Friday, July 24, 2009

Mantan Moreland and You're Out of Luck

I recently watched "You're Out Of Luck" (1941) one of the eight films Frankie Darro and Mantan Moreland did for Monogram Pictures. As I've noted before in my review of "The Irish Luck," these films aren't great art, but they're definitely entertaining.

Darro and Moreland played virtually the same roles in each film. Darro was the young, impulsive eager beaver ready to leap headlong into trouble, while Moreland was the more cautious and practical -- and definitely wanted to avoid trouble at all costs.

Sure, it's the same relationship Mel Gibson and Danny Glover play in the "Lethal Weapon" franchise but there's a difference. In the early 1940's it was rare for an African-American to be an equal partner to a white man -- even on film.

In the movie , elevator operator Frankie O'Reilly (Darro) and janitor/handyman Jeff Jefferson (Moreland) work at the Carlton Arms hotel, where they witness the murder of a gangster. Frankie's brother, the police detective assigned to the case, asked Frankie to help keep any eye on some of the suspects in the hotel. And of course, Frankie not only agrees but also volunteers Jefferson's help.

Mantan was rumored to ad-lib many of his lines and was actually a big enough star to get away with it. In this first audio clip, Jefferson protests always being dragged into another mess. But listen carefully to what Mantan actually says. It sounds to me like a very subtle commentary on the role he was forced to play. (And is he referencing "King of the Zombies" which he also starred in the same year?)

Mantan Moreland was an accomplished stand-up comedian with an impeccable sense of timing. In this next scene, Frankie tries to gather more clues by bluffing. His brother's been demoted from detective for various setbacks in the case, and Frankie wants to help. Jeff has his own opinion about what's going on.

I'm not saying that a film as slight as "You're Out of Luck" is worthy of serious post-modern analysis. But, as always, Moreland's performance gives this breezy little mystery just enough substance to make it worth watching even today.

- Ralph

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jupiter's Message

Just a quick observation today about Jupiter's new spot. Current thought is leaning towards a comet strike that's left a blast site about the size of the Earth.

We have a hard time conceiving of such sizes, but consider this: what if it had hit the Earth instead? There's plenty of documentation that we've been hit by some pretty hefty debris in the past, and the possibility of it happening in the future isn't an "if" but a "when."

Wondering why we need to go into space? Look at Jupiter. And check out the Pacific Ocean-sized scar left from the last impact in 1994.

As Robert Heinlein said, "The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in."

And the universe just keeps chucking rocks in our direction.

- Ralph

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nigerian 419 revisited

Ken has a lot of fun using Nigerian 419 scammers as unwitting collaborators for some impromptu literary efforts. But he's fully aware of the dangers that such spammers represent and takes appropriate precautions.

Our last post was about Ken's latest spoof, and shortly after that results of a survey by the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) came to my attention. In our last post we made two assumptions that apparently aren't true.

1) Most people are familiar with the Nigerian 419 scam, and would never fall for it.
2) Most people are aware of the dangers of spamming.

According to the survey, 17% said they responded by mistake. OK, we all make them. But look at the other figures: 13% didn't know why they responded. Worse, 13% sent a note back ( primarily to complain and ask to be removed from the list). Of course, they weren't aware that by responding, they confirmed that their email address was real, making it valuable as resell item to other spammers.

Almost as incredible were the 12% that admitted they were interested in the products. I don't even know where to start. But keep that stat in mind as you clean out your inbox of emails for "V!agra" "Hot women in your area" and of course, missives involving Nigerian Ministers of the Interior.

And finally, there was a significant percentage that clicked on the links "just to see what would happen." Wow. It's sort of like seeing a land mine and stepping on it anyway just to see what would happen.

Apparently, there's still a lot of ignorance out there. So let's issue a disclaimer for Ken's Nigerian hijinx. Unless you really know what you're doing, do not try this at home. Especially if you click on things just to see what happens. People do get sucked into the scam, and many of them do lose all their money. Our goal is to show the scam for what it is by pointing out the absurdity of the claims.

