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There was “product placement” in television at least sixty years ago.

On the right in a scene from a 1950 Thanksgiving special sponsored by Coca-Cola, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (in the apparently-stylish plaid tuxedo) points out Charlie McCarthy's piggy bank to a visitor.  One of the items atop Charlie’s desk just happens to bear the sponsor's logo.

TV shows often open with “billboards” that mention each of the sponsors.  On sports broadcasts, the sponsor logos are usually superimposed over scenic views of the venue.

But there are alternatives.  Perhaps we could follow the lead of this 1960 program and have the logos modeled by showgirls wearing tiaras.





A couple of months ago, I was in Marion, Ohio, and bought a copy of the local daily newspaper.  The Marion Star still exists, but barely:  just ten small 11” by 22” pages, weighing only one ounce.  There were only five stories with local bylines, four of them by the same reporter.  There was just one local news photograph.  There was also an interesting correction.

The caption should have read:  Geavonni Troiano, 12, killed
his first deer, a seven-point buck, while hunting with
his step-father, Steve Ross . . .

When I see a correction notice, I try to imagine the incorrect original version.  Was the middle line missing?  I hope not.

A century ago, the Star was much greater.  Its publisher, Warren Harding, was on his way to becoming President of the United States. 

Then when I worked in Marion in the 1970s, the Star was a key resource for my work in the competing medium of cable TV.  In those days, futurists looked forward to the “paperless office.”  It appears that “paperless” is slowly becoming reality.

Today marks the end of my subscription to the paper version of Broadcasting & Cable.  From now on, its content will come to me courtesy of the Internet, not the postman.

I first read this weekly in 1966.  I found it in the offices of my college radio station, where we also subscribed to Billboard (covering the music business).  Both were oversized news magazines almost 11” by 14” in size.

Broadcasting, as it was called then, reported the business of radio and television, an industry that it grandly termed the Fifth Estate.  (In France, the three “Estates-General” were the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners.  In England’s Parliament, pointing to the press gallery, Edmund Burke said the newspapers should be considered the fourth Estate.  In America, Broadcasting said if that’s true, then 20th-century electronic media also should be granted Estatehood.)

In addition to the magazine, WOBC received the Broadcasting Yearbook — an annual the size of a phone book, two inches thick, five sections.  Here were listed all the AM, FM, and TV stations in the United States, with addresses, call signs, frequencies, sign-on dates, network affiliations, names of principal officers, and more.

The entry for our humble ten-watt station read, in part, “10 W.”  Next came our address, “Wilder Hall, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio.”  Naturally, therefore, we got mail addressed to the non-existent “10 West Wilder Hall.”

A digest of FCC rules was part of the Yearbook.  In that era of student protest, some of my colleagues wanted WOBC to air editorials.  I found the reason why we couldn’t:  a prohibition against editorializing by noncommercial educational stations, in Section 399 of the Communications Act.

After leaving Oberlin for the real world in 1969, I felt disconnected from broadcasting, so I subscribed to Broadcasting.  (Occasionally I’d also order a Yearbook and browse through the data.)  Many of the articles weren’t really aimed at people like me.  They were more for the executive suite, with their talks of mergers and acquisitions and syndication rules and advertising buys.  But it was still interesting.

In recent years, however, the content of the printed magazine has dwindled.  Most weeks it’s now only 8½” by 11” and contains only 24 flimsy pages.  And virtually all of the content is available online, for free — in fact, more content than in the print version, where a box regularly lists other headlines and urges “Read these stories and more at www.broadcastingcable.com”.

How much would another year of the printed magazine cost me?  The annual subscription fee has now reached $214.99.

Bye-bye, Broadcasting & Cable.  After more than 40 years, it’s time to pull the plug and not renew my subscription.  I'm going paperless.



As of yesterday evening, Pittsburghers had already seen 34.8 inches of snow this February, easily breaking the old record for an entire February of 25.3 inches (set in 2003).

