Needed: A Dose Tough To Swallow

You might consider these words a spring tonic of sulphur and molasses, or castor oil in Coca-Cola. I have no doubt my message will be taken in the wrong way by some who will choke and gag on the words this humble ex news slinger offers. But it’s eating at me. It’s not aimed at any individual family. I expect some folks might un-friend me for writing this…. But its merely what I see:
Young people shot dead…either by other young people, or police officers… Then… people talk about how the lives of the victims are cut short. My answer might seen callous… but at some point, we’ll have to understand-
A 30 second encounter with a rival, or a law officer is the end of a year’s long issue.
And no amount of looking away can avoid seeing the question laid out, and surrounded by yellow crime scene tape. Those last few seconds mark the end of a neglected life… a life with no authority figures in the home who can say “No, you are not gong to (fill in the rest). Men often abdicate their position of responsibility by either turning their back on the family who needs them, or being incarcerated themselves.
God Bless responsible single mothers and dads who have to fight everything from influence by social media, intimidation by bullying, gangs, influential videos, and misplaced aspirations. My generation has tuned in, turned on… and now… often dropped out.
Raising a child is hard. And sometimes- no matter how much you try, hard to get right. It’s a cactus farm of dangers. You need a back-up in discipline, and a second moral compass…. and, maybe not the least, a person who can help navigate a youth into an adult who has a vocation, an aspiration, and a goal for life.
I’ve talked to young people caught in the drug slinging culture who have told me they don’t have any expectation of living beyond 20 years or so.
The COVID Pandemic has been stealing the headlines from record drug use and mental health.
Not every single adult household is facing imminent collapse. Please don’t interpret these comments as a wholesale indictment of any particular group in our society.
Try to look at it this way….those last thirty seconds of life.. could be a culmination of a young, troubled, unsupervised, and under-parented life.
School teachers can’t do it alone. The church is having trouble retaining pastors because of the many pressures on them…and, anyway…church membership is flagging in some sectors of of the Faith community.
Mental health centers are stretched to the max, and it might take months to get a bed available for a patient. Meanwhile, families are left to cope all on their own.
There’s what I believe to be a drought of parenting.
Law officers have to make a split-second life or death decision, and they have their own family waiting on them to return home. They are sworn to defend the law. And the law specifically mentions they can only use deadly force when they have a reasonable fear that they, or someone else is faced with imminent threat of death, or serious injury or bodily harm.
I submit that all too often, there’s a threat of bodily harm, or death-too-soon… that’s generated over a period of years.
Not just those last few seconds.


A Call For Action On Youth Violence

This is my opinion, and it might not be anybody else’s. But sometimes, you see things over time… and the images boil over in your mind. It’s not a good thing to keep cooking in your head. So here goes:

A kid is dead… after he opened fire and shattered the leg of a Knoxville Police officer. Police returned fire inside a bathroom at Austin East Magnet School. I’m betting that investigators already have an idea of why that young man carried a gun into school. And their answer could reveal evidence of plans for violence on a wider scale.

The community hears about the latest bloodshed, on top of other students’ shooting deaths in the same neighborhood. The television cameras record their grief, and their struggle to get control of a condition that seems to be in a flat spin.

Before I say this, please understand that I am a God-fearing Christian man. I believe in the power of prayer, and I have felt that Blessed Assurance because of the prayers of many. Some days, I keep the circuit hot in my silent conversations.

But I also believe there comes a time when we have to act on what God would have us do. There are times when we need to move. I don’t believe God expects any of us to just sit back and wait for something to happen, if we can do something. Think of the time Christ healed people. The moving of the water, the mud in the eyes of the blind, picking up the bed and walking. It seems like, a lot of times, Jesus required some action on our part before the healing could begin.

This is where my belief might part with others who are reacting to violence in that community. And I apologize in advance if I make you uncomfortable when you read it. I want you to know that, while I cannot comprehend the grief and anguish family and friends of the victims feel, I do understand your sorrow can almost be tasted right now.

The time for signs, slogans, and school programs has passed.
The community is facing an invasion, and no enemy can be defeated with talk. Stories of battles are common in The Old Testament. And again, God’s people were told to do something to defeat their enemy.

I covered a lot of stories about children and crime. From The Atlanta Child Murders, to an award winning series on where kids buy their drugs, I have been close to the battle zone. I sat in the kitchen of a woman’s apartment. The night before, her son had been forced to the ground, and shot in the head, along with two other young men. Days before, that mama had begged police to arrest her son because she knew he was dealing dope, and would be killed. One time, a kid told me I could order a pizza, and he could order some dope from his supplier, and he would get his dope faster.

