Clear Channel: BAH!

Most of December was spent working in my home office, where I was never far from my huge CD collection, or (more likely) the marvel that is Live365, which has several Internet stations laser-focused to my wants, tastes and needs. Eventually, though, I have to pack up and head to the big city for a meeting or two, to find out how the world has changed this week and therefore, how behind I’ve suddenly become.

So it was really the first time I’d been alone in the car for an extended period of time, and the first time I had to deal with Houston radio in a long while. (Except for Your Holiday Music Station, which went back to its old format the day after Christmas, doubtless with a heavy sigh of relief from its employees and the sound of several CDs being tossed in microwave ovens). Houston radio was largely mediocre at its best in the old days, before Clear Channel Communications invaded – and then they managed to grind the mediocrity down to an even blander level.

Time was, I would listen to the local news radio station, 740AM, while in the car. Never hurts to have a grip on what’s happening in the world, and the traffic reports every ten minutes were a boon while you were trapped in H-town’s road system. Enter Clear Channel, and News 740 – yes, it still calls itself that – became a talk station. News is limited to drive times and on the hour. Why? Talk is cheaper than a 24/7 news format.

I had taken refuge in that in 740’s “sister station”, 790 KBME. 790 was skewed to a much older demographic, playing a wide variety of music from the 30s on up through the 90s, featuring a lot of stuff by Ella Fitzgerald, Artie Shaw, Billie Holliday, Dean Martin, Harry Conick… this was a thrilling, eclectic mixture of music. Moreover, it seemed the DJs were choosing their own music, not playing from a list (positively novel, in these troubled times). These guys had been in the music business a long time, and often had illuminating anecdotes about the music and the artists.

Well, today, I turned on the radio and switched to 790 because I don’t care for 740’s Consumer Affairs program in the morning… and found myself listening to ESPN Sports Radio.

As little as I care about some consumer affairs expert whining that people have to stop paying in advance and get everything in writing (not that they shouldn’t, but if they did, this guy would be out of a job), I do not give a rat’s ass about sports. A very large rat’s ass. Hell, two very large rat’s asses.

The variety music format was simply not profitable enough, and apparently the senior demographic is not worth enough for Clear Channel to be concerned about alienating it. KBME was a very bright spot for those of us who wanted something new and unknown in our radio listening; the music it played cut a very broad swath through decades and styles, and it will be missed so very, very much.

As I said, at home I have my own music and internet radio to keep me entertained (I followed a suggestion from a mourning thread on a Houston forum to this station with a Winamp feed, that goes a way toward soothing the hurt – you go, guys!), but neither will do for my car. If I’m going to pay to have a CD player put in, it almost makes more sense to make the plunge into satellite radio, which I’m told does have a 24 hour Houston news station – or at least traffic updates.

It would be nice to think that a lot of folk feel as I do, and a massive surge of satellite subscription would give Clear Channel – and its competitors, who have unfortunately taken to aping CC’s tactics – a clue, a cease-fire in its apparent war to grind radio down to a flat, vanilla surface. But I also despairingly note that most people favor comfortable predictability in their day-to-day, and radio stations playing the same goddamn song over and over again adds to that predictability.


Hey, look! XM has an all-Elvis station!

In Which Our Narrator Doesn’t Get Nuked

Yesterday was one of those days where everything seemed calculated to tick me off. Not that there was an increase in the average number of petty annoyances, just in my willingness to take it all personally.

Then it occurred to me: I didn’t get nuked Monday. Fancy that.

Finding something like that on the Internets (see, FBI? I’m a good American) leads to two reactions: the first is humorous, at the sheer outrageousness of the claim. The second is smaller, a self-doubting game of what-if, which leads to a deeper game of self-mockery for even entertaining for the briefest of moments that the nutjob knows some speckle of truth. Oh, but your inner opponent is a wiley one, isn’t he? He keeps bringing up the spectres of 9/11 and the Murrow Building. “Those seemed outrageous too, no?”

My Inner Opponent is a big cheater-head.

Though, really, he didn’t play the biggest card in the deck. Sadly, it was I who played it: “Okay, so you spent a year trying to get your mortgage re-financed, right? A year in which you found out it wasn’t as easy as the commercials make it look, especially if you’re self-employed. But you finally got it done, right? It takes effect next month, right?

“So that’s it. You’re going to get nuked.”

That’s the sort of reasoning a very long period of bad breaks engenders. Really though, I’ve been getting a bunch of good breaks lately, but old habits die hard, and the habit of constantly looking over your shoulder, wondering where the next dagger is coming from – that’s one of the hardest to break.

But I didn’t get nuked Monday. That helped.

After This, the Leftovers

What a nice Christmas.

So what if the snow barely held onto the ground long enough for presents to be unwrapped? So what if, in defiance of the natural order of things, we actually had to wake my son up, instead of vice versa? (Mom couldn’t wait any longer and dogpiled him at 8 a.m.) So what if the winter wonderland has given way to 65 degree afternoons and 25 degree nights? (Superb flu weather)

Indeed. So what?

