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Sunday, February 27, 2011

I got 57 channels and nothin' on....."

I upgraded my cable a few months ago to about 400 channels and I still don’t have much on. For some unknown reason, I saved $5 a month by EXPANDING my service.

When I called Cox Cable initially, I inquired about how I could receive the Fox Business Channel. The representative told me “no problem” and when I asked him how much more it would cost, he said he could give me a few more tiers of programming along with Fox Business and it would save me $5. Since I believe the old saying about not looking a gift horse in the eye, I took the offer and hung up before he could change his mind.

With the competition among the satellite dish companies, the phone companies, and the cable companies, I think it is pretty easy to get deals these days. It is a buyer’s market now and may become more of one as many people are streaming shows through their computers now. Plus, as Bruce said in 1992, he had 57 channels and nothin’ was on. That was a lot of nothing for that year and it is a lot more now.

For example, how many of you watch any of the three C-Span channels? Hallmark Channel? Lifetime? Oxygen? SoapNet? Or those shopping channels? That’s what I thought. We are all paying for that stuff and never watch it. Why can’t cable companies let us go a la carte and buy what we want? I know that is rhetorical as we are stuck with those channels because they make the cable guys money.

A recent survey showed that between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. channels like the Golf Channel, TV Guide Channel, and BBC America receive less than 0.1 per cent of households that have those stations available. A TV writer for a Midwest newspaper lists the following channels as the “10 least wanted channels” on cable TV. These channels have been on the air at least three years and these numbers indicate their average nightly prime time audience during the last quarter of 2010:

Current (18,000 households), DIY, 80,000, ESPN Classic, 19,000, Fox Soccer Channel, 33,000, GAC, 49,000, LOGO, 39,000, Outdoor, 46,000, RFD TV, 56,000, Sleuth, 81,000, VH1 Classic, 31,000.

I’ve never heard of five of those channels. They are only taking up space but we are stuck with them. There is a lot of back scratching in that business and I’m sure those channels piggy back their way on to systems.

So, what comes next? I watched a 1997 film the other night called “Jackie Brown”. In that film there was a scene in a music store and they had shelves full of cassette tapes. The cars looked old fashioned too compared to now even though now is only 14 years later. Change comes fast these days.

Cable TV is cumbersome and they are wheeling and dealing. Look for some drastic changes soon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Olbermann on cable's bottom rung

Keith Olbermann

Poor Keith Olbermann. He never realized it but when he teamed up with Dan Patrick years ago on ESPN’s Sportscenter, he probably reached the zenith of his career. When he switched to MSNBC to become a liberal political commentator he probably figured he was on his way to fame and fortune and leading the charge against Fox News. It hasn’t happened and probably never will.

Keith has been canned at MSNBC where his final show on January 21 drew 1,106,000 viewers. That’s not too bad for a low rated channel but is still just 1/3 of the viewers of Bill O’Reilly and less than ½ of Sean Hannity’s audience at Fox. However, Olbermann’s numbers are about 200,000 more than his replacement, Lawrence O’Donnell.

Now Keith will try out his act at Current TV. Who is Current TV you ask? It’s a small public affairs cable channel that includes Al Gore as one of its backers.

To put things in perspective, Olbermann’s initial employer, ESPN, is the number one cable network drawing an average of 2,683,000 households in prime time. MSNBC draws about 1,500,000. Current draws 18,000. These are nightly averages from the fourth quarter of 2010 as reported by Aaron Barnhart of the Kansas City Star.

To give you an idea of how low a number 18,000 households is, the CW channel plays on fewer cable systems with shows like reruns of “The King of Queens” yet it outdraws Current which is the least watched channel that the Nielsen ratings follow.

Olbermann has a chance to sink or swim on Current. Will his one million viewers follow him if they can even find him? Surely he can boost the ratings above 18,000 households at least for one hour, but will it be enough? We shall see but one thing is for sure: He can’t sink much lower unless he becomes a spokesman for the fireplace channel.

Cable TV is a strange duck. There are many channels that have no business being carried by any system. However, strong ratings channels like ESPN, ABC, and others are able to use their leverage to coattail some of their weaker channels into the fold. Do we really need ESPN Classic or the Do It Yourself network? How about VH1 Classic, Fox Soccer Channel, and the Outdoor Network? No one watches them but they are attached to their big brothers as part of the deal.

