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November 19, 2006 - November 25, 2006 Archives

November 19, 2006


It's the middle of the third quarter of one of the most pathetic Eagles games ever- McNabb injury or no, the Eagles are stinking up the joint- and all I can hear is what we'll hear for real again in about an hour:

"It's on me. I'll take care of it."

No, Andy. No, you won't. You haven't in previous weeks, and you won't now.

I'll say it again: football's done, the Sixers are at best a just-missing-the-playoffs team, the Flyers are miserable, and the Phillies need a lot more than Wes Helms to have a hope to make the playoffs next year. So I'll spend less time watching sports. I can use the time.



I know that TV engineers sometimes don't even watch what they're putting out over the air, but yesterday, the waste of bandwidth that is KABC-TV's third digital channel- one that normally has a useless loop of weather information- was airing this all day:

And it didn't change for many, many hours. That's public interest for you. And for that, they're bit-starving the main HD channel? We needed to get a lesser picture for the OSU-Michigan game because they had to air a static picture of a Windows computer? Just perfect.

By the way, CBS' Raiders coverage today, not in HD, looked about as bad as a picture can look, digital or analog- picels and artifacts galore, and it looked out of focus to boot. I cjecked KCBS-TV, KCBS-DT, KFMB-TV, and KFMB-DT- lousy on all of them, cable or OTA. No excuses. If the public is expected to drop a bundle on HDTV, shouldn't the program providers give us an adequate picture? Or do they assume people don't care?

And might they be right?


November 20, 2006


It's been a long day, very busy, and I'd love nothing more than to sit in front of the big plasma screen and catch up with some TV. Too bad we have a Motorola 6412 cable DVR, which has decided to make such pleasures impossible. You fire up, say, "CSI," and before Grissom even gets to make his opening segment-closing witty comment, the picture skips several frames, then freezes, then goes black. Can't rewind, can't fast-forward, can't do anything but save it, get out of it, go back in from the beginning, and hope that you can fast-forward past the freeze. Sometimes you can, sometimes not. And you have to do that a dozen times in an hour.

That is not conducive to a relaxing evening of TV watching.

I hate this damn box. You Google it and you find out that everyone seems to have problems with it. We have two of them- the first has already been replaced once. Now, Cox Cable is sending someone out tomorrow. All I know is that it better be working soon, and definitely by Thursday. Football shouldn't look like stop-motion animation. And the Macy's parade better look like a parade and not like a particularly bad print of a Speed Racer cartoon.

Once upon a time, you brought home a TV, pulled out the rabbit ears, turned it on, and watched Lucy. Now, you're at the mercy of a cable company, a DVR manufacturer, the software maker, and if you're lucky, you get Lucy really, really clear. I guess that's progress. Expensive, aggravating progress. We'll see what my mood is after the Cox Cable guy shows up tomorrow.


November 21, 2006


Is it 2007 yet?

I'd like to think 2006 is pretty much done with us, but the end is still a little bit of a hike away. And while on a personal level things have settled down- if the worst involves the occasional argument with some faceless insurance company CSR, that's better than things were a year ago- it's been hard to observe the radio industry continuing to implode. This month has been one of the most probably THE most- widespread, massive bloodletting I've ever seen in the business, and I get the impression it ain't over. We used to talk about how companies couldn't really cut staffs any further than they had, because they were starting to cut into bone, and that was years ago. Now, there's practically no bone left. You can tell that when a top 10 market heritage AM talk station owned by the largest company in the business drops its local morning show- no argument there, the ratings weren't good- and replaces it with a syndicated show, but an hour-long syndicated show, which means they'll be playing the same hour THREE TIMES IN A ROW. That's the morning show. Seriously.

That's what happens when corporate says you have to save every penny and there really isn't anyplace else to cut. The folks in the home office tell the local GM to cut the budget to nothing, and the GM tells the Program Director that there's no more money left for a local staff. What's a PD to do? Swallow hard and call the staff into the office one by one, I guess. And across the country, in large markets and small, staffers are dutifully trooping to the manager's office one by one, offering their heads for sacrifice. I have been writing items for All Access about this stuff all month- three jocks here, seven newspeople there, six random staffers in some random market. And it's not like there are a lot of openings across the street. Things are tough all over.

