Friday, July 22, 2005

Mainely, I'll be off-line

The 19 Minutes staff is checking out for a week or so. We'll be off consuming an unhealthy amount of lobster and fresh dairy ice cream along the midcoast of Maine, with a brief stop along the way to eat pastries. We'll be blissfully off the grid, in a cabin on the beach and out of cell phone and internet range. That much said, I might try to sneak in a blog entry, if only to update you, the general reading audience, on how much lobster I've actually eaten.

It was a late night of packing last night, which of course means that I managed to pack nothing at all. My wife and I have vastly divergent styles when it comes to getting ready for vacation. She spends the three days leading up to our departure getting progressively more and more stressed out. Then, she manages to pack exactly what she needs in exactly the space available, pausing only to ask whether she looks good in a particular shirt.

Being a standard representative of the guy gender, I ignore the need to pack until the last possible moment, then toss a random amount of clothes in the suitcase (hey, you never know - I might need four sweatshirts in late July), wedging it into the available space. I don't stop to consider how I'll look in a particular shirt, mainly because I look pretty much the same in my World's Largest Ketchup Bottle t-shirt as I do in my Zetor t-shirt.

Then, she politely unpacks everything I've packed and repositions it in such a way that my underwear doesn't spring forth like the stuffed snakes in a fake can of peanut brittle when the suitcase is opened. And if historical trends bear out on this trip, we'll get to Maine to discover that I've packed 12 pairs of underwear, 10 shirts, 7 pairs of socks, 3 sweatshirts, and no pants.

For most guys - myself included -- this is not a problem. Unless you're planning a trip to the Boundary Waters or rural Kazakhstan, you'll probably have at least some access to a place that sells pants. Indeed, with just the right spin, Emergency Backup Clothes turn into swell souvenirs. ("Remember when I bought these shoes? yeah, the night before that wedding...") I have, indeed, bought shoes the day before a wedding, a neck tie the day of my wife's college graduation (an amazing accomplishment in Mt. Vernon, Iowa), and a dress shirt the day of a journalism awards banquet.

Of course, with a 13-month old along for this vacation, it takes us to a whole new level of clothes it's possible to forget. But frankly, I'm looking forward to a hunt for onesies in Damariscotta, Maine. Just as long as we remember to bring her bibs along. I think I mentioned this -- I plan on eating a lot of lobster.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I get press releases, Vol. 19.5: Life imitates, er, art imitates, er, never mind

Either I've been doing sit-ups under parked cars, or the following Mr. T-related press release has crash-landed in the 19 Minutes inbox, courtesy of whoever it is that uses Risë Jill Miller to voiceover their audio news releases:




Mr. T: "Mr. T and Hanes are here to sock it to you with real toughness! If you want to be tough, you've got to walk tough! And the only way to walk tough is to wear Hanes Double Tough Socks! No more holes for Mr. T! I pity the fools with holes in their socks!"

First Bob Dylan on the Victoria's Secret commercial, then Bruce Hornsby licenses his song to Lowe's Home Improvement... and now Mr. T is the next to go.

Talk about disillusioning -- it seems like all the entertainment industry is about is making money...

I get press releases, Vol. 19: The first whiff of trouble

The 19 Minutes staff is not going to blog on today's London Transport bombing, but we thought mentioning it might drive more traffic to our site.

Actually, there was one oddity worth mentioning from this morning's coverage, particularly on our own Mothership, which was the overplaying of the timing's significance. The ubiquitous question was whether the fact that today's bombings (or attempted bombings, or whatever) came exactly two weeks to the day since the previous bombings was just a coincidence, or something more sinister. The smart money in the early analysis pointed to something more sinister, which strikes me as either odd, or completely pointless. I mean, if a group calling itself the "Every Two Weeks Martyr Bombing Brigade" had claimed responsibility for today's incidents, or if the bombing had happened exactly a year, or ten years to the day since the previous ones, maybe you'd have a point. But exactly what are the criteria for things to transcend the level of coincidence? Would these questions have been asked if the bombings were tomorrow? That would have been exactly 15 days since the previous bombings, and -- as we all know -- terrorists are especially fond of multiples of 5.

Besides that, what difference does it make? Are they going to lower the terror alert levels on days that aren't exact multiples of previous terrorist incidents (henceforth known as the Prime Number Bombing Rule)?


Here at 19 Minutes World Media HQ, we're always on the lookout to keep you, the somewhat meager reading audience, informed about the latest in public opinion polling data. That was why we were so happy this morning when we received the following news release in the 19 Minutes overflowing inbox:

What's That Smell? No One's Going to Tell You!

