Saturday, April 16, 2005

Here Come the Broadcasters

I’d simply be a lousy blog-ambassador if I didn’t take a moment to welcome three fellow Piedmont broadcasters to the fold:

McCall Pera is a local reporter/anchor I’ve yet to meet. But I feel like I know her after reading her blistering blog debut regarding High Point’s ongoing school choice debacle. If all of McCall’s postings are as fiery as this one, she’ll soon be a force to be reckoned with in the local blogosphere, as well as the battle for the remote.

Kent Bates I do know. Before he left my place of employ, we worked together a time or two, including one landmark drive to Pinehurst where we trailed a group of video designers as they toured one of golf’s true Mecca. Normally, the chase for the little white ball bores me to tears, but Kent made it fun with his easygoing nature and running commentary. Now he’s blogging about whatever crosses his mind, and weirdly enough, I find that interesting too.

Eric Chilton and I worked together for about ten minutes before he left to conquer the world of Tampa television. Now he’s back as the grinning weather guru at the station across the street. Whille I have no anecdote regarding our time together, I do own warm memories of goofing off in the studio with Eric and fellow nutbag Jay Shurling. From the looks of his first few postings, his new blog should prove to be just as entertaining as he is in person.

Its great to see these crosstown colleagues launch their own sites. Welcome all.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Lordess of the Armoire

I meet a lot of people in the course of a newsday. From the rubbernecking junkie to the pompous politician, I frame ‘em up in my one inch screen, pretending to be nice while I roll my eyes inside the viewfinder. On occasion though, I’ll train my lens on someone I’m not prepared to like and still come away a fan. It happened today at, of all places, Furniture Market.

Perhaps you’d understand my hesitation if you better knew the circumstances. I’d barely poked my head in the morning editorial meeting when my alleged superiors dispatched me to the very heart of High Point. This in itself is a drag, as the game-plan for covering ‘Market’ falls somewhere between party-crashing and urban warfare. Having already shared the rarified air of the Furniture Elite this week, I was none too eager to launch yet another showroom sortie.

But since I’m just a foot soldier around here, I waded back into the fray to rendezvous with a nationally known furniture trend analyst. My mission - find out what’s HOT in furniture this year, from color to fabric to styles to lines. I gotta tell ya I grumbled a bit as I flashed a hopped-up rent-a-cop my press pass. I just didn’t relish the idea of interviewing some high-falutin’ furniture critic on a Friday afternoon. After all, I’m a simple caveman - one who without the assistance of his lovely bride, would decorate the home in Early American Garage Sale. I may pretend to be esoteric on this blog, but I’m really just a mammal with a lens.

So imagine my delight when I bumped into my interview subject at the front desk of the Century showroom. Erudite and affable, Michelle Lamb met my trepidation with grace and ease. Before I knew it, I found myself ensconced in a designer couch, barely paying my attention to my camera as the Senior editor of The Trend Curve waxed poetic on fabric landscapes, rounded lines, and the decorative powers of Kelly Hoppen. Some of this I actually understood. But even when Lamb spoke over my head she did so with such elocution I smiled anyway, thoroughly transfixed by the intoxicating allure of a carefully constructed sentence. Translation: This lady sure did talk purdy.

After our chat, I trailed Lamb and a Century rep through the vast showroom, framing up shots and hitting RECORD as she described each new motif in loving detail.

“Note her use of ovals and circles in this armoire - the oversized wood ovals over glass doors with circle inlays, emphasized by a play of walnut veneer. Look at her Pearl Essence lamp with the bleached walnut and applied faux pearls. Very luxe!”

I smiled behind the lens, grateful for once that I didn’t have a normal job. After all, tax accountants didn’t get to meet the eclectic cast of characters I did (though they usually took nicer vacations). At the end of the tour, I couldn’t help but ask the Century rep to press the little thingie on my digital camera. When I mentioned the picture might pop up on my humble website, my newfound friend lit up like the incredibly gaudy chandelier hanging nearby.

“Is it a blog? I have a blog!

How cool is that?

The Big Link

This week on The Big Link, a redhead rambles...

A Chat with the Blogfather

Having read his site religously since first entering the blogosphere (and chatting with him ever so briefly in Chapel Hill), I was delighted to finally aim my lens at one Ed Cone. Yesterday the columnist/uber-blogger sat down for a few well-lit moments while a colleague and I pummelled him with questions on push-button publishing. He did not disappoint, instead he provided much needed insight on the potential, the limitations and the promise of the blog. When the conversation was over, I left impressed. Here's why:

Cone tells it like it is. Shying away from easy hyperbole, he predicts the blogosphere will expand and densify but NOT reverse the rotation of planet Earth. Closer to home, it probably won't make too many Earthlings rich either - as all this cross communication is driving DOWN the price of information. (I've nothing against collecting legal tender mind you, just never understood how my late-night cyber-diatribes might buy me a summer place in The Hamptons.) Cone offered many other salient points, all of which will be processed into a fine puree for later broadcast. Until then I can't help but think how lucky we are to have such a reasoned and engaging spokesperson for the local bloggeratti.

