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  • TRAIN BLOG: The first step of a journey is the hardest

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Here is the latest installment of the weekend train blog.

    NEWSBLOG (WSAU) When I was 6-years-old my family moved from Brooklyn to the Connecticut suburbs. Our move was not unusual. It’s a very typical story about bad public schools and less-expensive real estate.

    Gone was the bedroom window in our apartment where I’d watch the Brighton Line subways as I fell asleep each night. Now we had a split-level house in a cul-du-sac and a bedroom window that looked out on the maple trees in our quarter-acre backyard. No rattling subway trains. It was too quiet at night. After a young life spent falling asleep to the gentle hum of city streets, the sound of crickets was distracting.

    But on a quiet night if the wind was blowing in the right direction you could hear the train horns from the New Haven Line. Fairfield station was about a half-mile from our home. It was be our link to all our family members back in New York City. It would also be my first taste of big-time railroading. (Most train-watchers don’t consider the subway to be a real railroad at all.)

    It was 1975, a time of transition on the New Haven Line. The New Haven Railroad existed in name only. It was merged into Penn Central, which had also gone bankrupt just two years after its inception. Conrail, a new federally-created, federally-financed freight railroad, was running the commuter trains to and from New York. Soon the commuter trains would be turned over to state transportation authorities.

    The train equipment was old, worn out, the wards of failed railroads that couldn’t afford new stuff for money-losing passenger services. The heat wouldn’t work in the winter. On summer days, open windows replaced air conditioning. Windows were broken. Floors and seats were dirty. But to a kid who’d just moved out of the city, this was big-time railroading along a four-track main line.

    But the start of every train journey wasn’t easy.

    Fairfield’s train station was built on big sloping curve. You didn’t see the train until it was easing to a stop, and the vestibules on the old coaches left huge gaps between the train car and the high-level platform. Adults would have to take a giant step when getting onto the train. For a little boy with his mother carrying a suitcase, the gap was too large. I’d scream getting onto the train, scared that I’d fall into the big space between. A conductor or another passenger would eventually lift me into the coach.

    I loved our train rides to New York City. But the start of each journey was terrifying.

    My mother explained to me that other stations weren’t built on curves. But without the curve at Fairfield, I wouldn’t hear the train horn in my bedroom. Without it, moving to the suburbs wouldn’t have seemed like home.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    2.27.10

  • OPINION: Summit-fail

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It’s the day after the big health care summit, and I still can’t figure out the White House strategy.

    The Politico reports that talk of using the reconciliation process in the Senate will start on Monday, but first Democratic leaders will “take the temperature of their caucus”. (Link here: http://tinyurl.com/yz99cj9 )  There's a danger is using a thermometer that’s broken. It appears to me that many Democrats are still at a fever-pitch to move a healthcare bill, and they may not realize how poorly things went yesterday.

    Most of these events do more to solidify people’s opinions than persuade the undecided. When Democrats talk amongst themselves, they may get the false reading that there is some momentum to build on. They are wrong.

    Why?

    First, the GOP did not seem like The Party of ‘NO’. If the goal was to put a face on obstructionism, the summit failed. Republicans did have ideas, although they were all of the ‘go small’ variety. Republicans don't want to pass a 2-thousand page comprehensive-takeover bill, but they were not advocating doing nothing either.

    Second, President Obama needed much better coaching on managing his emotions. During several negative exchanges with Republicans, the President’s eyes glowed with anger and his lips and face turned taunt. If you listen to the sound bites, you’d hear the same calm voice as always. The pictures tell a different story.

    Lastly, the entire strategy was flawed. By getting down and dirty in a sometimes contentious debate, the President gives up the prestige of his office. While Republicans were respectful in their disagreement, when the President debates junior congressman and senators he elevates his opponents and lowers himself. The President, looking un-presidential, gave up the biggest advantage he had. (And I was wrong about this… my thinking before the summit was that the President would tower over his GOP rivals, and that his opponents would appear petty and sniping. Usually, when it’s the White House vs. Congress – bet on the White House. But not this time.)

    So what happens next? I’m not sure. Reconciliation is risky. There may not be enough votes to pass the measure in the House anyway. Breaking the rules and failing would lead to even bigger losses in the fall than Democrats are already facing.

    Trying to pass the ‘big bill’ through regular channels won’t work. There are not 60 votes in the Senate.

    Taking some of the Republican ideas into small, individual bills might work, but supporters of healthcare would see it as a failure brought on by leadership that capitulated.

