Where Were You on September 11, 2001?

By | September 11, 2021

I was in Las Vegas, having just awoken at the Stratosphere. Also known as the tallest building in Las Vegas. I always go to my computer to get the first news of the day. Today, for some strange reason, I turned on the TV instead. They kept playing this clip of a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers. I thought it was a promotion for some new horror movie or TV show. A few minutes later, the second tower was hit. I could immediately tell by the reaction of the newscasters that it was no joke.

Quickly taking note of my situation, I decided the smart thing to do would be to go for my morning walk and thus get out of the building. When I walked through the casino on my way to the front door, it was surreal. None of the hundreds or possibly thousands of people in that casino had any idea what had happened. They were gambling as per normal for a Tuesday morning in September. Later that afternoon, the casino was indeed showing live news coverage on about half of the monitor screens. The other screens continued to show Keno numbers and the casino was still full of gamblers. People now KNEW what had happened and they were continuing to drink and gamble as if nothing important had taken place just a few hours ago. Disturbing.

I was scheduled to fly out on Thursday, September 13. But since all U.S. airports were now closed, that was impossible. I had purchased this trip as a package, so my room rate was pretty cheap. When I asked to stay until the airports opened, the hotel assured me it was no problem. But they wouldn’t extend the rate. I’m like “Why not? Nobody else is going to book that room until the airport opens!” They thought I’d just pay the regular rate because I needed some place to stay and didn’t have a choice. Wrong. I checked out, rented an in-town car for cheap from Enterprise, and found a room for about half the price on Boulder Highway. I ended up staying there until Saturday morning when I could get a car from Avis to drive out of state.

When I went to the airport to switch cars, another surreal experience awaited me. One of the largest rental car lots in the world is located at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport. On any given day, you will find literally thousands of cars available there. Today, that lot was completely empty! As I rounded the corner, I saw one lone car at the end of the lot: a red Pontiac Grand Am. Because I had to return the other car to Enterprise, I told the attendant “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Don’t let anyone take that car!” I grabbed the keys, transferred my stuff, dropped off the other car, walked back, got in, and got the heck out of there! About 16 hours later, I arrived at my friend Lisa’s house in Culver, Oregon. A long, desolate drive through the desert which makes for a great story all by itself.

The end of my post-9/11 experience. God bless the U.S.A.

The First Day of School: 5th Grade at Westview

By | September 7, 2021

Growing up in Minnesota, Labor Day meant the unofficial end of summer. It was also our last gasp of freedom, since a new school year began on the following day. There were a few times when school started the last week in August. But for the most part, the first day of school was the day after Labor Day.

On Tuesday, September 3, 1974, I found myself anxiously walking down the fifth grade hall at Westview Elementary School. In those days, you had to wait until the first day of class to find out who your teacher was. We’d walk by each door and read the list until we found our name. I was especially nervous because I was afraid I would get Mr. Hipple.

Mr. Jim Hipple was a great man who taught 5th grade at Westview for decades. But he was also known to be a strict disciplinarian when necessary. You see, Mr. Hipple was also in charge of the school patrols. This meant I had already had a few encounters with him, due to my penchant for goofing off on the bus and not obeying the patrols. Rumor had it that the “problem kids” were assigned to Mr. Hipple so that he could straighten them out before they hit Valley Middle School the following year.

As I walked apprehensively down the hall, my eyes first turned to Mr. Laing’s door. My name wasn’t there. Then, I walked all the way to the end of the hall and looked at Mrs. Newstrom’s door. My name wasn’t there, either. There were only 2 doors remaining. This meant I had a 50/50 chance of getting Mr. Hipple for my 5th grade teacher. I could feel my heart pounding!

I walked up to Mr. Hipple’s door, not daring to look at the class list. But I had to. This was it: the moment of truth. I forced my eyes to read just one line at a time: A…B…C…D…DU..

Not there!

I walked back down the hall and stopped the last remaining door: Room 205, up one from Mrs. Newstrom’s class. There I was! Mrs. Ruth Keely was my 5th grade teacher. This proved to be a great match. “Mrs. K” became my favorite teacher at Westview. She was the first and only one there who really understood me. We’re still friends to this day. Sometimes, even the problem kids get lucky!

Brown Institute Broadcasting Class of June 1983

By | September 7, 2021

It was 39 years ago today that I began my journey towards becoming a professional radio broadcaster at Brown Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Also known affectionately as “the voice factory of the Midwest”, this is where us kids who were too lazy to go to college and too scared to steal would go for our post-secondary education.

