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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

 

MARCH 30, 2017    “THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME”

There’s a veteran statistician who has worked all 32 title games of the Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament.  In fact, his record goes back even further, because he and I worked that championship before it was even called the CAA.

In 1985, as I noted here, I traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia, to operate the graphics machine for the three-day ECAC South tournament.  Regional network Home Team Sports televised all seven games live.  My only assistance came from Marty Aronoff at courtside.  The Penn State alumnus provided statistics to the announcers and, via headset, to me in the TV truck.

The ECAC South changed its name to the Colonial Athletic Association later in 1985, and I moved on.  But Marty stayed with it.  For several years after that, I encountered him at NBA telecasts for Turner Sports.  And every year, he works the CAA championship and many, many other events, including Monday Night Football.

This month, at the age of 78, The Legend was profiled in this article in USA Today.  Here’s to the most famous elbow in sports!

 

MARCH 27, 2017    THINGS THAT ARE FREE

Another fragment of ancient television has been rattling around inside my mind for six decades now.  It came from a half-hour variety program, The Ford Show, and IMDb says the year was 1957.  I found this still picture.

In a skit, Tennessee Ernie Ford’s unsophisticated country radio station is expecting a visit from a famous singer named “Joe” somebody.  Ol’ Ern gets his gast flabbered when the guest in his studio turns out to be a lady, one Jo Stafford, very much of the female persuasion.

The fragment came to the forefront of my mind when on a satellite radio channel I heard a recording of Jo singing an old standard.  The lyrics by Buddy DeSylva and Lew Brown proclaim “The moon belongs to everyone” and then go on to list other boons for which we need not pay:  stars, flowers, robins, sunbeams.  Last but most important:  love. 

And love can come to ev'ryone
           The  best  things  in  life  are  free.

Unfortunately, the melody by Ray Henderson does “love” no favors.  It assigns the word to a boring low note, where it gets overshadowed by the lilting phrase that follows.

I was happy to hear Miss Stafford solve the problem on her second chorus.  The talented pop singer puts an exclamation point on “love!” and then delays “can,” compressing it almost into an acciaccatura.  Kudos!

 

MARCH 23, 2017    THIS COULD BE THE START

Last month, NBC celebrated its 90th anniversary with a three-hour compilation of clips hosted by a deadly-serious Kelsey Grammer.

This month, my 100 Moons article begins with a reference to a previous NBC anniversary show.

Both telecasts concentrated on television, ignoring the first quarter-century of the network’s history when it was radio only.

In an attempt to address that deficiency, my 100 Moons article reminisces about radio in the 1950s, including NBC radio. 

First, however, it leads off with a still from a 1958 telecast with Steve Allen.  Mark Evanier recently posted the actual 1958 video.  Some of his readers later corrected his description of it; although the musical number did start in Studio 1, it actually ended in Studio 4.

Others claimed it was televised with a big bulky color camera, quite a feat.  However, I don’t think so.  During the number, a light shines into the lens and the picture partially blacks out —  an overcorrection that was typical of the black-and-white image orthicon cameras of the day.  I’m sticking with my recollection that a more manageable black-and-white camera was used and the start of Dinah Shore’s color didn’t come until after the station break.

But we all agree the audio is a pre-recorded track (even including smatterings of canned applause from about a dozen people) until the Studio 4 live mics are opened in the final second of Evanier’s clip, which you can see here.

 

MARCH 19, 2007 flashback   WE ARE ALL IMPAIRED

None of us is in perfect health.  The human body is very complex, and by the laws of probability, the odds are overwhelming that some component is not functioning at peak efficiency.

The same applies to the human mind.  Back in high school, I famously remarked, "There's a little bit of insanity in everybody."

Scott Adams, who draws the Dilbert cartoon, agrees.  Four months ago in his Dilbert Blog, he wrote about the angry responses he'd received to a recent series of cartoons about a "mildly retarded consultant."  Excerpts:

First, "mild retardation" is the accepted medical term, and I used it that way, as a label and not as an insult.   Second, it's my observation that almost everyone has some sort of mental problem.  I'm dyslexic.  You have ADD.  The neighbor is clinically depressed.  Your uncle washes his hands four hundred times a day.  Your sister is an emotional basket case.  The guy in the next cubicle is on Prozac.  The woman behind him is on Xanax.  To her right is the guy on Paxil.  He's on the phone with the vendor who's on Valium.  And they all pray to invisible friends.

To put it another way, who doesn't have some sort of mental problem?  To me, it seemed like everyone was out of the closet on mental disorders, and that mentioning one in particular should be no big deal.  But as I said, I misjudged our collective readiness on this issue.  I'll be happy when society realizes that all humans are mentally messed up, just in different ways.

 

and also... 

I worked this HBO telecast on September 2, 1995.

On March 18, 2017, Bruce Springsteen tweeted:  "Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock 'n' roll writer who ever lived."

 

MARCH 17, 2017    IRISH DAY

Myself, I rarely go hiking in the woods.  But Tracey Moodey (below) discovered this tree that’s a-wearing’ o’ the green.

