Friday, December 08, 2006

Delusions of Grandeur

It Could Happen....
Hey, anybody in the market for an overwrought memoir of a TV camera-toting nobody? A rollicking account of one lenslinger's journey from starry-eyed scanner hound to all-weather auteur? The tortured manifesto of a photog facing forty? A blithering collection of half-baked blog posts? A slim volume of scribbled song lyrics and Guatamalan coffee cup rings? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Okay, so it's still in the raw data/fantasy stage, but I'm pretty sure it'll hit bookstores by early 2017. (Look for it in your local discount bin shortly thereafter...)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Steve Albert Passes

I didn't know Steve Albert, but when the WPLG photographer died unexpectedly on Wednesday, those who did paid tribute to him on the station's website. The result is a touching portrait of a rare creature - a veteran photog who never let the absurdity of the chase skewer his positive outlook. Steve's co-workers speak of a guy who ate fruit for lunch every day, bragged on his kids to all who would listen and made a habit of never missing a deadline. Those are qualities to admire in any endeavour, but in a business where too many of us let a back-stage pass to life foster apathy and cynicism, it is an anomaly indeed. In my nearly 17 years in the business, I've met damn few veteran lensers who've retained such a radiant disposition (Woody Spencer and Timmy Hawks come to mind). Personally, I fall spectacularly short of that glory - which enables me to recognize a class act when I see it. Steve Albert was apparently just such a person - a trusted pro whose aptitude and attitude made him the very best of our breed. Rest In Peace.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

To Serve Man

Say what you will about The Seventies, but they had the threads, the cars, and from the looks of that guy on the right, some really kick-ass jetpacks! That, or the dude strapped a dormitory fridge to his back. Either way, I like his thinking - for what could two wild and crazy camera guys need more after panning some late model sedan than a couple of cold ones, right? I just worry how Mr. Moustache there is gonna hold up with the la-dees after hoisting that rig all day. I don't want to alarm anybody, but I'm pretty sure I just saw that same camera enslave the entire human race from the ramp of a Late Night Movie's rather chintzy flying saucer. I guess prop budgets were a little leaner back in the day...

Phonajournalism, 101?

So, Yahoo gets in bed with Reuters and pundits the globe over announce the death of photojournalism. Easy, fellas. I've been examining this ugly trend ever since a horde of housewives tried to block my shot of a local implosion a year and a half ago. Since then, a cell phone captured the first images of a crippled London subway, YouTube gave everyone their own TV station and that doofus from Seinfeld went absolutely batshit. On second thought, maybe there's good reason to panic. But then again, what good would it do? A planet full of cameraphone addicts ain't gonna re-think that Blackberry purchase just because we seasoned lensers prefer things in focus. Are they?

My guess is no. In fact, it's estimated that one billion cameraphones will be in circulation globally by 2008. That, my friends, is an awful lot of jittery pixels. And while today's cam-phone footage often makes 'The Blair Witch Project' look like 'Citizen Kane', it's becoming clear the folks we used to call our audience just don't care. Not when they can put Aunt Gertrude on hold and record their own footage of the fender-bender, the Bar Mitzvah, that angry giant lizard scaling City Hall. Of course breaking news has always temporarily suspended longheld production values. Unedited news footage aired unexamined, silver-templed anchors pausing mid-sentence to listen their earpiece, unscreened phone calls patched in live. Compared to today's technology, these improvised methods seem as quaint and antiquated as those hideous blazers with the oversized pocket logos management used to make the anchors wear. Yick!

But I didn't log in to issue fashion advice. One look inside my closet full of wrinkled cabanawear should disqualify me from that mission. But as someone who funnels images to the masses for a daily wage, I feel compelled to comment on the democratization, not death, of photojournalism. As I first wrote more than a year ago, 'the advent of digital camera phones will be viewed by historians as a touchstone event in the Information Age - a landmark development that first harnessed hi-fi imagery with wi-fi dissemination; sleek, marvelous machines that fit in your palm and plug into the world. These ever-evolving tools may well prove to be the great equalizer in the new media frontier; hand-held, high-tech devices capable of generating new streams of information where not so long ago there was noisy static, and once, only silence.'

Well, that silence is long gone. Much like Marconi's wrangling of wireless technology forever ended The Great Hush of pre-Edwardian times, so too has the lowly cell phone caused the era of limited image dispersal to come to an abrupt and often ugly halt. But then again, aesthetics don't seem to matter much to the millions of viewers watching their neighbors re-enact the forbidden dance on YouTube. Nor will proper camera management mean alot to the private citizens who will capture the next global calamity from every possible angle. Lastly, proper cinematography won't be on the minds of news executives who will, if they're smart, be way too busy shoving these myriad of images on-line, on-air and in your face.