On the first day, we all gathered together in a large room. This was known as the “classroom” portion of our training. Mr. Mike Soucheray was our instructor. We were each given an official Brown Institute binder which contained the school rules, procedures, several vocabulary word lists, and three blank 30-minute cassette tapes.

Did I mention vocabulary words? Oh yeah. We had to practice those every week. The lists consisted of words which were difficult to pronounce and define. We were told that we’d need to use these at some point in our careers. Words like “ostracized” and “gregarious.” During my 16 years behind-the-mic, the total number of Brown vocabulary list words I found a need for was zero.

We were then split into 5 much smaller studio classes. Mine was 9AB1. 9 = the month class began. AB = Afternoon Broadcasting since Brown also offered computer and electronics courses, with both morning and afternoon classes available. 1 = studio class designation (1 of 5.) This was where we received actual hands-on training, using equipment similar to what would be found at an entry-level radio station. Back in those days, that meant cueing records, playing commercials off of carts, and backtiming into network news. Learning how to be a real, live radio disc-jockey. This was what I had wanted to do since I was 4 years old. I loved it!

When we weren’t in class, and sometimes when we were supposed to be in class, we could be found at The Poodle Club: a dive bar on East Lake Street. It also happened to be the closest bar to Brown Institute. Their clientele was a strange and eclectic mix of Brown students, old bums, and regulars from the neighborhood. “The Poodle” was close, cheap, and they never asked me for ID. Which was a good thing because I was underage for most of the school year. Being the baby of my class, I didn’t turn 19 (legal drinking age in Minnesota at the time) until late May. The Poodle didn’t care. They had free sandwiches and/or hot dogs during happy hour and Special Export on sale every morning before noon. Worked for me!

Unfortunately, Brown Institute is no more. After transitioning to Brown College and finally Sanford-Brown College, it closed for good in 2017. Why? There just isn’t much of a demand for live air talent anymore. Most of what passes for radio today is prerecorded and run off of computers. One staff typically does duty for 4, 5, or more stations in a cluster. The broadcasting industry has changed immensely since 1982. Sadly, Brown is no longer part of it.

Apple Valley High School Computer Chaos

By | August 30, 2021

Did you have a computer room at your high school? At AVHS, we had 8 Decwriter floor console terminals which connected to the state of Minnesota educational mainframe computer in St. Paul. Each had a regular dial telephone next to it. You would call 636-4736 and wait for the tone. When you heard it, you’d hurry and place the phone receiver into the rubber cups on the modem before the connection cut off. Extremely primitive by today’s standards, but cutting edge technology back in 1979!

This system was known as TIES. I believe TIES stood for Total Information Educational Systems.

You then had to log in with your school’s unique ID and password. Apple Valley’s login was HEL-I201,VERY,3. “VERY” was the password, so you had to press the control key down while you typed it in. “3” designated that your school had the very latest modem, allowing you to cruise TIES at a blazing 1200BPS instead of the standard 300BPS!

We also used a second system called MECC: Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium.

If you were successful at establishing a conncection and logging in, you could play simple games like Oregon Trail. You could learn programming by writing basic programs. You could do your math assignments. Or, you could talk trash about other people. A high-tech version of the bathroom wall. You would then put the person’s name on it and save as a “program” so they would find it. Of course, I chose the latter. It was great fun until someone narked. Then, Corby Smith (the computer teacher) would find you and suspend your computer room privileges.

A bunch of us computer geeks also owned CB base stations. We constantly competed to see who had the biggest antenna, loudest radio, and most powerful signal. Poor April lost a “power war” with me and was subsequently ridiculed the following day:

Interestingly enough, the telephone used to connect to the mainframe was just a plain old 1970s desk dial phone. Each phone had a separate line, unique number, and was not part of the school’s master phone system. Because of this, an enterprising young prankster could have some fun!

Because we were computer and electronics geeks, we knew that if we dialed “511”, an automated voice would tell you the number you were calling from. In addition to the 8 phones in the computer room, there was also one terminal and phone in the library. Because of the open architecture which AVHS employed, you could walk out of the computer room and see the entire library one floor below. Of course, everyone must be QUIET when in the library.

If the library computer was not in use and you called the phone, it would ring. These were genuine Bell phones with LOUD ringers! Since nobody was near the phone, it would ring until the Ms. Sukovich (the librarian) got up and walked over to answer it. It was loud enough to hear inside the computer room. If you got up and walked over to the railing, you could watch the whole thing!

The same prank could be performed in reverse. If there was a class in the computer room, call from the library and disrupt it by making all the phones ring in sequence.

