Quintana Roo

Iguana

Quintana Roo is one of 31 Mexican states. It is on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. These images start in Cancun and proceed south along the coast through the Riviera Maya region to Playa del Carman and end in Tulum, an overall distance about 80 miles.

Park Las Palapas, Cancun

Fairmont Mayakoba

Fifth Avenue, Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen store

Tulum

Katrina

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A Mayan Seaport and Trading Hub

Mayan ruins

Tulum is a Mayan city believed to date back to 564 AD. It is built on the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is one of the few Mayan cities that had a wall. Tulum peaked as a city between the 13th and 15th centuries when estimates suggest between 1,000 and 1,600 people lived here. It is during that period that most of the buildings were erected. As a seaport it served as a trading post and artifacts found at the site suggest it was a trade hub for other parts of Mexico and Central America. The city was abandoned after the population was decimated by European diseases brought to the New World by the Spanish.

Tulum

Mayan ruins

In the middle of this building are the remains of a cistern.

Mayan ruin

Temple of the Frescoes

High point of Mayan ruins.

The Castle

Tulum ruins

Tulum

Mayan ruins at Tulum

Watchtower

The view from Tulum

The view from the top of Tulum. Today there is a bathing beach at the bottom of the cliff.

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More Montclair Film Festival — Lost in Paris, Found in Tultepec

The last days of the Montclair Film Festival took me from Denmark and Belgium to Mexico, by way of England. Actually I was just sitting in one of Montclair’s three theaters, but that’s where the films were from. Here are some short reviews from the second half of the sixth annual festival.

Lost in Paris

Fiona is an awkward young Canadian woman from some desolate hamlet in the frozen north. She heads to Paris at the behest of her 88-year old aunt Martha who is being stalked by a woman in a nurse’s uniform who wants to move her to a nursing home. Once in Paris, Fiona falls into the Seine, gets her nose caught in an elevator and is presented the ashes of a different old woman named Martha. The title Lost in Paris might make you think you’re in for some existential study of ennui. Nope. This is screwball comedy. There’s a third character, a homeless guy who lives in a tent on the river bank, who separately ends up having a relationship with both women. The title is to be taken literally as all three are more or less lost. This is a Belgian movie, set in Paris and mostly in English. Light and fun. I left the theater wondering if there really is such a thing as a biodegradable urn so you can toss your loved one’s ashes into the river without doing any damage to the environment. If so, throw me into the Great Falls.

For Grace

This is a fictional narrative movie that was made to look like a documentary. In fact, had I not listened to the comments of screenwriter Andrew Keatley, who was at the screening, MFF17 buttonI might well still think I had seen a documentary. Keatley also plays Ben, the main character in the movie. And the guy who plays the director in the ‘documentary’ is in fact the director of the movie. Have I lost you yet? The movie is about a man who sets out to find his biological parents. The search takes him to Dungeness, which honestly looks like the end of the earth. The movie drags us into the suspense of finding Ben’s real family. In the end what he finds is a different definition of what a real family is. I hesitate to say much else because spoilers will truly spoil this one. The title “For Grace” refers to Ben’s baby. The baby is played by a baby whose real name is Grace and the actress who plays the baby’s mother is really the baby’s mother. One member of the audience said after watching the film she felt “emotionally manipulated.” The rest of us just felt we’d watched a really good movie.

The Commune

Nobody killed anybody and nobody committed suicide. But when a middle-aged Danish couple with a teenage daughter decided, after inheriting a house that was too big for just them, to start a commune, no one really lived happily ever after. It’s Europe and I think it’s the 60’s based on what was on the TV newscasts, so everybody smoked. I think the commune turned them all into chain smokers. People started sleeping with people they shouldn’t have been sleeping with, someone lost their job because they couldn’t deal with the drama in the house, and not everybody marked off the beers that they consumed the way they were supposed to. It especially sucked for the teenage girl. About the best adjusted commune member was the guy who picked everything up that his housemates left on the floor and burned it all. No room for clutter in a commune. This is a movie that makes you just agonize over the life choices that the main characters make. Will someone come to their senses? No, not really. This one was far from my favorite of all the films I watched this week.