And I ain't easily impressed. I've placed many a so-called expert under the glass only to watch them crumble under the weight of the all-seeing lens. Not Cone. This guy needs his own show.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Furniture Market Foibles

Ah, Furniture Market - that special time of year when 70,000 visitors flood the streets of my adopted hometown, transforming sleepy little High Point into a bustling Metropolis. It might mean a billion dollars for the local economy, but for the TV stevedore it means schlepping gear through packed city streets, searching for imaginary parking spaces, and dealing with a populace that really doesn’t want you around. It’s kind of like being a contestant on ‘The Amazing Race’, without the possibility of winning a million dollars in the end.

Technically speaking, Market hasn’t even begun yet. The real fun begins on Thursday when the full contingency of buyers, sellers, and a fair amount of ne’er-do-wells flood the city’s 11 million square feet of showroom space. But one stop-and-start voyage down a stranger-choked Main Street and even the rookiest of news chasers knows something’s already up in Furniture City. Take today for instance. No sooner had I accepted my assignment of staggered pit stops around the downtown area, when hallmarks of Furniture Market began appearing in my peripheral vision.

Like when I paused three seconds too long at an intersection only to have a dozen car horns erupt behind me. Can I help if it a group of Scandinavian stewardesses across the street needed my full visual attention? Sheesh! Or how about the way that parking attendant got all pissy with me when I told him I wasn’t paying ten dollars to leave my news unit in his care? I think I totally befuddled him when I told him I’d only be ten minutes and then walked away. I was more than a little relieved to see my ride still unmolested when I emerged from the building an hour later.

But darn it - I wouldn’t have been so long had I not fallen victim to another Market Hazard: The Excitable Sale Rep. This overdressed specimen can be found lurking in most any showroom, and while his bite isn’t lethal, he can chew up the better part of a morning showcasing the latest in fine home furnishings. Despite the fact my eyes kept glazing over, today’s Account Executive walked me through ever piece of the Plaid and Burlap Collection. Of course I oohed and ahhed at every dramatic pause, hoping my new best friend would indeed win that trip to Cancun for impressing the local media - even if the cameraman in question thought every piece in the entire showroom should be immediately burned and buried for the betterment of family rooms everywhere.

But alas, these rituals are but a sign of things to come. Over the next few workdays I’m sure to find myself ensconced in all kinds of Market Madness - from dealing with the entourage of C-list celebrities to showing my press badge to every rent-a-cop with a mace bottle to circumnavigating a sea of over-cologned furniture weasels in thin black socks. It’s almost enough to make this aging lenslinger wish for some fluttering crime tape to baby-sit. Almost.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Billy the Blogging Poet

In a fit of generosity and whimsical prose, Billy the Blogging Poet has seen fit to dedicate one of his many masterpieces to yours truly. It's the rhyming account of a low-speed chase I'd be honored to broadcast - should the same unlikely circumstances happen here. Until then, I'll be visiting Billy's voluminous site and learning from his eminent blognosity. It wouldn't be the first time. Since launching this site several months ago, Billy has bent over backwards to help me keep it aloft - from early tech tips to limitless encouragment to to steady plugs on his own much-visited blog. So help me return the favor by following one of these links and while you're at it, help elect Billy Blogging Poet Laureate! C'mon - the blogosphere will be a better place.

Hillbilly HoeDown Morning Jam

“We had to send the morning crew to a bad fire. We need you to pick up their live shot.”

I looked at the blue numbers glowing in the pitch black. 4 am. Who needed sleep when you can start your workday early?, I thought as I slid out of bed. Twenty minutes later I wrestled a live truck onto the interstate, scanning the radio dial for something soothing before giving up altogether and turning it off. I drove their in the pitch black quiet for some time, not awake, not asleep - maintaining just enough consciousness to keep the oversized tuck between the slow lane. A few miles past Greensboro I turned south on Highway 220, heading deep into the heart of Randolph County, late for a date with absurdity.

The garish sign at the edge of the gravel road beckoned all comers. I didn’t give it much thought, only knowing it fit my sparse directions. Turning into the drive, I gunned the engines and kicked up pebbles in the pre-dawn light. The road twisted and banked but once I made the turn, I spotted a line of twinkling lights in the distance. As I drew nearer, the lights sharpened and separated, revealing a low slung building with a blinking neon sign over the main entrance. A battered fleet of domestic pick up trucks and late model sedans surrounded the building, taking up most every available parking spot. I parked by the door, crawled out of the garishly-logo’d live truck and walked through the double doors, still half-asleep.