I know it sounds dopey now, but this was great fun and endless enjoyment for 15 year-old boys!

16 Years Ago Hurricane Katrina Hit Ocean Springs

By | August 29, 2021

16 years ago today, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana. Where were you? I was in Minnesota, having left the area just 27 days earlier. If I had stayed, I’m 99.9% certain that I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. Here’s what Ocean Pointe Apartments on Front Beach in Ocean Springs, MS looked like after Katrina. That was the complex where I had lived.

Each August 29th is a sad day of remembrance for everyone who was affected. Especially those who lost friends or family.

WLOX-TV 13 tried to film the aftermath along the coast. But the devastation was so great that their crews could not get into this area. WLBT-TV 3, their sister station in Jackson, flew a reporter down in the news helicopter. I’m up in Minnesota, watching all of this on the WLBT website.

The report begins in Waveland and continues east, panning the coast. I’m just sitting there speechless. Restaurants, bars, stores that I had been to just a month earlier are now just piles of rubble. Then the Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge is shown. I used to walk that bridge several times per week. It’s in ruins.

Finally, the chopper gets to Ocean Springs. The Yacht Club is gone. The reporter keeps filming. Soon, I hear the reporter say “This is…(awkward pause)…this looks like what used to be an apartment complex.” The helicopter pilot, who so far hasn’t said a word, says “I hope nobody tried to ride out the storm in there.” Then silence as both men realize that many people likely died in that complex. The buildings are completely GONE. All that remains are the concrete slabs in the ground. The only thing I could recognize was the swimming pool.

It’s indescribable to watch something like this and explain your feelings, knowing that you lived there less than a month ago and would almost certainly have been killed if you hadn’t chose to evacuate. Several people did not. The reason was because they thought Katrina was another false warning. Just one month earlier, we had Hurricane Dennis. This was supposed to be the big one. The Mississippi Gaming Commission even ordered the casinos closed. At the time, those casinos generated $40 million per day and the state gets a hefty chunk in taxes. If MGC orders the casinos closed, you KNOW it’s serious. There were mandatory evacuation orders for the Coast.

I packed everything I could fit into my car and headed west on I-10. The first available motel rooms were in Baton Rouge, so I stayed there for 3 days. Nothing happened. When I returned home, my neighbor from Mobile laughed at me for evacuating. The following month when evacuation orders were issued for Katrina, people largely ignored them. By the time it became evident how large and destructive this storm would be, it was too late to evacuate. The worst possible place you can be in a hurricane is stuck in traffic.

Two years later, everything still appeared as it was after the storm. Condos were supposed to be built on that site. But after the hurricane, the cost of insurance became prohibitive, if you could find insurance at all.

This is the exact space where my apartment was. It really helps you put things into perspective.

Happy Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day!

By | August 28, 2021

Today is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day. Of course, this means I am thinking of Peanut. He was the most personable, most friendly, and overall best cat that I have ever known. Peanut lived a long, healthy, happy life. He enjoyed 21 birthdays!

When Peanut died in 2015, Kristine created this in his memory. In addition to the photos, it includes his favorite toy. He carried that old mouse around for years and often slept with it. Peanut always wore his collar, accompanied by a “bone tag” which told everyone who he was, where he lived, and who he belonged to.

Peanut received his silver collar charm during Saint Francis’ Blessing of the Animals. Kristine made the paw print when he was about 5. He was a sweet kitty and the best friend anyone could hope to have. I still miss him. I always will.

Billy Joel The Stranger Thank You Ms. Moynihan

By | August 27, 2021

Every time I hear Billy Joel’s “The Stranger”, I am reminded of my 8th grade English teacher at Valley Middle School. Ms. Liz Moynihan was new to Valley for the 1977-78 school year, replacing Peggy Chirhart. She was young, fun, and best of all, had a love for pop music.

One day, she brought her own personal copy of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” to class. This was back when teachers were actually allowed to do such things. Ms. Moynihan told us a bit about Billy Joel and the concept of this album. Then, she put it on the turntable and let us hear his genius at work. This was the spring of 1978. “Just the Way You Are” was moving quickly up the Billboard Hot 100, eventually peaking at #3.

“Movin’ Out” was the first song. Good stuff. But it was the second, title track that really got my attention. That plus “Scenes from an Italian Restauant” motivated me to spend about $6 of my hard-earned money on the album. To this day, I always think of “Ms. M” whenever I hear the opening whistling of “The Stranger.” Thanks so much for introducing me to Billy Joel’s music beyond his hit singles!