New Survey Shows Most Americans Unwilling to Tell Colleagues if They Stink
It will surprise no one that this particular study was conducted by the people at Odor-Eaters. The breadth of the survey (the 19 Minutes staff is tempted to call it "the breath of the survey") was, perhaps, a bit surprising:
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., July 21, 2005 -- A new nationwide survey shows just how embarrassing body odors can be. Commissioned by Odor-Eaters(R) brand and conducted by Harris Interactive, the survey asked which of the three main body odors - breath, underarm or foot - people would feel most comfortable telling a colleague they had. More than half (59%) of Americans said they would not feel comfortable telling a colleague if they had any kind of body odor. Twenty percent said they would tell a colleague if he or she had bad breath; 12% said they would comment on underarm odor, and only nine percent said they'd tell someone if they had smelly feet. With approximately one in three Americans suffering from foot odor and wetness, smelly feet are a common occurrence, but still, no one wants to talk about it.

Clearly personal hygiene is something we need to pay close attention to in the workplace - especially in these days of windowless offices, tiny cubicles and political correctness - because people are simply not willing to tell us when we smell!
Clearly, with such overwhelming data, this represents a huge problem. But are there solutions at hand, besides just not stinking so much?
"While bad breath can be easily rectified by offering someone a mint, the survey shows that foot odor is considered the most embarrassing body odor," said James Healy, Marketing Manager for Odor-Eaters(R) brand. Healy suggests a "secret" gift of some Odor-Eaters(R) product placed under a colleague's desk might drop a subtle hint, or at least make the issue more sweet-smelling.
And who wouldn't be glad to come to work to find an Odor-Eaters(R) product placed under their desk?

Unfortunately, the Odor-Eaters(R) release doesn't offer any suggestions for the specific related problem we run into here in Public Radioland: Interviewees with odor issues. There seems to be a particular problem with candidates for political office and bad breath (note to self: insert hot air joke here). You would think that if you were a campaign consultant, the first thing you'd do (unintentionally, even) would be to check out your boss's breath. But apparently such formalities don't exist here in northern Arizona.

But if they did, I'm sure the helpful folks at Odor-Eaters(R) would suggest a remedy - a "secret" gift of some Odor-Eaters(R) product placed in a colleague's lunch bag.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"Art" imitates "art"

Apparently, the 19 Minutes staff isn't alone in thinking about the ridiculousness of televised poker on "sports" TV. Frank Deford's commentary on NPR's Morning Edition today lamented the lack of interest generally afforded to women's sports on television, noting:
Who, pray, would ever have guessed that sensible human beings in these post-millennium times would crave to watch other people sitting down playing poker? But that's what, with apologies to Mencken, the boobus televisionist Americanus wants today, and so that's what we give them. Unfortunately, women don't support their sisters playing games nearly as much as men watch their brethren in athletic pursuits. Women don't boo very well at all. Now understand, this is not another case of frailty, thy name is woman. Instead, verily, it is a tribute to the sensitivity of the daughters of Eve that they have their priorities so much straighter than us benighted guy sportaholics.
Deford's piece also took the less-conventional stand that golfer Michelle Wie's forays into the men's golf tour are, in general, bad for women's sports.

The 19 Minutes staff wouldn't presume to tell Ms. Wie whether she should compete against the likes of Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, and Hiroyuki Fujita (who?). But it would be something of a disappointment if women's sports in general became the expletive-laden, Dennis Rodmanized, fights-in-the-bullpen spectacle the men's games have too often become.

Televised poker, on the other hand, might benefit from a good donnybrook between contestants and spectators now and then. Come to think of it, that might liven up televised bowling, too. And professional billiards.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ill-advised viewer discretion

Going out in public is always awkward for the 19 Minutes staff. Aside from the bad hair issues, Flagstaff is a small enough and literate enough place that a public radio person is bound to be recognized now and then. And the pseudo-celebrity thing is not generally a bad scene -- it amuses me and causes my wife to roll her eyes. But the awkward part (again, aside from the bad hair and the occasions where listeners catch me buying Froot Loops) comes when people tell me how much they love public radio and how they never watch any TV. "In fact", they always say, "I don't even own a TV."

I'm always puzzled as to how to react -- whether I should say, "Yeah, it's a wasteland out there. Those six hours I watched yesterday were horrible," or perhaps, "You bet -- but Grover is much less interesting on radio."