It was our first Christmas at home, our first Christmas composed of just us, our cat and the Power Pug Princess (who also had tiny stockings full of Pounce and a rawhide bone, respectively. Santa is an equal opportunity giver). Surprisingly peaceful and fulfilling, as Lisa and I just sat there, watching Max figure out which toy to play with next.

I’d had a good year – finally – good enough to actually get Max the things he wanted and Lisa the things she didn’t know she wanted. I’ve had quite a bit to be thankful for this year, and if I wasn’t properly thankful for them last month, at Thanksgiving, well, I’m a born procrastinator.

Now it’s time to haul all these boxes and trash bags full of balled-up wrapping paper to the curb; time to get back to work. Time to fix another turkey sandwich as I knuckle back down at the computer. I hope you had a good one. I did, and I ain’t apologizin’.


Ees a meerkul! Posted by Hello

Progressive Christianity? Huh?

So I lied about signing off for the holidays.

I found this article by Jennifer Barnett Reed at The Smirking Chimp, and forwarded the URL to my wife, who sees no contradiction in being a liberal and a Christian. She’s now forwarding it to many of her friends. Like my wife and her friends, Ms. Reed finds the co-opting of the word “faith” for political purposes onerous, and that “the word ‘Christian’ has come to be so strongly associated with beliefs that are the polar opposite of mine. It’s frankly embarrassing to share a label with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.”

Christmas Spectres Approaching IV

Some nutcase says that Wolfowitz is going to detonate a nuclear payload in Houston on Dec. 27 to consolidate Bush’s mandate and justify the upcoming invasion of Iran. But never mind that…

Horrors! The mercury apparently topped off at 37 degrees today, so Houstonians were complaining about the bitter cold and bundling up against the sub-Arctic excess. Me, I was perfectly comfortable with my hooded sweatshirt and leather cap. But we get to wear our heavy coats so rarely in this clime, people can’t be blamed for trotting them out at the slightest provocation.

Tonight is scheduled to be the coldest of this snap, getting down to somewhere in the high 20s, with the slightest chance – maybe as much as 30%, depending on who you listen to – of a snow flurry. Still, this is nothing compared to what other parts of the country are experiencing; but I’m still giddy over the prospect of that storybook Christmas morning, fire in the fireplace, snow on the ground.

Well, it’s still Houston, so any snow that arrives will look very pretty coming down, then melt immediately. The crackling logs next to my easy chair will quite do nicely, thank you. After all, we have a saying around here: “You don’t have to shovel humidity.”

The interesting thing is, I was checking our extended forecast at The Weather Channel, and it seems the day after Christmas, temperatures will be back up to the more seasonal upper 60s. Maybe I didn’t need to lay in all that firewood after all.

Maybe a cold snap lasting just long enough for me to have a fire on Christmas morning doesn’t really count as a Yuletide Miracle, but heck, I’ll take what I can get, and be grateful for it.

That’s enough for now. See you on the other side of the holiday. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and may God bless us all, every one.

Christmas Spectres Approaching III

My old friend Morticia of Morticia’s Morgue sent me the link to this Scared of Santa photo gallery. She points out that in #7, “Santa looks like he’s got a heck of a hangover.” I personally think #8, which is from 1949, looks like one of those creepy “ghost photos” you see in Fortean Times, with the patently fake jolly old elf supplying the ghost.

Ghost of Christmas Past, Indeed. Posted by Hello

The best thing about this gallery, besides the satisfying schadenfreunde, is the amazing variety of Santas in evidence. Those who are obviously genuine oldsters with entirely real beards are the best ones, of course, but this also a photo gallery of hideously fake beards, ranging from hunks of cotton batting to what appears to be plastic. No wonder the tots are screaming.

Christmas Spectres Approaching II

I’ll resist appending”Electric Boogaloo” to the heading. No, no, no need to thank me. It was hard, but it was worth it.

Now where was I? Oh, yes, that was the basis for the post – “Where was I this last week?” Well, as much as I may bitch and moan about getting older, my father put everything in perspective by entering the hospital last week to clear out a heavily blocked carotid artery and have a stint inserted. Such procedures are no longer extraordinary, of course – good grief, they sent him home the next day – but we needed to be there to support my mom and, at my father’s insistence, “do Christmas” with them early.

Dad was in good humor for most of our visit, but kept having odd bouts of chills and fever, which had thankfully disappeared by the time we left.

But that’s not really why I sat down to write yesterday’s entry.

As mentioned earlier, we’ve been assaulted by Christmas imagery since late October. A local radio station has become “Your Official Holiday Music Station” since roughly that time, playing nothing but fa-la-la-la-al-derol. Since I am married to The Christmas Nazi, this means there has been nothing else on the car radio for the last two months, including during the drive to and from my parents.

