Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why Women Don't Watch Glove and Boots

Well, I DO watch Glove and Boots.  I love Glove and Boots and when it's going to be on the air I'll talk about it.  I will tell my listeners to watch it. I'll probably pull clips from it to share.  It's great. 

It's also sexist.

Asking men in general to not be sexist is asking a lot.  Many men experience great struggle even empathizing with each other, much less the "alien" sex, and it wears them out quickly.  This does suck for women but we just live with it, because for the most part that's easier than trying to get them to even perceive the situation.

Also, in my experience a great many men are NOT sexist.  Nearly all the men I deal with on a regular basis are raging feminists.  In that setting many women, like me, will tend to drop the sword and just get on with the fun things in life.  This is probably incredibly lazy of us.

I think most women aren't watching Glove and Boots because they don't know about it yet.  I know many who would love it.  But I also know why Family Guy will always rate higher with me.

Family Guy is sexist.  It's also homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic.  It's violent.  It makes fun of disabled people.  It also makes fun of politicians, celebrities, eating disorders, animal cruelty, and even features a somewhat sympathetic pedophile.  These are not things I like.

But - Family Guy makes fun of men in a way that resonates with me.  It 's pretty much how I see the stupidest men, so I get my laughs in a way I rarely do on any other show.  Peter Griffin is the perfect stereotype of the immature, idiot male and I rarely see men being the brunt of jokes in that way so consistently.  Women who watch Family Guy are putting up with the usual sexism, but they are getting a lot more for it than usual-they get to see males skewered for pretty much the whole half hour.

If the lack of female demographic for Glove and Boots is due to any element of the show, it isn't because it's sexist - it's because it's a bit too male-sensitive.  For instance, using the word hag to describe an older woman is hilarious in the "Facts of Life" parody in Glove and Boot's "History of Television"...but Fafa might just think it's bullying to use the word fag.  

I'll be watching, though.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


I should put my breaks from the air on here occasionally, so I'll start with one from Tuesday morning on Rock 2.0.

This was a true story.  There was a lot more to the story.  Dave was also in the road when I drove up, flagging me down, which was the first thing that made me laugh.  But breaks are best when you tell just one story and go straight through beginning, middle and end.  Still, I wanted to play with it. After five or more takes I decided to drop the other elements to make it work. 

The punchline was one of several I tried out.  At first I wasn't sure that it was direct enough.  Then I wasn't sure it was fresh enough, that it might be too predictable. 

Sometimes when hear a break back and your delivery is what you wanted, an iffy story can work.  Delivery is a great polisher.  But you can't lean on it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Flyin' Like Felix

Jocks remind me of Felix Baumgartener.

Remember Felix Baumgartener's heroic jump from the edge of space? He was on the radio with Joseph Kittenger, the former record-holder, all the way up. On an average of once a minute Joe gave Felix encouragement, or praise. “You're good, buddy, everything's on schedule,” or “That's great Felix, well done,” came about every 60 seconds. Joe knows about being way up with the big jump to come, about the hypoxia, the vertigo, the fear of failure and the pressure that can assail a person who's isolated and performing a daring feat. Joe supported Felix. Felix's flawless landing owed something to Joe.

And we radio personalities owe a lot to our support.  We do need support, because we deal with similar conditions.

We create in a vacuum.
  We're in sterile studios, we have limited contact with each other and we have a very limited ability to hear each other or our stations.  We have to take special steps to be able to hear ourselves.

We make high-pressure decisions.
  A creative person makes the best choice out of a million other choices and we do that about 50 times a shift, give or take. Some choices are better than others, but with our names, our voices, and our visions for radio on the line 250 times a week, we never lose the burning desire to make each of those 250 jumps worth a listener's time. We have a need to stick each and every landing.