In any case, hopefully some of these folks are reading the blog today, so I can enrich their lives by filling them in on what's currently wrong with television -- or at least what was wrong as I channel surfed myself to sleep early this morning.

We start with the Weather Channel, which the 19 Minutes staff will confess to once having an addiction to -- an addiction, however, far in the past. It's verging on monsoon season here in the southwest. As has been noted in this space before, it's way too hot, but the afternoons have just about started their regular season dumps of rain. So, TV viewers in this region might be tempted to switch over to TWC to learn whether it'll rain in the next several days. What TV viewers got was a report from someone named "P. Allen Smith" about how we can conserve gas whilst using our lawn mowers. A little later on was a program called "Storm Stories", which would have been terrific, if I was trying to find out if it was going to rain four years ago in Italy. A network called "The Weather Channel" should, by law, be required to broadcast the weather.

(On a interesting note, the Storm Stories website is currently running an online poll, asking how many nights a week site visitors watch the show. "Zero nights" has a commanding lead.)

ESPN (or ESPN2, or ESPN Classic) was showing: Poker. Perhaps this is a semantics debate, but the definition of "sports" ought to include "any activity for which instant slow-motion replay is an effective way of recapping what's just happened." Instant slow-motion replay of a pasty guy lowering his sunglasses an eighth of an inch only prolongs the agony of watching televised poker.

QVC was hawking a "solid air freshener". They were demonstrating its effectiveness by having the presenter smell a variety of air fresheners right there in the TV studio. If they really wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of an air freshener on TV, they would have placed the product in the QVC men's room and showed the presenter's expression as they sent him in.

NBC's Today Show (okay, we're flashing forward to later this morning) featured an interview conducted by Katie Couric about eating disorders among adult women. Couric and the people being interviewed seemed to agree that one problem was the unrealistic depictions of the female body type portrayed on programs such as "Desperate Housewives". Katie Couric conducted the interview wearing a short skirt and three-inch heels.

And lastly, we have the ABC Family Channel, which purports to provide family-friendly fare in a sea of cable networks featuring sex, violence, and people eating grubs. Last night's broadcast featured a promo for a ABC Family original program called "Wildfire", for which the tag line is "Strangers. Secrets. Seductions." and which concluded with the warning, "Viewer Discretion Advised".

Of course, you could probably say that about everything on TV.

Monday, July 18, 2005

News Release Headline of the Day

A breaking news bulletin from the Community Alliance Against Family Abuse:

Help End Domestic Abuse While Relaxing
Interesting. As a news person, I hadn't heard that domestic abuse while relaxing was a major issue. About the only abuse I can inflict while relaxing is on the "Previous Channel" button on the remote...

Leading, following and getting out of the way

Here in 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, I've never been entirely comfortable with describing my Leadership Philosophy. I'm actually the News Director here, but it's a job I ascended to from the ranks of Reporter, and so I had never gone through any kind of management training to that point. I had plenty of thoughts about what I wanted the news department to look like, but my only guiding management principle was to "create the kind of news department where I'd want to work". Unfortunately, the news department was staffed with two other people who were about to quit their jobs, so for a while, it had to be the kind of news department where I'd want to work... since I was the only one working there.

So it was with some interest that I opened the mail at 19 Minutes HQ this afternoon to find "Ready, Set, Lead: The Resource Guide for News Managers" a friendly, Thomas Paine-sized booklet (okay, "Common Sense"-sized -- I have no idea how big Thomas Paine was) put out by the friendly people at the Radio-TV News Directors Foundation.

My first thought was, "Great -- something for me to read on the plane when I leave for vacation this weekend." But, as I've noted in an earlier posting that I can't seem to put my finger on at the moment, I've never really identified with the subculture of air travelers who insist on wading through weighty tomes on Leadership the second the plane takes off, and then bark unpleasant cell phone orders at subordinates the second the plane touches down. My office walls include one Olympic Curling poster, one Grand Canyon Music Festival Poster, one autographed Alison Brown poster, and exactly zero posters with pictures of Mt. Rushmore and pithy quotes about Leadership.

The booklet does feature some useful suggestions about Resolving Conflicts (the standard 19 Minutes method is to sigh heavily and run my hands through my hair, which amazingly is not one of the lessons in RTNDF's book); Soliciting Feedback (their suggestions include "Be specific", which I guess is more useful than just asking a reporter "What was the deal with that story?); and Time Management, which recommends taking inventory of long discussions where little is accomplished, a scenario the 19 Minutes staff likes to call "Wednesday".

