Saturday, March 18, 2017

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

One of the things I've regretted over the years is not taking time to do more reading and writing. My Dad ordered a series of Hardy Boy books for me and my brother John and Nancy Drew books for my sister Diana when we were little. Diana and I read them as fast as they came in. The next logical step was a series of classic books from Airmont Books. While we hungered for mystery, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Jack London, etc didn't get our same attention. 

Sometime last year I decided to start reading all the books I had in my own library beginning with a biography of former New York Jets Quarterback Joe Namath that Diana had given to me. It was warts and all and I lost a lot of respect for Namath as I read how he took for granted his talents and what others had to offer him. 

I went through every book I had including several on writing and style. Best advice "Keep it simple stupid!" Finally on a visit to my Mom's I grabbed a fist full of the Airmont Books and to my surprise began enjoying the classics. So now you have the reading and writing in the title. Further evidence of the writing being this blog and how I used what I learned in the books on writing for my every day job as a news director for KFIZ radio station. 

As for the arithmetic that comes in several ways. I found that in addition to personal libraries and public ones, used books can be quite cheap. You can find them at used book stores, online, garage sales, even at St. Vinnie's. One other thing about arithmetic. My Dad was an accountant. He died in 1980 and I often think of him. Imagine my surprise when several of the Airmont Books I read I found a subtle, but loving reminder of my father. He used adding machine paper as bookmarks and I found it in two or three of the books. My Mom has more at her home. I wonder what other books may have those reminders in them.

Although I have a renewed appreciation for books I have to says that my favorites have always been biographies. Some recent books I've read have included a biography about Lombardi and autobiographies from Frank Deford and Charles Kuralt. All led fantastic lives, part success, part regret, but as human as you or I.

I've included a photo from the Kuralt book I recently finished now on to a Stephen King short story collection. But a few words about the Kuralt book first. His best stories about "A Life on the Road" were about the extraordinary people he met. So it was only fitting that when I opened up the book I found a dedication, not from Kuralt but from the person who had bought the book and given it to a favorite aunt for Christmas one year. From the few words I gathered there was a special connection between them. How appropriate given the book and author. I'm going to pay if forward and share it with someone I love.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Reasonable Doubt

"I don't know!" A Fond du Lac County jury must have heard that uttered by Dennis Brantner dozens and dozens of times during his murder trial.

Brantner recently stood trial for the murder of 18-year-old Berit Beck in the summer of 1990 in Fond du Lac. After 2 1/2 weeks the jury couldn't decide if he was guilty or innocent.

Some jurors had tears in their eyes as they were dismissed. They clearly took their duty as jurors to heart. But fingerprint evidence, testimony from witnesses Brantner worked with and for establishing his knowledge of the area where Beck's body was dumped was not enough.

In an audio interview taped in Brantner's kitchen in Kenosha and a video interview later that same day in March of 2014 at the Kenosha Police Department, police and Fond du Lac County Sheriff's detectives pressed him about Beck's murder.  Did you kill her? "I don't know." How did your fingerprints end up in her van? "I don't know." You must have been in her van. "I don't know." He repeatedly used the phrase, "I don't know" to answer their questions.

The jury heard the audio three or four times and watched the video at least as many times. "I don't know," became a mantra. I'm not sure if that influenced the jury, but they had their doubts about his guilt or innocence. They weren't the only ones.

After the jury was dismissed the press waited in the jury assembly room for a press conference with District Attorney Eric Toney and Dan Miller a pastor at the church the Beck family attends. While we were waiting there was a lively discussion about whether Brantner was guilty or innocent of Bert Beck's nmurder. Even the professional skeptics couldn't agree and we can sometimes be the most unreasonable of doubters. Should there be another trial. "I don't know."

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunities are important during your career, but don't sneer at those fresh to your field when they are presented with what may seems to be an overwhelming opportunity. 
Recently I had a chance to do a one-on-one interview with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He was in Fond du Lac and had a couple interviews lined up with local media, five minutes each. While waiting I saw someone who had worked for one of our stations as an intern. He is now working for another station.
He was filling in for someone who was on vacation and was nervous. He commented that this was probably old hat for me. In fact I've interviewed at least five or six governors in my time and Governor Walker on multiple occasions. But I offered what words of encouragement I could. 
A day or so later I told a few people about seeing our former intern. A couple of them said what does he know about talking to the governor. I didn't say anything in his defense, but it reminded me of something that happened to me soon after I started at KFIZ. 
I was invited to moderate a candidates forum for the Dodge County Sheriff's race. It got back to me that some people at my previous station had laughed when they heard about it and said what does he know about moderating a debate. In fact nothing, but for more than eight years I covered the Sheriff's Department for that station and knew most of the seven candidates. I was told I did a good job moderating the debate.
Getting back to our former intern. I wish I had stuck up for him, I guess I am here. The important thing is he got a chance to do a one-on-one interview with the governor. Maybe that's not something you list on your resume, but it's experience and it counts.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

R U Connected?

Back in the late 1990's I started working with a computer at work. I'd worked with a word processor before that and some more ancient forerunners before for programming, but this was the first PC I used to type and file stories.

About that same time I got a PC for home. I had an old Apple in the 1980's, but never got it up and running. It was given to me second hand and even dial-up was a new concept and spotty at the time.