We must protect ourselves in a hostile environment.  Felix monitored the plummeting temperatures and oxygen levels outside and kept his cool. We have to do a similar thing all the time. The internal critic blathers a constant dialogue in a jock's mind, and listener lines are peppered with critics. Technology tosses us roadblocks and delays when we least expect it.  That's the basic level of adversity.  If you also work in a hostile atmosphere or with a nonconstructive PD (I am lucky enough to have only constructive PDs at the moment) that's another element of adversity. 

We deal with variables all the time.  Content is a variable. We ride the gain of the news cycle and content services to feed the gaping maw that is three to five content breaks per hour for at least four hours, in my case on three formats. To find fresh, compelling, relevant and memorable pieces of unique content per day is rigorous, but that's not where our job ends.  We need to customize it for our listeners and ourselves, write it up in a way that is even more compelling and fresh and memorable, and then voice it with just the right delivery - up to thirty-six times in four hours. 

Any creative person who is under pressure to create compelling original content in that bulk rides into the stratosphere with name, and voice and reputation on the line every moment.  All of these things mean the world to us. The world, in the same way that Felix's little capsule was his world, his protection in a vast, sometimes hostile environment. We are strapped to our craft and will always be, because our craft is the love of our lives.  The thing we cling to is in the stratosphere.

That's why we need that support.  We need a friendly voice from the ground. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Shock is not Surprise

Spoilers, if you haven't caught up with Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey for the past year.

Aristotle said that the best endings are "Both surprising and inevitable,".  As are many plot turns.

The S4 premier of Game of Thrones is just eleven days away, which brought back the Red Wedding episode, which brought back the way Julian Fellowes had tried to have his own Red Wedding on Downton Abbey by having the best character of the show brutally raped as a shock device. Julian double-fridged: he raped Anna in order to create a revenge scenario for her husband Bates (that's fridging), then promised viewers a follow-up to "explore the damage" and blatantly did NOT follow up, creating the second fridge phenomenon, fridge logic, described this way: "By the time you figure out what was wrong with that, it won't matter anymore!

Some people waited till the end of the season to form an opinion about the rape and felt a delayed sense of disgust over it, because the follow-up never happened.  But by then most had forgotten the impact of it and wanted others to "Get over it,".  They wanted to pretend that rape is a romantic and dramatic plot turn rather than a life-eating, soul-shredding shit taken all over someone's humanity. Most viewers wanted to forget the event and move on to the important business of Rose's new frocks. Most reveled in the "drama" of the rape - the same species of blood-thirsty most who scurried to the front rows during the French Revolution, breathless with excitement, handkerchiefs at the ready.

The Red Wedding on Game of Thrones had to happen because a deal was broken with a very vengeful guy, and he took his vengeance.  We all saw it coming.  Like the family who were wiped out, we tried to tell ourselves it would be fine but we had a creeping sensation of danger which was fulfilled.  The ending to their lives was surprising, but also inevitable since it had been set up in the story structure.

Anna's rape was not inevitable; it was a shock. It was an open-handed slap from nowhere in one episode that served to reduce and denigrate the best character permanently and to change the characterization of her husband in one season just to create a plot device.  It was sloppy writing because it was not built into the story armature and because the rest of Anna's story was not told.  She was chained out on the rock and then just seemed to wander back home, a pale wraith of her former vibrant spunky self, with no depth or insights or reveals given to her character.  "There," the story seems to say, "Now we've done with her,"

Anna was fridged.

The very point of all this, of Anna's neutering, wasn't even used as a climax point; we didn't even get any vengeance for it.  The death of the rapist was referred to off-screen after the fact, robbing the audience of the climax scene which is the very point and satisfaction of a vengeance story.

The more I learn about story structure the more flaws I see with the Downton plot from last season and the more I admire the way Game of Thrones is being told.  But we'd best keep a sharp eye.

TV production companies like money, and shock makes money.  Therefore money trumps story.

And the mob loves bloodshed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The First Draft

The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. 