I'm up to 14+ years in radio at this point, which means the RTNDF booklet also makes for some interesting comparisons for the right way to do things versus the way some previous bosses have done them (a group that includes one previous boss whose method of showing displeasure was to slam the back-end of a ball-point pen into the on-air console so hard that after a couple of years, the desk was covered with circular and semi-circular gouges that made it look like the surface of an extremely small, rectangular asteroid.

So "Ready, Set, Lead" is actually a pretty interesting read, and I might use the flight out East to brush up on my managerial style. But in the end, I suspect I'll stick with my curling poster.

Friday, July 15, 2005

I get press releases, Vol. 18: "Life" imitates "art"

First, as you probably gathered, William Rehnquist only resigned from the Parallel Supreme Court in the parallel universe. And therefore, by sheer accident, my piece on the Arizona Doctor Crunch (which is a trend and not a new cereal from Kellogg's) actually ran as scheduled on NPR's Day to Day. The audio can be found here, and later of course at the Pulitzer Prize website (where it'll be found under the category "Best Marginally Interesting Radio Piece Under Three-and-a-half Minutes").

Meanwhile, the 19 Minutes staff this week flashed back to the evil phenomenon of back-to-school sales in early July, the point being there's nothing more demoralizing than being an 14-year old with a seemingly infinite vacation ahead of you, only to be confronted with great prices on graphing calculators when you go to the mall. (Oh yeah? What mall do you go to?)

Well, just to prove they can be as much of a party pooper as the next guy, the PR industry deposited this news release in the 19 Minutes inbox:

in which we learn the following interesting piece of information:
...a 2004 National Retail Federation (NRF) survey conducted by BIGresearch anticipated that in total, families with school-aged children estimate spending $14.79 billion sending elementary through high school students back to school.
and the following less interesting piece of information:
When preparing a back-to-school budget, start by taking a thorough inventory of what you already have and then develop a budget for what you still need.
and the following revolutionary piece of advice about buying back-to-school clothes:
Avoid being tempted to purchase a year's worth of clothing at one time, as children are expected to grow.
I, personally, expected to grow as well, though by the time I turned 16, I learned not to get my hopes up. Fortunately, that also means my back-to-school clothes from my junior year of high school still fit. If only I had kept that in mind back in the summer of 1985, I could have purchased clothes for the next 20 years.

Of course, as a Certified Guy, any clothes that still fit and have most of their major seams intact are fair game for my current wardrobe. I do still have (and occasionally wear) a few sweatshirts that date back at least to the late '80s, including one that originally belonged to my college roommate's sister, and which was won in a bet in 1988. (Foolishly, he thought I couldn't win an entire game of Trivial Pursuit in the last 20 minutes of an episode of "M*A*S*H". I think it was that episode where Hawkeye and Trapper play a prank on Major Burns...)

I'm wearing a shirt today known around the 19 Minutes household as my "Lucky Baseball Interview Shirt". It doesn't date back nearly as far as much of my sweatshirt collection, but as I've worn in on roughly every interesting reporting assignment in the past five years, it's being held together largely by dried deodorant stains. Of course, as has been noted in this space before, in northern Arizona, you're actually viewed with some suspicion if your clothes appear too pressed.

Some years ago, as I was preparing to move to eastern Iowa, a friend with Iowa experience described Cedar Rapids as "the kind of place where people dress up to go to Red Lobster." Flagstaff, Arizona, then, is the kind of place where people wear baseball caps to weddings. Amazingly, neither city's chamber of commerce has adopted either of these as official slogans.

So the pressure is on to replace the Lucky Baseball Interview Shirt. I'm resisting, though, since I'm still expecting to grow.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

They call me Spruce?

The 19 Minutes staff has been scrambling the last couple of days to get a piece ready for the airwaves. Those of you with access to NPR's midday show, Day to Day, can catch a report about the doctor shortage in the southwest on tomorrow's show. Or so they tell me. Of course, William Rehnquist will probably resign from the Supreme Court tomorrow, which will put "Doctor Shortage" on the "Stories that Might Conceivably Air Someday" shelf.

Meanwhile, it's ridiculously hot in 19 Minutesland. And lest you think I'm just whining again about my unairconditioned car, my unairconditioned house, and my unairconditioned office (yeah, you're probably right, I am whining), consider that the temperature hit 92 yesterday, which in Phoenix terms is a pleasant March afternoon, but is only 5 degrees cooler than the all-time Flagstaff record for any day.