Another mystery about cable is why doesn’t anyone give the world news station Al-Jazeera English a shot? It’s one of the most watched news networks in the world but can’t even get a trial run here. Barnhart reports that during the Egyptian crisis, 7 million Americans watched it streamed through their computer but the cable companies say there is no demand. Maybe not or maybe they are concerned about a controversy since it is an Arab channel.

Maybe Al-Jazeera can sneak on a system somewhere if they hire Olbermann after he and Al Gore get into a fight and Keith goes job hunting again

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Partying in the '70s, part 2: one hit wonders

Jimi Hendrix in 1967. He died at 27 in 1970.

It makes my eyes well up a bit when I remember some of the great songs from the 1970s that were one hit wonders.

Woodstock in 1969 signaled the end of an era that brought us The Beatles, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and many others. By 1970, The Beatles had split up (Thanks, Yoko!) and Joplin and Hendrix were dead. Music was changing, guys were shaving again, and women went back to wearing bras. The Stones and Rod Stewart survived but by 1977 had done a couple disco songs!

Every era has had its one hit wonders but some of them in the 70s surprised me as they were good songs from good bands or individuals that gave every indication they would offer more after their initial success.

From 1970, there was Norman Greenbaum with Spirit in the Sky, a great tune that you still hear today as background in films and commercials. Then there is Mountain with Mississippi Queen, a great grinder of a tune that sounded better with each additional Budweiser you choked down. Also, from ‘70 was All Right Now by Free with lead singer Paul Rodgers who would eventually work with Queen after Freddy Mercury died.

In 1971, Brewer and Shipley from the Midwest hit with One Toke Over the Line. Who can forget Hold Your Head Up from Argent in 1972? Brother Louie from Stories in 1973, Rock and Rolll Hootchie Koo by Rick Derringer in 1974, Never Been Any Reason by Head East in 1975, A Fifth of Beethoven by Walter Murphy and The Big Apple Band in 1976, Jeans On David Dundas, 1977, I Love the Nightlife, Alicia Bridges, 1978, and in an indication of things to come there was Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles in 1979.

If you are a certain age you probably danced to these songs more than once during the 1970s. Barb and I had a favorite club in Kansas City called The Attic which always had great bands and cold beer. After closing time, I would always stop at a little bar on Westport Road on our way to Kansas and pick up a couple of 6 packs of Falstaff for Sunday. No Sunday sales in those days.

Somehow, I survived that lifestyle and am living to write about it. Would I do it over again? Sure!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Partying in the 1970s

Barb and I went out the other night with our next door neighbors visiting from Illinois. We went to a nice Italian restaurant in Carefree (that’s in Arizona if you are from out of the state or country). After feeling a nice little buzz from a couple glasses of Merlot, I found myself reminiscing about the many times Barb and I painted the town on a Saturday night back in Kansas City during our early years of marriage in the 1970s.

If you were too young to have enjoyed that era, you missed a lot of fun. We used to go at it one or two ways on Saturday night: Sometimes I would fire up the charcoal grill (no fancy gas grills for us) and grill a couple of thick steaks nice and rare. We would have those with a bottle of cold duck or sparkling burgundy while we watched “All in the family”, Mary Tyler Moore”, and “The Bob Newhart Show” on our 10” GE color television.

That would take us to about 9:30 and since we never wanted to waste the nice buzz from the wine, it would be time for a shower together (saving water) after which we would head over to Kansas City, Missouri from our home in Kansas to some clubs. After Missouri closed at 1:00 it was time to head back to the afterhours clubs in Kansas. Needless to say there was a lot of drinking and driving in those days but somehow we made it through without incident although I’ll never know how. "Shit faced" only begins to describe it.

The second way to go out was similar to the first only we went out to dinner and missed the TV shows. Tough luck in those days; no VCRs to record them. I hated to miss MTM, Mr. Grant, Rhoda and the still vibrant Betty White. After dinner it was off to the clubs again and another long night as mentioned above. We sure piled up the miles on our 1970 Ford Fairlane!