No, the only ones who will balk at the new 'phonajournalism' will be self-important schlubs like me, who've spent the last fifteen years perfecting their grasp of the heavy lens, only to have their once captive audience discover the freedom of phoning it in themselves. I'll be in back, replaying a bunch of stilted news stories from my past if anyone needs me. Until then, hold all my calls...

The Legend of Kev

In this, the latest in a coincidental series of pictures of men with their arms raised, we check in with founder Kevin Johnson, seen here downing a brewski at last year's Las Vegas Beer Bash. But the long-limbed photog isn't always this undignified. Usually you'll find him soberly plying his trade in the nation's capitol, when he's not tinkering with his landmark website, that is. Recently he even added to that impressive cyber-domain by launching his own nifty Wordpress blog. So far it's mostly gadget blurbs, but I for one am hoping he'll soon favor us with a few sto-ries. I know he's got 'em. But for a guy who's encouraged this and many other photogs to take to the web with abandon, he sure doesn't let loose very often. Unless there's beer involved, of course. Then, he's a wild man.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Adventures in Radio

Shortly after I conned my way into my first TV job, I struck out to do the very same in the exciting world of radio. Hey, if I can push antique cameras around a warped studio floor, surely I could master the local FM airwaves! Or so I thought as I leafed through the yellow pages in search of a station to grace with my undeniable talent. Maybe I was feeling cocky, having just scored a minimum-wage gig at the CBS affiliate. Whatever the case, I set aside my lack of ambition just long enough to ring up a couple of program directors around town. Besides, I thought as the phone rang, once they heard my dulcet tones, I’d probably spark a bidding war. After all, I was Captain Nemo.

No bigger than a broom closet, the radio booth aboard the U.S. S. Mount Whitney had been my island of solace in a sea of discontent. A shipmate first turned me on to the small compartment just down the passageway from the flag bridge, a dusty little booth with Vietnam War era turntables and boxes of LP’s from the Armed Forces Radio Network. The buddy who first let me in to that tiny space had no idea I‘d be back so soon. But once I got a look at the antiquated control board, with its oversized knobs and still shiny toggle switches, I was hooked. The fact that the noise produced within radiated all across the ship via close circuit radio was but a distant thought;. I was seeking refuge.

I found it - soon skipping precious sleep just so I could sit and spin the finest in late 80’s hair-metal. Though I’m still not sure any of my shipmates ever really listened, I quickly developed an evening radio show and a persona to go with it: ‘Captain Nemo’s Taps to Midnight - featuring an eclectic mix culled from the official onboard library and a dozen shipmates private CD stashes. I guess you could say I was playing radio, but it was one of the few things that kept me sane as my ship did lazy circles off the coast of Guantanamo Bay for weeks at a time. I’d pull the lights down low in my inner sanctum, crawl into a pair of government issue headphones and forget all about all the haze gray world on the other side of the hatch..

The Navy didn’t make me a radio star, but it left me convinced I was born to broadcast. That realization deepened when the second program director I got on the phone that day invited me to come in for an interview the very next day. Eighteen hours later, I steered my battered Toyota into the gravel lot of a rundown one-story building on the edge of town. After checking in with the world’s most disinterested receptionist, I sat and waited in the chintzy lobby - mostly sober, over-cologned and excited about my new career as a radio stud. Imagine my surprise when the Program director - a fellow in a wrinkled sweatshirt and sleepy eyes - poked his head through the door and motioned me back.

Though the guy looked like he slept in his clothes, he was all business. Tossing aside my copy of Captain Nemo’s Greatest Hits, he jammed a few sheets of paper at me without ever listening to the homemade cassette. I was halfway through filling out the forms when I realized I had the job. Beaming inside, I stole glances at the aging equipment around me. Only some of it looked familiar, but that didn’t matter; this guy obviously knew talent when he heard it. Half an hour later, the scruffy Program Director escorted me out, told me to report back the following Sunday night for my first on-air shift, and promptly dead-bolted the door behind me. I skipped all the way to the car, ecstatic at being discovered and in awe of the Program Director’s quick grasp of my immense talent. Little did I know, he’d just been happy that I had a pulse.


I listened to the station all the way in. Drumming the steering wheel to its cheesy top forty beat, I followed the strengthening signal to the edge of town. At the end of my journey I found the same gravel lot, anchored by a slab concrete building and a rusty transmitter tower. Parking beside the only other car there, I strutted to the front entrance, tapping the faded station logo on the door with newfound affection. As the last minutes of sunlight left that summer evening, I pressed the buzzer underneath a pockmarked loudspeaker. Nothing happened. Shifting from foot to foot I bobbed and nodded as the door continued to ignore me. Suddenly the half-gallon of sweet tea I’d downed the hour before roiled to the surface, making the barely reformed country boy inside me eye the woods behind the transmitter. Just as I turned to dash off to the shadows, a heavy metal click sounded from behind me and the door clicked open.