I humbly submit these actions are needed immediately:

First, the family structure needs to be hardened. A child needs two adults in the home, for accountability, and solidarity. If a mother or father has left the scene, the community will have to find a way to stand in the gap through churches, social agencies, or organizations. Young men need to see male role models, solid men in their lives. If it takes a generation to clean up its collective act, we need to get to work.

Young people need to see a future. Studies show that many young males don’t have an expectation of living past their twenties. Their twenties ! If you have no expectation of living a year or two past high school age, it’s a pretty grim future. You can preach til you are blue in the face, but the best sermon would be to live a life where you can be there for your child.

The community needs to learn that, by the time the police department becomes involved, it’s probably too late. Social structure in every demographic needs to realize the justice system is not in the child rearing business. Youth detention centers can become “felony schools” where young offenders learn little more than tricks of the “trade”, and the caseload for juvenile cases can be staggering.

Mental health needs to be addressed, with better pathways for those who need treatment for psychological disorders. We have preached the opiate addiction story until it’s numb. I don’t even know if we can do much about it. Videos depicting gang life, exotic cars and cash, and opulent houses glorify a lifestyle that causes death, and robs a person of their dignity.

Gangs are more prevalent that we might imagine. We need to support police departments that glean gang intelligence and movement and treat them for what they are, a continuing criminal organization designed to make money by illicit means. Attorneys General and Law Enforcement should be empowered in special task forces on gangs, statewide. And, back to the expectation of life again… young people need to somehow see there is a life beyond twenty.

No matter how hard it seems we try, there is an inequity in schools within the same system. There will always be “good” schools and “bad” schools that carry a stigma. That reputation can be broken. Not by calling schools something other than a school… but making all schools able to carry out lessons that lead to better state benchmarks.

It’s going to take a long time, and I believe that if we start right now, the goal might not be achieved in our lifetime.

But we have to try.

We have to do something to bring about healing.

A Pinnacle Of Pizza Perfection

Pizza Palace is on Magnolia Avenue in East Knoxville. It’s a drive-in, or take out place that’s served this area for a long time.
I know the pizza is terrific, but the spaghetti at this place is a tight second place. Now, the least kept secret in Knoxville dining.. Pizza Palace will soon be featured on national television.

Load the car… and follow these directions.
The Place is on Magnolia Avenue, close to the southwest corner of Chilhowee Park. There is no dine-in. I am not sure the neon sign has changed for decades. This is the sign at your target destination for a galaxy of garlic and an oasis of oregano

Iconic Sign Image From

There are a couple of ways to get there. From Downtown Knoxville, turn east on Magnolia Avenue, and as you approach the Park, watch for the drive-in on your right.
From Interstate 40, Exit Rutledge Pike, and take the westbound lanes of Rutledge Pike, as if you were going to Zoo Knoxville. As you go past Chilhowee Park,… watch for Pizza Palace on your left. Bring some paper towels- it’s that good!

There was another great eatery less than a block away. But it’s been gone nearly a lifetime.

The Tic-Toc was across the intersection to the “5th Avenue Gate” of Chilhowee Park. It had great BBQ, and inside dining as well as a drive-in.

Inside The Tic-Toc, the tables had individual juke box controls, so you could drop a coin and order up a song without having to leave the table. I have memories of tagging along with my parents and their friends after Burlington Lodge meetings. They would dine, and talk and laugh…and enjoy each other’s company.

I remember the laughter most of all.

Putting Polecats In the Oven And Calling Them Biscuits

This is not a news story.  It is my opinion.  But I think you will be interested, and might even share these thoughts: 

Raymond was barricaded.  He had shot his wife.  And police in the Burlington neighborhood of East Knoxville were trying to get him out.   I remember like it was yesterday….a many years-old cop story that disappeared after a half-day in the news cycle.  

I had covered other stories, including crime… but they had been after-the-fact.
There were no college journalism classes …  at least none I know of… .that taught how to do journalism from live, breaking news events.  So, in my reporting curriculum, I included my own school of hard-knock lessons learned.  Thankfully, professionals like WBIR’s Carl Williams and Jay Beeler were around, and willing to suffer endless questions on the what’s and how’s of police beat reporting. 

Then, at WSB, I added towering pros like Bob Ketchersid and Aubrey Morris… and manager Elmo Ellis to my list of teachers.   Mr. Ellis was an avid listener.. and if there were any problems, you could count on seeing a small note that said “See me,  E.”  You didn’t want to get a summons like that.
 Early-on my feet were held to the fire of responsibility and dignity. 

This long preamble is a long way around the barn to claim that during my career, I earned awards for covering  a huge amount of “spot” news…a couple of them national awards.  And some were big stories, like prison take-overs, riots, multiple killings, and mass casualty fires.   I don’t want to brag, I just want to kind of state my resume’. 