After that, the craftsmanship comes in...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lucy and The Chocolate Factory

We've seen it a few times; Lucille Ball is shoving chocolates into her apron pockets and her mouth to hide the fact that she can't wrap them fast enough as they spill by the thousands off the conveyor belt.  When I mention this analogy to people in radio, there's always a laugh and I never need to explain further.

We want to be perfect chocolate-wrappers.  We hold ourselves to writing standards that we admire.  This is inevitable.  We watch Jimmy Kimmel or Family Guy and we think, "Why can't I be that funny?  Why am I not that witty?  Why didn't I think of that?"  We forget that those jokes are written by teams, TEAMS, now, of writers.  Family Guy has around 25 writers.  Even comparing ourselves to stand-up comedians is apples to pasta - they have days, weeks, months to prepare and process.  We bite right into the raw material every day and have, at most, hours to prepare.

It's a great thing to aspire to be at the top of your craft.  It can also exhaust you if you never reach the brass ring and exhaustion is discouraging, which does not feed creativity.  Excitement, pleasure and peak experience feed creativity.

Shortly after deregulation in the late 1980's the philosophy that "Fear is good," seeped down hallways from sales offices and cubicles like waves of toxic gas, wafting up into microphones.  We were told to "Shut up and play the hits,"  Concert tickets started going to clients; we were no longer invited.  We heard all about how we were now "Barking dogs" and we were expected to sing "Amen!" at evangelistic meetings praising the technology that would put millions of us out of work. 

These are excellent tactics to use on bullet-proof egos in sales departments.  They were devastating to the creative atmosphere of radio.

Despite the fast-and-more setup of radio that's been humming along for the past 30-something years, creativity lives anyway.  It can't be killed.  It is the human compunction responsible for our existence.  Building a shelter, making boots and planting crops are all creative endeavors.  Humans are here because we are creative, we are social, and we tell stories. Disc jockeys are still here because we have such a love for stories and communication and reaching out to an audience with heart and soul that we can't stop. We can't stop, and we can't be stopped.

The conveyor moves along at speed and we keep wrapping, but we must remember that our wrappings are the value.  We must never allow the hum of the machine to drum that knowledge out of us.

We must never forget that radio starts with us.

From the Storytelling Group, The Moth

I think this is a golden age of romantic radio, radio that is based in bringing the listener up close and personal.
—  Brooke Gladstone, This Is Radio

From the poet Muriel Rukeyeser

"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,"

I also love the quoter, my very favorite deconstructor, communicator and journalist.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's International Story Day

What a great holiday.  Beats the crap out of International Happiness Day.  Celebrating International Story Day will not burden you with pressure to be happy, but stories will make you happy.

Stories are essential to human survival.  They are soothing or cathartic or instructive.  They are the tracks by which we can stalk the depths of the psyche, and the blades of the Great Processor, the human brain, make story-shaped marks on history and science and even mathematics.  The brain is not a passive recorder.  The brain processes information through story.

To quote one of my story heroes, Chuck Windig, on Twitter today, "Storytelling isn't about markets or trends. A day's worth of wordsmithy is about the You-Shaped Hole in the narrative. Walk through. Own it."

This is my own guiding story proverb, from Mary Oliver:

1. Pay attention
2. Be astonished
3. Tell about it

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

About This.

If you're sniffing for gossip or meanness, here's why you won't catch it on this blog:

A. Despite my very best efforts, I've done plenty of sucky radio in the past, I'm probably doing some sucky radio now and I'll undoubtedly do some sucky radio in the future.  If there's any moral ground from which to insult other jocks or bring them down, I'm not standing on it.

B.  I know what it takes to hunt down and trap the skills, weather the stresses and endure in radio.  Anyone who's done it gets a chest thump and devil horns of respect from me. 

C. Brain stoplights. The brain stops on a dime for the negative, but it also needs to get back in gear to move on again.  Positives and green lights keep things in motion.  It's more fun that way.