Brimstone & Glory

Think the running of the bulls is insane? You should see the burning of the bulls. The place is Tultepec, Mexico, a place where just about everybody with a job is busy making fireworks. A place where the candle on a kid’s confirmation cake turns out to be a sparkler that shoots up to the ceiling. It is on the day of the festival of San Juan de Dios, the patron saint of fireworks makers, that the bulls are rolled out They appear to be made of some sort of plaster or paper mache attached to a wooden frame. They’re the size of garbage trucks, brightly and intricately painted and stuffed with fireworks. The guys at the controls, and they appear to be all guys, light the fireworks and push and pull the bull through the main street with the rockets’ red glare shooting out in every direction. Did I mention that the streets are packed with people, seemingly with someone standing on every square foot of space? It apparently is some sort of badge of honor to come home with a scar or two.  The combat scenes from most Hollywood war movies don’t look as scary as this. The filmmakers even show the army of EMTs getting they’re last minute instructions. “Drunks and shouters go last.” And there is an uncomfortable sight or two at the first aid tent. My guess is that as a short documentary feature (67 minutes) it will be hard to catch this one on a big screen except at a film festival. But a big screen is a must because the glory is in the sights and sounds.

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See more reviews of Monclair Film Festival screening here.

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Montclair Film Festival 6 — From Baltimore to Paradise

Five days into the Sixth Annual Montclair Film Festival I’ve seen four of the 150 movies that are being screened. I’ve fallen off the pace I set last year when I watched 11 in 10 days. Sometimes life gets in the way. But what I’ve seen has been pretty impressive. I can recommend all of these.

Step

For the third time in five years, the festival opened with an inspirational documentary, Step. The title refers to a kind of rhythmic stomping, chanting group dance which is most Wellmont Theaterpopular in predominately African-American schools. The movie follows members of the step team at a Baltimore charter school, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. While the film follows the team through to a regional competition in Bowie, Md., the inspiration comes more from their experience at the school. The three team members which the documentary follows are girls with at least one caring parent, but with no resources to speak of. One of them, in telling us how her mother has always taken care of her, comments that they were homeless for a little while and she didn’t even know it. 2016, when the movie is filmed, is the first graduating class at the school. One hundred percent of these girls went on to college. One of the subjects of the film achieved her dream of a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins. Another got into some sort of college with a 1.0 GPA. Talk about a great guidance counselor. It also makes for a great movie. And, as was the case last year when Life, Animated opened the festival, some 1,500 people filled the Wellmont Theater to watch a documentary.

Dolores

Ever heard of Dolores Huerta? Me neither. But Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem and Robert Kennedy knew all about her.  As does Barack Obama, who in awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, admitted stealing the slogan “Yes, We Can” from Huerta. She was the co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers and a primary organizer of the successful 10-year-long grape boycott that ended with growers signing the first contracts with UFW. She also fought against the use of DDT and police brutality. She was a feminist more in her actions than in her words. She married and divorced two husbands and had 11 kids, some from a later relationship with Cesar Chavez’ brother Richard. A better role model than a mother, many of her kids are interviewed in this film. They acknowledge that mom wasn’t around as much as they would have liked, but seem proud of her and some have continued her work. All 11 kids rallied to her bedside when she was hospitalized for a good period of time after being beaten by a coward with a badge and a billy club. Dolores herself is still going strong at 86. She was in Montclair for the first screening, unfortunately for me I went to the second screening. So why haven’t so many of us heard of her? The simple answer is because she is a woman, but there are other problems in our society that help answer that question. The Texas Board of Education banned her inclusion in the social studies curriculum. And in Arizona they went one step further when Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill into law banning the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona schools. How ignorant is that? Brewer should be forced to watch this excellent documentary because she obviously is lacking some education.