But please: leave this kind of thing to Roy Rogers, Clark Kent, Boris Karloff and the others who know what they're doing.

- Ralph

Day 100 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Where's Ken? Happy Trails to Nigeria

Well, Ken's done it again. He's engaged in a lively correspondence with another Nigerian 419 scammer. In the past, he's spun scammers along with a dizzying cast of characters surrounding Clark Kent and Kent Enterprises, and a would-be dollar chopper's wearying experience with Boris Karloff.

Ken's latest story only runs for about two weeks. Mr. Smith Zuma bailed before things got really interesting.

Even though it's a torso rather than a completed work, I still think it's a great read. Mr. Zuma has the good fortune to contact Roy Rogers, who owns a sprawling ranch and mining operation in Tombstone, Arizona. Ken manages to work in references to Gene Autry, and his 1935 serial, "The Phantom Empire."

I think Ken does a much better job with documents then Mr. Zuma, and it's too bad our friend didn't pay more attention to the details in Roy's responses.

This should have gone on for at least another two weeks, especially with the introduction of Mr. Roger's personal secretary, who -- to protect her promised 5% -- is telling Mr. Zuma how to manipulate our somewhat eccentric and gullible mark.

Here's the entertaining, yet incomplete, saga of Mr. Smith Zuma.

Smith Zuma PDF

- Ralph

Day 100 of the WJMA Podwatch. (I feel like we ought to mark this occasion in some fashion. Cake, perhaps?)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WTJU and the World Wide Web

For me, one of the takeaways from the recent Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference was the increasing importance of the online audience. Granted, we're still at the "analog dollars/digital pennies" stage, but as the Jacobs Media Study shows, online audiences are growing.

And that's great news for WTJU, the station I volunteer for. Charlottesville, Virginia's blessed with a disproportional number of non-commercial radio stations. There's the powerhouse, WVTF (based in Roanoke) with the traditional NPR news/classical music mix. To a lesser extent, there's also WMRA (from Harrisonburg), with syndicated NPR news/talk. WNRN provides alternative rock, and other musical genres that appeal to the student population and the AAA public radio listener.

WTJU delivers a unique blend of several different formats. Although some of our programming is similar to that offered by the other stations, in my opinion WTJU provides richer, deeper content. Serious listeners can appreciate the difference -- and that's why I'm excited about growing our online audience.

WNRN maintains a tightly controlled playlist that leans toward the more popular and accessible artists of the genres they play. It's a successful strategy -- they've built a large audience over the years. But what about the artists that have something to say but aren't so mainstream? WTJU.

WVTF and WMRA air classical music, but it's designed for easy listening. Soothing melodies, excerpted movements, mainly classical and romantic composers (ca. 1730-1890), etc. It's not uncommon programming for public radio stations, and again, it works. Both stations have an audience. But what if you want to hear music of the renaissance, or something by a living composer, or a Maria Callas aria? WTJU.

And the same's true for jazz, and folk, and even world music.

Are there enough listeners within the WTJU coverage area to support this kind of in-depth eclectic programming? I think so, but it's a finite number. There's only so many people that can live within our listening area, and it's not likely the FCC will let us expand our signal.

But that's not true online. Through the Internet we could potentially reach every single person in the world who's passionate about Milt Jackson, or the Dixie Beeliners, or Steve Reich. And the early signs show we're making a start.

When I'm on the air, I send out updates about my program, always using as the URL for the audio stream. is a service that allows the creation of short, trackable redirects, so I'm able to see who's clicking on the link and from where.

The past two shows have brought in about 100 online listeners (we can currently accommodate 60 at a time). Most are from the U.S., but I've also had online listeners from Canada, France, Belgium, Sweden, Slovinia, and -- just this week -- Japan.

Online is where listeners (even local ones) are moving to, and it's where we have the best chance to grow. Because 200 stations streaming "Morning Edition" sort of cancel each other out (especially when the listener can access it directly from NPR). But a station streaming programming heard no where else? That's really where it's at.

Can't wait to see next week's stats!