    The White House needs a win somewhere. This isn’t it. How about a jobs bill? Oh, those unemployment numbers that came out Thursday morning before the summit didn’t look good either.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    2.26.10

     

    A final footnote: Wisconsin's Paul Ryan's stock went up yesterday. He was partasian without being unpleasant, and had command of his facts and figures to back up his points. This was a much better performance than when he was asked to rebutt Obama's budget proposal back in January.

  • OPINION: Paul Ryan's close-up

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The pre-written script on today’s health care summit is that Democrats have ideas, and Republicans are blocking them. The “winner” of this showdown at Blair House will be whichever party demonstrates that the script is wrong.

    Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) could play a key roll in breaking the conventional wisdom that his party only wants to say “no”. Ryan’s ‘Roadmap for America’ includes some specific healthcare ideas: vouchers for the poor to buy their own health insurance. His proposal is $2,300 for single individuals, $5,700 for families. Ryan also proposes making Medicare solvent by giving the poorest of the poor and seniors $11,000 credits to buy their own policies.

    I’m not sure if the plan will work. Health insurance would still need to be made portable, where people wouldn’t lose their coverage when people lose their jobs. Insurance should also be sold across state lines, theoretically creating more choices and more competition.

    Ryan’s plan has some advantages… it would cost much less than what’s being discussed now, about one-third of President Obama’s latest proposal. It would also return a measure of consumerism to the health care marketplace, where patients would be more aware of cost and would be more inclined to take advantage of cost savings. Certainly Ryan’s plan has no chance of making it through Congress; Democrats would object to its reliance on private insurers and the current insurance marketplace.

    What's more interesting is how Ryan handles this opportunity. He’ll be in the spotlight today because he’s the answer to the criticism that “Republicans have no ideas.”

    Ryan appeared shaky earlier this year when he was picked as the GOP point-man to counter President Obama’s budget. I thought Ryan appeared unsure of himself when he appeared on the Sunday talk shows.

    If Ryan has good ideas and can deliver them well, his political star will rise. Columnist George Will sees his as vice-presidential material.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    2.25.10

    Read George Will’s column on Paul Ryan here: http://tinyurl.com/y9td9jp

    Read Ryan’s “Roadmap for America” here: http://tinyurl.com/ybkqf4w

     

    An aside on health care reform:

    I can't imagine that Senate Democrats would use reconsiliation to pass a health care bill. The politics are bad. If the Senate passes a bill with a narrow majority, Senators who voted "yes" are left on a limb if the House doesn't pass the same bill. Without a guarantee that Nancy Pelosi has the votes (she doesn't as of right now), the current healthcare proposal appears dead.

    A less ambitious plan, like making insurance portable, is what could pass congress right now. Fox News reports that White House may already see the wisdom in that: http://tinyurl.com/y9z3n4j

     

     

  • OPINION: The Bruce Williams Show

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) A broadcasting legend is retiring.

    Bruce Williams has hosted a nationally-syndicated talk show since 1981, and 29-years behind a radio network microphone is a long and impressive run.

    Thinking back on The Bruce Williams Show reminds me how radio broadcasting has changed. Williams came on-air at a time when the fairness doctrine was in effect. There were very few politically-themed talk shows for fear that broadcasters would have to offer equal time to those who disagreed. Political talkers did shows where the host acted as a moderator, usually interviewing members of congress or advocates for one issue or another.

    Bruce Williams offered general advice on a broad and wide range of topics. No guests. No politics. Just phone calls about anything and everything. Many callers wanted to talk about money or consumer issues. I’m having a problem with my credit card. I want to ask my boss for a rise. I’m considering going into business for myself. But the show was much wider than that. In a typical night Bruce Williams would get calls about someone considering a divorce, someone who was applying for a college loan, someone who was considering a trip overseas and wanted to know which airline to fly and which hotel to stay at. I even remember a call from a man with a plumbing problem, and was surprised that he got clear, competent advice.

    There's less demand today for The Bruce Williams Show. Now all of those topics are separate, narrow programs. Money advice? Listen to Bob Brinker. Relationship trouble? Call Doctor Laura. Consumer advice? Clark Howard’s your man. Politics? Tune into Rush or Sean. And we now have separate shows for travel, employment, newsmakers, sports, and home repair. 

    It took an exceptional talent to be all those things to so many people. Bruce Williams was that man – an excellent broadcaster with an incredible breadth of experience. Many people on the radio today are not as good as Bruce Williams. None are as knowledgeable.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    2.24.10

  • OPINION: Performance tax update

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Last week, WSAU and other Midwest Communications radio stations stopped playing music for one hour to provide an information to our listeners about the Music Performance Tax. If approved in Congress, this new tax would be very damaging to local broadcasters. It would change what you hear from your favorite radio station.