Tracey is a secular activist who describes herself as “a loner, a writer, a wannabe space cadet, a lady who is full of love and heartbreak for the citizens of the world.”  She’s proof that it isn’t only religious people who feel the need to help the less fortunate among us.

“For years,” she writes, “I’ve been wanting to put together care kits to hand out to homeless folks in my city of Nashville, Tennessee.  It's a concern of mine that people who are no different in many ways than my own friends and family, who've known love and laughter, find themselves being dealt misfortune — both emotionally and physically.”

Her distaste for affluent Christian televangelist Joel Osteen finally spurred her to action.  “He’s in town tonight peddling his latest book of prosperity gospel from a comfy chair in Barnes & Noble, and will soon go home to his mansion with three elevators.”

So Tracey launched a GoFundMe campaign ending on her December 10 birthday, to “turn a gift to me into a gift to others who have needs greater than mine ... our brothers and sisters who are spending the holidays on the streets of Nashville.  Let them know that they're more than in our thoughts — we're literally reaching out to give them, ever so modestly, a few creature comforts that may brighten their mood and give them temporary relief.”

The campaign raised thousands of dollars.  Tracey and her friends used the money to buy backpacks and useful items which which to fill them:  items like blankets, ponchos, thermal socks, hand warmers, toiletries, and crackers and cookies.


from facebook.com/themoodytracey

She distributed about a hundred of these backpacks from her Volkswagen to people begging for money on highway ramps and such.

Then the crew took the other hundred care packages downtown, for the homeless folks at the library.

“Pain is part of a full life,” Tracey notes.  “We wouldn't know what bliss is without experiencing the pit of despair.

“But when we're up and have more than we need, it's in our altruistic nature to care for other members of our tribe who have fallen — the human tribe.”

below: 2015 AP photo of Jeffery Bailey

 

MARCH 15, 2017    FIRST FOURS

For the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, 68 teams have been named to fill 64 slots.  That means that four teams must be eliminated before the tournament proper gets under way, so “First Four” games are being played last night and tonight.

One would think that, in each of the four regions, the selection committee would name a #16a and a #16b and then match them in a First Four game to decide which of the two should actually get that region’s #16 seed.

This year, it does work that way in the East and Midwest.  But the other two First Four games are between teams seeded #11a and #11b.  Why?  Why should a #11 seed have to suffer the indignity of going to Dayton to play itself in?

The overall seeding of the 68 teams looks like this.  Automatic bids go to 32 champions of conference tournaments (in gold), and then the committee invites 36 other teams it deems worthy (in white).

Most of these 36 “at-large” teams are considered worthier than the champions, even in their own conference.  The Big 12’s Kansas, Baylor, and West Virginia all have been seeded higher than tournament champ Iowa State.  “March Madness” could practically be called the NCAA Invitational Tournament.

The First Four games are boxed on this chart.  Two match the lowest-seeded four teams — always the champions of weak conferences.  But the other two First Four games match the lowest-seeded at-large teams.

This year, overall seeds 47 through 68 all went to conference champions, so the lowest-seeded at-large teams are fighting it out for #11 regional seeds.

Apparently the NCAA doesn’t mind eliminating two conference champions before the real tournament even begins, but eliminating four would be too much.

 

MARCH 13, 2007 flashback   IT'S SETTLED!

My fellow Pittsburghers, our long civic nightmare is over.

All this century, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been pointing out that they need a new hockey arena.  Various schemes were proposed to help the team pay for the building without burdening taxpayers directly.  For a year, we kept hearing about the Isle of Capri.  If this firm won the license to build a local slot machine parlor, they promised to build an arena next door.  Media and politicians joined with Penguins officials to urge that the slots license should therefore be awarded to the Isle of Capri.  The campaigning was so public and so prolonged that it seemed as though the voters were being asked to make the decision.  But it wasn't their choice to make.  In December, an independent state board gave the license to a different applicant.  Disappointed team officials threatened that the Penguins might move to Kansas City, which caused much angst in Pittsburgh.

But late this afternoon, it was formally announced that a Plan B has been worked out and a new local arena will be built after all.

I'm glad that the team is staying in town.  I work something like 40 hockey telecasts a year.  That not only gives me something to do during through the long winters but also represents a significant chunk of my annual income.

I have to admit, though, that I don't particularly like hockey as a sport.

I grew up watching baseball, football, and basketball.  The patterns of those sports were etched into my young brain.  But I encountered the patterns of hockey later in life, and there has been no etching.

When I watch a football game, infractions like offside and intentional grounding are obvious.  When hockey fans watch their sport, infractions like offside and icing are obvious to them — but not to me.  Also, the cultures are different.  When football announcers refer to Grambling or the frozen tundra, I know what they're talking about.  During this hockey season, I've felt like an outsider when our Canada-centric announcers have referred familiarly to Rimouski and the RCMP.

