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ArchiveFEBRUARY 2018


FEB. 28, 2018    BEYONDLY

The Pittsburgh classic rock station WDVE-FM has been playing the same music for almost half a century, since 1969.  Their well-worn playlist includes a hit from 1980 by local performer Donnie Iris, whose 75th birthday is today.  (He was born just three days after the late George Harrison.)

I hear this song almost every week.  To me, it sounds like he's singing “Beyondly” over and over again.

Allegedly, the actual title is “Ah! Leah!”  I doubt that.  How many Leahs are out there really, looking better than a body has a right to?

In other news, I have an update to my note from the 1988 Olympics, concerning the fate of millions of Korean dogs.  Click here.

And I wanted to pass along a five-year-old article from yet another thoughtful writer.  He posits that “a good guy with a gun” — also known as the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun — is a heroic fantasy we've learned from Hollywood.

FEB. 25, 2008 flashback   PREDICTA

Fifty years later, its shape still spells “television.”  However, I never knew anybody who owned one.  All the TV sets I encountered were rectangular pieces of furniture.

The Philco Predicta, with its futuristic space-age look, was produced only from 1958 through 1960.  The controls and electronics were enclosed in one box.  On top of that sat the CRT, a rounded picture tube enclosed in a streamlined housing that could tilt and turn to face the viewers.

One commentator noted that “despite the radical styling that endears it to collectors, the Predicta had an unhappy history in the field, causing some to dub it the ‘Edsel of televisions.’  Quality control was poor, leading to an excessive number of returns and warranty service calls.  Some people blame the Predicta for the demise of Philco, which declared bankruptcy in 1962.”

Yet even today, it lives on as an icon.  Telecasts about television use its profile, as on the left.

The Predicta remains more recognizable than the actual shape of a 21st-century TV — a flat rectangular screen.


FEB. 22, 2018    THE COW IN THE SCOW

Richard Wilbur passed away four months ago at the age of 96.  You may not remember his name; I didn't.  But he was once a guest on my college radio station.

How do I know?  I found a couple of columns from an old WOBC Program Guide, which I've posted here In addition to our Top 20 songs, there's a list of topics that had been featured recently on our news department's Oberlin Digest, beginning with the program of 51 years ago tonight, February 22, 1967.  Mostly we discussed the top two non-academic concerns of Oberlin undergraduates at the time:  student housing, and the threat of the military draft. 

But in addition, according to the Program Guide, we obtained an exclusive interview with Mr. Wilbur.  At the time he was a Pulitzer-winning poet who had translated Molière's The Misanthrope and Tartuffe from French into English.

Most of his own works were serious-minded, but he had also written lyrics to songs like this one from Leonard Bernstein's Candide.  And there were silly verses, too.  If you click on this one, you can hear him give a solemn reading about the carp in your carport.

After his appearances on our campus, Wilbur went on to even greater fame 20 years later, when he was named Poet Laureate of the United States!  Two years after that, in 1989, he won his second Pulitzer Prize.  And I'm sure he gave all the credit to WOBC.



I didn't travel to the Olympic Winter Games in Korea this year.  I've been there, done that.  I was part of  the Emmy-winning NBC-TV team for the Seoul Summer Olympics 30 years ago.  But many of my graphics colleagues did make the trip, and they've posted some pictures on social media.  They've even had a little time for sightseeing.

For example, Becky Hawranko-Wood reports that the nine-story stone pagoda above is a Korean national treasure.  It's believed to be over a thousand years old.

She saw it at one of the many reconstructed Buddhist temples of Woljeongsa, not far from PyeongChang.

Turning this wheel full circle clockwise,” she reports, “signifies that you've read the Buddha scriptures and fills you with wisdom.  I feel smarter already.”

Becky is on the TV crew that's covering ski jumping.  But it's obviously not all work and no play.  Here she is in the catering tent.

Below, she shows us some of the more exotic fare she's encountered elsewhere.



The cooks even let Becky try her hand at stirring up some of that Korean cuisine.


Lisa Cirincione is there, too.  She boarded a bus to go to her curling venue.

Back in the States, Lisa C. and her husband Mark Lynch make their home in State College, Pennsylvania, known to the natives as Happy Valley.  And Mark managed to find a Korean waffle house to remind him of home.



Below, another graphics operator, Linda P., wore Predators gear because she's from Nashville.  She got on a different bus to head to the Olympic Sliding Centre.  (In Nashville, “sliding” is what motorists do during a rare snowstorm.  At the Games, however, the sliding events consist of luge, bobsled, and skeleton.)

Linda P. has augmented her outfit by collecting a bunch of Olympic pins, of course.