Eating and drinking out was a lot different then. There were no designated drivers; EVERYBODY drank and drank a lot. Beef was what it was all about in restaurants; fish got to live long lives. It was thick, rare steaks, baked potatoes, and the inevitable salad bar which I hated. If you wanted to see people “pig out”, salad bars were for you.

Another feature that drew people to the bars was happy hour. They still exist but are nothing like in the 70s where it was big time competition among bars to get people soused at 5:00 in the afternoon. Remember the Steak and Ale restaurants? They used to have 3 for 1 during happy hour and the drinks were strong. I almost fainted on 3 martinis one day but it felt great. “Now, just where did I leave my car? (hic!) Oh, yeah, there it is!” Vroooooom. I’ll never know how Barb drank 3 grasshoppers!

The 70s were a fun time and I’m glad I survived them.

Since you have probably been wondering for the last few minutes what cold duck was I’ll tell you. It was half champagne and half sparkling burgundy. Andre sold it for a buck a 5th.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Miscellaneous ramblings

Do you wonder why you don’t see kids playing outside anymore? A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that kids 8 to 18 spend each day with 4.5 hours watching TV, 2.5 hours listening to music, 30 minutes on a cell phone, 1.3 hours on video games, 1.5 hours texting, and 1.5 hours of nonschool computer use. Add sleeping and school and there isn’t much time for doing much else. Kids are hooked on technology and many have lost their ability to have meaningful face to face conversations. They’ll never know the fun of catching fireflies and playing hide and seek. (They may not miss fireflies in AZ; I've never seen one here, plenty in Ohio though)

On last November 28, actor and Paradise Valley resident Leslie Nielsen died at age 84. On October 16, actress Barbara Billingsley died at 94. Both had a link to the 1980 spoof film classic “Airplane” where they played completely against type. Nielsen was usually the handsome first or second lead in films or TV. Billingsley was the straight laced mom June Cleaver in the 50’s TV series “Leave it to Beaver.” In “Airplane”, she was a jive talking grandmother. Nielsen went comic with his role as the staid Dr. Rumack. Surely they will both be missed to which Nielsen would probably reply “Don’t call me Shirley!”

Barbara Billingsley (AP)

Freeman Gosden (L) and Charles Corell in blackface doing "Amos 'n' Andy. (below) The show was so popular that movie theaters would delay film start times so customers could hear the nightly 15 minute show on radio.

January contains two dates three days apart that had important effects on the Black community. On January 15, 1929, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was born. On January 12, 1926, “Sam and Henry”, a humorous show dealing with Blacks who had migrated from the South to Chicago, made its radio debut. King became famous as a civil rights leader. “Sam and Henry” evolved into “Amos ‘n’ Andy”, one of the most popular shows in radio history. George Bernard Shaw once said “There are three things I’ll never forget about America: the Rocky Mountains, Niagara Falls, and “Amos ‘n’ Andy”.

There are many ways to receive entertainment and connect with friends so I wonder if anyone listens to AM radio anymore. AM began in 1920 and was the rage among kids and adults. By 1922, Phoenix had its first station which in 1929 became KTAR under ownership of The Arizona Republic. Today, AM is primarily talk radio or a ball game broadcast in the background but in the 1920’s, it ruled the entertainment business and was an important part of the Jazz Age.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

McDonald's here and there

Phil Hawkes of the AFMA Journal tells of some things about McDonald’s restaurants that I didn’t know and you probably didn’t know either.

If you eat at a Mickey D’s outside the U. S., don’t expect the menu to be the same as here. In fact, in some cases, don’t expect it to even be edible based on American tastes. Also, with all their success, the golden arches have fallen on their faces a few times. That’s hard to believe based on their success but nobody is perfect.

Here are some of the goodies you would find outside the good old USA:

In Germany, you may enjoy the “Big Rosti”: It’s a burger patty, potato pancake, bacon, cheese, and cheese sauce on a bacon cheese bun. You may want to have an ambulance waiting in the parking lot after eating that concoction.

In Taiwan, it’s the Rice Burger. It has a burger patty but instead of a regular bun the meat is placed between two rice cakes. It’s probably healthier for you but tastes as exciting as a can of Slim Fast.