I reserve the right to relate facts of the past if they serve a story, but just the facts, and no names attached if it would bring somebody down.  No thinly-veiled versions of names, either.

I also reserve the right to snark on TV writers with abandon.  They regularly fuck up great stories and everybody needs a target once in a while.

Vitamin S

In one of my favorite books, The Golden Theme, author Brian McDonald (renowned story guru, author of all the books that Pixar interns are required to read before they even begin internship, award-winning screenwriter and producer) describes what he calls the story nutrient.

Stories are essential to survival and have been ever since the first primate slapped berries out of another primate's hand with added gestures and monkey sounds that said, "Make you sick.  Killed my cousin!  Don't eat!"

Bleeding leads on the news because we want survival information.  We are evolutionarily programmed to crave it and seek it.  What happened, we wonder?  Somebody was going too fast on an icy road.  Somebody did some bad drugs.  Somebody got on a plane that was stolen by terrorists-this one especially horrifying because there's no advice that will help you; you are powerless in that situation.  But no matter how horrible, we want to know. We need to know. 

That piece of survival information in a story is the nutrient.  We think of it as the takeaway.  But it's not just scary news or lifestyle advice.  Jokes, music gossip, candid moments with the listener and a billion other things jocks come up with are all nutrients.  They make life bearable by shoring up the listener's psychic immune system.

The way feral stories come together with on-air chops is one of my obsessions.  I love hearing how jocks do it.  It's still a very unique form.  When people post on social media it's always slanted for mass consumption. Radio jocks customize content for a very specific audience and to push that audience's buttons in a way that has nothing to do with sales or mass consumption.  It's designed to engage, sure, but also to fuck with their minds just a little.  You can't get away with that in social media or even in a vlog posting, because you risk being misunderstood.  Jocks have a far more masterful hand with their art form and they are unhampered by the rules that tie other forms down.

It's voice to ear, pure and feral.

No other media can deliver the same variety of nutrients.

The Story Hiding Behind The Dumpster

My story guru Brian McDonald talks about the feral story.  Like the flea-pocked, matted and snarling kitten behind the dumpster, the feral story is pure; it comes out of human mouths spontaneously and with no consciousness of the fact that it is a story.  It has not been edited or cleaned up and it's not comfortable.  It has no home.  It is story sprung from and operating on pure story instinct.

I stalk feral stories.  Coffeehouse conversations are great for that.  Almost every exchange in a coffeehouse or a break room is a story. I love to deconstruct feral stories, because they almost always follow the rules of story; there's almost always a beginning, a middle and an end, and usually other great components as well.  I heard this one in a coffee house down the street from the station:

Chick 1: "How's work?"

That's the beginning.  We're at a known time and place.

Chick 2: "You know that new skank I told you about in accounting?"

That's the end of the beginning.  It's the first question that launches us into the first act conflict.

Chick 1: "Yeah?"
Chick 2: "You should have seen the shoes today.  And in the snow.  I mean..."

The conflict is jacked up by the shoes. This takes us into act 2.

Chick 1:  "Desperate."
Chick 2: "Oh, my God.  So desperate,"

But the skank and the shoes were not the nutrient.  Here comes the nutrient:

Chick 1:  "She'll get promoted,"

That's the crisis point at the end of act 2- that the skank will get promoted.

Chick 2:  "Yup.  But when the new management comes in-"

That's the climax, which hinges on the crisis but takes it to a new level. Now the reader or listener knows we're in hot water.  Now what?

Chick 2:  "-well...that will be the fun part,"

And there's the denouement and the resolve.  Things will be OK again.  Aristotle would have approved of that ending, too, because as he said, "A great ending is both surprising and inevitable,"

In addition to the nutrient (don't be a skank in desperate shoes or it won't end well for you) there was tragedy, foreshadowing and even a cliffhanger.  The "fun part" is coming in a future episode.