Now, I’ve been looking into a part of the news coverage from Boulder, Colorado and the slaughter of ten people.  
Many of you have seen the video that was streamed from the parking lot of that supermarket.  It even showed at least two bodies.  
That video didn’t come from a concerned citizen.  It came from a man who called himself a “journalist”.    His video feed was a way for the media to contact him concerning the broadcast rights to his video. 

Now, here’s where I see a very dark gray area.
The man doing the live streaming showed police officers reacting outside the building.  
I looked it up, and listened to nearly an hour of police radio communications, and here is what I learned:
Early on in the recording, I heard dispatchers tell the on-scene commander to “be advised someone was live streaming audio”..  That greatly concerned officers because they were afraid the killer might see where they were assembling, and how many were there… and how best to set up an ambush.   

Also- at that time, police had no idea of the condition of the (fatally) wounded officer, and were desperately trying to get super-hardened shields inside the store. 

Let’s switch to the video that you DIDN’T see.  
I also looked up, and watched the recording of the live stream.   And about the same time officers were warned that their actions were being streamed live, I watched a confrontation between police, and the video-taker.   He not only refused to move back, he told officers he would remain where he was…cursing them with “F-you’s”  several times.  I believe he refused to respond to  lawful commands.  Also- five or six officers had to corral the live streamer and funnel him out of the area.  I think police were more than restrained in a moment in time where I know they were worried about their brother officer reported shot.  

You have to know when to do the right thing, even though it might keep you away from the middle of things.  I’ve always held there were some things you just didn’t do.   There has to be a dignity in death.   There has to be a willingness to NOT add to the problem.   Of course, I would work my way as close to the action as I could.  There were times my car would be caught inside the familiar yellow tape perimeter.  You can always ask to get closer… or even get there right after something happens, and record the aftermath.   But the moment police tell you to move back… you move.   You might be able to find a supervisor who would allow you some leeway and move you closer to the story.  The time to argue comes later, and then you can complain or work to educate officers on what you need as a news gatherer. 

The action that you did not see, was irresponsible,  it put lives potentially in jeopardy, and was not “journalism”.   It was a matter of being “lucky” to be on the scene of an incident as it was unfolding.   

I don’t think taking the video was illegal… the law usually says in a public area, you have no expectation of privacy.  But, when officers told they guy  to move- he should have moved back behind police lines instead of asking for names, and  badge numbers, and cursing.  

If that’s what it takes to be a “journalist”- count me out. I’m done.
I know this will be an unpopular idea with many… but I believe that video is a news story all its own.  The few seconds of video were seen over-and-over.   Is it wrong to think that the stations who used the video should have explained the source…eventually?

And, an even larger question is the result of high quality video recorders in cell phones.  Can anyone with a camera claim to be a journalist, and expect the same consideration from officials afforded the larger media outlets?  How can a legitimate news source  use video collected in this way?   The temptation to use it and then explain later is tremendous.   And if one network as the video, you can bet the other two are screaming to get it, too. 

It’s something you don’t hear a lot about, but just about every city has one or two independent photographers who will occasionally take photos or recordings then sell the product to news departments.   (Side note- I once knew a guy who took free-lance film of news stories overnight and sold them to TV stations in Atlanta.  His name- Wayne Williams… the guy convicted in connection with the Atlanta Child Murders… a story for another day)

I did the research,watched a lot of footage, and heard police traffic from the first call to the call to command that an ambulance would not “be necessary” for the wounded officer…or anybody else except the suspect the police shot. 

The images you didn’t see is what bothers me.  I always thought of myself as a citizen first, and a reporter second.  And above all, a respecter of humanity, including a respecter of  the remains of those I was near and their loved ones. 

If this guy, full of profane rants, claiming to be a journalist.. is a harbinger of social media as news gathering….  I’m glad I walked away when I did… with my box full of awards… but more important– my dignity intact.

I Found Her Purse

(When I read the first draft of this story to my best editor, my wife Dena.. it disturbed her.  It’s the story of someone who made the news for a day, then was gone, and forgotten but to those responsible for handling her remains.  She also told me sometimes she wonders what kind of person I would have been, had I not witnessed and reported stories like this, and even more ghastly results of homicidal minds. I just don’t know. -df)

I found her purse.   

The woman was dead.  

I was already out of the station on another news assignment. I had fed in some sound clips, or an on-scene report from a story downtown that could be used in newscasts until I got back in the station.  The technology of the day did not allow studio quality sound to be transmitted back to the station.   The Internet was still an idea in some scientists brain.  So, we would come back in, process and write out stories, and turn them in to the anchor, complete with a four page carbon copy script.

Our news cars were equipped with two police scanners.   One was dedicated to all of the City of Atlanta’s emergency frequencies.  There were six “zones” of police operations to listen to, and one Atlanta Fire Bureau Frequency.   The second scanner was used to mainly listen to Dekalb County police and fire dispatch, and a few other counties in the metro Atlanta. 