Recently I took stock of just how connected I've become and to say the least it surprised me. I have two computers in my news studio. One to type and file stories and edit sound. Everything we do now is digital. Another computer is used to record and send newscasts and interviews to our AM studio. On the infrequent days I do my own engineering for our AM talk show I work with three computers in that studio. At home I have a laptop.

Then there is email. I have my personal account at home and 5 at work. I'm also responsible for news on our website and a newsletter. At work I have two phones and a smart phone to take to meetings and news events. At home I have two phones and a cell phone.

Then there is social networking, it's just crazy. I have two Twitter accounts and four Facebook accounts. And somewhere along the way put together a LinkenIn account. With the smart phone I am now posting on Facebook and Twitter during meetings and news events. This gives the news more immediacy. My work smart phone is on 24/7.

It strikes me as funny that when I worked in Minocqua, Wisconsin our AM station programming was actually run off a Commodore 64 keyboard and the system was hooked up to a marine battery so if we lost power the memory wouldn't also be lost. That was the late 1980's.

In 1981 I was in my senior year at Northern Michigan University. Taking stock of what I might need for my professional career I asked my advisor if I should take any computer courses. That sage professor said I wouldn't need them! And while I'm taking stock I also write a blog.

Saturday, June 06, 2015


I've been drinking Starbuck's coffee's for years, but until the other day had never actually bought one in one of their stores. A couple months ago I was sent a Starbuck's gift card by someone and I worked up the nerve to finally use it.

Fond du Lac has a Starbuck's so I decided to walk in and order some iced coffee. After I did, with apologies to Seinfeld, I felt like I had walked into a Soup Nazi episode.

First I got into the wrong line. I was in the pick up line and not the line for ordering. Someone nicely informed me of that. Once I got into the line I placed an order for a vanilla flavored ice-coffee. That was my first indication that I did not have the right lingo down. The second came when I got into the pick up line, which really wasn't a line at all. It was more like pick a spot near the entrance where you don't impede foot traffic.

Finally my order came. I didn't realize it at first because there was the lingo problem. To me what was a vanilla-flavored iced coffee came out of the barista's mouth as all together something different. It came out at warp speed and more akin to Klingon, at least to me. I didn't know it was mine at first until I worked up the courage to pick up the cup and read the label. Yep it was mine. The rest of the customers must have thought I was a moron.

One thing I learned from the experience is that apparently you have to have one heck of a coffee buzz going to thoroughly understand the barista. He has the lingo down and well enough to rattle it off like a mosquito. I do plan to go back. I don't believe in the phrase "No Coffee for you!"

Sunday, June 15, 2014


There was a period in the late 1980s when I was working for a radio station in Minocqua, Wisconsin where I reviewed a movie and critiqued it as a weekly feature on my show. It's been nearly 25 years since I have wielded my critic's pen, but after watching a few episodes of a summer replacement series on NBC I have dusted off that pen.

I have always been a sucker for good hospital dramas, The Night Shift isn't one of them. A drama about an emergency room, this one in Texas, should always have plenty of story lines. But this one is trying to accomplish too much. It's trying to be E.R., Grey's Anatomy, M*A*S*H*, Scrubs and a host of others combined.

Particularly annoying to me is the use of time that pops on the screen before a commercial and returning from commercials. If the show is called The Night Shift that should be enough to give the viewer a reference as to when things are generally happening. M*A*S*H* used the time thing once, but that was an episode taking place in real time so to speak and it was very effective. The use of time in this show is just pointless.

The show also needs to dial down the testosterone just a tad. Good stories and well crafted characters are what defines a good hospital drama. The character T.C. seems clueless that he's suffering from post traumatic stress disorder from his time as a battlefield surgeon in Afghanistan. He's always in the right and the ends always justify the means. My favorite TV T.C. was Theodore Calvin who flew a chopper in the Vietnam War and later as an Island Hopper pilot in Magnum P.I. His character was more layered than this T.C.

E.R. was on several years before George Clooney rescued a little girl caught in a flooded storm water drain. The timing was perfect and it was a defining moment that made the drama must see TV. By the way E.R.was also on NBC, but we knew it was different right out of the box.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Don't Shoot The Messenger!

Don't shoot the messenger! That phrase usually comes before or after you get bad news, but is there really any good avenue to receive bad news?

Recently I've been considering whether or not I like getting bad news through social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Part of that thoughtfulness is because over the past few years I've gotten bad news through those two social networking icons. The death of a cousin and a friend come to mind.

Last week I got news that a close friend of the family died and the person who called me said they didn't want me to read about it on Facebook first. I'm not sure I would have, but posted the link to that's friend's obituary on Facebook anyway damn the consequences. I guess I could justify it a bit by telling you it was particularly flattering and treated the friend as valued as they should have been.

I believe there is a place for social networks to spread some news, but when it's really personal or close to a family you should weigh the pros and the cons first. If it's going to hurt someone you love it's better to pick up the phone and keep it between you. That also goes for photographs and video of a person.

Being a news reporter I can tell you that stories about those in the publiceye are fair game, but that shouldn't extend to friends and family with Facebook and Twitter being means to do it.