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JUNE \ MAY 2007



What is it that we "behind the scenes" people must do to ensure that our TV productions will be displayed properly on your TV set, whether it's an old-fashioned black-and-white model or the latest home theater?

You're probably saying, I Never Thought about That.  Well, now you can think about that if you wish, by clicking on the aforementioned title of my latest little illustrated article.



Each year, nearly 700,000 pitches are thrown in Major League Baseball regular-season games.  Every pitch is entered into a computerized database.

These databases make it easy for broadcasters like me to look up statistical comparisons, relevant or not.  For example, in games played after June 30 last season, which Pirate hit the most home runs on the road?  And which hit the most at home?  (Answers:  Jason Bay with 10, Jason Bay with 5.)

They also make it possible to research even the most arcane coincidences.

On June 15, when the Mets' Julio Franco came to bat against the Yankees' Roger Clemens, their combined age was 93 years, 246 days.  That was the oldest batter-pitcher matchup since when?

And the next day's games at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field both ended in scores of 1 to 0.  When was the last time that happened?

The computers whirred and the answers were printed in this week's Sports Illustrated in the "Go Figure" column:  1933 and 1963 respectively.  Now we know.



When televising sports, I sit safely indoors and operate a graphics computer.  I'm glad I don't have to brave the elements as a camera operator.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This TV camera towered over the fifth hole of the Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, site of the U.S. Open won yesterday by Angel Cabrera.  We can only hope that if thunderstorms approached, the cameraman was allowed to descend!

By the way, Oakmont is not far from where I live.  I was on hand in 1983 and 1994 to help televise some preliminaries of the previous two U.S. Opens that were held there.  But this year, there was interleague baseball  to be covered.  After Sunday's game, I came home and watched the last few holes of golf on TV from my apartment seven miles away, within sight of the blimp.

Also by the way, the phrase "U.S. Open" can have several meanings.  Around here, it usually refers to the golf tournament.  In New York, especially among people who work for CBS, it's a tennis tournament.  And in Marion, Ohio, when I started in the TV business, the "U.S. Open" was a drum and bugle corps championship staged annually at the Harding High School stadium.

I saw this picture of a 1956 Oldsmobile last weekend, and I immediately tasted caramel corn and peanuts.  A 50-year-old connection is still imprinted on my brain:  there were giveaway boxes of Cracker Jack on hand for the annual introduction of new models at my father's dealership, and I opened a box while perusing the Olds literature.

Also during my childhood, I once nibbled chocolate-covered mint wafers while reading an encyclopedia article about military armor plate.  Some crumbs got into that part of the book.  Now, if you mention armor plate to me, I smell chocolate.  It's amazing how these connections stay with us.



Today is the 40th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's unanimous decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia, in which the Court declared unconstitutional a Virginia statute outlawing miscegenation.  As of June 12, 1967, miscegenation was no longer a crime in these United States.

They legalized what, now?  When I read this story in the newspapers at the time, I had never heard of "miscegenation," though I was about to start my junior year in college.  So I tried to reason it out.

Many offenses begin with "mis-", such as:





















All of them carry the implication of doing something improperly.  Therefore miscegenation must be the act of improperly cegenating, which I guessed must be pronounced KEG-uh-nating.  So far, so good.  Now what was "cegenating"?

Reading the news story further, I learned that Loving was a white man who had been found guilty of being married to a black woman.  The judge at his trial proclaimed, "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.  . . . The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."  There were sidebar references to another controversial and possibly illegal marriage between black entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. and his Swedish wife May Britt.  They couldn't appear together in public because of death threats.

Apparently, then, to cegenate was to marry within your own racial group.  And Loving had failed to cegenate.

It turns out that my etymological guesswork was wrong.  The actual story of the word's origins is available here.  (Rush Limbaugh would be glad to know it was invented by scheming Democrats working in the evil mass media to discredit a wartime President!)  "Miscegenation" was formed from the Latin words miscere, to mix, and genus, race, and is pronounced either missa-juh-NAY-tion or mis-EDGE-uh-nation.

Loving's offense was failure to keep the white race pure, a failure that was anathema to white racists.  Fortunately the Fourteenth Amendment forced this "crime" off the books, and our melting pot could continue making Americans e pluribus unum (out of many, one).


JUNE 10, 2007     CAUGHT IN THE ACT?

There's a new feature of Google Maps called "Street View" that allows you to sit at your computer and call up street-level photos from selected cities.  You can travel up and down the streets, turn onto other avenues, look in any direction, and zoom in on details.  I just relived part of my walk last summer from San Francisco's Parc 55 hotel to the ballpark.

Yesterday, "Street View" was mentioned on National Public Radio's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

The host of that comedy current-events quiz, Peter Sagal, pointed out that if you search for 181 W. San Carlos St. in San Jose, California, you'll find a man who happened to be sitting on a bench when the Google camera van came by.  The unidentified man appears to be performing a personal hygiene procedure considered distasteful in public.