In Canada, French fries are served covered in gravy and cheese curds. Once again, have the ambulance ready.

In the Philippines, you could order the McDon. It doesn’t sound disgusting, just boring. It’s a fried chicken leg on top of spaghetti.

In Japan, you can get a Baked Potato Pie. The best way to describe it is that it looks like the fried apple pie you get in the U.S except it has a filling of baked potato and bacon instead of apples.

As far as flops in the USA, you may remember some of these. If you don’t, be glad. You didn’t miss anything worthwhile.

Remember the Hulaburger? It was introduced in 1963 as an item for Catholics who didn’t eat meat on Friday. It was a cheeseburger except it had a slice of pineapple subbing for the meat. Yum!

The McLean Deluxe Burger was introduced as a low fat dietary item. They took the fat out of the meat and replaced it with water. To make the meat retain the water, they added seaweed. Double yum! There is no word yet on whether they caught the guy who invented this taste catastrophe.

Another flop was the Arch Deluxe. It was introduced in 1996 as a “hamburger for adults.” It was like a quarter pounder but it had bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and a mustard-mayo sauce. It wasn’t bad but people were resentful of the high price plus there were numerous complaints from consumer groups about the health aspect.

McDonald’s has come a long way since founder Ray Kroc sold those malt mixers to the McDonald Brothers in San Bernardino back in the 1950s. They have had their successes and failures and I agree with most of them except the McRib sandwich. They keep bringing that thing back. I guess someone likes it!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

"The Twilight Zone"

Rod Serling puffing on an Oasis. They were to be his downfall.

My 5 top Twilight Zone episodes (in no particular order)

1. “The Invaders” (1961) starring Agnes Moorehead.
2. “The After Hours” (1960) starring recently deceased Ann Francis
3. “A Stop at Willoughby” (1960) starring James Daly
4. “A Hundred Yards over the Rim” (1961) Starring Cliff Robertson
5. “The Shelter” (1961) starring Jack Albertson

Honorable mention: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (1963) starring William Shatner when he was a serious actor. It’s not a great episode but it’s fun to look at all the men passengers on the airplane in suits and ties and smoking. Plus, Shatner has a gun in his possession! Sorry, I don’t have a link to this one.

“The Twilight Zone” was a classic. As many times as I have seen all the episodes, I never tire of the plot twists that Rod Serling came up with.

If you have the time, click the above links for these shows. They are complete episodes from IMDB.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Graeter's Ice Cream, Skyline Chili

They have been making this stuff since 1870 and have numerous ice cream parlors located throughout the Cincinnati area. It also was the winner of a recent "Food Feud" on the Food Network.

Graeter’s Ice Cream from Cincinnati is the best I have ever eaten. They use the highest quality ingredients available and combine them in a “French Pot” process that makes for a great product.

None of us were born yesterday so you know that such a process is not going to be happening at a low cost. Graeter’s sells for $4.99 a pint at Fry’s in Scottsdale. That’s a hell of a lot more than the $3 to $4 you may pay for 1½ quarts of private label ice cream at a supermarket near you. Plus, the cheaper stuff is pretty darn good. I buy Safeway’s brand all the time and like it very much. But, good as it is, it isn’t Graeters.

I suggest you try a pint and let me know what you think. Fry’s carries vanilla, black raspberry chocolate chip, vanilla chocolate chip, cocoanut chocolate chip, chocolate-chocolate chip, mocha, mint chocolate chip.

Speaking of Cincinnati, Skyline Chili is also available in cans at Fry’s for $3.95. This stuff is great over spaghetti with some grated sharp cheddar on top. That concoction is called a 3 way and if you want to make it really exciting, add chopped onions for a 4 way or kidney beans AND onions to make it a 5 way. It’s also great to spoon over chili dogs (Coney Islands).

Every city has their own particular taste for local foods. In New York, Pizza rules, in Phoenix its great Mexican food, Philadelphia has their cheese steaks, and Kansas City their barbecue. It’s different everywhere. So, if you try some Skyline Chili and Graeter’s ice Cream, I hope you like it.