Rock Wit’cha was Bobby Brown’s Best Song

By | August 26, 2021

This tune randomly popped up on my phone while out walking this morning. I’ve always thought “Rock Wit’cha” was Bobby Brown’s finest effort. Sadly, it took FOREVER for MCA Records to release it as a single.

On December 16, 1988, I arrived in Bend, Oregon as the newest employee of Q94 KXIQ Radio. In addition to holding down afternoon drive, I was also the station’s music director. Bobby’s “My Prerogative” was climbing the record charts on it’s way to #1. A few months later, as that song was getting ready to drop off the Top 40, I surmised “Rock Wit’cha” would be the next single. After “Don’t Be Cruel” and “My Prerogative”, it would stand to reason a slower song would be released next. I added it to Q94’s playlist and began playing it off the album.

I was wrong. “Roni” was the next single. Are you kidding me? “Rock Wit’cha” was a MUCH better tune! But hey, you can’t argue with MCA Records. I reluctantly added “Roni” and retired “Rock Wit’cha.” “Roni” enjoyed a successful chart run, peaking at #3. As it made it’s way down the chart, I was certain “Rock Wit’cha” would be the next single. I dug out the album and added it once again.

Wrong times two. Next came “Every Little Step.” What the h-e-double toothpicks is going on here? “Every Little Step” also made it to #3, but again, “Rock Wit’cha” was a better record! MCA HAD to release it next. But this was not to be. Just as “Every Little Step” was peaking, out came “On Our Own” from the Ghostbusters II soundtrack. I can’t win this game!

After “On Our Own”, I figured MCA was done releasing singles from Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” album. He had scored four Top 10 hits, a mighty impressive feat for an artist who had not achieved superstar status. About this time, I learned our radio station had been sold. After doing my research on the new owners-to-be, I decided to leave KXIQ. I did not add “Rock Wit’cha” for a third time. I had resigned myself to the fact that it would never be released as a single. And that was that.

A few months later while I was driving around Fort Dodge, Iowa, guess which song came on the radio? Who was playing this? Was it 88.1 KICB, the college station which would play anything? No. Was it Z94 KKEZ whose format was all over the road at the time? Nope. It was Q102 Des Moines! KRNQ was a Contemporary HIT Radio station in the truest sense of the word. They did not play album cuts. If Q102 was playing “Rock Wit’cha”, MCA must have released it as a single!

Sure enough. “Rock Wit’cha” was released as the FIFTH single from “Don’t Be Cruel.” It ended up reaching an impressive #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100. There’s no doubt in my mind that had it been released after “My Prerogative”, it would have been a #1 record. “Rock Wit’cha” was Bobby Brown’s best song.

First Kiosks, Now Pizza Hut’s Robo Sign Girl

By | August 25, 2021

More fast food automation! We’ve all seen the self-order kiosks that McDonald’s is installing in their restaurants. Today, I noticed that Pizza Hut is also cutting back on workers.

Used to be, a young guy or girl would occasionally stand on the intersection nearest this restaurant with a sign, advertising Pizza Hut’s special promotions. It was usually a high-school or college-age kid. Now, the human has been replaced with a robot. The sign even moves in the robot’s hands by means of a small motor attached to a car battery. She’s kinda cute! Saves the company a lot of money, too.

By the way, Robo Sign Girl needs a bigger battery. She’s a pretty lively lady during the lunch hour, but she’s pooped out by dinner time!

CB Radio: The Original Social Media

By | August 24, 2021

There are lots of complaints these days regarding social media. People are claiming their opinions are being censored by Big Tech. What to do? I say “Take it old school!” 45 years ago this week, I bought my first citizens band radio.

CB radio was the original social media: Facebook and Twitter, all rolled into one. As kids, we used our CB base stations to communicate without having to risk the parents eavesdropping on our phone calls. When we became old enough to drive, we put CB in our cars. It allowed us to keep in touch while we were out doing whatever it is was that teenage kids did in the early 1980s (use your imagination here!)

Did we ever get censored on CB? Of course! If someone had a more powerful station, they could “walk on you”, thus keeping your transmissions from being heard by others. But we could fight back! The remedy for that problem was to make YOUR station more powerful than the competition! A bigger antenna would usually do the trick. If not, you could wade into the underground world of linear amplification. But be warned: the FCC frowned on the latter. Uncle Charlie still did CB enforcement in those days, so one had to be careful when operating a “boot” or “footwarmer.”

We had a blast on CB. As people become disenchanted with today’s social media, it might make a comeback. I still have some of my old equipment, so I’m ready when it happens!