A colleague says his kids didn’t have school on Feb. 5 because of a previously scheduled “in-service” day of teachers’ meetings.  Then that night, the big snowstorm shut down everything.  School finally reopened last Friday, then closed again for the holiday weekend.  The result: between Feb. 4 and today, classes met on only one of the 11 days.  One hopes that those kids will receive more continuity in education when they presumably make up the missed days in June.

Back in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, James Naismith invented basketball.  He needed an indoor activity for these long cold dark months when no sane person voluntarily ventures outdoors.

Therefore, basketball is a winter sport.  So why is it in the Summer Olympics?

Seth Meyers on Saturday Night Live, Oct. 20, 2012:

"The Winter Olympics is just 48 different kinds of sliding."

In the Winter Olympics, apparently, we contest only those events that require snow or ice.  Fair enough.  But then, as local columnist Gene Collier suggests, where is ice fishing?  Iditarod?  Synchronized snow-angeling?

One can easily imagine adding other sports to attract the coveted younger demographic. 

How about slushball dodgeball?

How about snowman building — judged, of course, on technical merit and artistic presentation?

Personally, however, I don’t really care which events are included.  I’m boycotting the televised Winter Olympics.  I can’t stand looking at any more ice and snow.


FEBRUARY 12, 2010     IN ’10

At three previous Olympic Games, I worked on the TV crew.  In Eighty-Eight I was in Seoul, in Ninety-Six I was in Atlanta, and in Oh-Two I was in Salt Lake City.  But this year, in Ten, I am not working in Vancouver.

Does it seem odd to say “in Ten”?  All right, I won’t say it that way.  I’ll use the long form, “in Twenty-Ten.”

Just don’t let me catch you using the super-long form, “in Two Thousand and Ten.”  We’ve gotten past that now.  See here!  And see here!

Speaking of the Olympics, I’m reminded of a challenge that I face in my work:  remembering the spelling of unusual names.  Sometimes I dream up mnemonic scenarios.  For Frank Coonelly, I imagined a line from the Beverly Hillbillies.  Now for Alex Goligoski, a defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins, I can use this scenario to remind me how to spell his name:

You’re a goalie in the National Hockey League.  The NHL is taking the next two weeks off to allow its star players to compete for their national teams in the Winter Olympics.

But you weren’t chosen for your national team, so you aren’t going to Vancouver.  What will you do during the break?



On this website, I've retold several ancient stories from the behind-the-scenes point of view of a participant who was less than awed by the alleged miracles.

Now I present my sixth such first-person account.  It's twice as long as the others, so I've broken it into two parts.  Click the title for the first installment of The Burning Bush(This is the blue letter edition.)



By midnight last night, Pittsburgh had 11.4 inches of snow.  That's a new record for a single day in February.  The old record:  10.4 inches, set on February 20, 1947 — the very day I was born!

At the hospital in Zanesville, Ohio, 150 miles west of Pittsburgh, the baby boom was at its peak.  "The babies were coming as much as the snow these days," according to a note my mother wrote a week after my birth.  Her doctor "spun around as he turned into the hospital this morning, but he said the main road was clear."

As of 7:00 this morning, the roads are far from clear around Pittsburgh.  By the expected end of the storm this evening, we may have received another 11 inches.  States of emergency have been declared in some municipalities, and TV reporters are urging people to stay home from work unless they're emergency personnel like doctors or policemen.  Even four-wheel-drive vehicles like mine are getting stuck and clogging up the streets.

I may have to stay home, but so far I'm still going to try to keep my promise to work a 6:00 pm basketball telecast at the University of Pittsburgh.  Time to go back outside and do some more shoveling, or I'll never be able to get my car out of its parking space.

Update:  I made it to Pitt in time for our 11:30 am crew call, as did about half of my fellow TV technicians.  But our 53-foot production truck was still at the bottom of "Cardiac Hill."  With the streets covered with ice and snow, the truck could not safely climb the 10% grade to reach the arena.  Therefore, our telecast was canceled at 12:30 pm, and we all went home.