Paradise

Nothing about the movie Paradise has anything to do with any vision of paradise that I’m aware of. This sub-titled Russian film is set in Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. A Russian princess and a German nobleman who had a fling in Italy in the early 30’s find each other a decade later in a German prison camp. He’s a cold-as-ice concentration camp inspector for the Nazi ruling party and she has been imprisoned for hiding two Jewish children. The movie is in black and white. Because grim doesn’t come in color. How many ways are there to despair? This film covers most of them. There is one major act of humanity that at least offers some hope in not quite paradise. The movie title Paradise comes from a Nazi vision of such. Having said all that, this is a brilliantly scripted and engrossing movie. It’s just not always that easy to watch. The movie is part of the competition for audience choice awards. I gave it a four out of five.

Brave New Jersey

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of New Jersey? Bravery, right? It’s a part of our heritage which is explored in this fictional movie about how the rural Central Jersey town of Lullaby responded to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast in 1938. One of Lullaby’s brave residents jumped in his truck and crashed it into a tree. Another took off in the family car, without the family. And the town minister saw the light after whacking himself n the head with a collection plate. On this night when the good folks of Lullaby thought it might in fact be their last, a marriage and an engagement fell by the wayside. And a new couple or two discovered each other in the darkness. Brave New Jersey mixes fact and fiction, just like Orson Welles himself. This is the funniest movie I’ve seen about Central Jersey since “Clerks.” You don’t have to be from New Jersey to enjoy this one. Fun for everyone.

Earlier I noted how impressed I was that 1,500 people showed up for a documentary on opening night. The third screening of Brave New Jersey was on a Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. And the largest theater at the Bellevue Cinema was full.

 

 

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Marty Baron Talks Trump, Truth and the Credibility of the Media

Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron admitted “it hurts” when discussing attacks on the press by the Trump Administration and the declining public perception of the credibility of the media. Baron appeared this week at Montclair State University in conversation with Merrill Brown, former director of the MSU School of Communication and Media which sponsored the event.

We are well aware of the sensitivity in the White House to criticism. But the journalism community as well is probably not as think-skinned as they’d like us to think. Baron was able to recite all the names his journalist colleagues have been called by Trump, including one I hadn’t heard: “the lowest form of humanity.” He cited one poll in which 36% of Republicans believed that freedom of the press does more harm than good.

The Trump Administration is not the first to go after the media. Baron recalled Richard Nixon’s first vice president Spiro Agnew who referred to the press as the “nattering nabobs of negativity.” Of course we know how that story turned out.  After a couple of nabobs at the Washington Post broke the story of Watergate, Nixon was exposed and eventually impeached.

MSU media event

Marty Baron, left, executive editor of the Washington Post, and Merrill Brown, former director of the MSU School of Communication and Media

Baron said the current administration is engaging in a campaign to “turn a substantial portion of the public against us.” Their intent to is create the perception among the public that any negative or critical story is “an attack by an opposition party.” He countered the perception of the Washington Post as elitist, noting that there are reporters on staff that include Afghanistan veterans, a woman who grew up on a farm and the son of a minister. He also bemoaned the fact that in the current political climate evidence, expertise and experience have been devalued.

Brown asked Baron what the Post might have done wrong in covering the election. While not stated out loud, the underlying question seemed to be “Did you do enough to expose what Donald Trump is really like to the people who voted for him?” Baron expressed satisfaction with the job his staff did in covering the election. “We did an incredibly thorough job of investigating Trump and his dealings,” he said, adding “we provided the public the information they needed.”

His only criticism was that “we should have detected the level of anxiety and grievance in America even before Donald Trump became a candidate.” The lesson to be learned, from his perspective, is “we always have to be out in the country spending a lot of time talking to ordinary people.”

Baron did criticize the cable networks for showing Trump rallies in their entirety without interruptions, something that was not done for Hillary Clinton’s campaign appearances.

Brown also asked Barron about the Post’s approach to determining when to say the President lied. He responded that he had no problem with saying something Trump said was false but cautioned that to use the word lie you have to have documentation of intent, that the statement was made even though the President knew it was false. He added that the Post’s fact checkers “have been busier than ever.”

What to do? According to Baron, “We need to do our job and to do it right. Not sure what else we can do.”