    We have more information on the Music Performance Tax here: http://tinyurl.com/ydlfcym

    Our broadcast received a lot of local media coverage, and has been written up in the national trades. Today I have an update on where things stand.

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Here’s a quick update on the music performance tax.

    Radio stations around the country were asking listeners to become active and informed about this issue last week while members of Congress were home in their districts.

    In the last week four more members of the House have signed the “keep radio free” pledge, among them Rep. Mark Schauer of Michigan. He responded to some outreach from our Midwest Communications stations in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. We appreciate his support.

    Many of our listeners in Central Wisconsin have contacted Congressman David Obey. Officially, Congressman Obey is undecided on the issue. People who’ve sent him a letter have received an email or form-letter response. It says our congressman is aware of the issue and has not had a chance to vote on the matter because it hasn’t reached the House floor. 

    This is a curious response. Midwest Communications employs more than 50 people in our Wausau offices. We also employ additional workers in our Plover and Superior locations. There are many other radio stations in David Obey’s district, and all would face deep job cuts if they are taxed for the music they play. Conversely, there are no record labels or major recording studios in Obey’s district. It's frustrating that we don't have his support.

    Why would our congressman side with out-of-district interests when local jobs are at stake? Why would our congressman support taking tax dollars out of his district, and flowing out of the country? (Three of the four record labels are foreign owned.) Why would our congressman not give his support to local broadcast owners and managers who met with him last year in Washington DC? These are all excellent questions to ask David Obey.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    2.23.10

  • OPINION: Can't figure out health care

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Today's blog is being written before the White House health care proposal is released at 9am CT.

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Stipulation: White House advisors are smarter than you and me. Still, I’m always puzzled when I can’t figure out a political game plan. And I can’t figure out what the Obama White House wants to do with today’s health care proposal.

    If the proposal is a hybrid of the bills that have already passed the House and Senate, it’s a non-starter. It won’t get the 60 votes needed in the Senate.

    If it’s a bill that contains financial components only that could be passed through reconciliation (where only 51 votes are needed in the Senate), it would appear to be even more politically-damaging for Democrats on Capital Hill.

    If it’s just a stripped down bill that includes only the most basic elements that democrats and republicans agree on, like insurance portability and a ban on dropping coverage for the sick, it will be played as a GOP victory, reigning in liberal excess.

    Or perhaps it’s all about negative politics, where the White House is proposing something they know won’t pass – just so Republicans will have to oppose it. Call it the “We’re dragging you down, too” strategy. If that’s the plan, we’ll know for sure on Thursday. The President always wins one-on-one showdowns with members of Congress. The Presidency is a more powerful office than even the Speaker of the House and Senate majority leader, and the GOP doesn’t have either of those offices.

    Since I can’t figure out the White House strategy, I’m wondering if the game plan is policy or cynicism.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    2.22.10

  • TRAIN BLOG: Older is better

    Posted by Chris Conley

    (186k, 1024x671)<br><b>Country:</b> United States<br><b>City:</b> New York<br><b>System:</b> New York City Transit<br><b>Line:</b> IND Crosstown<br><b>Location:</b> Smith/9th Street <br><b>Route:</b> F<br><b>Car:</b> R6-3 (Independent Subway) (American Car & Foundry, 1935)  960 <br><b>Photo by:</b> Ed McKernan<br><b>Collection of:</b> Joe Testagrose<br><b>Date:</b> 5/28/1976<br><b>Viewed (this week/total):</b> 0 / 2582

    If you’ve ever seen a steam locomotive up close, they are fascinating machines. They huff and puff and clang and rattle. They bellow smoke and steam. Intricate pistons pump in and out, up and down, as giant wheels start to move with a groan. They are magnificent… a symphony of sights and sounds and smells that combine our industrial ingenuity and the romance of travel.

    Engineers will tell you every steam engine is different. Even when they are built from the same blueprints in the same shops, they have a personality all their own. Hoggers would have their favorite engines. Old Number 9 is a slow burner. Number 53 needs extra oil. 23 needs the throttle open to get a running start.

    Diesels and electrics are mostly alike. Interchangeable. Assembly-line standard equipment.

    I’m too young to remember steam engines. The ones I’ve seen are museum-pieces that are sometimes fired up for short excursions for tourists and fans. It’s not the same as main-line steam pulling a crack Limited on the main line. I understand how the retiring of the great steam engines broke the hearts of train enthusiasts.

