The 500 Club

(Spoiler Alert- name the three -non-news division- television shows that have broadcast 500 episodes?)

When it comes to accomplishments, the number 500 can represent a special milestone in various areas of life. There are several associated with Sports:

Any basketball coach who has piloted at least 500 victories is applauded not only for his success but for his endurance as well. To be able to stay around coaching in the NBA for 15 to 20 years is a remarkable achievement and to regularly win at it is to be especially appreciated. Continue reading “The 500 Club”

Cigarette Kisses

By Larry Teren

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Baby Boomers were raised in an era when smoking was still socially acceptable. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Surgeon General of the United States came out with the warning linking cigarette smoking to cancer. Most smokers shrugged their collective shoulders and ignored the dire message. Not Ma- she quit smoking an occasional drag of a cigarette cold turkey. She claims today that she only smoked when Uncle Henry brought her gift packages. Dad was a pipe smoker and quit smoking earlier than 1964 when one day he almost swallowed the pipe while making a sudden stop in his car. Continue reading “Cigarette Kisses”

You Take The High Road, I’ll Take The No Road

There gets to a point in life when I say, “why bother?” Especially if it means traveling. I hate getting into the car and going onto the expressway, fighting to not be outmaneuvered by other drivers traveling 10 to 15 miles an hour over the speed limit. No, I’m not that old a fuddy-duddy who drives 10 miles an hour under the limit. I cheat, too, but not as much. Sometimes I get the feeling as if I’m in competition with a whole bunch of Mario Andretti’s.

My (precious) car is kept in an underground heated garage in the condo where I reside. To get to it, I either take an elevator down 4 floors or walk to one of the stairways and trek down the same 4 levels (and it beats walking up those same four flights, let me tell you). Then I get to the car, back out of my assigned stall, press the garage door opener and hope no one is flying down the entrance/exit ramp. Continue reading “You Take The High Road, I’ll Take The No Road”

The Insurance Thing

By Larry Teren

Let’s talk about life insurance. No, I’m not trying to sell you any. But, if Dad were still alive and in his working years, he would attempt to sell you into buying an insurance policy. He tried to get me to sell life insurance just as he did for more than thirty-five years. I would always tell him, “I’d rather buy than sell the stuff.” Continue reading “The Insurance Thing”

Going Postal

Here we go again. The U.S. Postal Service is threatening dire actions unless the U.S. taxpayer bails them out for the umpteenth time. This time they say they will close many processing centers around the country. This will result in no longer promising to deliver the mail the next day in the same postal zone after it is put in a mailbox but adding a day or two to the length of time. Like that has been a lock for the past several years until now, right?

The Post Office complains that businesses have cut down on the amount of junk mail they send out. Yah, sure. They also say that our use of email has killed their business model. Well, whoopee do!
That’s life. Do you think that the president of the buggy whip association back in 1905 went to Congress and demanded that we all continue to buy accessories for no-longer-existent horses in the backyard barn?

As a society, we are paying our bills more than ever online. Let’s face it. It is faster and a better chance of getting delivered than by the Post Office. And you can tell the bank when to remit the payment rather than releasing the funds immediately.

Those of us who are baby boomers in our 50’s (ahem) can faintly remember that yet in the late 1950’s the Post Office delivered the mail to businesses in Chicago’s downtown area as well as other key locations twice a day . Postage stamps back then cost a mere 3 cents. A new car about $2000, a newspaper 7 cents for a weekday edition, a new house about $20,000, and a movie ticket about 75 cents for an adult.

Today, everything listed about is most likely more than ten times that amount but with all except mail delivery you get the same product or even more for the higher price than back then. Today, a single postage stamp of first class delivery is 44 cents. But, delivery has become less often and shakier. And heaven help you when your mailman (well, at least mine is a guy) goes on vacation and they send out a substitute. Email and electronic transfer of financial data is a good thing. Hey, it’s called progress.

When we first moved into our current office building after the turn of the century (this one- hey, watch it!), we immediately recognized that it had a very important amenity- a mail box pickup location inside.
A sticker posted on the lid you open to drop in the mail listed two pickup times. One around 10am and the other 4:45pm. This made sense as it gave us a chance to compose important business communications, run it through the postage meter and as we went home and dropped it in the mail chute, we knew that by the next morning it would already be on its way to getting processed.

This is no longer the fact. Last year- in a cost-cutting action, the post office decided to reduce pickup to once a day. Fine. No problem. Doable. However, the geniuses decided to make the pickup at 10am and dropped the more beneficial 4:45pm. Presumably because it was beneficial for the paying customer but not their pampered employees who loathed making a pickup late in the day when they preferred to be heading home. What this means is that if I get to the office after the 10am pickup, I have to advance the date in the postage meter before I slide an envelope through. Why? I am a firm believer that the next morning when the mail is brought to the processing plant that a postal employee will see the previous day’s date on the metered envelope and put it on the side to teach me a lesson in ruining that person’s karma.