And on the right below is yet another graphics person with whom I've worked, Julie Stocker, in her NBC stocking cap.

Finally, Ken Childs posted a picture of his spacious
suite in the Press Village.  Look at those luxurious
accomodations!  One entire wall of his cell is nothing
but windows!

Here in western Pennsylvania, maybe I'll open a jar of kimchi for supper this evening.  It is a time for celebration, after all.  I turned 71 today.

I may no longer be Olympicizing, but I haven't completely retired yet.  This morning, I was booked for ten telecasts during the early part of the upcoming baseball season.

And there's other happiness:  the weather around here is by far the mildest it's ever been on my birthday.  This afternoon, the digital thermometer on my porch reached 80.8°!

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
     And I say
          It's all right


FEB. 19, 2008 flashback   RADIO REQUESTS

WOBC-FM, our student-operated radio station at Oberlin College, sometimes took music requests over the phone.  We had an all-request classical music program on Saturday nights, just as WQED-FM in Pittsburgh has today.  The name of the WOBC program was our campus phone number, “3157.”

Our pop music DJs also got requests.  Imitating what they'd heard on big-time Top 40 stations, they sometimes tape-recorded the calls.  Then they could rummage around to find the requested record, cue up the tape, and let the magic of radio happen.  “Um, could you play No Milk Today by Herman and the Hermits?”  “Your wish is my command!”  No Milk Today plays immediately.

That technique is commonplace now, but in 1968 it felt as though we were pushing the envelope of possibilities.

One night Marc Krass and Randy Bongarten took it a step further.  They arranged for the Rathskeller, a tavern in the basement of the Wilder Hall student union building, to play WOBC through its sound system.  At one end of the Rat they set up a microphone stand.  To raise its signal to line level, the mic was connected to a small amplifier — the same one that I took to basketball remotes.  The output of the amp was connected to a pair of wires in the stairwell that led to our control room up on the third floor.

A sign invited Rathskeller patrons to speak their requests into the microphone.  It almost looked like a prank.  The mic was not connected to a loudspeaker, and patrons got no confirmation that they were being heard.  The mic might not have even been on.  But a few brave souls risked looking foolish.  They dutifully walked up and spoke their requests.

Upstairs at the radio station, we had no idea when someone was approaching the mic, so Randy and I threaded a reel of tape onto a deck and started recording.  There would be long minutes of nothing but background noise.  Eventually we'd hear a request.  I'd mark it by inserting a scrap of paper between the layers of tape on the takeup reel while Randy scurried off to find the song.  After several requests, we'd start a second recording on another machine.  Then we rewound the first tape to the most recent request, while my scraps kept tabs on the older ones.  We cued the request up for Marc.

“Uh, hello?  Is anyone there?”  “Yes, indeed, this is Marc Knight, your WOBC disk jockey.  What would you like to hear?”  “Uh, can you play Tighten Up by Archie Bell and the Drells?”  “Sure can!  Here it is.”

Off-duty DJ Dave Webster was in the Rat that night.  He made another request.  “Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to play Takin' Care of Business.  This tape will self-destruct in five seconds!”


FEB. 18, 2018    SIGNS OF SPRING

Pittsburgh is located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, where they merge to form the Ohio.  Normally there's a fountain at the Point, but it's been submeged the last couple of days.  We now have a hyperconfluence, resulting from upstream rains and snow melt.  A low-lying stretch of Interstate 376 called the “bathtub” has been closed by flooding.

Ah, but better times are ahead.  We can recall when every bath toy was in its proper place.


FEB. 17, 2018    WHY SUE?

Yablonski, Costello & Leckie are a group of attorneys working out of the Washington Trust Building in Washington, PA, specializing in worker's compensation claims.  They abbreviate their name as YCL Law Firm.

Maybe they should get a new Internet site.  Their current web address is ycllawfirm.com, and unfortunately the adjacent L's make that hard to decipher in print.  Yellow claw?

And in their radio commercials, “YCL Law Firm dot com” sounds like “Why see a law firm?  Dot com!”





Let's flash back to five years ago this morning.  Minutes before sunrise on a road near Chelyabinsk, Russia, a motorist was on his way to work.



His dashcam captured seven stunning seconds of video. 



An asteroid, as heavy as the World War II troop ship that brought my father home from India, was crashing into the earth's atmosphere!



Streaking across the sky south of the city at an altitude of more than 18 miles, it exploded into a superbolide meteor.



The light was blinding, three times brighter than the sun.  A couple of minutes later it would be followed by a huge boom like a bolt from Zeus.



Some people would fall to the ground, knocked off their feet by the blast wave.  Shaking the ground like a 2.7 earthquake, the blast would damage 7,200 buildings.