I can't get enough of these.  It's like feeding feral cats.  But greedier, because I can use them on the air.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Tragedy Tightrope

I listen to MacKenzie Rae regularly anyway, but this morning I heard a break that was so cleanly constructed and so genuine that I had to deconstruct it.  It reminded me how well tragedy can be done.

Doing tragedy on the radio SUCKS.  We've all heard Dick Clark's raging tirade over coming out of a cheerful record into a story about dead puppies, and we know he had a point.  I was live on The Fox during the Columbine shootings.  The moment seared into slow-motion nightmare for me, the moment that returns at four in the morning, is snatching a Tanner Gun Show spot from the cart deck as Taking Care of Business was fading, as my PD shoved an update from KOA into my hand confirming that another two children were dead.  I didn't implode in that moment, of course, just later over a few shots of tequila. 

I don't remember how I did that break.  I wasn't fired that day, but that doesn't mean I did it well.  Tragedy is really, really hard to do.

In McKenzie's break, the construction was pristine and the delivery anti-tabloid.  She had a reason for telling me about Mick Jagger's girlfriend L'Wren.  It wasn't just the backsell of a Stones record; she gave me a tour update as well. They had to reschedule a tour date because Mick is having a very bad day.  His girlfriend not only died, but she appears to have killed herself. 

There were just enough words to give me all the information and also enough feeling, because McKenzie didn't shy away from the feeling.  She allowed her voice to go heavy with sadness and to leave that on the end of the break.  It was a genuine amount of sadness as well.  It's sad news, even if we didn't know the lady.  I liked another thing about that break, too; it reminded me that Mick Jagger, one of the heroes of our format, is a feeling human being.  That point has been in question in my mind more than once. 

McKenzie used one other dynamic in execution that I admired; she kept it brief.  It reminded me that when you're walking on a loose, wiggly tightrope with no net, it's best to keep the walk short.  It lends more dignity, and you're safer that way.

Cold Beginning

I sat in my truck one morning breathing frozen mist on the inside of the windshield as the heater blasted sub-zero air into my face. I was punching the buttons on the radio. 

The guys on The Fox made a gross joke about women.  I punched a button.  The guys on KBPI made a gross joke about women. I punched a button.  Somebody on KOA remarked that "Women can't do math,".

I'd already had a crappy weekend with my ex and was not feeling strong, so the morning barrage of misogyny transported me to a hostile universe.

I punched over to KTCL.  Sabrina said, "Hey, it's Sabrina, and man, is it cold,"

I threw up my mittened hands.  "THANK YOU!"  I yelled in the ice-coated cab of my truck, "It's cold.  Thank you,"

Sabrina then told me that her dog Ryker was under her chair, she had her feet up and her mug of coffee was hot.  She reminded me that, with the usual luck, I would soon have a nice cup of something hot and not have to drive anywhere for a while.  Things were most likely going to be OK.  The universe was not an entirely hostile place anymore.

I was bored by the next three songs she played, but I didn't punch another button.  She had me.  I wanted to be in that cozy world she was in, where dogs and coffee made life good.  More than that, I wanted to be loyal.  She had bailed me out and I wanted to return the favor by staying with her.  That was the first time I'd ever listened to radio like a listener, and I had been in the business for over ten years. 

That morning I finally got it.  We each bring an entire microcosm with us when we start a break.  That's one magic of the beginning of a story.  Jocks are sitting on one end of the mic, our brains churning over content and delivery and added value, while on the other end the listener soaks up the thing we're no longer conscious of: the organic magic that we bring just by being present and being in context. 

To share context, to let them know you are in the same place and time or just listening to the same song or just being another actual human being on the planet with them, is the grounding and founding of a story.  It's the beginning.  And if you are truly present and truly go to ground with them, share a world with them, even make the world they're in a bit less hostile, you have given them something very valuable, for free.  Just by being where they are, and by being you.

If you give them that, they'll be back.