We'll listen to the basketball game on the radio tonight and watch the Super Bowl tomorrow.  By Monday, we're hoping that the roads will be mostly clear and we can try another Pitt telecast.

The sun came out the next day.  Notice that to remove the knee-deep snow from the sidewalk beside my car, and from the street access in front of my car, as well as from the top and sides of my car, I had to shovel it into various piles nearby — one of which is as tall as the car itself.

February 2010 turned out to be the snowiest month in Pittsburgh history with a total of 48.7 inches, more than five times what we receive in an average February.



I had finally learned to tolerate the land shark, and now it has disappeared.  The stadium where the Super Bowl will be played Sunday has been renamed yet again.

I’m reminded of last Sunday.  On The Simpsons, Homer and Bart were treated to a private concert by Coldplay, held in Springfield’s “Naming Rights Available Arena.”

Since the venue for Super Bowl XLIV opened in 1987, it has been known as Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, and Land Shark Stadium.  Now, for the next five years, it will be Sun Life Stadium.

Seven names in the 28 years between 1987 and 2015?  A new name every four years, on average?  We don’t always change Presidents that often.  

“It's nothing more than an example of the greed of the American private owner,” according to Richard Davies, a sports historian at the University of Nevada, Reno, speaking to the Associated Press.  “It reflects the greatly intensified commercialization of American sports.”

At least “Sun Life Stadium” sounds appropriate for sunny, lively South Florida — that is, until you learn that Sun Life Financial is a Canadian company.  There’s not much sun (or life?) in Toronto this time of year.

Even in Miami, there hasn’t been as much sun as usual this week.

A big square lid to protect the fans from the rain was part of a stadium renovation proposal announced four weeks ago.  The Dolphins hope the improvements will help attract future Super Bowls to  Joe Robbie  Pro Player  Dolphin  Land Shark  Sun Life Stadium.

But where will the money come from?  No one knows.  Maybe Wham-O Frisbees can sponsor the roof.



Forget winter!  For several years, I enjoyed the warmth of Arizona during February.  I brought back some snapshots of the desert flora, and in honor of the Michael Jackson video on last night's Grammy Awards, I've  posted those pictures in 3D.  The article is called Dimensional Cacti.


JANUARY 28, 2010     WE PREFER “TEN”

DIGIT PREFERENCE    Round numbers ending in zero — why do we love them so much?  We cling to them even after they’re no longer correct.

The Atlantic 10 Conference currently consists of 14 universities.  The Big Ten Conference has 11 members, though at least they’ve hidden a white “11” inside their logo.  And the Fox Film Corporation is still stuck in the last century.

LANGUAGE PREFERENCE    Now that the Jay/Conan controversy has reached a resolution for the moment, I sampled a different talk show last night:  George Lopez’s lively Lopez Tonight at 11 PM ET on TBS.  I know, you've never seen it.  Neither had guest Kristen Bell.  When she entered and sat down, she accidentally chose the armchair designated for the host.

In his monologue, George often interjects a Spanish word or two.  I had my TV’s closed captioning switched on so that I could figure out what he was saying, but the captioner was giving me no help.  If George says, “Not in my casa he won’t,” the caption says NOT IN MY [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] HE WON’T If he says, “We have Kristen Bell también,” the caption simply omits the last word.

Somebody must have instituted a deliberate English-only policy for the captions.  That’s not helpful for cross-cultural understanding.

And then there was a local newscast last night.  If the closed captions were to be believed, a hockey game was played at THE WORLD MOST FAMOUS SABRINA.  Turns out the reporter was talking about Madison Square Garden.  Sound it out — unless you're actually hearing-impaired, in which case such captions are not helpful.



Signs must use as few words as possible to get their message across.  However, concise wording sometimes allows for multiple interpretations.  I’m sufficiently silly (some would say perverse) to deliberately misconstrue their warnings.

Perhaps, though not as readily as mud does.

But we're still permitted to pass it back, aren't we?

I thought law enforcement required cops on the ground.  How can aircraft do it?  Do they strafe the speeders?  Do they drop bombs on them?