The key member of the 19 Minutes staff, though, decided to be proactive. For the first time in roughly 5 years, I bought a Squirt soda. Refreshing and grapefruit-like.

I was pleased with this purchase until I read the ingredient label, which of course features "Glycerol Ester of Wood Rosin". I'm not normally frightened of odd additives in soda. It's not like Dr Pepper (which at times forms a majority of the liquid coursing through my veins) is an organic food.

But "Glycerol Ester of Wood Rosin" seemed dangerously close to the scariest soda I've ever tried -- a concoction called "Spruce Beer" purchased at a drug store in Salaberry de Valleyfield, Quebec, on an equally hot afternoon. The label looked similar to Sprite. The color of the soda looked like Sprite. It was in the soda case next to 7-UP. I thought, "Maybe the name just doesn't translate well from French."

It smelled like a forest. It tasted like a forest. I set it down. I came back to it 20 minutes later. I let my wife try it. Still, spruce-y.

It's just a darn good thing the same doesn't hold true for Birch Beer. The verdict is still out on whetherBald Cypress Beer is good stuff.

Monday, July 11, 2005

No more brown-bagging it

Trips to the Retailing Big Two (Target, Wal-Mart) here in 19 Minutesland over the weekend brought back some evil summer childhood memories. You know, one minute, you're enjoying summer vacation, making hard choices between watching the 2 pm Bugs Bunny broadcast or making a peanut butter and mustard sandwich; and the next minute, you're at People's Drug Store (buying mustard?), where you see the sign:
Back to School Savings!!
as though you really needed to buy a protractor six weeks before school started, in case you wanted to practice with it in advance of throwing it in your desk and forgetting about it for the next nine months.

Even today the reason for this depressing news, doled out well before America's students really need it boils down to a conspiracy between the school systems and the drug stores (the Educational-Apothecarial Complex) to impart one of life's hard lessons early on our young people: Life is just the time between doing things you don't want to do. (Between tetanus shots, for example.)

Now, from a school system just to the south of 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, comes the news that one more joy of school is being stripped from students: the joy of decorating book covers. We are pleased to report that this has nothing to do with banning books, or drawings on book covers, or even banning ball-point pens. It seems that the high school in Vail, Arizona is doing away with textbooks altogether.

Instead of doodling pictures, phone numbers, graffiti, answers to tests, initials-plus-other-initials etc., on their brown paper book covers, students there will now apparently be forced to type their creative and yet juvenile musings directly into laptop computers. And even though the high-tech, screensaver version of "LK+GF" (initals typed at random to avoid potential libel issues) looks cool, it lacks the grass roots earnestness of the handwritten version with the heart around it, especially after the previous set of initials has been crossed out on an adjacent section of book cover.

So my charge to the leaders of the Vail, Arizona, school system -- don't bow to the pressure of the lap-top briefcase industry. Provide your students with what they really need -- lap-top cases made of brown paper.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Olympic committee not entirely off-base

The International Olympic Committee has dropped baseball and softball from the Summer Games, beginning with the newly announced London games in 2012. As both a baseball pervert and supporter of women's sports, you'd imagine the 19 Minutes Management Team would be annoyed by this news. We're not.

Olympic baseball is, well, boring. There are plenty of decent players on plenty of decent teams. But Olympic team sports like baseball have several things going against them:

- There are too many people on each team to make for compelling stories of the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. I mean, it's easy to remember Paula Radcliffe's breakdown in the women's marathon in Athens, but who remembers the wild pitch committed by the pitcher for the Netherlands that gave up a crucial run to the Cuban team in the 4th inning of the second game of the preliminary round? Certainly not me, since I just made that example up.

- The best players from around the world (except maybe Cuba) are already playing in the United States. The Arizona Diamondbacks-Cincinnati Reds series this weekend could just as easily be an Olympic Games, only with better food and cheaper souvenirs. In contrast, there are still plenty of top-notch ice hockey players playing in other countries, so Olympic hockey retains some interest.

- It's not weird enough. Watching a relatively good baseball game between teams of people no one's heard of doesn't have the same cache as watching team handball, or field hockey, or water polo. Was the South Korea-Denmark women's team handball game a good one? Who knows? It sure was surreal to watch at 3:00 am, though.

Women's softball is a tougher call. But the boring factor, again, comes into play. Intellectually (yeah, that's what this blog is all about), it's impressive that world-class softball pitchers are good enough to throw shutout after shutout after shutout after shutout. From a viewer's standpoint, there are only so many 3-0 games you can watch before you start seeking out team handball.