    What lingers, is what’s old is more valued than what’s new among train-watchers. We remember the better times of the past, when trains and transportation were synonymous. The great passenger trains offered a luxury that no airline can match. Freight and merchandise moved by rail, and our economy with it.

    As a boy in Brooklyn, I remember the new R-46 subway cars. They arrived in 1976, and came with then red, white, and blue stripes for our nation’s bicentennial. They were assigned to the F-train line first… the line I took to grandma’s house. They bumped the older R-6 cars out of service.

    I should have loved the new subway cars. They were sleek, modern stainless steel. They were quiet and faster, almost gliding over the rails. The older R-6’s rattled and rumbled. They were dark brown, sometimes covered with a layer of dirt or graffiti. But to a young boy, they were what the subway was all about. Their rattan seats were distinctive. The steam heaters gave off an almost sweet smell in the winter. They had green and white interiors with the ceiling-mounted fans (instead of air conditioning). The big window up front was just the right height for a boy to look out and see the tracks in front of him.

    In a few years, the R-6’s would run only during rush hour. Sometimes you could go weeks or months without seeing one of the old subway cars. Soon they'd be gone for good, off to the scrapheap.

    But the new R-46 cars had defective wheel-trucks. About a year after they first appeared they had to be pulled out of service for an expensive and time-consuming overhaul. For months the old, brown, dirty R-6’s that dated back to the 1940s were pressed back into service. It was a glorious end to their careers, and no one doubted that sometimes older is better.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    2.20.10

  • OPINION: The capacity to forgive

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU): As a kid I remember listening to sportscaster Marv Albert.

    He was a busy man. Albert’s regular job was the evening sports reports on Channel 4 in New York. But he was also in demand for play-by-play sports. He did the New York Knicks radio broadcasts during the winter. He was also one of the lead sportscasters for NBC’s NFL coverage.

    And then it all came crashing down. In 1997 his mistress went public. She described in detail his out-of-the mainstream sexual tastes, which included rough sex and wearing women’s underwear. She accused him of assault, biting her and forcing her to perform a sex act. There may have been public sex scandals before… but never like this. I was certain that Albert’s career was ruined. When people saw him on tv they’d imagine him wearing a pink camisole. When they heard his voice, they’d think of him spanking or biting his partner.

    Marv Albert did what Tiger Woods did. He apologized. He disappeared from the public spotlight for a time. And then he gradually began working himself back. And today his career is roughly the way it was before. Today he does basketball games for TNT sports and The New Jersey Nets. He does NFL radio broadcasts for Westwood One. The public has either forgotten or moved on.

    Dick Morris, the presidential advisor who had his own sex scandal, gave this advice to Bill Clinton when a certain blue dress was discovered: “Don’t under-estimate people’s capacity to forgive someone who’s truly sorry.” It’s true.

    A few years from now, will Tiger Woods be a damaged, publicly scorned man? Or will he resume being a celebrated sports superstar? Anyone who bets against the latter doesn’t know much about the American public.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    2.19.10

  • Center Stage Show Notes - 02/19/10

    Posted by Raymond Neupert

    Neighbor's Place Logo

    Get out those golf clubs and get ready for a little putt-putt on the 400 Block... Yes, in the snow. This week it's the 15th Annual Ice Tea Classic, a fundraiser to benefit the Neighbor's Place of Wausau. Chris Conley spoke with Tom Rau, he's the director of the Neighbor's Place. The Ice Tee Classic starts tomorrow morning on the 400 Block. You can find out more by logging on to http://www.neighborsplace.org/

    There's plenty to do, both indoors and outdoors this weekend. Here's your community calendar for the weekend of the 19th.

    If you've got the Olympic Bug, and want to try your hand at Curling, the Wausau Curling Club will let you try it out for yourself! Throw 44 pound granite rocks down the ice. See for yourself what a fun and invigorating way curling is to beat the winter doldrums. Food, beverages and entertainment are being provided. And watch live coverage of the curling events at the club. It all gets started at the Curling House at Marathon Park, tomorrow at 11 am and Sunday at noon. The event is free.

    If you're looking for some theatre this weekend, UW-Stevens Point has two more showings of Nickle and Dimed. Based on the 2000 best seller, “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” the play portrays the author’s experiences as she works in several different low-wage jobs and struggles to make a living. Joan Holden’s stage adaption is a focused comic epic shadowed with tragedy, and is not recommended for young audiences. Showtimes are tonight and tomorrow at 730. Tickets are 17 dollars.

    And Fat Tuesday might have been earlier this week, but you can still get a taste of Mardi Gras tomorrow night at the Chalet on Granite Peak. Enjoy some home cooked cajun food & Hurricane drink specials. Take part in the Silly Slalom plus other races and activities. It all starts tomorrow at 2pm, and runs through 10 pm.