- Ralph

Day 98 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Dramamine Bender

I have to take Dramamine when I fly. It doesn't quite knock me out, but it makes me drowsy enough that I free-associate. And with a brain full of useless trivia and arcania, that can lead to some odd experiences.

On the entire flight back from San Diego to Virginia, I had a song stuck in my head. It was the old Top-40 hit "Bend Me, Shape Me." Now if you're of a certain age (or familiar with AM radio hits), you might think I had the American Breed on continual loop.

Yes, that was their one hit (and some of the members would go on to form Rufus, which also had one hit). But that's not what was stuck in my head. No, my subconscious had to serve up the version covered in the UK by the Amen Corner. And if you play both of the videos, you can see just how different these arrangements are.

I have some Amen Corner on various compilations, but I hadn't really listened to them in a while. Once I got home, I played their other tracks "Hey! Hey! Girl" and "Hello Susie" to get "Bend Me, Shape Me" out of my head (It worked).

Yikes. Maybe next time I'll take the train.

- Ralph

Day 96 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Friday, July 10, 2009

PRDMC - Mark Ramsey and the Hard Question

One of the last sessions at PRDMC had what I considered to be the heart of the issues/problems/opportunities surrounding the adoption of new media by the old.

The session was split between Bryan Moffet, director of digital sponsorship operations for NPR, and Mark Ramsey of Hear 2.0, (often quoted in this blog).

Mark Ramsey opened up his half by asking a very basic question.

What does it mean to be a public radio station in a digital space?

It's a hard question. And it's a good one to ask whatever business you're in if you have an offline component. What does it mean to be a toy store in a digital space? Or a trade association? Or a commercial radio station? 

Because as Ramsey explained, it's not just recycling on-air content. A significant part of public radio's audiences never listen to the over-the-air signal. Extended listening is great for having the radio on in the office, but online audiences tend to prefer discreet packages -- and preferably short-form.

So repurposing content has to be more than just recycling the on-air broadcasts. And sometimes it doesn't have to even be the on-air broadcasts. 

Consider: radio shows have to fit into a programming grid. So they have to be an hour, or a half hour long (actually a little less to allow for local IDS, etc., but you get the idea). Fifteen-minute programs don't work, because it's easy for a listener to remember a show starts at 10:00 or 10:30, but hard to remember 10:15.

But that's not a problem online. A podcast can be any length -- and it can very from episode to episode. It's available all the time, and it doesn't have to fit into the station's schedule, just the listener's.

Ramsey's question was a very difficult one, because to answer it, you have to ignore most of the rules that are an integral part of broadcasting.

But as Ramsey pointed out, it's not about what the station wants; it's about what the listener wants. In a radio market, there may be only one public radio station so the listener has to accept whatever programming it offers. Online, though, if a station's website isn't providing the content a listener wants, there's plenty of other websites out there that will.

How do you attract and keep that audience.

Answer Mark Ramsey's hard question.

 - Ralph

Day 93 of the WJMA Podwatch (I'm not sure these guys even understand there is a question)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

PRDMC - News That Isn't

One of the big session at the Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference was the report from Jacob Media. The Public Radio Tech Survey 2008 provided a snapshot of how core public radio listeners use new media.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, the results are not surprising. While public radio listeners are very loyal, they're not so wedded to the radio part. Internet usage is up, streaming audio is up, podcast consumption is up, and social networking is up. Those 52 and younger use online media more than the 53+ set, but the latter group is increasing their usage as well.

The study breaks down usage by preferred format, and as you might think, AAA (indie rock) listeners tend to use the Internet more. Primarily because they're on the younger side of 52. But even the classical listeners (which tend to average around 60) proportionally use the Internet about the same -- and their usage is growing, too.

So the message is clear. Stations need to concentrate on putting their content on different platforms, and not try to keep everyone huddled around the radio.

And one final thing. Internet usage: 89%. HD Radio: 3%

'Nuff said.

 - Ralph

Day 92 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Public Radio Marketing and Development

The annual Public Radio Marketing and Development Conference has its opening reception tonight. For the folks responsible for fund-raising and finding underwriters for their respective non-profit stations, this has been a rough year, indeed (as it has for many). I'll be paying close attention to what the prevailing thoughts are about some of the following trends and issues facing public radio.