[Pause as we shift back to the first person singular]

I'm also not much of a fan of televised college baseball, even though I played college baseball, and would have probably wet my pants at the prospect of being televised. Actually, I played at the Division III college level, and the viewers probably would have wet their pants at the quality of play on their screens.

My college debut as a pitcher (the extremely small pitcher pictured is me) included giving up a hard ground ball to the third baseman, who promptly dropped the ball, kicked it, and then had to scramble to pick it up. He would have been charged with an error, except the batter had fallen down after hitting the ball, and so he was easily thrown out at first base.

It'd be okay if that sort of thing was limited to the Division III game -- the beer league of college athletics. But there was at least one NCAA playoff game I saw that featured 8 (count 'em, eight) errors by one team, bringing to mind the circumstances surrounding a home run my brother once hit in pee wee baseball that was facilitated by something like six wild throws around the field.

For those of you in the TV industry, though, while college baseball might not make terrific sports TV, pee wee baseball would make an excellent idea for a reality series.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

On the bubble

Blogging in 19 Minutesland gets a back seat today, as we prepare to launch a new call-in program on our local airwaves. "928" (the area code for northern Arizona, as it happens) debuts at 6:00 pm Arizona time (9:00 pm Eastern). We'll be talking about the crazy housing market, which has featured a 19.5% jump in home prices in this fair state since last year.

Should you have any interest, it'll be streamed here. Or here for you iTunes users.

Actually, it'll be streamed in those places, even if you're not interested.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A three-week news cycle

So, the Tour de France is on, meaning Americans are once again feeding our national passion for cycle racing. Er, rather, our annual three-week passion for cycle racing. Aside from bicycle messengers, bright neon spandex cycling outfits are still mercifully rare on the streets around most American cities. But in the environs around 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, spandex cycling outfits are as common as SUVs with "Protect the Environment" license plates. Nothing against cycling -- it's swell exercise and it's nicer to the environment than driving a Hummer.

But aside from bicycle messengers and people actively involved in a bicycle race, there are precious few legitimate excuses for wearing those spandex outfits. The casual cyclist doesn't have the physique to pull it off. Recent statistics that I just invented indicate drivers distracted by unfortunately-clad bicyclists are the leading cause of traffic accidents during the weeks the Tour de France is televised.

The other group that routinely wears these clothes is the hardcore cycling fanatics. They're "in training" for their next race, their weekend 100-mile outing, etc. So let me ask you this -- if you're trying to build up your stamina and get the maximum exercise out of your ride, why aren't you wearing something that provides more wind resistance, not less? You'd think the really serious cyclist would wear a parka, or float a sail over his or her bike.

It's a phenomenon you rarely see in other sports. Here on the university campus that hosts the 19 Minutes HQ, it's common to see people throwing a baseball around a grassy field. It's much less common to see them wearing a baseball jersey, baseball pants, stirrups and spikes. I shoot baskets pretty regularly at my local health club, but do it without wearing basketball shorts or a tank top. (Although it dawns on me that would put me at a competitive advantage in future one-on-one games, since my opponents would likely be on the floor in convulsive fits of laughter.)

So let me float a theory. These outfits are a billboard. A billboard that says: "HEY! I'M A BICYCLIST! While you're trying to eat your Egg McMuffin while talking on your cell phone and changing your CD on your commute to work, I'm engaging in a healthy, environmentally friendly activity!"

And that's fine. Though perhaps it's a point that can be made without the spandex.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Huisentruit, continued

An addendum to Friday night's posting on missing Mason City, Iowa, anchorwoman Jodi Huisentruit. I was under the mistaken impression the audio from my original NPR story was still available on the NPR website. It's not.

After going through my personal archives, the audio is now available here.

I'd just like to point out my verbal delivery has gotten somewhat better in the intervening 10 years. Or at least I no longer sound as though I've just been given a general anaesthetic. But the story is still pretty interesting, I hope.

Monday, July 04, 2005

This just in

The 19 Minutes staff, with a day off from Public Radioland, watched some of NBC's Today show this morning. And if I understand correctly from the top news stories presented today, art experts in Great Britain have been able to detect a mysterious painting by Leonardo Da Vinci behind another Da Vinci painting hanging at the National Gallery in London. And, as the Today show reported, that detective work not only shows that Da Vinci was apparently planning a painting of the Christ child, but his hidden work also reveals the whereabouts of missing Alabama teen Natalie Holloway in Aruba, and sketches out the results of the Deep Impact mission to Comet Tempel 1. Cryptologists are hurrying to the scene, hoping to learn whether the discovered masterpiece also yields clues as to the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa, the makers of Stonehenge, or the secret behind the phantom tag in the 2004 American League Division Series.