That’s when the band struck up a tune. A country tune to be exact - a too-loud, syncopated dirge replete with whiny vocals and accompanying fiddles emanated from deep within the structure. Before my senses could register the sound, cheers and applause rang out. Just inside the lobby, a clutch of older ladies in checkered dresses and high swept hair-do’s bobbed in excitement.

“They’re here!” one of them yelled after spotting the logo on my bright red station jacket. Before I could stop her, she ran out of the room and toward the music. Within seconds the lobby filled with people - young bow-legged men in oversized cowboy hats, small children in gingham shirts with fringe and stooped old couples in matching cowboy shirts. Young and old smiled alike, in fact they beamed at my arrival. But their grins soon faltered as they all looked past me, scouring the door behind me for the appearance of that familiar face. I winced inside, recognizing that look from a thousand previous shoots. These people were expecting a rock star. All they got was a roadie.

“Whar’s Cindy?”, small girl in pigtails asked. I looked down, realized she was on the verge of tears and broke the news as gently as I could.

“Cindy’s not coming. There’s been a bad fire and we had to scramble some crews around. I’m afraid I’m all you got.” Feeling every eye on me as I explained myself to the child, I looked up and asked the nearest cowboy a desperate question. “Is there someone in charge I can speak to?”

Soon after, I pulled heavy cable in through the door and handed it off to a ranch-hand, who dragged it onto the dance floor. Another ten-gallon hat stepped up and I gave him a quick lesson in light stand deployment. I was having to shout over the blaring honky-tonk and wasn’t sure my recently new western recruits could understand me. All around, old folks and young kids loitered and watched me furiously attack my gear, some still grumbling at the glaring absence of our perky morning anchor. I didn’t have time to explain. Instead, I spotted a tall, strapping cowboy who seemed to be in charge and pinned a lapel microphone on him.

“Okay Tex- you’re gonna be talking straight to Brad. He’ll interview you from the set. Just look straight in the camera and listen to this earpiece. Can the band take a break for a minute?”

A few minutes later the weather segment ended and Brad Jones began telling viewers about an exciting new Country Line Dance Bar opening in the Triad. On the monitor behind him, the station logo dissolved into a nervous looking young man with a white Stetson belt pulled down low and a belt buckle the size of a hubcap dominating his waist. When Brad turned to address the monitor, the cowboy stuck a finger in his ear and looked quizzically off screen.

Holding the camera, I made desperate gestures to the cowboy until he caught on and answered Brad’s query with a friendly ‘Howdy’. Breathing a sigh of relief, I squinted into the lens and watched the crowd close in behind their spokesman. About that time the band launched into another line-dance ditty, eclipsing all other sound and sending the crown into a high-stepping frenzy. As Grandmothers and cowpokes dosey-doe’d one another amid the overwhelming din, all I could do was cradle the camera and hope the audience at home could hear the nervous cowboy better than I could.

Two minutes dragged out before the cowboy stopped talking and tipped his hat. I took that to mean the segment was over and lowered the camera. Though I was drenched in sweat the cowboy seemed happy. All around us, couples swirled in rhinestone and the singer warbled something about love and pick-ups. Before I could decipher the lyrics, the cell phone on my hip began vibrating. Jamming it into my ear, I listened intently as the show producer yelled through her headset.

“Dude - we need you and your truck at the fire! Tell the gang from Hee-Haw we‘re sorry!”

I looked up at the stage in time to catch sight of the no-longer nervous cowboy throw himself into a victory clog dance. Trudging across the dance floor toward him, I tried to get his attention as the band reached their clangy musical climax. I could barely hear myself curse inside my head as I reached out for the stage...

Thirty minutes later all was quiet, despite the dozen idling fire engines parked all around the Campus Walk Apartments. At the center of the yellow tape, the charred brick remains of the squat apartment building stood in defiance amid a jumble of black broken timber. Students in sweat shirts and pajama bottoms stood stock still as firefighters sloshed about in soggy turn-out gear. A photographer from another station ambled up beside me and quietly brought me up to date:

“Four dead - students, probably. They think it might be arson…”

I inhaled deeply and scanned the crowd. Country line-dancers, kids in cowboy hats and awkward live shots melted into the recesses of my mind as I took in the smoldering scene I would become intimately familiar with in the coming days. As I turned back toward the waiting live truck, it occurred to me I might write about this someday - someday, when I understood it better.