I heard the call where police were sent to a location in east Atlanta.   There was a report of a woman’s body that had been found outside an apartment building. 

Officers found the woman’s nude body alongside a chain link fence adjacent to the two-story apartment building.   Homicide detectives quickly arrived.   This was the time before yellow crime scene tape.  Now, police quickly seal crime scene tape around an area, and nobody but officers are let in, or out.   Then, if we were extremely careful not to disturb anything, detectives would tolerate us standing close.  Courtesy and respect goes a long way in those circumstances.   Investigators knew that, I would cooperate with them, and if there was a clue or some evidence they needed to withhold, I would go along with it.   Often, they were details that only the killer, or killers would kniow,   and that would be of great value to homicide squad detectives as they interviewed suspects.

The woman had been there for a while- at least overnight. I didn’t pay much attention to the field exam of the remains.   There’s nothing to be gained for your news story by being close to that kind of thing.   The body can’t talk to anyone except to detectives looking at evidence.   Only the detectives and their bosses would talk “on the record”.  While I was waiting on someone to tell me what I already knew…that a woman’s nude body had been found in a vacant lot … and maybe a few other bits of information, I decided to poke around.  There was high grass and weeds along the chain link fence line.   

About 75 or a hundred feet away, I found a purse.   I remember to this day that it was a medium brown, medium sized pocketbook.   On the arm or in the hands of a woman you might see on the street… you wouldn’t notice it.  But it stood out there is the weeds.   Some other stuff was nearby…and looked like it had been thrown out as someone rifled the purse\. But I knew not to touch anything, and to watch where I walked.  But instead of walking away from the potential evidence, I hollered for an officer to come look at my discovery. 

Turns out, it was as I suspected, the victim’s purse. 

She was not a prominent citizen, or a media celebrity.   No doubt, the story of her death would be run for a few hours, then start sliding down the stack of stories until it disappeared.  I know officers would have eventually found the purse.  They always search a pretty wide radius around a crime scene, and yellow tape keeps shuffling feet, and sensational minds from mucking up the investigation.

And she was identified.    Police had a name to attach to the person left dead in the indignity and insult of being left naked, dead for anyone to sees until someone got there with a sheet to reclaim some reverence to the dead. 

A while later, I continued my 20-block trip back to WSB.   But that story stayed with me.  Maybe it was because I found some pieces of evidence  that probably would have been found anyway.  
What I did ponder for a while, was the question of what happens to someone to make them so able to leave a person naked and dead along a fence line.. 

The last time I checked on the story, the Medical Examiner was working to confirm her identity, and was searching for next-of-kin.    But the M.E. investigator told me that she would likely be buried in a pauper’s grave provided by Fulton County.  

Once upon a time, she was somebody’s baby, created in God’s image.  I wonder what happened between that time, and the day her body was found in those weeds.   

I never found out. 

Nobody Said He Couldn’t

This is a rough draft of one of the chapters in the book I’m writing. It hasn’t been seen by an editer…editor…yet.

Even a blind hog will run up on an acorn once-in-a-while.   I can remember two times when that statement rang true in the newsroom, and one time when a dedicated broadcast engineer was responsible for getting critical information to a hurting community.

WSB had a large newsroom.  Today, the size of that newsroom would be unheard of.   Typically, there would be a couple of early morning anchor/reporters, a mid-day anchor, and two, or three street/reporters who could work later hours, and a night-time anchor who would host “Thousandaire News” brought to by one of Georgia’s great financial institutions. We also had two or three newsroom assistants, who helped produce the newscasts. It was a 24/7 operation, every day of the week, including holidays. 

It was the Friday before Memorial Day, 1979…. About the middle of the day.   WSB Radio had several teletype machines, AP and UPI wire services with regular news updates, the “B” wires from both agencies… services that brought feature stories we used a jumping off stories for our own coverage and expanded news stories.   There was a teletype machine for the National Weather Service, and a teletype machine that handled dispatches for a syndicated newsroom, where clients could get their personal dispatches out to the public. 

That Friday afternoon, an American Airlines DC-10 started its takeoff roll from O’Hare National Airport.   It flew for about 13 seconds.    One of the engines on the DC-10 fell off.   It had been improperly slid back into the rack that held an engine on one of the wings. The plane got airborne…one wing tipped toward the sky…. and the big plane smacked the ground like a lawn dart.  

Newsman Richard Warner and I had seen the bulletin, and gone on-the-air with the first few details of the crash.   I also made sure the on-the-air show host knew about the crash.  In Atlanta’s busy aviation community there were standing orders at WSB, that in the event of an air crash making headlines, advertisements for some of the airlines would cease.  We kept a record of the number of the missed commercials, so “make good” spots could be scheduled.  