We're just back from the Flagstaff Fourth of July parade, the first-ever parade for our one-year old. Sylvi was interested in the floats, the fire engines, the dogs, Smokey Bear -- but seemed most impressed by a golf cart with one balloon attached.

It was also our first time at the local Fourth of July parade, which I give favorable reviews, if only for the blissful lack of Shriners on miniature motorcycles. There was also a strange absence of marching bands, save for one entry from the Flagstaff High School band.

My wife would really like to be in a parade some year. I've ridden in a few July 4th parades, back in the days I worked in commercial radio. Commercial stations have an easier time at parades, since they tend to already have pick-up trucks with call letters on the side. The one that stands out, for no particular reason except that I can remember it, was in the bustling metropolis of Calmar, Iowa. We actually did a live broadcast from the bed of the pickup, which had to be timed just right, since I seem to remember the parade route extended maybe a half-mile.

And at least in the media, there's a chance some of the people lining the parade route have heard of you, and might even wave. The most awkward part of parades -- today's Flagstaff parade included -- is the half-dozen "floats" which are nothing more than vans from area businesses ("Look, Sylvi! Wave at the people from the computer repair shop!"). Not that they don't provide a service to the community, but it's perhaps on a slightly different scale than, say, the fire department.

The largest entry (or smallest, depending on how you look at it) in the Flagstaff parade was the local youth soccer association, which was represented by probably 15 teams of miniature soccer players. Since Sylvi's already a shoo-in for the US Women's Soccer team in the 2024 Summer Olympics, it was good to see girls' teams well-represented. Though the team leading the way leads me to wonder whether girls' sports still have a way to go -- somehow, it just seems unlikely that a team called the "Strawberry Shortcakes" strikes fear into the hearts of the competition.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Searching for Jodi

ABC’s 20/20 tonight repackaged a piece they first ran five years ago, on the disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit, a morning anchorwoman in Mason City, Iowa. This week marked the 10th anniversary of her disappearance on the way to work one otherwise unremarkable morning. Mason City, and KIMT-TV is part of an odd media market. It’s the CBS affiliate. The ABC station is in Austin, Minnesota, and the NBC affiliate is in Rochester, Minnesota.

Ten years ago, I was a reporter at Minnesota Public Radio in Rochester. The Huisentruit story was the first piece I ever produced for National Public Radio. I’ve done probably 30 since then and hundreds of local stories, and it’s still the only story I’ve ever done that still gives me chills.

I met Jodi Huisentruit a couple of times, though not actually when I was working in Rochester. We traded contact information on sources when I worked down the road from Mason City, in Decorah, Iowa. If I remember correctly, she had moved up to Mason City from Cedar Rapids about the same time I moved up from Cedar Rapids, because I also remember watching her there. The 20/20 story included a piece of tape of Jodi Huisentruit reporting in front of a farm park in Decorah. My first story in Decorah was about that farm.

The 20/20 piece – like most of the national coverage of the case – got the story both right and wrong. To portray it as a small town’s loss of innocence oversimplifies it. I had a tussle with my editor over just that point. He wanted to hear that people were locking their doors, looking over their shoulders, and worrying that life in Mason City would never be the same. My reporting told me that only the last point was really on target. I was 26 and it was my first NPR piece, so I lost the argument. In fact, this is how my story ended:

Investigators have called off the searches of nearby farmland in the Winnebago River. They're now focusing on who Huisentruit may have seen or spoken with in the days before her apparent abduction, but police, community members, and reporters, all say that no matter how the case ends, Mason City will be changed. Front doors will be locked, people will look over their shoulders, and the early morning news will feel just a bit different. For National Public Radio, this is Mitch Teich reporting from Rochester, Minnesota.
The point was that most people in Mason City were no more worried that Jodi’s fate would happen to them than people in New York would have been if Dan Rather was kidnapped off the street. The likelihood was (and still is) that Jodi Huisentruit met with foul play because she was a celebrity in a place that had few celebrities. In Mason City, and Rochester, and Flagstaff, Arizona, you can run into the local news anchor at Perkins. And that intimacy is both what makes living in places like Mason City special, and makes the disappearance of someone people know from television – and from the laundromat – all that much more difficult to take.