The U.S. Postal Service has not raised stamp fees from 3 to 44 cents and dropped delivery from twice a day to barely once only because the cost of living that has skyrocketed in 50 years.. It is out-of-control pension plans, vacation and personal leave benefits that our “all types of weather” letter carriers get. But, hey- that’s progress. I tell you what- I quit when my computer starts asking me for the same considerations.

Seniors Rule but Move Over- Here Come the Boomers!

By Larry Teren

Congratulations, Baby boomers! You are on the cusps of making a strong political as well as economic statement in the United States. Of course, it all depends on whether social security benefits will be there when we are ready to take it.

Recently published is the news that senior citizens are now at their largest share of the population than ever before. With more than three hundred million United States citizens, forty million, or roughly 13 percent make up a solid segment. For comparison sakes, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the figure was 4.1 percent and the total population was less than half of now. Continue reading “Seniors Rule but Move Over- Here Come the Boomers!”

Mr. Coverup

I recently decided it was time to have a piece or two of furniture re-upholstered. I called Arnold, whom I’ve known socially for more than thirty years and invited him to come by, look over the situation and make an offer.
Continue reading “Mr. Coverup”

Cable Tv Viewership Drops Like a Hulu-Hoop

A couple of months ago I pointed out that there was little incentive to watch the NBC Thursday night lineup of six comedy shows at their appointed times while sitting in front of a television set. I also suggested that this fact was wreaking havoc on the ratings people regardless of what they said. Why did one need to be glued to their seat to watch a television show when they had the option to watch it at leisure over the Internet on Hulu.com for four or five weeks after first broadcast?

Apparently, the industry is now taking a harder look at this because it was announced in the last couple of days that anywhere between 200,000 to 400,000 subscribers have dropped cable and/or satellite service as a result of economic conditions. It’s ridiculous to spend fifty or more dollars a month to get a daily entertainment fix out of a television set. This is especially so for baby boomers who grew up with free over-the-air tv. We got used to a static and wavy signal unless the antenna or bent wire hanger attached to the set was positioned correctly. We didn’t complain because our choices were limited and we were grateful for even the five or six channels from which to select.

In late 1968, our family moved to an area on the far north side of the city of Chicago that only a couple of years earlier had been built up. There was open space for two full city blocks to the north of us and one to the west. An inexpensive black and white tv sat in my bedroom. The old axiom of ‘what you don’t know you don’t care about’ was true. We didn’t have a color tv set in the house so there was no sense of dissatisfaction because I couldn’t see my favorite shows in color.

As was with most sets built in those days, the uhf band was a separate control and rotary dial. Finding a uhf channel over 13 was not a click to a preset spot as was on the standard 2 thru 13 vhf knob. To get to channel 26 or 32 one had to use the same sensitivity that a seasoned safe-cracker employed to open a vault. By accident, I soon discovered that when the atmosphere was cooperative, I could pick up channels from other cities such as 22 or 23 (Rockford or Elgin?) and 60 (Aurora). This was mighty useful during the football season. In those days, Chicago Bears home games were blacked out on local tv if all the seats were not sold out. The Bears were not that good and had a hard time filling to capacity. Even though the video display was grainy and the audio faint on these out-of-town stations, I was a kid in a candy store.

A handful of years earlier, I’d get a kick out of listening to clear channel out-of-town radio stations at night when the daytime stations in our area stopped broadcasting at sunset. And then I bought a shortwave radio and was able to hear broadcasts from overseas.

Ma now has three color televisions in the house that are cable connected. She only uses one on a regular basis- the others are there for visits by children and grandchildren. The only reason she keeps the cable connection is in order to get the Cubs and Bulls games that are not shown on WGN channel 9.
That is roughly half the games. Otherwise, whatever else she wants to watch can be found on regular television.

Two or three years ago, the FCC, I think, decided that the Chicago area had to get rid of analog signals for over-the-air broadcasts and switch to digital. This meant that each television set in a residence that was not receiving broadcast signals via cable or satellite dish would now be obsolete unless a special convertor box was attached to it to turn the analog signal into digital.

Ma’s only set that was not cable ready was in the kitchen. I went out and bought her a small flat screen, high definition ready digital model to replace the old kitchen unit. Upon initial use, we quickly discovered that the mandate for digital broadcasting included new channels. Several of the local broadcast companies were now offering multiple channels. It was no longer WMAQ channel 5, but 5.1 and 5.2 or WLS 7.1 and 7.2, etc. Each channel had its own theme. In addition there was a movie channel and two versions of a classic shows theme. All in all, there was enough to keep you occupied even if you didn’t have all the cable channels. That is, of course, if you didn’t mind not seeing half your favorite sports teams games.