I guess I'll have to go somewhere else to buy a shirt and shoes.  This place doesn't have any.  They don't even have anybody to wait on me.

(Another store's sign says "Shirts must be worn."  I can't go there either.  My shirt isn't showing any wear at all; it's brand new.)

I would gladly drop my safe, if I were carrying one.  But where is this USE that you want me to drop it into?

There, there, Door.  Don't be afraid.  I'd be scared, too, if I saw me coming.



Some actors' names that I'll confuse unless I make a note of them:

Jon Cryer of Two and a Half Men is not Jon Cypher of Major Dad.  The latter is 33 years older.

Cary Elwes is not Carey Lowell.  The latter was a Bond girl in Licence to Kill.

Ethan Hawke is not Ethan Frome.  The latter is a fictional character.

D. B. Sweeney is not D. B. Cooper.  The latter was the name given by an airplane hijacker in 1971.

Duly noted.



I live outside the city of Pittsburgh.  However, the metropolitan news media rarely mention my little borough. They naturally focus on the big city.  The municipal government that gets all the publicity is Pittsburgh’s, and we suburbanites sometimes think of it as our government too.

So it was last week that this bright, attractive young lady caught my eye when she was sworn in as a new member of Pittsburgh’s City Council.

It turns out that her name is Natalia Rudiak.  She comes from an old-line Democratic family, holds a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University in public policy and management, and has been “an active community leader and business owner in Pittsburgh’s southern neighborhoods.”

Yesterday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Gary Rotstein  predicted what things will be like 15 years from now.  One prophecy:

• Natalia Rudiak, a young Carrick resident elected last year to City Council, will become mayor of Pittsburgh by drawing equal votes from her South Hills neighborhoods, more liberal East End residents and Obama-oriented ideologues who have been awaiting a fresh face in Pittsburgh politics.

Update:  I second the opinions in this op-ed piece that the councilwoman wrote in 2012.

Of course, Rotstein's extrapolations from current conditions also led him to forecast that “It will snow every day for the rest of Pittsburgh's history.”


According to Carbolic Smoke Ball, scientists at Hoboken State University have reached a breakthrough by building a broken clock that is right not twice but three times a day.

I’ve deduced how they must have accomplished this feat.  The Swayne Clock runs at half speed, backwards.  While a regular clock is making 2/3 of a revolution clockwise (as from 12:00 to 8:00), the Swayne Clock is making 1/3 of a revolution counterclockwise (also from 12:00 to 8:00), so they agree every eight hours.

If the HSU scientists can get their Swayne Clock to run full speed astern, it will be right four times a day.



My father used to put salt and pepper on fruit.  That seemed a little unusual.  Fresh fruit like sliced tomatoes, cantaloupe, and watermelon.

However, he may have been right.  I’ve recently discovered these cashews, seasoned not only with sea salt but also with black pepper.  Very tasty!


I learned from this incident in college that you don't get anywhere by shouting the other side's (alleged) slogan.  If you're the one shouting it, people will think it's your slogan.

Does anyone see how this applies to the ad at the right, which appeared in some markets this week?  The supposed ransom note reads PAY OUR PRICE OR YOU'LL NEVER SEE FOX AGAIN.  The ad is signed by Time Warner Cable.  Unless the reader reads the fine print, he thinks that Time Warner is making the demand.

"Did you see this ad, Martha?  The cable company is threatening to take some of our TV channels away unless we pay their price.  Didn't our cable bill go up again just last month?  Now Time Warner wants even more money.  And they're not asking in a nice way, either.  I've had it with them.  I'm calling tomorrow morning to cancel our cable."

Of course, what Time Warner meant was that FOX was demanding a ransom, telling the cable company that if it wanted to continue carrying the local station's signal, it would have to pay FOX something like a dollar per month per subscriber (and presumably pass that cost on to the subscriber).  But it looked like the threat was coming from Time Warner.

They went back to the scissors and paste.  Here's their corrected version.