Category Archives: Music

WTF You Can’t Type? (from the upcoming book “The Slow Death of American Radio”)

My early days in radio were full of discovery, both good and bad.

WBLS

On the first day of my internship, I went to 310 Lenox Avenue in Harlem, eager to get started.

My bubble burst when I walked up to the receptionist, and asked to see Mr. David Lampel. She called to the newsroom, and then asked me, “Who are you, and what is it you want”?

I froze, and explained I’d been there a couple of days before, and had been told to come back. She called to the back recording studios a second time, then, in a stern voice said, “You work here! You don’t have to stop by me,  go straight to the back!”

My function, aside from shadowing people while they worked, was to steal traffic reports from another radio station. I scribbled out the delays and the mass transit stoppages on a piece of paper, then handed them to the newsperson, who read them on the air.

I didn’t know at the time, but I was stealing from the great Fred Feldman, who later founded Shadow Traffic, and invented the phrase “rubbernecking delays.” He is also the first New York radio helicopter reporter. Several years later I had lunch with Fred, and told him of my thievery. We both had a good laugh.

Shadow traffic

If I had a mentor  in those early days, it came courtesy of Steve Reed. Steve was one of the newscasters on WLIB, and he was the absolute best at what he did.

One afternoon, he looked me over and said, “Hey kid. Want to write a story for me?” This was one of the most exciting things anyone had ever said to me.

I took some Associated Press (AP) news copy, a notepad, and got to work.

As an English major at NYU, I was a decent writer, so in about 20 minutes I had what I thought was a pretty good news rewrite.

I handed it to Steve, who began laughing hysterically. I couldn’t figure out what was so funny.  He said, “You don’t know how to type?” I was dumbfounded and said simply, no. “What the hell you mean you can’t type? You’d better learn if you want to write news.”

It had never dawned on me that I couldn’t just hand write a news story on a notepad. They didn’t teach that at NYU. Talk about embarrassing!

Steve, when he stopped laughing, sat me down in front of a typewriter (long before the invention of computers), and said, “Now type this out. Don’t worry about capital and small letters,  just type it in all caps.”

typewriter

 

I began pecking, and well over a half hour later, I had the same story on a yellow piece of copy paper. Steve looked it over, looked at me and said, “Not bad.”

During the next scheduled newscast, Steve read my story exactly as I’d typed it. I was in heaven!

For many years, I only typed in all caps, no mater what it was I was trying to write.

And so began my baby steps to becoming a newsman. Steve Reed (now Steven) eventually left WLIB and went to WCBS, one of the ‘all news’ stations in New York City. From there he went on to become the  spokesman for Bronx DA Robert Johnson.

da.Robert Johnson

Steven is getting ready to retire soon after many jobs well done.

Fred Feldman died of a heart attack in 1996. It was these two men, along with David Lampel, who let me get my feet wet. Later that year, 1973, I’d be sent on my first story to cover as a reporter. That’s another experience for next post.

Mark Riley.JesseJackson.WLIB
Mark Riley and Jesse Jackson

In these days of internships, teenagers, college grads and…dare I say…arrogance….learning to type was an experience that helped shape my skills as a journalist and a reporter. What if you don’t have mentors? Leaders? Trainers? Coaches? I am really glad they invented computers but I do know how to type just in case there’s a need for plan B.

Who was your mentor? Post a comment and let’s have some conversations….

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Paula Abdul or William Jefferson…Which Story's Bigger? You Decide.

Today, dear reader, I’m going to let you decide which is the bigger story.

Is it former Louisiana Cong. William Jefferson being convicted on corruption charges, or is it Paula Abdul leaving “American Idol”?