A throwback to the old ways, but these high tech digital televisions that are not connected to cable or dish require a digital antenna box as well. So, the old rabbit ears still have a place to roost, albeit they contain newer guts. It took only a day or two, but we quickly discovered that the antenna needs to be placed in a certain way or the signal gets blocked. Not only that, but if one stands near the tv set at a certain angle, the signal also cuts out. And weather conditions also affect reception.

So much for progress- and you can’t pick up any out-of-town stations. As for me, I’ll keep my cable. Hey, I have to- it’s part of my monthly condo assessments.

Chicago Radio Daze

Do kids listen to the radio for music anymore? Apparently less and less are doing so and broadcasters are taking notice. A new 24 hour all-news radio station is taking to the airwaves in Chicago with the call letters of WWWN-FM , 101.1 on the dial. Most recently the same spot had been WKQX, a music station. In addition, WBBM-AM in Chicago, a CBS-owned radio station, has just started duplicating their AM signal on 105.9 FM. It had until recently been WCFS, an adult contemporary music station.

CBS officials say that by adding the FM signal for their all-day newscasts, other than seasonal sports broadcasts, those in downtown, high-rise congested areas as well as far out suburbs will now be able to pick up their signal. AM stands for amplitude modulation which relies on the strength or loudness of the signal. This is why some stations covet having 50,000 clear watt signals that get picked up at night as well. There are some AM stations that are even mandated to go off the air after sundown. WGN was chartered an all clear 50,000 watt station because they were willing to air a decent amount of farm related news to the Midwest.

FM stands for frequency modulation. The ability to pick up these signals are based on the proximity, not the loudness, to the transmitter. This is why it is often easier to pick up FM radio stations than AM in areas with tall buildings. The signal strength is not interfered with as much especially if the FM transmission tower is nearby.

This jockeying for supremacy of the Chicago airwaves and changing of the guard in listener tastes brings back several memories for baby boomers listening to radio in the 1960’s. Before the Beatles showed up we used to listen to rock and roll stars like Elvis, The Beach Boys, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Leslie Gore and many others. The music played loud and it all sounded pretty much the same. But to us the real stars were maybe the disk jockeys who fought for our attention on the various music radio outlets.

At one time or another three stations- WLS, WJJD and WCFL rocked us for loyalty and ratings numbers. Dick Biondi was king of the hill on WLS. By 1964 he was gone and returned to Chicago on arch-rival WCFL in 1967. Biondi as of most recently was still on the airwaves doing nostalgic radio, some fifty years later.

Art Roberts took the baton at WLS in the mid 1960’s and was the top dj for a while. Larry Lujack went on to super stardom first at ‘LS and then ‘CFL in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

By the late 1960’s, I didn’t care much to listen to the British rockers who inundated American culture. As I was in my late teens then, I was more interested in sports and talk on the radio to help me fall asleep.

In the morning, I’d wake up to, as did most kids, Wally Phillips on WGN radio because that’s what our mothers were listening to in the kitchen as they prepared breakfast. In my case, it was something I could not avoid. I slept in the dining room adjoining the kitchen as we only had three bedrooms and five kids- three sisters and a baby brother. I drew the short end of the stick in a stacked deck.

Wally presented a hodgepodge of news, weather, sports, talk, bits of humor, topical discussions, and a sliver of music. Until the day he retired, he was at the top of the radio Arbitron ratings.

In the early ’60s, to help me fall asleep, I’d listen to Jack Eigen on WMAQ in the Palmer House Pump Room, or was it the Chez Paree, interview celebrities passing through town. Or, if I was in a different mood, it would be good old Franklin McCormick on WGN playing his big band music and lullabies. His mellifluous cadence was enough to hypnotize anyone to sleep in 10 minutes or less.

Today some of these call letters are used on different frequencies and the station formats are a far cry from those in the 1960’s. Some, such as WMAQ and all-news WNUS have been retired. WIND is now
a conservative talk station as well as WLS. WCFL which had 1000 on the dial has given up the spot to an all sports talk station owned by ESPN. During the past twenty years, with the migration of Mexicans to Chicago, Spanish language oriented stations have developed large followings and big numbers in the ratings. Incredibly, WGN is still what it was 50 years ago, catering to sports and mostly middle-age tastes. As always , they host the Chicago Cubs games on radio and despite a few blips of post-season success, no announcer has yet to be able to boast that one can hear the World Champion Cubs on WGN. I think when it does happen, radio programs will just be transmitted over the Internet. And the announcer will be called a podcaster. Transistor radios will be shown in museum exhibits and clock radios will be thrown out when seniors sell their homes and move to assisted living facilities. But, don’t touch that dial!- or should I say website address url?