will change her mind.

#9: She is a genetically gifted dishwasher-loader. She could fit a mini-van into that thing by twisting and turning it the right way.

#10: Don't wake her up. Just don't do it.

#11: If you like to listen to one radio station, don't let her sit in the front seat of the car with you. If you like to watch more than 30 seconds of a television show, don't let her touch the remote control.

#12: When she gives you her opinion you can rest assured she's telling you what she really thinks. Don't ask if you don't want to know.

#13: She has an unusually high tolerance for physical pain, but a commercial can make her cry.

#14: If she has been somewhere once, she can find it again without directions.

#15: When she uses a certain tone of voice to tell kids what to do, they do it. Period. And not just her own kids. All kids. That tone of voice should be bottled and sold at the store.

#16: She is very imaginative with her verb usage when driving behind someone who doesn't drive well. I'm pretty sure some of her suggestions for fellow drivers aren't physically possible.

#17: She has somehow managed to reverse the aging process. She looks as beautiful today as she did the day I married her.

That was 17 wonderful years ago.

If I could go back in time to my wedding day and talk to that 28-year-old groom nervously sweating through his tuxedo, I know exactly what I would tell him: "Nothing to be nervous about, Rick. This is the best decision of your life."

If Bridget could go back in time to our wedding day and talk to that 24-year-old bride, I know exactly what she would tell her: "Make him get rid of the mullet. It's going to ruin the wedding album forever."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday Musings

Every Monday stop by for jokes, links to stories you might have missed, amusing photos and video, and more. Contributions and suggestions are welcome and encouraged. Click on the "Email Me" link on the right to contribute.

Joke of the Week: Contributed by "K"

Coming Home Drunk

A very drunk man turns up at his house at 6 o'clock in the morning with his hair and clothes dishevelled. His long suffering wife, who has been waiting up all night, shouts at him furiously, "I hope you have a good reason for getting home blind drunk at this time of the morning!"

"Yes," replied the man, "I'd like some breakfast!"

Stories you might have missed

1. Obama Headlines from all over the world
(This is very cool. It's hard to describe in words, but I highly recommend you check it out.)

2. Get your war on: New World Order
(I laughed out loud. Caution--there are a few bad words.)

3. The media burned by a hoax regarding Sarah Palin
(Shocking! I was sure they double-checked all of their sources)

4. Man urinates on arresting officer
(I love Wisconsin.)

5. Australian resort plans nude "anything goes" month-long party
(I got tired just reading about it.)

Video of the week: Ellen & Paris Hilton hit the town

Photo of the week: Contributed by "B". Can you guess Mommy's vocation?

Actually, she works at Home Depot. The picture is supposed to be "Mommy selling shovels."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chicago Radio Spotlight: Jeff Schwartz

Jeff Schwartz was a key force in shaping Chicago radio stations like The Loop, The Score, WCKG, and ESPN Radio during his 35-plus years in the business.

(Photo by Paul Natkin)

Rick: How did you break into the business?

Schwartz: My first job was working for Van Heusen shirts. Every son wants to follow in his father's shoes, and my dad was a clothing salesman, so I did it too. But they wanted to transfer me to New Orleans, and I just didn't want to move there. So I called up Bob Sirott (photo), who was at WBBM-FM at the time, and has been a great friend since kindergarten. I said "Bob, get me an interview. All I need is an interview and I'll take it from there." And that's what started my radio career in sales. This was in the early 70s, and they told me "You got the biggest list in the business...the yellow pages."

Rick: From there did you go directly to the Loop?

Schwartz: No, actually then I went to WDHF/WMET, and from there I went to the Loop. Les Elias was the GM then, and offered me the job of general sales manager.

Rick: I always thought you were in marketing/promotions at the Loop because of Disco Demolition.

Schwartz: I didn't move into marketing until later. When Jimmy de Castro (photo) started as the GM at the Loop, I had a hard time. I liked Jimmy a lot as a person, but we had a totally different way of selling. I couldn't do it his way. That's when we came up with the idea of my moving to promotions. They created the VP/Promotions job for me then.

Rick: So you were still the sales manager back in July of 1979 during Disco Demolition?

Schwartz: Yes, I was the GSM, but I always involved myself in promotions. I realized it even back then that we weren't just selling numbers. I couldn't sell numbers. I never did. I always sold emotion. And those promotions were part of what I did. Dave Logan was the promotion director in those days, and if you look at the video you can see him running on the field. He got to do the fun stuff. I had to get on a plane the day after Disco Demolition to calm down our biggest client in Detroit who wanted to cancel all of his advertising after witnessing the spectacle.