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What’s On My Radio Dial

Like most people I usually listen to radio while I’m doing something else. When I’m in the car, the radio is always on. In the kitchen when I’m making something, I listen to an internet radio. And in the gym I’ve always got headphones on and am connected to a radio station app. Here’s what I listen to:

WFMU

This is the freest of freeform radio. There is no telling what you’ll hear on this station. I was cruising along in the car the other day listening to “Chocolate Covered Hockey Puck” and the VD-themed “Don’t Try to Sure Yourself.” My teenage son makes a sport out of trying to Shazam the songs he here’s on FMU. The app recognizes maybe one in 50. There was a guy on the other day who was playing the music of religious cults. But it’s not all music. I’ve heard nuggets of wisdom from the DJ’s like “I’d rather eat fish than listen to smooth jazz.” And one day I tuned in for a sports talk show during which they were debating who should be named “douche of the week.” Our family favorite is the Friday evening show “Shut Up, Wierdo.” On one recent episode listeners were invited to call in to describe their first sexual experience….but only if they could do it in haiku.

WFMU dates back to 1958. They are in Jersey City although on the air they will say they are in East Orange because that is where the station is licensed. It was originally the radio station of Upsala College in East Orange although as time when on it seems as though the college might have been clueless about what was going on at the radio station. The college itself folded. The radio station lives on. Shortly before they padlocked the college doors, the FMU staff bought the station from the school. It is totally listener sponsored with no public or foundation money. They are fond of telling us that not one single commercial has ever run on FMU.  If you want radio that is unpredictable, you probably can’t do better than WFMU.

WFUV

This is the radio station of Fordham University, on air since 1947, but it is hardly college radio. In fact one member of the DJ staff is Denis Elsas, who spent 25 years at WNEW-FM in New York. Students are involved in the news and in the sports (legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully got his start here). There is some rotation play. FUV promotes things like a song of the day and a featured artist of the week. But it seems also to be at least partially DJ-programmed. It does play a diverse range of music and its tagline “music discovery starts here” sounds good. I do hear new music and songs I’ve never heard before on FUV and that’s a prerequisite for me to listen to any station. They have some pretty good live shows in their studios which are archived on their web site. This is one of my presets mainly because it is the station that best reflects my musical tastes. It is what I switch to when FMU has something on that’s just too weird for me.

It is a college-affiliated station so occasionally the music stops in favor of a Fordham basketball or football game. I’m a fan of college sports so that doesn’t bother me. It is also a Jesuit university and you can catch a Catholic mass on Sunday. You can, but that’s something I pass on.

WBGO

The Newark public radio station started broadcasting in 1948. As with the two stations above, I am a WBGO member and make an annual contribution. WBGO is a jazz station. I think it is the only one in this market. I’m not a big fan of jazz, but I’m happy to listen from time-to-time and they also play a lot of blues, which I like.  They sponsor free lunch hour jazz concerts on the grounds of the Newark Museum during the summer that I try to attend at least a couple times a year. They have a good newscast. National news comes from NPR and they produce their own local news and its meaningful news that matters to the city of Newark and the state of New Jersey. It’s also the closest thing around to a local station for me. If I want to hear local traffic and weather, I prefer not to have to tune into the New York AM all-news station where I have to listen to one story after another about things like somebody’s grandmother getting mugged on their way to the subway. Instead I go to WBGO.

WPXN

If I make a left turn instead of a right turn and find myself headed toward Pennsylvania, WXPN is what I turn to as I drift out of the range of the New York stations. It is a lot like WFUV: listener sponsored, FM, college owned. Started as the radio voice of the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, it is run as a professional rather than a college radio station. Student programming has mostly moved to another station. It plays the same type and range of music as FUV and turns out to be a pretty seemless alternative for me if I venture toward the state line.

WBAI

The last of my presets. I’ve got another button in the car but haven’t found anything else I want to connect to. WBAI is mostly there for nostalgia purposes. If you’ve read my History of Radio posts you know I admire this station as one of the pioneers of freeform and I was an avid listener as I was growing up. It is a Pacifica Foundation listener-sponsored station that came on the air in 1960 and while it has gone through many iterations it is generally associated with counter-culture, minority voices and left-wing politics. I don’t listen to it too much anymore for two reasons. For one, I feel like too many of the on air personalities are preaching at me. The other is that many of the shows are targeted for very specific audiences but the audience for one is not likely to have that much interest in the next. Politically it does usually reflect my views. Just don’t beat me over the head with them.