As I wrote a few weeks ago about the early stages of the firing wave, what this is all proving is the value of flexibility. More specifically, in case you weren't aware, the radio business doesn't owe anyone a living, and the people who run it definitely don't think they owe anyone anything, much less owe you a job or owe the public good radio. I was lucky enough to know that early on in my career, and so decided to remain flexible about what I could do for a living. That's how I went from law to corporate management to programming to writing- yeah, that seems like a downward trajectory, but I'm still gainfully employed and no longer worried on a monthly basis about the ratings report card, and, besides, I needed to do creative stuff instead of wearing a suit and pushing paper. And if I had to do something else, I'd find something else. (In some ways, this was preordained by my inability to imagine anything I do as what I'll do for the rest of my career, although that's changed as I began to do stuff like my All Access gig that I actually enjoy doing every day) Radio people like to say that they're in radio because they "can't do anything else," but that's not true and can't be true. These days, it better not be true, not if they want to eat.

So if you're one of the unfortunates who got blown out in the Great Radio Massacre of 2006, keep looking for radio jobs, but now would be a good time to see what else you can do. Maybe a desk job or some other vocation will be a blow to your ego, but you can always podcast or something if you have a need to talk at people. That way, you still have an outlet, and, best of all, you can't be fired when you don't have a boss and nobody's paying you to do the job. As long as the rent's being paid and there's food on the table, there are worse ways to get through life.


November 22, 2006


I kinda ran out of gas this afternoon. I told myself that it was just another workday, that I should keep my head on straight and just write all the way to 5:00 but I found myself kinda drifting off at the keyboard. We're not going anywhere for the holiday- after this year's trravails, we're just going to stay home together and be thankful for just making it this far- and I decided against fighting the Black Friday crowds for home theater audio stuff, because it can wait. So we have nothing planned, just lounging around and watching TV and reading and maybe even, in a major departure for me, sleeping in.

And that's where I find myself, at the precipice of a day off, unable to wrap my mind around the Tennie Pierce case or Kramer or whatever else is in the news. I don't know what's in the news, other than hearing a little of John and Ken this afternoon while peeling yams for tomorow's pie. Mmmm. OK, I'm declaring myself officially on Thanksgiving break now. I'm not capable of coherent thought tonight.


November 23, 2006


This good life.



Health, this year more than ever.

Ella the World's Most Famous Cat.

Gainful employment, and the very special people who make that a reality.

Widescreen plasma HDTV.

Friends. I do have some, you know.

Turkey, string bean casserole with the crunchy onion things on top, sweet potato pie.

Did I mention health? That's a big one.

Looney Tunes on DVD.

My readers, even the ones who disagree with me, here, at All Access, and wherever else my stuff turns up.

70 degrees on November 23.

A day off to rest my mind.

The invention of the DVR.

Being born to the right family in the right nation in the right place at the right time.

Making it through a year filled with doctors and hospitals and finding ourselves at the end of it in okay shape.

That's my list this year. May you have equally special blessings.


November 24, 2006


I picked up the el cheapo HD Radio that Radio Shack is selling this weekend- with a ten dollar coupon from the Entertainment Book and a twenty five dollar rebate, it came out to about a hundred bucks with tax, which is expensive for a table radio, but what the hell. The verdict so far: meh.

It's not a horrible little radio- it's plasticy, kinda like one of those cheap iPod docks, with small speakers on either side of a blue screen. Using the radio's less than intuitive, but once I figured everything out, it wasn't too bad. All of that's fine, but the real question is whether HD's worth it, and whether it has any chance in the marketplace. And for that, my response is, sadly, it isn't and it might not.

The problem is this: unless you have a rock-solid, city-grade, right-near-the-tower signal, the HD either drops in and out or isn't there at all. Heaven forbid that, like me, you live at the fringe of FM signals- we're blocked from L.A. signals and the San Diego-Tijuana signals are spotty today. But even with a listenable signal on some San Diego stations, there wasn't a hint of HD on FM. That's with an external antenna, too. Nothing. Can't tell you what it sounds like, because there isn't anything to hear. Sell this to regular consumers who aren't in the business and aren't going to resort to extraordinary measures to pull in a signal and you're going to anger a lot of people- assuming, that is, that a lot of people will buy this thing, which isn't the case.