And as someone who’s worked in the media in small cities in Iowa and Minnesota and New York and Arizona, that’s why the goose bumps still come. Rochester, Minnesota – more than anywhere else I’ve worked – was filled with bright reporters from every media, who all genuinely enjoyed hanging out together. Maybe it was because, at the time, we all wanted to be somewhere else, but it was remarkable that so many people from TV, radio, and print welcomed each other’s company at settings besides press conferences.

I interviewed a few of the women I knew in TV for the NPR piece I did ten years ago. And the vulnerability they were suddenly struck with in late June 1995 hangs with me today. It’s a depressing fact of media life that women in the broadcast media are subject to far more of the crap that comes with celebrity than men. It was the reporters who were looking over their shoulders.

Which is not to say that men are immune. My first paying job in radio was a one-night a week stint as the overnight DJ at a radio station in Cedar Rapids. I was to go on Thursday night at 11:00 pm. I trained in with the guy that did the overnight shift on Wednesday evening. His last piece of advice came at 5:30 the next morning. “People will call and offer to stop by and bring you food,” he said. “Whatever you do, don’t let them in.” The first food offer came the next night.

It’s probably worth noting at this point that 10 years later, Jodi Huisentruit’s disappearance has yet to be solved. The Mason City Police Department is still actively investigating the case. They’re at (641) 421-3636.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Playing me for a fool

Another month, another 47,000 stories on local TV news about fireworks safety this 4th of July. Here in Arizona, the stories are extra entertaining, because in addition to the typical warnings about fireworks and brushfires, there are also annual cautions against shooting one's pistol in the air to celebrate.

The 19 Minutes staff has memories of a different sort of recreation from years past. They're (sort of) the subject of our July "Last Laughs" column in Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine:

With a one-year old at home, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about “play” in recent days. Of course, for Sylvi, “playing” still consists of sticking inappropriate things in her mouth. In fact, the trick to keeping her from eating things is to pretend that adults love to eat them. The downside is that I have to consume things I wouldn’t normally include in my dinner plans, such as magazines, extension cords, and house plants.

But it won’t be long before she’s walking, and then running, and then perhaps throwing things and running after them. And then she’ll collect some friends and want to do some of her walking and running and throwing things with those friends.

The playing paradigm has changed since we were kids. In those days, station wagons were the size of small African republics, and the highlight of a typical elementary school day was talking your teacher into playing a film backwards through a projector. (Backwards! So that the smoke would appear to go... back down into the smokestack! Hilarious!) And when summer came along, you awaited the phone call from Darryl Feldman down the street, asking if you wanted to “play”, an activity that sometimes involved the throwing of Nerf-style items at improvised targets, or riding scooters around an unfinished basement in such a way that they left tire tracks on the floor.

My wife’s experience left out even the phone call. In her small Minnesota town, she simply looked out the window to see if her friend down the street was out in his tire swing.
Today, of course, she’d never get the chance. For starters, tires are all most likely emblazoned with a statement reading: “WARNING: THIS TIRE IS NOT MEANT AS A SWINGING DEVICE. FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY. IF PREGNANT OR BREAST-FEEDING, CONSULT A PHYSICIAN.”

But more to the point, “playing” has changed. Children today engage in something called “play dates”, sometimes scheduled two or three weeks in advance, as though the children were the First Lady. But such scheduling is apparently necessary, since these kids have to wedge their play amidst micro soccer practice, midget hockey, pee wee baseball, extremely little piano lessons, and buying tires.

And for a play date, I can only imagine parents have set up strict agendas:

2:30 Get out crayons and construction paper

2:35 Assign coloring subjects (“Farm”, “Airport”)

2:37 Argue over difference between Blue-Green and Green-Blue crayons

2:40 Put crayons away after demise of Green-Blue crayon
The closest I came to this regimented play concept in my own childhood was the (drinking) straw football league administered by Kenny Che, which consisted of six teams, each with its own schedule and logo. I remember his team was called the Hermit Crabs. I have no idea what my team was.

[An update from the 19 Minutes staff: The name "Human Hang Gliders" is sticking in Mitch's brain for some reason, but he may be confusing it with a deranged, fourth-grade playground game.]

So as Sylvi gets older, we’re going to see to it that she has plenty of aimless play time. If she wants to take up soccer, great. If she wants to build a fort out of old Barry White LPs, that’ll be okay, too. Hopefully, she’ll figure out that crayons are for drawing, not for eating.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check on dinner – I think the extension cord is almost done marinating.