Radio Paradise

This is an internet radio station that is a standard in my kitchen. Music to chop vegetables to. It is a mom and pop radio station. It is run and the music is programmed by Bill and Rebecca Goldsmith. They started in the year 2000. They are completely listener supported. The Goldsmith’s promise “You’ll hear modern and classic rock, world music, electronica, even a bit of classical and jazz. What you won’t hear are random computer-generated playlists or mind-numbing commercials.“ I have in fact found all that to be true. These guys are living proof that you don’t need a huge staff, an FCC license or a ton of bandwidth to produce good radio. And you don’t need advertisers either.

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The one thing that all of the stations I listen to have in common is that they are all non-commercial listener supported. That’s not intentional on my part, but I don’t believe advertisers are going to support the kind of radio I like to listen to. I’m willing to listen to a modest amount of ads if the rest of the programming is good. But for most commercial radio, that’s just not the case.

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History of Radio: Sources and Book Reviews

In writing this series of posts on the history of radio I came across several books that I used as primary sources. Some of them are listed below with reviews. None of these are new. I found a couple of them in my local library and the others I picked up in used bookstores. I have listed them in what I think is the order of interest.

Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, by Susan J. Douglas

Susan J. Douglas bookIf you have any interest at all in the history of radio in America, this is the book to read. How could you not, after all, love an author who introduces Mitch Miller as the “fuddy-duddy host of the sappy ‘Sing Along with Mitch.’”

Douglas notes some of the dates and milestones of radio’s growth, but she is far more interested in what it is like and what it means to listen and how that fuels the imagination. This could well be considered a work of sociology as well as history as it delves into how radio has created communities and fueled youthful rejection of mainstream culture in the 20’s, in the 50’s and again in the 60’s.

Throughout its history radio is a medium that has been dominated by men. The author devotes considerable attention to what different trends in radio mean about men’s perception of themselves in different eras. For example she describes how the nuances of the language used by the radio comedians of the 30’s reflected a “feminization” as opposed the reassertion of maleness that emanated from the war correspondents of the 40’s.

One of my favorites parts of this history is how the author treats the emergence of television not as killing off radio but rather as reviving the medium with a new energy and youthfulness. In the 50’s radio provided the sound track for the flowering of teen culture, as it did a decade later for the 60’s counter-culture.

This is a bottom up history. Douglas has little to say about the captains of industry, the Sarnoffs and Paleys of the world. She is far more impressed by the guys who, working in their garages with a pile of wires and batteries, produced real innovation.

The book ends on a somewhat troubled note as corporate consolidation, advertisers, ratings services and radio consultants have combined to turn radio into a characterless vehicle for fixed playlist formats, leaving no room for experimentation or discovery. Since in the past every slide into corporate mediocrity has been met with a new wave of more imaginative radio, she ponders where that may come from. The book was written in 1999, so things like streaming, internet and satellite radio are not on her radar. While satellite has become as beholden to sterile formats as most of commercial radio, the internet opens up an opportunity for the innovators that’s not limited by bandwidth.

Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio, by Jesse Walker

Jess Walker bookThere’s no ambiguity about this author’s take on the state of commercial radio. “Most radio today is boring and homogeneous, chains of clones controlled by an ever-dwindling handful of focus-group-driven corporations.” He has nothing but disdain for radio consultants, fixed formats and tight playlists. But that’s not what Rebels on the Air is about. This is the story of the folks who hang out on the fringes of the radio dial. Starting with hams of the early 20th century, Walker provides a history of alternative radio: listener-sponsored, community radio, pirates and micro broadcasting included.