1) The decreasing audience. 
The good news is that younger people are turning to public radio -- especially the news programs. Bad news is that they're more likely to listen online or through a podcast aggregator than over the air. And if someone's getting their programs direct from NPR, why should they contribute to the local public radio station that they never listen to?

2) The digital divide. 
The bulk of public radio's audience (and contributers) are on the wrong side of the digital divide. Consider: one of the hottest fundraising gifts right now are pre-loaded iPods -- because the big dollar contributers would like to have an iPod, but can't figure out how iTunes works. And with more of public broadcasting moving online, there's a real danger that the core audience might get left behind.

3) The aging audience. 
An offshoot of the above. The new services and programs public radio's offering are virtually invisible to the older 60 crowd -- because they're on the wrong side of the digital divide.

4) Analog dollars, digital pennies. 
Sure, younger people are readily consuming public radio's Internet offerings. But the revenue generated is far less than old-fashioned underwriting and on-air fund drives. But that's where the audience is moving. So how do you make up the shortfall.

5) The role of the local station. 
There was a time when most markets only had one public radio station. The station had an identity, and was usually closely associated with the community. The rise of NPR homogenized stations, and now it's not uncommon for two or three stations in the same market to simultaneously run the exact same programming from NPR (like "Morning Edition"). So the individual station became less important than the national programming it served up. And now that it's basically available online, there's little reason to tune into a local broadcaster to get national content. So what's the role of the local station now, and why should anyone contribute to support it?

These may not necessarily be the issues a lot of the attendees have on their minds, but those are the questions I'd like to hear answers for.

 - Ralph

Day 91 of the WJMA Podwatch.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Time vs. Bandwidth

Over the past months I've noticed a disturbing trend in business conversations and meetings I'm involved with. And that is the substitution of the word "bandwidth" for "time." If you're not familiar with it, instead of saying "Farnsworth doesn't have the time to do the report and the daily stats," you'll hear "Farnsworth doesn't have the bandwidth for both the report and the daily stats."

Many people have called for this usage to stop, and as someone who loves the precision of words I basically agree. If we're just substituting one word for another with no change in meaning, then we should stop.

But perhaps there's something more going on here. Time is a very fluid concept, and all of us regularly over- or under- estimate how much we have available. So Farnsworth may say he doesn't have time to do the report and the daily stats, but deep down we're sure that he probably does.

I remember a famous analogy of time management. Imagine a box (unit of time) full of cannon balls (big jobs). Is the box full? No, because you can fit baseballs in the spaces between the cannon balls. Is it full now? No, because you can fit marbles in the gaps between the baseballs and the cannon balls. Is it full now? No, because you can fit BBs into the spaces left over, and then grains of sand into those left over spaces, and so on. So while the time may be finite, an almost infinite number of tasks can be fitted into it (as the analogy goes).

"Bandwidth," though, implies a precise number. Imagine a cable (unit of time) that can accommodate five gigabytes per second. How many files (tasks) can you upload per second? 5GB's worth. So you could do five 1GB files, or ten 100MB files, or 1,000 10MB files -- or any combination of file sizes you can think of. As long as the total doesn't exceed 5GB. Because it doesn't matter how much you want that additional data to go through the system. If it exceeds the bandwidth of the cable, it won't happen. Period.

So if the use of this term were to represent a fundamental shift in the way we thought about time, then I'm all for it. Because with the box of cannonball model, it's easy to dump the report and daily stats on Farnsworth. He'll just have to figure out a way to fit it all in. Under the cable model, though, the argument's over. 8GB of tasks won't go through a 5GB cable. We'll need to find someone else to do the stats.

And to me, that represents a much more humane way to go.

It still feels like jargon to me, and you won't hear me substituting "bandwidth" for "time," but if Farnsworth ends up not having to do the daily stats -- well, I might change my mind.

- Ralph

Day 87 of the WJMA Podwatch.