Somehow, I heard that the plane crashed into a mobile home park…namely, the Sunset Mobile Home Park.  This was long before internet information and digital research.   Instead, we kept telephone directories from the major cities in America, and kept large Rolodexes of contacts.  

After a few minutes, I got the number of the office at the mobile home park.   It was a long shot, but I dialed the number.  And one of the park’s managers came to the phone.  The man was obviously shaken from what he had just witnessed, but after I cleared some confusion about just who I was, and what I was asking, he agreed to record a brief interview.   The mobile home park manager kept his composure, and he described a hellish scene where there were bodies and pieces of airplane, all in flames.  He told us that he saw no survivors, and did not believe anyone could have survived the fireball.  After all, the plane had just taken off and was fueled-up. 

After the interview, I snatched the reel-to-reel tape off of the machine, and dashed into the edit booth.   One quick soundbite, then another, and another went on-the-air as we pulled pieces of the tape.  WSB was a national network affiliate, and we would often file stories we had enterprised.  From President Carter and his family to the Centers For Disease Control, to stories about major national politicians, we would send the stories to the network.  In return, reporters got a small talent fee.   So, we dutifully called the network in New York…. You’ll have to imagine the puzzlement at the network desk- Here was s station in Atlanta, bringing eyewitness interview information from Atlanta.  We understood their reluctance to accept our offer of sound…after all, it did sound a little off…an Atlanta station covering a Chicago story.    We had our fish to fry, so we went on with our business of providing news to Atlanta.   Later that day, the network called…editors had remembered our phone call, and now realized it was legit. 

Sometimes, we worked under instructions from radio geniuses who forgot more about the radio business than remembered it.   Their ideas propelled us into performance that could be described as doing excellence.  The bar was set very high, but not so high to make completing our assignment.   I always think of the word “excellence”

In 1977, I was working the un-enviable anchor schedule that had hourly newscasts from early Sunday morning into the afternoon.   Outside of crime stories and breaking news of fires and such, it was a very calm shift.   I’d often wrack my brain trying to think of someone to call and interview, or some story I could develop. 

Burt Lance was President Carter’s head of The Office Of Management And Budget.   But the director had resigned when a money scandal erupted.   Director Lance was a native of Gainesville, and he and his family lived in Atlanta.  I was reading the newspaper and teletype, scanning for ideas, and I found the OMB story had taken a new twist.   Nobody told me that you couldn’t call a member of The President’s staff on a Sunday morning.  I called the church the Lance family attended, to see what time the church usually let out…not the start, but the finish time.  Somehow the radio station had saved the Lance phone number in our Rolidex. For those of you who are too young to know what a Rolidex is, it’s a crank that turns small cards, in alphabetical order.   In our newsroom, we often put notes about the person’s address, or how to ask for them.   Eventually, Mr. Lance answered the phone.  He had just arrived home from church, and yes..he would answer questions about the new developments.   He was a very gracious gentleman, and I can’t help but think our station’s reputation for fairness helped him make the decision to be recorded without fear of some “gotcha” piece being done on him.   I didn’t tell Bert Lance, but I had circled pieces of the teletype copy and newspaper, to give me ideas of what I should ask.   
If I had been assigned that story, I would have been too intimidate to try it. 
It should be noted that later, Bert Lance was cleared of all allegations.  he would be cleared of all allegations. 

Most talk radio programs operate with a telephone screener or producer, and a host.   You can throw in three or four more people if you want to conjure up a big production team.   But two people can handle a talk show easily.   But one?   How could you screen your calls, and also take them on the air.   You couldn’t do that… it was impossible.  The mechanics alone were daunting.   But nobody told David Paul. 

David Paul had worked at a small radio station.   He wanted his own talk show on WSB Radio.   And it would be a serious new kind of format.   David Paul was a kind of shock-jock.   And he had some looney topics that brought out the bizarre in people.  I remember once, Paul was asking for anybody listening while taking a bath to call the station.   And folks did call… and splash their water and describe their bath tubs and soap.  The station hired him, but there was no budget for a control board operator/producer.   David did it all by himself.   I don’t think I ever told him that once I was walking down the corridor of the station, and I came across the program director at the same corner.   I, frankly, had my reservations that the show would be on very long.   But we stood and talked, and turned up the volume knob on the hallway speaker that brought the on-air signal to the hallway.  After watching for a minute, I marveled at how the young guy was screening his own calls during the commercial breaks.  I asked the boss how in the world could this guy manage all of that?  His reply was simple, and stuck with me. “Nobody told him he can’t.”

Maybe we do better, accomplish more, and see new ways of accomplishing things, when nobody says you can’t.   If I had to pick one broadcaster as the best example of that, it would not be someone on-the-air, it would be the former WIVK chief engineer Tim Berry.   