But I do get some AM HD, and that's another problem. Rock-solid, city-grade signal strength apparently isn't enough to hold the HD signal. The closest big AM signal to me is KNX, about 10 miles away, 50,000 watts nondirectional, strong enough to blot out several channels on either side, its HD sideband hash also heard several channels away. The signal, in other words, is as strong as possible. And I do get HD from KNX, but it doesn't come up right away and doesn't stay solid- the signal bounces back and forth between digital and analog fairly often, and there are long stretches of analog even with the nearly perfect reception. Same for KBRT, a station on Catalina that throws its entire signal right at us- there's nothing between the KBRT transmitter site and us except 26 miles of salt water, and the analog signal is loud and clear. KBRT's digital signal? Cuts in and out. KLAC- 5,000 watts at 570- is a clean signal here, and its HD signal can't hold for more than a minute at a time, which is especially problematic because, alone among the stations I get, they haven't put the analog signal on delay to coordinate with the HD signal. When HD kicks in, you hear a repeat of the last several seconds of what you just heard on analog. When it cuts out, you lose a few seconds of material. Some of the stations that are listed as having HD signals, like KFWB, just aren't coming in that way, even with decent analog coverage. KOGO in San Diego- forget it, no hint of HD.

Contrast that with satellite. Sirius? I have to stretch the antenna across a small alleyway behind the house to pick up the signal, but it's there. XM, I get with the cheap clip antenna that came with the radio, flipped up by the window, no problem. Sirius has occasional and short dropouts, XM has none in the house, and both are generally good in the car. You turn it on, it works. HD Radio is not like that. Yeah, it's free and you have to pay for satellite, but what good is free if you can't get anything with it, or it drops in and out all the time?

And the sound of HD on AM is not music quality. It's clear, yes, better than AM, but tinny, and not close to even FM. I don't know what the FM version sounds like yet, but when conditions improve and I get the San Diego HD signals, I'll let you know. Satellite? Not perfect sound, not at all, but perfectly listenable. I'm not an audiophile, but I do want a clean signal without obvious digital artifacts, and satellite is good enough.

I'll reserve final judgement once I get to hear the FM stations in action, but here's the thing: if HD doesn't work beyond a certain distance from the antenna, it won't succeed. They're selling the idea of the "HD2" and "HD3" subchannels for additional programming, but if you can't be assured of getting them without regular annoying dropouts, they're useless. If I wasn't in the business and in need of checking out the technology, I'd return the radio and I wouldn't bother with HD anymore. If the radio industry thinks this is its weapon against satellite and streaming, it has to make the technology work better. Right now, it's not ready.


November 25, 2006


This has been another movie weekend for us, primarily because we don't do the Black Friday Christmas shopping thing. We saw one excellent movie- "The Queen"- and one mildly diverting trifle- "For Your Consideration."

You shouldn't miss the former, which is not a drawing-room portrait of the monarchy but instead depicts the royals' near-disastrous non-reaction to Diana's death and Tony Blair's maneuverings, with Alastair Campbell's manipulations and the anti-monarchist disapproval of wife Cherie, to save the Queen from herself and grab a little glory for himself. The Christopher Guest movie is okay, way too broad- a more effective satire of Hollywood would be more subtle- but better than "A Mighty Wind" and welcome for the usual Guest cast-Catherine O'Hara is terrific- and a wonderful throwaway line where Ricky Gervais' indie studio boss talks about how he knew the film would be great "ever since I read the coverage." It'll be worth a rental if you liked "Waiting for Guffman," but it's nothing special.

More interesting was the pre-flick St. Jude's PSA with several stars pushing for donations, which included Jennifer Aniston starting with "our research..." YOUR research? You're in the lab with test tubes and petri dishes curing cancer? Shaddup, you.

And then there's the commercial they run for Van Heusen shirts, in which several shirts are arranged in such a way that brown liquid cascades down them. And I know that the message is supposed to be stain-resistance, but what it tells me is that Van Heusen shirts make wonderful fountains. Buy some for Christmas!

But the most annoying thing- apart from the family that wouldn't shut up behind us during the trailers before "For Your Consideration"- was the Dane Cook promo. They're going to have a concert-film one-night "event" with the comedian, and the promos show him convulsing and twitching before a sold-out arena crowd, and he gets off a couple of lines that are. Not. Funny. At. All. I don't even think they're SUPPOSED to be jokes. One involves calling ahead to tell everyone that D.C. is on his way- er, O.K.- and the other, repeated twice, is "it all comes back around"- he makes a sweeping circular motion- "it's a vicious circle." Um, sure, whatever you say. Maybe he can be funny sometimes, but I have yet to hear it, and if that promo is supposed to sell me on paying to see him, it would help to, maybe, you know, include some jokes. Just a suggestion.

And that, apart from the Home Depot advertised-special that was, naturally, out of stock (no raincheck), was the weekend, unless I can get enough work done early Sunday to allow for another movie. 007's waiting.


About November 2006

This page contains all entries posted to PMSimon.com in November 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 12, 2006 - November 18, 2006 is the previous archive.

November 26, 2006 - December 2, 2006 is the next archive.

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