So I found the way to San Jose and to that address outside the Civic Auditorium.  Here's the picture.  I beg to differ.  Considering that the entire pinkie is visible, I maintain that this accidental celebrity is merely scratching the outside of his nose, and he should not have been defamed on national radio.



Before there was digital photography, I experimented with taking panoramic photos with an ordinary Instamatic camera.  I'd shoot an entire film cartridge, using a slightly different angle for each exposure.  Then I'd tape the resulting snapshots together to make a panorama like the 27-inch-by-3-inch example below.  It's a 285° view from the inclined bridge at Tarentum, PA, featuring fall foliage along the banks of the Allegheny River in 1981.

I've added a large version of this very wide photo to the Panoramas article on this website.  Also added are two 1980 views of Washington, PA.  And there's a higher-resolution version of a digital panorama that I first posted after the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, showing TV trucks lined up outside the stadium for the opening ceremony.



On this date fourscore and ten years ago, my great-uncle Luther Robinson temporarily stopped his work on an Ohio farm and went into town.  He was among 10,000,000 American men who registered that day for the military draft.  The following year, he was serving in the Army in Europe.

I've added an image of Luther's 90-year-old draft card to my collection of his World War I letters entitled Your Brother in France.



I wrote a story last weekend, Zoey and the Zekoonies, about a little girl and her grandfather and whether dogs go to heaven.



In America's pastime, time passes slowly.  We get frustrated, we who work behind the scenes.

From the videotape room, Gord yells, "Pitch the ball!"  But the pitcher continues to stare at the runner on first and then throws over there.  The count on the batter remains 0 and 0.  Can't something be done to move the action forward?

I've had an idea or two for changes.  So has Mike Kobik.  (For old photos and audio of Mike, click here).

In fact, Mike has created a new website to list his proposals.

Some base paths would be shorter under Kobik rules, but runners couldn't lead off, so there'd be no need for pitchers to obsess about them.  Batters couldn't foul off pitch after pitch after pitch, waiting for the perfect one to hit.  There'd be time limits on both batters and pitchers.  Some innings might have only two outs.  Relief pitchers, having warmed up in the bullpen, couldn't warm up again on the mound.  Pitch the ball!

New strategic challenges would arise from other new rules, such as a reduction in the number of fielders.  You could tweak your batting order each inning.  You could choose to run the bases clockwise instead of counterclockwise.

A modified diamond for Speed Ball (or whatever they decide to call it), “where it's one, two strikes and you're out!”

So far, this is all theoretical, but Mike says he's trying to set up an actual ball game using these rules in Omaha next month.  The game may be so fast-paced and exciting that someone will call out in all sincerity, "Let's play two!"


MAY 25, 2007     WHY'D HE SAY THAT?

Sports Illustrated brought up the story again this week.  In "A History of Sports Vows" on page 22 of the magazine, we find this anecdote from 1989:

With the Pirates leading the Phillies 10-0 in the top of the first, Pittsburgh radio announcer Jim Rooker vows, "If we lose, I'll walk back to Pittsburgh."  Three hours and five Steve Jeltz RBIs later, Philly has a 15-11 win.  Rooker makes good after the season, walking the 315 miles from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh for charity.

Usually, someone confident of winning would back up his conviction by saying something like "If we lose, dinner's on me."  Why did Rooker declare "If we lose, I'll walk back to Pittsburgh"?  Why would he make that particular promise?  What's the connection between the outcome of a game and a pan-Pennsylvania pedestrian peregrination?

I can explain the rest of the story.  But first, a quick quiz.  According to the Rand McNally road atlas, which of these six cities is the shortest walk from Pittsburgh, PA?  Which is farthest away?  Click here for the answer.

Philadelphia, PA
Buffalo, NY
Cleveland, OH
Washington, DC
Cincinnati, OH
Detroit, MI

The Pirates had not won since a home game on Tuesday, May 30, 1989.  Their current road trip had started at Shea Stadium, where the Mets swept a three-game weekend series.  Then they played a 7½-inning tie in Philadelphia on Monday before losing to the Phillies on Tuesday and Wednesday.  There was one more game to be played in Philadelphia, but KDKA-TV wasn't televising it, so I flew home on Thursday morning, June 8.

Going into the series finale that night, the Pirates had a miserable 0-5-1 record on the trip, not to mention a seven-game winless streak.  Following the game, the team was scheduled to return to Pittsburgh, where they would open a series against the Mets on Friday.

Only once all week had the Pirates scored as many as three runs in an inning, but on this Thursday against Larry McWilliams, in the top of the first they put ten on the board!  Highlighted by a three-run Barry Bonds home run, it was their biggest inning of the season.