Rick: I've heard conflicting stories about who came up with Disco Demolition...was it you, Mike Veeck, Steve Dahl, a combination of the three of you?

Schwartz: There wouldn't have been a Disco Demolition if Steve wasn't blowing up disco records on the air at the time. That's where the idea starts. I was having dinner with Mike Veeck (photo), and at the time the White Sox were drawing nobody—maybe 5, 6 thousand a night. Mike said "We're dying here. Do you have any ideas?" They had just put in the exploding scoreboard, and I suggested that we do the promotion with Steve blowing up the records.

After that, it was a bunch of people working together to make it happen. Mike Veeck never said no to a crazy idea, I never said no to a crazy idea, but Steve was worried about attendance, and thought that nobody was going to be there. He thought we would draw maybe 10,000 people, which was better than they normally drew, but it still would have looked like an empty stadium. He wasn't thrilled by that prospect. I'd like to tell you that I knew it was going to be much bigger than that, but in reality, I thought the most that would show up would be maybe 25 or 26,000.

I've always been the type of person that says "Never say you can't do it. Just figure it out after you agree." And that's how it was with Disco Demolition. The event itself was a little overwhelming, but it's really neat now to have been a part of history. When WTTW ran the special about Disco Demolition a few years ago, I got my real reward. My daughter was watching it with my grandchildren, who were very young then, 2 1/2 , 3 years old. And my granddaughter looks up and sees her ZZ Pops (that's what she calls me) on the television, and she walks up and kisses the screen. That's pretty special. That's what it's all about.

But again, nothing would have happened without Steve. There was no idea without him, because he was the one who came up with the whole concept on the air, and he was the one that inspired all the people to show up.

Rick: You eventually left the Loop after Steve lost his job, and started up your own company called Promotional Rescue. You were basically a consultant, right?

Schwartz: Yes, I had an opportunity to leave and start my own business and did that for eight or nine years. It wasn't until I started consulting the Score in their early days that I was dragged back into the business. They talked me into coming back fulltime.

Rick: For the Score and WXRT, right?


Rick: I've always thought that must have been a strange combination of personalities: the mellow dudes at WXRT and the manic Score hosts like Mike North and Dan McNeil. Was that as big of a psychological yo-yo as it sounds?

Schwartz: My nickname is psychological yo-yo! Isn't that what medication is for? (Laughs) The Score side was easier for me because I'm a maniac. The XRT side was harder because it was a totally different culture. I was never a die-hard XRT fan even before I started working there, although the people there were great'll never meet finer people than Terri Hemmert and Lin Brehmer. But it was a different mentality. I was the kind of guy who jumped off the ledge then thought, now what? They were much more analytical. It really got to be a bit too much for me. I went to Harvey Wells and told him that I couldn't do both anymore. Poor Harvey was being pushed into so many different directions at once; he was in charge of XRT, the Score and WCKG. You just can't do all of those jobs at once. It's too much. He made me Operations Director at the Score because he knew that he could trust me to handle it, and take it off his plate. That was my first foray into programming, and it was all because of this multiple managerial stuff, which by the way, I think has been terrible for the radio industry.

Rick: As someone who has been instrumental in both sports stations in town, and is now associated with neither, which station do you listen to, and who do you think is doing a better job covering Chicago sports?

Schwartz: To be totally honest, I don't listen to either one that much anymore. When Mike North (photo) left, I really stopped listening to the Score. I'm not just saying that because I still work with Mike on some of his projects. I just think they lost a lot of emotion. His departure left a big void. The one guy I still think "has it" there is Mike Murphy. He gets radio. Listen to his show and you can hear his emotion coming through the speakers. Same with Dan McNeil at ESPN. I listen to Mac, Jurko and Harry because all three of those guys don't just say it, they feel it. You don't have to agree with them to appreciate what they bring. The listeners really respect their authenticity. The same was true with Mike North. I like Rush Limbaugh for the same reason. I don't agree with him very often, but he is a guy who really understands how to do talk radio. So, I guess to answer your question, if I'm really pinned down, I have to admit that I listen to ESPN more than I listen to the Score.

Rick: After leaving the Score you ended up running the FM talker WCKG for several years, and were reunited with Steve Dahl. I know you were gone from there before it blew up, but I think you probably have better insight than most about what went wrong. What, in retrospect, were the mistakes that led to the demise of WCKG?