Now let's flash back a little further, to about 1,983 years ago.  Minutes before noon on a road near Damascus, Syria, a man named Saul had a similar experience.  Below is an edited-together version of three accounts of the event from chapters 9, 22, and 26 of the Biblical Acts of the Apostles (NIV).

After recovering, Saul stopped persecuting Christians.  Instead of his Jewish name, he began using his Roman name Paul and became a major force in spreading the new religion throughout the Roman Empire and thus the world.

Is it not possible that the men on the road to Damascus saw an incoming meteor?

Then is it not possible that they heard a thunderous sound like the voice of God?  And Saul, as he fell to the ground, took that sound personally, imagining it to be a reprimand from Jesus meant for him alone?

Perhaps “a random space rock has played a major role in determining the course of history,” writes Jacob Aron in New Scientist.  “That's not as strange as it sounds.  A large asteroid impact helped kill off the dinosaurs, paving the way for mammals to dominate the Earth.  So why couldn't a meteor influence the evolution of our beliefs?”

William Hartmann, co-founder of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, believes we need to think seriously about the implications of this idea. “My goal is not to discredit anything that anybody wants to believe in,” he says. “But if the spread of a major religion was motivated by misunderstanding a fireball, that's something we human beings ought to understand about ourselves.”



The year was 1972.  I was on the lowest rung of the television industry, local cable, but my colleagues and I naturally looked up to the higher rungs.

NBC's Tonight Show had just relocated from New York to Burbank.  We learned that it was actually recorded in the early evening, a few hours before airing.  That schedule was a convenience for Johnny Carson and the other performers.

It also allowed time for the guys in the tape room to make any necessary edits in the video tape before it was broadcast, for example to “bleep out” obscenities.

“That's the job I want to have!” joked Jude Clifford, one of our technicians.  “Bleeping engineer.”

The year was 2017.  Surfing through the channels, I had fallen asleep in front of my television as I often do.  The TV happened to be tuned to the E! Network.

Eventually I vaguely became aware of an annoying series of tones, every couple of seconds.  The beeps weren't in a regular rhythm, like a truck backing up, and they weren't loud, like an alarm clock.  But they were insistent enough to rouse me from my dreams, at which point I noticed another sound:  a group of women all talking at once.  My father used to call such a gaggle a “hen party.”

I opened my eyes to discover a roomful of Kardashian types on my TV.  These women were curvy, long-haired twenty-somethings, most of them in outfits revealing an incredible amount of cleavage, telling each other things like “I don't know why the [bleep] you would say that [bleep].  I was on the [bleep] practice squad!”

A little research revealed that I was watching a reality show called WAGs, which stands for Wives And Girlfriends of professional athletes.  There were lots of bleeps.   Even some conversations in the background had to be cleaned up.  Editing this program would be a major challenge for the bleeping engineer. 


FEB. 9, 2018    OPENING

Tonight is the official ceremony to begin the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

The previous time that South Korea hosted was 30 years ago, and I was there!

I was an NBC employee for a month in 1988.  Since then I've worked two other Olympics, helping provide the international television coverage.  But it's been 16 years since my only visit to the Winter Olympics.

There, inside a remote truck preparing for the closing ceremony at a Salt Lake City stadium, I recall seeing an unusual image on a monitor.  I've simulated it on the left.  Probably the white dots were even tinier.

One of our cameramen with an extra-long lens, looking for "beauty shots," had noticed something glowing in the late-afternoon sky and zoomed in tight.

To me, it was obvious what we were looking at.  I recognized that striped ball of gas.  I had seen it on May 30, 1969, just before graduating from college.  Jan Olson and I climbed to the observatory dome atop Peters Hall where, for 35¢ a head, the senior class was selling looks through the telescope at Jupiter and two of its moons.

My Utah encounter with these heavenly bodies in 2002 is mentioned near the end of this month's 100 Moons article.


FEB. 6, 2018    ITE IN UTERO

The younger generation likes to retreat from the outside world by crawling inside plastic balls like this.  And what do they do in there?  They study!

At least that's the case at my alma mater, as I explain in a new little dialogue called Bubble World.




Sounds good until I get to the last word.  What kind of goo is “evoo”?  Never heard of it.

Elsewhere on the label, however, I learn that it's an abbreviation for Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  I've got a bottle of that stuff on my shelf.  It hasn't lost its virginity, and it hasn't killed me yet.

All is well.



My colleagues at the Oberlin College radio station included two classical-music announcers who were destined to graduate to greater fame.  Meanwhile, my colleagues in the physics laboratory included a young lady with whom I would exchange February gag gifts. 

Click here for my latest installment in the 14-month series recalling my life 50 years ago.