I know which one is bigger to me, but that’s just me. If you go by the Google News tally, it’s no contest. So which should command our attention? Is it a marginally talented singer/dancer/choreographer who didn’t get the money she wanted, or the ethically challenged legislator who most folks now feel got what he deserved?

paula.abdul

I must admit, I don’t “get” “American Idol”. I’m not one of those who, like my wife and daughter, sit glued to the TV whenever Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and company are on. Talents contests are as old as the medium itself, and there’s plenty on the tube more spacey than Paula and more acerbic than Simon . Yet there’s no doubting that “Idol” is, as Abdul modestly puts it, an international phenomenon.

Does that mean she’s worth the money she was asking for? Not if I had to pay it. I’m sure Paula Abdul won’t miss any meals after her departure, and there are reports she’s already being wowed by other show producers. Good for her. I just never thought she had the chops to judge the talent of others. Her singing has been described, not be me, as “thin and transparent”. Yes, she’s a great choreographer, but “American Idol” wasn’t about dancing. Anyway, you get my drift. To me, her leaving “American Idol” will never, ever be confused with getting those journalists out of North Korea.

Nor does it compare to the stunning fall from grace of William Jefferson, the first black congressman elected from the state of Louisiana since Reconstruction.

WilliamJefferson

Some may have forgotten his sad saga, but in 2005, the FBI raided his CD home and found $90,000 dollars stashed in a freezer. The money was a payoff to the Vice President of Nigeria for help in launching a telecommunications venture.

William Jefferson became another first in May of 2006, when the FBI seized his computer hard drive and office files in the Rayburn House Office Building. It was the first time that happened to a sitting member of Congress. Now, Jefferson stands convicted on 11 of 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. At 62, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Now, I happen to be a political junkie, which is why William Jefferson trumps Paula Abdul in my book. Yet I know I’m probably in the minority. Most people will be huddled around their water coolers today, talking not about a disgraced former congressman, but about an out of work former Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader.

So, you tell me. Which story is bigger?

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How Will Michael Jackson Be Remembered?

Michael Jackson’s memorial service at the Staples Center in LA was an extraordinary event to view. First, I was grateful that I watched it on a local channel that didn’t clutter it with needless commentary as it went on. There was, simply, no need. The memorial spoke for itself. It was well organized, celebratory, reverent, sad, and passionate all in one.

michael_jackson_king_of_pop

What struck me, and has since his death at the age of 50 was the sheer volume of his work. As radio stations played his music, I kept realizing how much of it I’d forgotten, or wrongly attributed to another artist. His musical legacy alone is astonishing in its depth.

His revolutionizing of the music video was equally as profound.

The memorial managed to make the negative coverage of his passing look well, cheap, tawdry, totally unnecessary.

Michael Jackson was a human being who managed on a certain level to transcend all the attempts to marginalize his genius.

Keep in mind 1.5 million people went online to get tickets to this unique memorial service. That in itself is extraordinary. In life, he may have been the King of Pop. In death, as Berry Gordy put it, he stands alone as the greatest entertainer who ever lived. That’s not hype. People from around the world knew and acknowledged his greatness as a performer.

As to those incidents in his life that were less than stellar, keep in mind that every genius is ever so slightly twisted. For Michael Jackson, that twist seemed to lie in his lifelong quest to experience a childhood denied him because of his gifts.

For every Peter King, the Long Island congressman whose anti-Jackson rants indicate he must be getting ready to run for something, there are millions who can cite signposts in their lives that were marked by his music.

And, there’s this. Michael Jackson, more than any artist before or since, presided over a paradigm shift in music. What had previously been a strictly aural medium suddenly became both aural and visual. The next performer who will herald such a change hasn’t even been thought of yet. Such was his impact that kids today know his music, as did their grandparents four decades ago.

And so , leave the questions about what drugs were in his system, who prescribed them, how much debt he was in, who will look after his children, and all the rest to those who make their money asking them.

Tuesday’s memorial wasn’t for them. It was for the tens, no hundreds of millions of people around the globe who were touched by his music, by his dance, by his soft spoken and often childlike manner.

Do you remember the time?

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