Here’s an example of Tim’s resourcefulness in helping us get the news out of a remote area…even after we were told several times that our goal was impossible.   A tornado had ripped through Morgan County.   It tore up the small community of Mossy Grove…then skipped over to Petros, home of the old and infamous Tennesseee State Prison.    The radio station that provided the area’s local news had been hit, and was off-the-air.   We found out people were listening to our WIVK signal, and our WOKI.  We were their source of information.  In the several early hours, I relied on sketchy cell phone service to file my reports, often simply holding the telephone up to the speaker of the Marantz tape recorder to bring voices from the scene of the deadly calamity. 

There was to be a news briefing in Petros the next morning.  And we expected a lot of information from state and local officials.   They were to talk about everything from Federal emergency money, to what the county planned to do with mountains of debris.   It was important details the community needed.   But the site of the tornado, and the briefing… was down in deep valleys and hollers.   Since our VHF radio transmitters worked on a straight line principle, there was no way we could ‘hit’ any of our receiving towers.  

Nobody told Tim that it was impossible.   We had a little bit of lead time in which to get the live equipment set.   And he had a plan.    From the site of the briefing, we would send the signal to Roosevelt Mountain nearby, and in Morgan County.  Roosevelt  mountain had a radio link that was line-of-sight with a receiver all the way in Sevier County on Bluff Mountain.   From there, the signal was bounced to one of our local towers in the Papermill Road area of Knoxville, and from there…to the radio station.  Patches had to be made ….where operators at the station had to physically place jumper cables into phone jacks to send the live signal to both stations simultaneously.   I received a Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Award for my work over three days. And I will always say my friend, Tim earned a large piece of those honors. To this day, it was one of the most incredible organizational feats I’ve seen in radio.  – Because nobody told him he couldn’t do it. 

I like to pass along stories where people have done crazy things to get their jobs done, from downed transmission towers, to working under horrible winter weather.  I was once the last news reporter on Georgia’s Tybee Island before it was closed because of an imminent hurricane landfall.   It wasn’t a glory “stand in the wind and report” assignment, it was a job to see what was happening, and describe as clear as I could see, what was happening.  

When I speak to young people, I like to relate stories like these.  I think they have a little more currency to change their mindset, rather than to just say “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
Fact of the matter is, you can do anything you put your mind to, and even think up a few things that nobody mentioned you coud not accomplish. 

The Guy After The Guy Who Just Got Fired

I’ve seen more firings than a boiler repairman.

Some of them were the end of a protracted season of disappointment in performance at the radio and TV stations where I worked. Others were just impulsive, dunderheaded moves by egotistical or inept managers. Some dismissals were needed, and others were long overdue. Broadcasting shares those traits with other industries. But that is where the similarity stops.

People who make their living on the television or radio live on a constant razor’s edge. To be sure, a small percentage of them have no-cut, long term contracts. Other broadcasters have contracts that mainly favor their employers, and are famous for non-compete clauses that prevent them from moving across town to another station, even when they are fired.

I’ve seen some strange departures. One reporter let go from his job got so angry that he tied his radio station blazer in knots, and threw it at me before he marched out the door, cursing. And that was a ‘for cause’ dismissal. Other workers were shame-marched out of the station, often with a box of their belongings. There were other dismissals where the worker was asked to turn in their id badge and keys, and told someone would go through their desk and ship them their personal property.

One time, I was doing traffic reports for an FM station, and suddenly the formats changed. At first, I thought maybe we were getting some interference from a station in another town. I tried calling the hot line, and nobody answered. I had to get back to the station before anybody would tell me what was going on. The format change happened when the manager walked into the studio with a new stack of cd’s. Surprise doesn’t really describe being on the air with a station one minute, and hearing an entirely different and unfamiliar station the next. Personnel changes happened, but fortunately, I dodged a career land mine because I had two other stations where I was on-the-air, and eventually was added back to the on-air staff at the changed station.

I think the most notorious firings I witnessed happened twice in my career.
My boss came to me early in the morning, and instructed me to quietly prepare a 9:00am newscast, and tell no-one. I did what I was told. I walked into the news announce booth at 8:55. Both times, when I came out of the booth at 9:07, the anchor scheduled to do that newscast had been let-go and led out of the building by security. One morning, just about the entire morning crew left the building.

That station had portrait photos of the on-the-air staff on the hallway walls. They were secured to the wall on velcro strips, so the photo would come down as the dismissed worker left. To the listener, those on-air people disappeared as if they were victims of an alien abduction.

That puts the guy-after-the-guy, or lady…. in a very strange position. They’re often warned not to mention their predecessor, and do not take any calls on the air that might result in the “what happened to” question being asked. I developed a theory, and I believe it has been verified time and time again. You don’t want to replace the lead-off batter. There are two reasons:

First, the management might hold you to an unrealistic set of goals, not based on you, but based on the perceived substandard performance of the person who had the job before you. There can be resentment, even if the audience didn’t like the personality…. They might be an idiot but they are … “my.. idiot.” The next on-air crew has an uphill battle to create a relationship and familiarity with the listener.   Managers might not be patient.   This is why I always counsel young people entering the industry to invest in inflatable furniture.