In the bottom of the first, Bob Walk took the mound for the Pirates and allowed the Phillies to chip away at the lead with two runs of their own.

Up in the Veterans Stadium broadcast booth, Jim Rooker must have thought something like this:  "We've been losing every night, but this feels a lot better.  We've turned things around.  Surely we can't lose this game.  Not with a ten-run lead.  Can we?  Oh, gee; I don't want to be a pessimist, but if we blow this lead, Jim Leyland is going to blow his top.  The whole team's going to be in a rotten mood.  I wouldn't want to be on the airplane with those guys.  No, if we lose again tonight, I'd rather say 'see you later' and find my own way home.  Heck, I'd rather walk!"  And so that's what he said on the air.  "If we lose this game, I'm walking home to Pittsburgh."

The Pirates were not going to be involved in the postseason, so "Rook's Unintentional Walk" was scheduled for October 5 through 17, 1989.  With the assistance of a support crew underwritten by four corporate sponsors, Rooker walked about eight hours a day at three miles per hour, raising $40,000 for Children's Hospital and the Bob Prince Charities.



The headline last week was Divorce Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since 1970.  You might have jumped to the surprising conclusion that American marriages are lasting longer.  You would have been misled.

Some excerpts from the Associated Press article by David Crary:

Despite the common notion that America remains plagued by a divorce epidemic, the national per capita divorce rate has declined steadily since its peak in 1981 and is now at its lowest level since 1970.

Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., says divorces are dropping in the college-educated sector because many spouses "are learning how to negotiate marriages based on less rigid gender roles than in the past.''

Other experts are heartened by what they view as the increased determination of many couples to make marriage work. Among them is Bill Chausee of Child and Family Services of New Hampshire, which offers marriage-strengthening programs in a state where divorces dropped more than 25 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Bill Coffin, the Department of Health and Human Services' special assistant for marriage education, is convinced the programs are a factor in the declining divorce rate.

However, the real story is elsewhere in the article.  It's not that there are fewer divorces overall, which would be considered good news.  It's that there are fewer marriages, which most people would consider bad news.

Over the last 25 years, as a percentage of the total population, divorces are down 32%.  The main reason is that marriages are down 29%.

In this chart, each complete column represents marriages per capita; the red part of each column represents divorces.

Crary notes that the breakup rate, the percentage of marriages that eventually end in divorce or separation, "has stabilized in recent years at between 40 percent and 45 percent."

Why are there fewer marriages?  Primarily because "the number of couples who live together without marrying has increased tenfold since 1960."

Crary quotes an unmarried couple, each the child of divorced parents.  They're raising a 3-year-old daughter in Chicago.  "We decided a long time ago that marriage wasn't for us,'' Amber Settle said. "We have a number of friends who got married, and we've supported them. But it's not something we want to do.''


MAY 19, 2007     BINGO ON TV

Six years ago, when I wrote about my brief career as a Bingo caller on a local cable channel, I saw it coming.  "Nowadays the big networks are cutting back their expenditures.  Labor troubles with both writers and actors are threatening scripted shows, and we're seeing more 'reality' TV, which is cheaper to produce.  What could be cheaper than Bingo?  Is Regis Philbin available to call the numbers?  If not, perhaps Tom Baby could be persuaded to make another comeback."

Sure enough, last night National Bingo Night made its debut on ABC-TV.

Compared to the show we used to do on cable, this is a much glitzier version, with a lot of the glitz added during post-production.  However, one fact hasn't changed: simply calling the Bingo numbers makes for boring television.  You've got to do something entertaining at the same time.

NBN solves that problem by simultaneously playing a gimmick game, in which a single contestant triggers the calling of the numbers and tries to use them to reach some sort of goal before any of the 200 Bingo players in the studio audience gets five in a row.

The first game last night was an emotional rollercoaster.  We rooted for the contestant, Joe, as he got closer to his goal.  On O-67 he reached it, winning $50,000 for himself and his family, who were cheering him on from the back of the studio.  But wait!  Eighteen of the studio players had been one number away from Bingo before O-67 was drawn.  Had O-67 given any of them five in a row?  After a long, tense interval to set up the drama, one studio player did jump up and shout out "Bingo!"  He was happy and jumping around.  Joe was devastated.  Moments before, he had been happy and jumping around, thinking he'd won big, but now he would go home with nothing.

This rang false with me.  The studio player had four in a row and was saying to himself, "Come on, O-67!"  That very number was drawn, and he had a winning card.  But the show's producers had told him not to call out that fact immediately, as he would in a normal Bingo game.  No, he had to wait — more than a minute and a half, in the version that aired.  And when he was allowed to proclaim his win, it seemed as though he was celebrating a theft.  He'd stolen the money away from Joe, the nice guy we'd been pulling for.