What I discovered is that, according to this station, there are only six Christmas songs. Covered by a variety of artists, to be sure, but they are apparently the only ones worth playing:

  1. Winter Wonderland – the winner by a vast lead.
  2. Sleigh Ride
  3. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
  4. Feliz Navidad
  5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  6. – strangely, almost always the Gene Autry version, though they have played a very odd version by Dean Martin

  7. Frosty the Snowman

When a Christmas carol not on this list is played, the novelty value is great. Surprisingly, given the gleeful aggression of faith-based interests hammering on the “Christ is the reason for the season” trope (since they were obviously given as large a mandate as El Presidente in the last election), the non-secular music is pretty sparse, running mainly to Silent Night and The Little Drummer Boy (just to complete the Rankin-Bass holiday special trifecta). None of my favorites, like Angels We Have Heard On High, or We Three Kings. Or Bob and Doug MacKenzie’s Twelve Days of Christmas.

On the home front, I have completed the next phase in my insidious plan of slowly replacing the Christmas music CDs with stuff I can actually tolerate. Last year it was Big Band Christmas, this year it’s Los Straitjackets’ Tis the Season For…

I’ll get through this with the help of those worthies and the occasional Nat King Cole piece on Your Official Holiday Music Station. If I don’t see you again before then, a Merry Christmas to all, and Bah, Humbug, depending on your needs.

Christmas Spectres Approaching

It is doubtless obvious to any and all out there in the blogosphere that Christmas is fast approaching. The fact that most of us have been bludgeoned with yuletide imagery since before Halloween really makes that introductory sentence superfluous.

I’m not the holiday type, but I find myself perversely excited by this coming Saturday. For one thing, it will be the first Christmas we are actually spending at home, instead of driving all over Texas to be with various family members. Allergic to travel as I am, that is good news. It will be the first Christmas Eve service at our church I’ve been able to attend in… well, ever. Extended weather forecasts have it being actually cold on Christmas Day, instead of the usual jeez-turn-down-the-air-conditioner Xmas that is common in the Lone Star State. The concept of sitting in my easy chair in front of a fireplace while my boy vibrates in pleasure while tearing open packages like a blonde paper bomb fills me with an odd, comfortable, feeling of nostalgic warmth… odd since I’ve never had a Christmas like this.

Last Christmas was a little too stressful, as my wife and one of my in-laws got into a religious argument, ending when the in-law informed my wife that she and my son were going to Hell because they were not living the word of the Bible (as he saw it). Insert snide “true meaning of Christmas” comment here, since the whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. Odd, there was no mention made of her heathen husband…

I should clarify that, it could lead to confusion. No, I am not a Christian. Yes, I go to church. My wife is, you see, and her faith is very important to her. She – and, for the most part, the rest of the congregation – are open-minded enough to let me find my own way. I help out at the church when asked, and the whole moral thing is important to a child’s upbringing. I’m confident he’ll find his own way, either through this church, another, or the constant quest of his old man, when the time comes.

Speaking of the supernatural, I also think that this will be the last year that my son, Max, will wholeheartedly believe in Santa, and not simply give lip service to the concept in order to get more presents (I’m not raising a fool). Especially since, on one of his favorite shows, Mythbusters, last week, Adam Savage lumped the concept of “free energy” in the same realm as “The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus…FANTASY!!!”

Max may not know what “fantasy” is yet. I know the whole game was blown for me while very young by The Smothers Brothers, of all people.

That’s enough for today. Tomorrow, I’ll let you in on where I’ve been the last week. It’s not a thrilling story, but I still have catch-up to play in other areas, like, oh, you know, work. The thing that pays for Christmas.

Welcome to MY World

And now, a little peek into my home life.

My wife has just returned from the mall. She accompanied our friend, Ronnie, on a shopping trip there. She went mainly to keep Ronnie from machine-gunning the crowds of holiday shoppers, but she also found a T-shirt at Hot Topic that she wants to get my brother for Christmas. As we join TV’s favorite family, I am in the kitchen, cooking dinner, when the wife approaches.

WIFE: What do they call those people who know kung fu?

ME: Masters?


ME: Oh. Boxers!

WIFE: No,  (waving arms in air) kung fu.

ME: People who know kung fu are called boxers.

WIFE: No, they aren’t.

ME: Yes they are. Why do you think they called it The Boxer Rebellion?

WIFE: I have no idea. C’mon, who are the other guys that know kung fu?

A slight pause. I realize I have to change sides of my brain, to – as a friend once put it, “Tune into the same FM station that is listened to by cats, sea anemones, and blondes”.

ME: Ninjas?

WIFE: That’s it!

ME: Ninjas don’t know kung fu. They’re Japanese. They know ninjutsu.

Which didn’t matter, she was already describing something about ninjas and pirates not working together. While out doing the last of my Christmas shopping today, I’m supposed to drop into Hot Topic and inspect this shirt for – harrumph! – brother quality (and try not to feel too damn old, myself).

And before you ask: yes, I love my wife more than life itself.