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.

Sigh.

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’.

SNOW!!!

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.