Schwartz: When the "end of Howard Stern" happened, they frankly didn't have a plan. I put together a list of things that I thought needed to happen, from air personalities to ways to market them. I talked to Steve a lot before I sent that list in, because I needed Steve to support it. That was his radio station. We needed his audience to endorse this new show. We talked about a whole bunch of different options, but New York just wasn't listening to us. Rob Barnett and the Hollanders thought they knew better. So, when ESPN came to me with an offer, I said, "yup I'm out." The timing was perfect because I knew it was going to fail at CKG, and I didn't want to be there when it happened. Even the name "Free FM" was designed to fail. What the heck does that even mean? Was that a swipe at Howard because he wasn't free anymore?

New York just didn't get that Howard wasn't even the most important voice on our station, Steve Dahl (photo) was. Chicago radio is so much better than New York radio has ever been. We had the talent here...we had all these options, but they didn't understand this market because it's not at all like New York. New York doesn't have the anomaly of WGN—so they couldn't understand it. New York doesn't have an anomaly like Eric and Kathy...where did they come from? How could anyone explain the success of that show to New York? You and I would have been successful if we had millions of dollars in outdoor advertising. I'm obviously talking with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but you know what I'm saying. I think Eric does a real good job—I'm not besmirching him or his show at all. But it takes money to make money. These guys didn't think that advertising worked to sell their own product, which is, ironically, a product based on selling advertising. Does that make any sense? Plus, they actually OWN the companies that OWN the billboards! I never understood why they wouldn't use their own power to promote themselves.

Rick: Your last radio job in Chicago was program director of ESPN Radio. Can I just ask you a question about that organization there? What is the deal with all the suspensions of air talent? I've never heard of a station doling out so many suspensions, and it's not like I haven't worked at radio stations with controversial talent.

Schwartz: Oh boy, that's a tough one. How can I explain it? Hmmm. You know when you were a kid--your best friend's parents may have had a different set of rules than your parents did? That doesn't mean your rules were right or your friend's rules were right. Everyone just looked at it a little differently. ESPN had their own set of rules and those who worked there had to live up to the rules.

Rick: Are you saying that those weren't really your rules, or that it's not the way you would have done it?

Schwartz: Let's put it this way. When you get hired for a job, you don't ask "By the way, what's your suspension policy?" It's just not something you think is going to come up very often. I think it's a matter of public record that the Mac, Jurko and Harry (photo) stuff was not from me. I was caught in the middle of some situations, but those were the rules in place before I got there. I personally think suspensions only hurt, they don't really help much. It's like giving a timeout—and that's not the way I raised my daughter. I just had a different philosophy. That's just my opinion. That's not to say that people shouldn't be reprimanded, especially at a place like that. Doing sports talk, boys will be boys, and sometime emotions get the best of them. In those cases, reprimands may be in order.

Rick: You were also there for the birth of the Oldies station WZZN, which has now changed ownership and become WLS-FM. What do you think of the re-branding of that station, and were you surprised by how well that station is doing in the PPM ratings?

Schwartz: NO! I'm not surprised it's a hit. The WLS re-branding, though, doesn't really matter anymore because of the PPM. That would have helped more in the diary system. But as for loads of people listening to Oldies, no, that doesn't surprise me at all. I once told Harvey Pearlman when he was the GM at Magic, that they should market it as "everybody's second favorite radio station." That's what Oldies is. It's everybody's 2nd favorite. Nobody dislikes the Oldies. Every song is a proven hit that everybody knows. It's like a favorite old pair of blue jeans. Totally comfortable. In radio, finishing second is not like being the runner up in the World Series. Second in radio is HUGE. Having said that though, it will all come down to whether or not they can sell it. Let's wait to see if it turns into dollar and cents.

Rick: What are you up to these days?

Schwartz: That's what everybody asks me now. I've been keeping busy. This past year I've worked with Mike North helping him put together projects after the Score. I believe in Mike, I've worked with him on lots of projects for lots of years, as an advisor and friend. I've known him 26 years. I really don't want to work fulltime anymore, so I've only been doing that in an advisory role recently. When Mike starts up his Comcast show in January, I'm not sure where I will go from here. My wife and I have even talked about maybe moving out West. Right now I'm spending a lot of time with the grandkids.

Rick: Do you still keep up with the radio business?

Schwartz: I still listen to the radio, but I'm sad about what I hear, or more importantly, what I don't hear. It's not what it once was. There are no mom and pops anymore. Every station is owned by a huge corporation and every advertiser is owned by a huge corporation. Now when someone is handed a phone book like they did to me when I started at WBBM, the salesman has got no chance.

Do I miss radio? Sure. I miss what it was, but I really believe that the stock market has ruined the radio industry, and that's a shame.