    Next week, enjoy some Green Eggs and Ham, and settle in for a good book, it's a Seussical party at the Marathon County library.

    Ray Neupert

    WSAU Production

  • OPINION: A Tiger's tale

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) My interest in Woods ends at the 18th green. I only know who he is because he plays very good golf. The rest, including everything about his personal life, is beyond the scope of my what-I-care-about matrix.

    A North Carolina radio station claims they have a copy of a draft of what Wood’s will say tomorrow. There will be three points. First, I’m sorry. It’s all my fault, no one else is to blame. Second, he'll reportedly announce that his marriage is broken beyond repair and that he and his wife will live apart. (There is no mention of a divorce.) Third, he’ll announce that he’s returning to competitive golf and will play in The Masters in April.

    To me and my luke-warm interest, Tiger’s statement is 100-percent satisfying. A man with a dozen or so mistresses doesn’t want to be married. It seems like soon he won’t be. He’s made a public mess of things. An apology is appropriate, and he’ll make it. He certainly doesn’t need to apologize to me, but our media insists that fallen celebrities humble themselves in public. And the thing I care about the most – whether he resumes his golf career – is probably what everyone else cares about least.

    But Tiger Wood’s news conference tomorrow is a bad idea. He won’t take questions from reporters, and this matter isn’t settled until all the questions are asked and answered. Among them: Exactly how many women were there? Did you pay for sex? Did you father a child with any of them? Did they extort money from you to keep quiet? How did your wife find out? What happened that night of your car crash?

    The whole Tiger Woods story is overblown. (Certainly if he was an NBA star instead of a golfer, no one would bat an eye at any of this.) I’m ready to move on. The public isn’t.

    Tiger won’t put this behind him until he plops himself down on Oprah’s couch.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    2.18.10

  • OPINION: Operation Save Our Stations

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG - You'll hear something unusual from many of our Midwest Communications radio stations tomorrow.

    At 8am Thursday morning, our three music stations will stop playing music for an hour. Our news, talk, and sports stations will also stop our regular formats. All of our stations will be part of a special simulcast to talk about the Music Performance Tax. If it passes Congress, it would cripple local radio stations.

    The large record companies, and some allies on Capital Hill, want to tax radio stations for the music we broadcast.

    Radio stations already pay a licensing fee to the songwriters. An additional tax to the performers would lead to many changes. Some marginal radio stations would turn off their transmitters and turn in their licenses. Others might drop music programming. Radio stations that continue to play music would be less-likely to play new songs, or to publicize new, unproven artists.

    Dave Kalloway and Stacey Cole from WIFC will host the special broadcast. We hope you'll lend an ear and support our cause. We really need people to sign the on-line petition at http://www.noperformancetax.org/

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    2.18.10

  • OPINION: Should it be shown?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWSBLOG (WSAU) - A hypothetical. A television camera crew happens to be at City Hall filming a story when an armed gunman walks in. “Drop everything!” he yells. The tv crew drops their equipment, but unbeknownst to everyone, the camera keeps rolling. The hostage standoff ends when police storm the building. Gunshots are exchanged. An innocent bystander is killed in the hail of bullets. The tv camera captures it all… a bullet going into the head of an innocent victim, and the death in a pool of blood that follows.

    It’s a legitimate news story. The video would tell the story better than any words could. But the video is graphic and disturbing. It would bother most viewers. It would scare children in the audience.

    Just because we have something on tape, should we show it?

    That’s the fundamental question in the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili , the luge athlete who died in a horrific crash during a practice run during before the Winter Olympics.

    There are dozens of high-resolution cameras set up along the run. Every second of everything that happens on that course is recorded in crystal-clear slow motion. We see Kumaritashvili lose control, crash into a concrete slab, and be thrown over the side of the course. We see his death more vividly than we have ever seen a fatal sports accident.

    In my hypothetical situation there are many people in newsrooms around the country who would be in favor of showing the story as-is. Some would argue for sensitivity and careful editing. No one would argue not to show it at all.

    The same debate played out an NBC Sports, and the “show it” crowd won.

    People who work in tv are always told to "get the shot"… you rise and fall based on the pictures that you deliver to your viewers. Getting visually compelling footage is all-important. There are cases of videographers who haven’t interceded in stopping crimes or helping people during times of danger in the name of keeping their cameras rolling. Their minds don't process what is actually happening in front of their camera. It’s a mindset that dulls the senses. And in this case, it clouded the judgment of the Olympic broadcast producers.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    2.16.09