As someone who occasionally drifts over to the far end of radio frequency I enjoyed reading about the founding of the Pacifica Foundation and the constant turmoil and that surrounds its stations. Bob Fass, of Pacifica’s WBAI in New York, is anointed by Wallace as the father of freeform. I lost many hours of sleep in my teen years listening to Fass’ Radio Unnameable. I equally enjoyed reading about how WFMU freed itself from its bankrupt college owners. It is one station that to this day has carried on being diverse, unpredictable and free.

Set against a backdrop of corporate consolidation and government regulation, the book contains numerous anecdotes of the broadcasters who defied both. Some were creative geniuses, some were inspirational and some were just weird. This is the flip side of the radio history story line that starts with Marconi and moves on through the networks to the invention of TV. Makes you want to go figure out how to set up a transmitter in your garage.

Sports on New York Radio, by David Halberstom

David Halberstam bookI’m in my 60’s, I live in the New York area and I’ve been a sports fan since I was a child. So I found this book fascinating. If you can’t check off at least two of those three boxes, you might be somewhat less enthralled.

Halberstam, who has worked as a play-by-play man himself, has put together a meticulously researched and thoroughly detailed account of sports on New York radio. Want to know how many Knicks games were live on radio in 1963? Probably not, but this book has the answer.

I particularly enjoyed his account of the heyday of sports radio (yes even before my time) and the marque events that have since lost some if not all of their luster: the Rose Bowl, heavyweight championship fights and New York City college football. The book is organized by sport, a chapter each for basketball, football, hockey, etc., and in the case of baseball, by team, the two current and two former New York teams.

The focus is on the announcers. That includes the superstars of play-by-play, Mel Allen, Marty Glickman, Red Barber and Marv Albert. They weren’t all the nicest of guys. But I was glad to read that wasn’t the case with my personal favorites, the trio that broadcast Mets baseball from day one and for the next 19 years, Lindsay Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy.

We have been conditioned to think of enjoying a game on a scale, the best of which is live attendance, followed by watching on TV. Radio is something we turn to when nothing else is available or when we’re doing something else like driving. But reading this book makes me think we might be missing something. These broadcasters didn’t give you 30 different camera angles but worked with nothing but words and the listener’s imagination. Maybe a lost art.

Contrast that with some of the guys you see on TV, especially if you happen to be watching the day’s 10th live college basketball game. You likely get a couple cheerful dudes doing little more than reading the PR blurbs that they’ve been fed by the teams’ SIDs.

I can’t imagine there is room for another book on this subject. Halberstam has pretty much covered the topic.

The General: David Sarnoff and the Rise of the Communications Industry, by Kenneth Bilby

David Sarnoff biographyA story of a Russian Jewish immigrant who moved from a ghetto on New York’s east side to a penthouse office in Rockefeller Center. (Are you listening Donald Trump?)

David Sarnoff started as an office boy for the American Marconi Company. When that company was swallowed up by Radio Corporation of America (RCA), they got Sarnoff as well and he was to lead RCA and its subsidiary NBC for decades.

Sarnoff was truly one of the founding fathers of modern consumer electronics and home entertainment. He was one of the first corporate players to identify radio for its broadcasting capabilities, rather than as a point to point messaging service. He conceived of the first broadcast network (NBC) and managed RCA to a leadership position first in the introduction of television and later color television. He was someone who was willing to overlook short term profits in favor of building an industry-leading long-term business, something that is woefully lacking in current day corporate America.

The “General” title comes from his work during World War II. Stationed in England he built the communications system that would be used by the Allies during the D-Day invasion. But the title also represents another characteristic of Sarnoff. He was seemingly not a greedy man, but he constantly sought adulation. He lobbied for years, all the way up to Dwight Eisenhower, to be named a two-star general. This guy wasn’t building private mansions in the Caribbean, but he was putting all the money into public relations, building his image and legacy.

Sarnoff was an incurable workaholic. This book has little to say about his private life. It seems to suggest that he barely had one. He was married, apparently happily, to the same woman throughout his adult life. And there is brief mention of the fact that he had three boys. The subject comes up only within the context of Sarnoff acknowledging that he was a pretty crappy father. His oldest son eventually emerges as part of the story, but only after he has himself become a senior executive at RCA.