But of course, the show was arranged so that in the third of the hour's three games, the gimmick contestant did win, and she brought her celebrating family onstage as the credits rolled.  Everybody was happy.

Update:  Click here.


MAY 15, 2007     CATALINA

As of today, the wildfire on California's Santa Catalina Island has been brought completely under control.

That reminds me:  My late father and I visited there some years ago.  I've added my memories of that day to a previous article; click here for the new material, about wild buffalo and old movies and big bands and flying fish.

The same article also now documents a dramatic musical moment from the reunification of Germany.  Click here to hear the cry of "Freedom!" ring out in East Berlin.



I brought along a tape recorder when my parents and I visited my father's family in Livermore, Kentucky, on the weekend of May 12-14, 1972.  Thirty-five years later, most of those relatives are gone.  My parents, my grandmother, and most of my aunts and uncles are no longer living.  But I can still hear their voices on that tape.  And now you can too!

In a new article about that Mother's Day weekend, I've made nearly 76 minutes of our conversations available in 29 segments.  Listen to whichever ones strike your fancy.  Highlights include    the mixup at the cemetery,    the story of the okra seeds, and    the Mother's Day church service.



Exactly 40 years ago tonight, in the midst of the turbulent Sixties, hundreds of Oberlin College students marched on behalf of better housing conditions on campus.  Now you can walk along with WOBC reporter Tom Witheridge as you listen to his coverage of that demonstration!

By torchlight, the protesters recruited supporters from dormitories like Dascomb Hall, seen here.  They left a message for the college president at his home, proceeded to a central campus location to make impassioned speeches, and spent the night there in a vigil.

Change did not come as quickly as they hoped.  Soon, however, dorm rules against visitors of the opposite sex were relaxed and more alternative housing became available.  Eventually, Oberlin ended its gender segregation (men had lived in the north campus, women in the south).

2004  photo with "night" effect added

Five years ago, this site posted a transcript of the college radio station's broadcast of the 1967 event, called March, Arch, and Vigil.  Now I've augmented that article by adding the actual audio, broken up into segments of about three minutes each.  Click and listen!



This week, this website will feature nearly two hours of new audio!  Actually, it's historic old audio.  You'll hear events that happened 35 and 40 and 45 years ago this week.

First up is the Kentucky Derby as I taped it from network TV in 1962.  I prefer the traditional coverage of "My Old Kentucky Home" to the way it's heard today.


MAY 5, 2007     PROM SEASON

That's me with Carl Martin and Terry Rockhold (L to R) in a colorized photo from the Richwood High School Junior-Senior Prom.

Was it 1964 or 1965?  One clue is that I'm wearing my "black diamond" class ring.  Did we receive these before we were seniors?



“I have a set of values,” says Average American.  “These principles are important to me.  Obviously, everybody shares these values.  All reasonable people agree with me, because I'm right!  When people are free to make choices by majority vote, they will make choices of which I will approve.  This is why democracy is good.  Let the people decide!”

Therefore, a few years back, we insisted that the Palestinians hold free and democratic elections.  Fine, said the Palestinians, we choose the terrorist Yasser Arafat as our leader.  Later, they voted for Hamas.  “How could this be?” wondered Average American.  “I can't believe they'd elect leaders who want Israel destroyed.  I don't want to destroy Israel; I want Arabs and Israelis to be quiet and stop stirring up trouble and settle down and live in peace with each other on the land that they currently occupy.  Therefore that's what the Palestinians want too.  So why do they vote otherwise?  It makes no sense.”

We invaded Iraq to remove the Saddam Hussein regime and replace it with democracy, predicting that popular rule would be so successful there that the entire region would adopt it.  Obviously any repressed people, given the chance, would vote the way Americans vote, and soon all Arabs would forget tribal differences and become secular capitalists like us (or maybe even become Christians).  This experiment, unfortunately, has had a less than auspicious first four years.

Many Muslim clerics oppose democracy on principle.  People should not follow their own desires but rather the teachings of the Koran:  for example, a man should marry a woman.  Give the people democracy, and their representatives are free to pass any legislation they like:  for example, two women could marry.  And the Muslim people, taught to honor their religion above any personal opinions they may have, tend to agree it's dangerous to give legislatures the opportunity to overrule scripture.

For a different reason, prosperous Chinese may also distrust majority rule, despite our dream — The China Fantasy, according to author James Mann — that economic freedom will turn them into democratic consumers just like us.  Reviewing Mann's book last week, George F. Will noted, “His most disturbing thesis is that ‘the newly enriched, Starbucks-sipping, apartment-buying, car-driving denizens’ of the large cities that American visitors to China see will be not the vanguard of democracy but the opposition to it.  There may be 300 million such denizens, but there are 1 billion mostly rural and very poor Chinese.”  The question is whether the rich minority, prospering under the Communist regime, will ever find it in their interest to give democracy to the billion.