And then there's fighting.  In any other sport — even college hockey — if two players square off and put up their fists, an official will jump between them to prevent punches from being thrown.  But in professional hockey, peacemaking is not part of the tradition.  The officials stand back and watch the two players circle each other.  They watch the players clutch and grab and slug each other in the face with their bare knuckles.  The fans love it; the players love it; everybody loves to see a fight.  Only when the two combatants fall to the ice do the officials step in to pull them apart and send them each off to serve a five-minute penalty.

If fighting is against the rules, if it's punishable by a major penalty, why do the officials allow it to happen?  And afterwards, why aren't the rule-breakers ejected from the game, as they would be in any other sport?  Apparently fisticuffs are condoned because they can energize your teammates and protect them from certain nefarious tactics that the opposing team might otherwise employ against them.  It's the code of the schoolyard brawl.

But I guess I'll never really understand.  I've never even been to Rimouski.

 

MARCH 12, 2017    FEBRUARY MADNESS REDUX

On February 11 this year, for the first time ever, the NCAA Men's Basketball Selection Committee released an in-season prediction of the Top 16 seeds for the upcoming tournament.

I was working that afternoon's Syracuse at Pitt game and prepared this graphic for the ACC telecast.  We highlighted the five conference teams in the Top 16.

Four weeks later, the actual selections have been announced.  They look like this.

Three of the #1 seeds held their position, while
#2 North Carolina moved up to #1.  The rest of the seedings have been scrambled, but only one team dropped out:  the ACC's Virginia ended up with a #5 seed, to be replaced in the Top 16 by Purdue.

So 15 of the original 16 teams are still there.  It's almost as though we didn't have to play the last month of the season.

     East

     Midwest

 1. Villanova

 1. Kansas

 2. Duke

 2. Louisville

 3. Baylor

 3. Oregon

 4. Florida

 4. Purdue

     South

     West

 1. North Carolina

 1. Gonzaga

 2. Kentucky

 2. Arizona

 3. UCLA

 3. Florida State

 4. Butler

 4. West Virginia

 

MARCH 11, 2007 flashback   SAVING DAYLIGHT

So why do we have to go through this nonsense of resetting our clocks every spring and fall?  Couldn't we accomplish the same result if we all simply got up an hour earlier in the summertime?

Well, yes, but we probably wouldn't obtain the necessary unanimity.

Suppose your boss gets with the program and, for March through October, changes your 9-to-5 office hours to 8-to-4.  Although your late-afternoon clients are inconvenienced, you get an extra hour of evening daylight.  Then your spouse's business also changes its hours, but only for April through September.  Your local school board, not wanting children to have to go to school before dawn, doesn't change anything.  The family schedule is repeatedly disrupted.

It all works much more smoothly if a central authority mandates that everybody will start the day an hour sooner, and the easiest way to do that is to change the clocks.

It would work even more smoothly if the central authority were an international one.  As the situation stands now, Europe goes on "summer time" on different dates than the United States and Canada, so the trans-Atlantic schedule is repeatedly disrupted.

 

MARCH 7, 2017    OUTFOXED

When sports telecasts on the Fox television network first added a rectangular graphic to the corner of the screen, showing the score and other game information, they called it the Fox Box.

The video for this enhancement was generated by a custom piece of electronic equipment, built into a rugged case for easy transportation.  Once upon a time, a technician was carrying such a case onto an airplane.  “What’s that?” asked a flight attendant.  “That’s the Fox Box,” the technician replied.  The attendant was aghast.  “You’ve got a live animal in there?”

That reminds me of reports from the Richwood Gazette a century before.  In March of 1891, a month when “kite flying is now the occupation of the Richwood youth and it is not uncommon to see a dozen kites in the air at one time,” the weekly paper in my Ohio hometown told about an actual fox box.

“One day last week, several boys of Radnor Township caught a fox, and as a result, they concluded to have a fox hunt.  The time set was last Saturday, and all the ‘sports’ of Prospect and surrounding country gathered.

“When the time came to liberate the fox, it was taken to a large field and the lid was raised, when lo and behold, not only one fox but an even half-dozen were in the box, five of them very small.  The chase was postponed.”

 

 

 

Full disclosure:  This photo of five very small foxes in a box was not printed in the Gazette in 1891.  But it’s cute, isn’t it?

 

MARCH 3, 2017    LOOK UP

A television talk show host traditionally sits behind a desk to conduct his interviews.

And he usually prefers his chair to be higher than the seating for the guests.

 

David Letterman was an extreme example of this, whether he was talking down to One Direction or to the President of the United States.

I once worked for a boss who used this arrangement in his office, to intimidate anyone who dared approach his throne.

 

 

Some more audacious interviewees seek a way not to be demeaned.

For example, Jerry Seinfeld literally sat on the guest chair.

 

 

 

And way back in 1953, when Frank Lloyd Wright filmed an episode of “Conversations with Elder Wise Men” hosted by NBC’s Hugh Downs, Wright used his own furniture!

The distinguished 85-year-old architect didn’t sink into an overstuffed easy chair.  He sat properly upright on a chair he had designed in 1939.

 

TBT


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