Do you get to know Sarnoff by reading this biography? Barely. About as much as you might know a guy on the upper floors of your office building who you occasionally greet on the elevator. I found this book in a rather obscure corner of my public library. It’s from 1986. If you find a copy you might have to dust it off.

Others not reviewed here:

The Great American Broadcast, by Leonard Maltin

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey, by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What were Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway doing amidst the enemies of the American people?

Both Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, and Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, had one-on-one conversations at mid-week at the Newseum event “The President and the Press, the First Amendment in the First 100 Days.” They shared the agenda, if not exactly the stage, with numerous folks their employer has categorized as the “enemies of the American people.” That included White House correspondents from a wide range of media, from the New York Times to Breitbart. Or, you might say, from top to bottom.

It was a sedate and reasonable iteration of Spicer that showed up for his interview with Greta Van Susteren of MSNBC. So much so that one later panelist, Glenn Thrush, White House correspondent for the New York Times, questioned what the Newseum might have put in his coffee to calm things down. Likely it was not a coffee additive so much as being humbled a day after his inappropriate comment about Hitler and chemical weapons. Not surprisingly, Spicer’s first act was to apologize, an apology that in fact came across as sincere (as opposed to say the United Airlines’ CEO’s third-day when all else fails apology). It was “not a very good day in my history.” No, it wasn’t.

“As long as we have a healthy and robust media, I’m fine,” Spicer commented. His main complaint was on focus, which he said, “should be on what we are doing right or wrong to make the country better,” adding “the proportion of house intrigue vs. policy is out of whack.” No argument there. Yet in a country that has just elected a reality TV show host as president, I don’t know if you can blame the White House press corps for initiating the personality/celebrity focus of the news.

Conway announced herself as a “very pro-press person.” Then she unloaded a laundry list of complaints. She contends that the media is providing incomplete coverage, saying there are considerable accomplishments of this administration which are not getting any ink or air time. She quipped, “people literally say things that just aren’t true,” a comment that brought more than a few chuckles from the audience. A less lame interviewer (Michael Wolff of the Hollywood Reporter) might have chosen at that moment to ask her about the “Bowling Green Massacre.”

Conway charged the press covering the Trump administration with “presumed negativity.” Later Cecilia Vega of ABC News responded to that saying “I’m presumptively cynical but that’s my job” adding that you have to be cynical considering “this President’s relationship with the truth.” Addressing the journalist-heavy audience, Conway said, “If you were part of the very large group of people who covered the campaign and got it wrong, don’t keep getting it wrong.”

The White House correspondents had some axes to grind themselves. Thrush noted that the tone was set on the very first day after the inauguration when, after criticizing the assembled reporters for their comparisons of the size of the Trump and Obama inauguration crowd, “Spicer shouted at everybody and refused to take questions.”

45Jim Acosta of CNN said “the President has an unhealthy attitude toward the press. On the campaign trail he called us crooks and thieves. He’s doing real damage to the first amendment in this country.”

Bret Baier of Fox News, who was the moderator of the panel of White House correspondents, commented, “he was elected saying he’d be the bull in the china shop. He’s got the bull part down.”

One of the more interesting questions Baier asked the panel was whether they think Trump can be successful. Each said yes…but. Here’s some of those buts.

  • Acosta: “it would take an act of contrition on his part.”
  • Julie Pace, AP: “he would need some self discipline.”
  • Charlie Spiering, Breitbart: “wrangle Congress to get behind his agenda.”
  • Kristin Welker, NBC: “learn how to get a deal done in Washington as opposed to a real estate or business deal.”

But my favorite Trump story of the entire session came in the opening address by the Washington Post’s Pulitzer winning reporter David Fahrenthold. Fahrenthold was describing how he was doing a story tracking Trump’s promises of charity giving and the finances of the Trump Foundation. He found that the latter spent $10k on a large Trump portrait. He went to Twitter to ask if anyone knew where that portrait was. And he got a response. This fine work of charity spending was hanging in a sports bar in one of Trump’s resort hotels.

news

All of the sessions at the Newseum event are available for viewing on the Newseum channel on You Tube.