Inside, I found the lobby darker than before. It was a small room with a desk, chair, sofa and coffee table that looked like it was picked up at a trailer park fire sale. On the wall, scratched plaques from the local free weeklies competed for space with black and white framed photographs of the radio station’s on-air talent. Amid the white man afros and gold chains, I recognized the familiar face one of the disc jockey’s - a grinning jackal of a man I’d one day build a series of used car commercials around. But that particular travesty was a good nine months off. For now all I knew was that radio superstardom was a mere thirty-five minutes away. I was literally about to piss my pants with excitement when I grabbed hold of the interior door‘s latch - only to find it disturbingly dead-bolted.

With my face jammed against the door’s heavy-wired glass I could see the on-air booth at the end of the hall. Inside, a dumpy silhouette hunched over the control board, perfectly still. This lasted through the better half of the Milli Vanilli song echoing in the distance one beefy wrist hove into view and twisted some unseen knob. Just then Rob and Fab faded and the slightly less gayer sounds of Hall and Oates filled the deserted halls of the South’s dumpiest radio station. Rapping my knuckles on the door, I tried in vain to get the deejay’s attention. But no matter how I motioned and waved, no matter how I pee-pee danced around the lobby’s dated furnishings I could not tear the disc jockey’s stare away from the board. In fact, he barely moved at all, appearing as if a surgeon would while immersed in his lifesaving work, instead of some broadcast drop-out spreadingthe last of his curly fries over a Mr. Mister CD.

My bladder quivering to a breech and my inaugural radio shift just minutes away, I grew increasingly spastic there in my shag-carpeted hell. Despite my convulsive display, the deejay never seemed to notice. So I forgot about him, training my direction instead on the gaudy vase dominating the scuffed glass coffee table. Normally not one to vandalize, I seriously considered filling it to the rim with recycled tea, lest I soil the pants I’d so deliberately picked out earlier in in my slummy duplex. I was about to desecrate the discount ceramic when the silhouetted deejay finally unlocked the door, and a pasty Dungeon-Master with skin issues stuck his head out.

“You the new guy?” he asked in a booming voice normally heard only at tractor pulls and beach music parties.


In my own feeble tone, I asked him where a fellow could take a piss and he pointed a beefy forearm down the hall. I stiff-kneed it in that direction and found a Mens Room with a tinny speaker blaring out the station’s on-air signal. Though I tried to drown it out with the thundering cascade of a spent bladder, I could clearly hear a familiar British metal track winding to a bombastic yet girlie finish.

“That’s the latest from Def Leppard on Hits-96! I’m Your Man Stan and I am Outta Here! Up next, The New Guy with all the music you need to rock the night away! But first here’s Peter Gabriel!”

With that, the ex-lead singer of Genesis launched into a syncopated dirge about sledgehammers. As he did I burst out of the restroom, anxious to pick the Dungeon Master’s brain about the control board before I had to fly solo. But he wasn’t in the booth at the end of the hall. Nor was he in any of the offices I passed along the way. “Stan” I called out, not feeling so much like a hero of the airwaves anymore. Overhead, Peter Gabriel asked the sledgehammer to call his name as well. Neither answered and it dawned on me to check the booth for nay of Stan the Dungeon Man’s belongings. I found none, and with a trace of panic bolted for the lobby door. Pressed against the glass, I saw the car I’d parked beside earlier leaving the lot, gravel and dust kicking up in its wake.

About that time the slow-motion kicked in and I found myself running back to the booth as if underwater. Peter was still screeching his love for certain implements but experience and the CD player’s red countdown clock in the middle of the board told me that would soon end. Lunging forward, I grabbed a stack of 45’s and began flipping the few switches I recognized. As I did the speakers fell silent, but a row of herky-jerky needles told me the board was still transmitting sound. Next I fumbled through a stack of liner carts, befor finally giving up when the countdown timer marched backwards to zero. A half second before the goose egg popped up, I dropped the needle and podded up the source. I Still couldn’t hear anything, but the audio meter needles began dancing to a new beat. With relief not felt since just emptying my bladder, I fell into the rolling leather chair and caught my breath. This control board had a lot more buttons and dials than I was used to, but it also held a lot more possibilities. Wiping my brow, I looked the antiquated board up and down, a sly grin overtaking my expression of doubt. Abandoned or not, I could figure this out, I thought, because I, I possessed genuine broadcasting talent. Trying not to gloat, I looked down and saw all a telephone flashing six different lights. Eager to chat with any new fans, I picked up the receiver and in my most booming carefree tone, bellowed “Rock 96! Captain Nemo speaking!”

The voice was that of an adolescent; its crackling pitch deflating my newly swollen radio ego with its simple message..

"I think you’re playing this song at the wrong speed."

Needless to say, I had a very short career in radio. I was much more adept at escorting antiquated studio cameras through their daily news moves, than forging new paths in FM territory. I’m hoping eventually all this television will pay off. I'll let you know.