Morning show personalities come and go. When they go, folks are deprived of stability and, I believe, a kind of time-pacing where their audience knows what happens when, and what they should be doing in their morning routine, when they hear a particular segment on the radio.

Surely, University of Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt had some idea that he was on the way out. The sound of un-reeling packing tape making moving boxes outside his office… maybe the business off declined to print any new business cards… or other signs particular to the athletic coaching industry. He and nine other staff members are on the way out at UT. And it smells to me like a housecleaning before the information leaks out on some serious NCAA violations, and cover-ups. But I’ll leave the reporting and commentary to my friend Jimmy Hyams on The Sports Animal 99.1 FM.

Athletic Director Philip Fulmer is retiring.. either caught up in the meat grinder of staff changes , or honestly having enough of work, and looking to spend some time with his family and friends. (I would tell him retirement is highly under-rated.)

In the coaching rotisserie that is The University Of Tennessee, the next person up will have an even harder job trying to re-build the image and athletic record.

They’ll be the guy,
after the guy, after the guy,
after the guy, after the guy.

Living Scared In A Pandemic

In only a few days, the number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic will reach 400,000. More people have already died as a result of coronavirus than in any other pandemic in The United States, with the only exception being the ghastly 1918 influenza pandemic.

As I mark the grin milestones, I often hear “Yeah but, “Where are the flu numbers?” It’s been widely reported that because of masking, hand washing, and social distancing, the flu numbers are down significantly this year.

I’m waiting for my place in line, waiting on some semblance of protection from disease for the second time in my life. When I was a little boy, there was a girl who lived a couple of blocks away from my home on Ashland Avenue in Burlington. She could only walk with large leg braces and those crutches that had handles and metal bands for her arms. She was a survivor of polio. Other children who were ravaged by the disease could only survive in what was called an “iron lung”… only their neck and head sticking out of a machine that allowed them to live. Others died. Even though parents spoke about polio in hushed voices, we knew the score. Nobody knew of a way to prevent polio.

Then, the vaccines came. There were injections, and doses placed on sugar cubes. They were called the Salk, and the Sabin vaccines. And my parents made certain I was vaccinated pronto. The PTA organized vaccination clinics for the entire community at public schools. Doctors offices also had the vaccine.

There were lines, but not the thousand-car queues we are now experiencing. Announcement of available vaccine results in the website registration to open and close inside a half-hour. Recently, Knox County Health Department had to turn many people away from a vaccination site. They ran out of vaccine.

Rewind a few weeks, and note that the Administration’s goal was 21 million vaccinations by 2021. It was called Operation Warp Speed. That name will likely be derided in history as a cruel joke. HHS Secretary Azar told a reporter today the reason the number of vaccinations fell abysmally short of the goal, was the late delivery of the vaccine. That might be part of it, but I believe the largest part of the problem is the hodgepodge fruit salad of state policies on who is vaccinated when, and how.

We can only hope for a course correction when the Biden Administration takes over the fight against covid-19. But I don’t hold a lot of hope for a major improvement anytime soon. That’s because we learned this weekend that the government is out of vaccine. There are no reserve doses. It’s like needing an overcoat right now, only to find the wool used to make the coat is on back order.

Operation Warp Speed developed a covid vaccine in an unheard of short amount of time. I believe bureaucratic blundering and disorganization in the distribution chain led to expectations that could never be met. I don’t believe many of us ever thought we would reach a time where family members would drop off loved ones at the emergency room door, and have to leave them…alone…and sometimes to die.

So now, we wait on our turn. And me mourn those who could not survive the virus and its myriad complications. This time, it’s not the schoolgirl down the street, it’s the 65 plus neighbor who might be fighting for her life, on a ventilator, and away from any family contact.

You might have heard my story before, that I spent five days on a ventilator, suffering from acute respiratory failure following surgery, and as a result… had several years dealing with the way it left my lungs…and my mind.

There’s no doubt that the virus has its origins in China. How it got to The United States is a question for another day. Right now, I should be sufficient to worry about how governors, mayors, and health administrators deal with vaccinations in an orderly manner. Hospitals are doing what they can. Meanwhile, please wear a mask, (I often wear two masks, a cloth mask over my trusty N-95, keep your hands washed, and limit where you go.

My wife and I are relatively hermits. I pray to be spared from covid, and ask God to protect me and my family, and to heal others. I believe God can heal in an instant, and He also gave me the reasoning power to protect myself as much as I can.