 

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History of Radio: How the Radio Changed My Life

I was not the sort of perky teenager who walked in the door ready to chit chat with other family members. If I was home, and wasn’t hungry at the time, I was behind closed doors. And the place where I shut myself in was a room my family called the den. It was our electronics center. It had a TV, a big reel-to-reel tape recorder, a stereo with powerful speakers mounted to the wall, but most important to me, it had a radio.

I was a teenager in the late 1960’s. It was a time of anti-war, anti-establishment counterculture. It was a time of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” though not so much in my high school. The radio was my connection to a whole new world that wasn’t apparent in my home, in my town or in my school.

Vietnan War protester

Image by Diana Davies from New York Public Library digital collection.

The radio changed my life in two ways: music and world view. It opened up a whole new world of music that would shape my tastes and musical preferences to this day. And it opened up a whole new world of public affairs and social movements that I wasn’t hearing about on TV or in the local newspaper. It led me past the conservative views of my parents which were shaped by their experience of war and the socially stifling 50’s.

When I was hiding out in that den I likely had the radio tuned in to one of two New York FM stations: WBAI and WNEW. Up until that point the radio to me was just a source of perpetual jingles and repetitive play of a few songs that either came from cutesy pop bands like Herman’s Hermits or were assembly line Phil Spector ditties.

WNEW-FM and it’s short-lived predecessor WOR-FM opened up a whole new world of music for me. We called it underground rock, although bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane didn’t stay underground for long. There were also local New York favorites like the Chambers Brothers and Butterfield Blues Band. I listened to folk music for the first time and heard the old blues players like Leadbelly and Bessie Smith. I was making liberal use of that old reel-to-reel tape recorder. And on Wednesday nights, instead of hanging out in a car with my friends trying to figure out who would buy us beer, I was on the bus to New York to Thompkins Square Park where performers like Richie Havens and the Blues Project were playing for free. Instead of sneaking in the back entrance to the drive-in on weekends, I was headed to the Village Theater where I discovered the likes of Traffic, the Who and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

But it wasn’t all music. I was also listening to talk radio; a whole different kind of talk radio than angry white man demogogues who polute the AM dial now. I remember 1960’s WBAI for three deejays: Bob Fass, Steve Post and Larry Josephson. They rambled about current events and pet peeves. They brought some of the counterculture superstars like Abbie Hoffman and Timothy Leary onto the air. They chatted with listeners who were unlike anyone I was going to find in my all-white conservative home town.

But WBAI was also about the news. I specifically remember their live coverage of events like the student takeover of Columbia University buildings, the prison uprising at Attica in New York state and the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. I heard voices from the inside and voices with empathy for the protesters and rebels. Would I have found myself at anti-war demonstrations, in unbearably long and boring SDS meetings or protesting at Nixon’s inauguration if I hadn’t been a WBAI listener? Maybe, but it was the radio that got me started.

There was no clear distinction between music and politics on these airways. If you were listening to WNEW you heard Phil Ochs’ “I Ain’t a-Marching Anymore” and the “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag,” the anti-war anthem by Country Joe and the Fish.  And if you listened to Rosko at night you would hear him recite Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s anti-war verse.

WBAI had some music too…when the guys weren’t talking. I heard Alice’s Restaurant and American Pie for the first time on WBAI. Both stations relished the fact that they would play a 15-minute song while on commercial ratio 15 minutes brought you a couple 2-3 minute songs slipped in between ads.

When I think back to ‘coming of age’ influences in my life, yes I think of parents and teachers, but I also think of radio guys like Bob Fass and Rosko. In addition to being somewhat anti-social, I wasn’t the savviest of teenagers. Looking back on it I can’t help but conclude that in many ways I was an idiot. But the radio made my smarter, more open to different things, more empathetic and at least a little more worldly.

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White sands, clear water.

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach in Florida is listed among America’s top ten beaches by Trip Advisor, Travel Channel, Forbes and others. Here are some of the reasons why.

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach

white sands

Beach entrance

birds

the beach

sunset on the beach

Sunset, Clearwater, Fla.

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