The heartbreaking stories seem never-ending. I hope you’re working hard to keep from adding to the manuscript of this pandemic.

Handicapping The Possibility Of A Second Civil War

I was clicking around the Internet this afternoon, and came upon a post written by Damon Linker for “The Week”. Linker says he has been very reluctant in the past to comment about the possibility of a Second American Civil War, but the insurrection at The Capitol prompted him to outline the possibilities.

“How great is the risk of America going completely off the rails in the short-to-medium term? I wouldn’t want to bet big money on it. But the odds are improving all the time.”

-Damon Linker- “The Week”

I think, no matter your political persuasion, you should be worried. In his article, Linker outlines the types of civil wars, from the one we had in The United States, and many other conflicts. But he leaves out what I believe could be the fuse meant to ignite America into open civil strife- anarchists. They come in many flavors. Some want to hasten the breakdown of civil society so as to start a race war. There are others who just want to tear apart society in general.

You can see some of them in the videos of the insurrection at The Capitol. They are the ones who come ready for battle, willing to kill or be killed. I have no doubt in my own mind that some of the “anti” groups we have seen fomenting violence in other cities were represented in the mob that stormed into The Capitol. It was a grand adventure for them to insert themselves into the riot, and urge others on. I believe, as arrests mount, we will have proof of that opinion.

Does it not seem strange to you that we are even talking about a possible civil war, or open violence? It does to me. In my life, I have witnessed the assassination of one President, at least three attempts on other Presidents, and the resignation of another. There was a collective feeling of dread with each of those events.

In the previous century, anarchists carried out a successful attack on Wall Street, by detonating a buckboard loaded with dynamite on Wall Street. Two men were executed in connection with it, while others maintained their innocence. I’ll not argue the case here, but leave you with evidence that there have been people hell bent on destroying our democratic republic for a long time.

Our nation’s seat of government is about to be flooded with four times the number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Large fences have been erected, even barbed wire place in some areas. We are fortifying our Capitol much like some two-bit, unstable government might have to do when power changes. And I have no doubt those images will be heavily used by our foreign enemies, exploited in propaganda, from videos to posters. Remember- they still chant “Death to America.” in some places.

I hope we can keep from sliding into cults of violence on both sides. The precious principles of civil order are at stake. And that order defines how we enjoy all of our additional, wonderful, freedoms.


The eyes have it.
The eyes of the people who stormed The Capitol in a full-on riot were wide and frenzied. They were going after anything and everything in the building. Lawmakers were rightfully scared for their life. Rightfully so.

From my experience as a reporter, and based on what I saw… the insurrectionists were separated into a couple of groups. First, there were folks who were whipped into riotous behavior. They came to march, holler, and demand a different outcome to our Presidential election. They were the ones with wide, searching, random eyes. Their actions were no less criminal than what the other eyes belied.

The other eyes were windows into the planning, tactics, and communications surrounding the riot. They were the organizers, an amalgam of white supremacists, conspiracy believers, those who are trying to hasten a second civil war, and anarchists. Police say they used sophisticated communication systems- something we have seen in other riots. They helped the leaders of the insurrection shape the spear that pierced the Capitol.

One rioter is seen trying to climb through the window into one of the legislative chambers. She falls backwards, mortally wounded by a law officer. Two Capitol Police officers were hurt. Two more people died of medical emergencies. And no telling how many others had serious injury.

There appeared to be thousands at the Capitol, but we need to remember that a vast number of people who showed up at the rally, left in peace. They hollered, clapped, and shouted – but kept what they did within the scope of the law. It was their right … from the First Amendment.

Now, there are more troops in Washington than there are in Afghanistan and Iraq. Read that sentence again. It’s scary. For the first time since The Civil War, National Guard members are inside The Capitol, guarding its safety, and the safety of people who work inside. These folks are your neighbor, your grocer, small business owner, teacher, and first responder.

All that in mind, and I ask you this-
Who will you sit with in church this weekend?
Not everybody goes to church, of course. But for those who do, how do we decide who sits where. Are pews roped off with signs that say “Trump Supporters Only”, or ” Voted for Biden? Sit in this row.”
Moreover, does Almighty God care? As a Christian, I worship a Savior who is named “The Prince Of Peace”, among other things. The empty Cross is all I need to find my way through this world, and although I don’t deserve it, Salvation is mine (and can be yours, too) no matter how I vote.

I can’t see how actions inside The Capitol could do anything but disappoint The Almighty. Of course, there was that time when Christ showed a coin with Ceasar’s image on it. He said there was government, and it should have its due… but showed witnesses there was a better way.

And this weekend, thousands upon thousands will gather. And, as we sit with social distancing and recite our Canons and prayers, we will sit together. Because that’s the way we are taught that its intended to be.

Peace. Sometimes very elusive, but still a noble goal