Monday, July 23, 2007

Rabbi Sherwin Wine 1928-2007

I was saddened to learn today of the death of Sherwin Wine, the founder of the Society for Humanistic Judaism and a figure who I nominated for a Nobel Prize—well, kinda sorta. The renowned and retired Rabbi Wine was killed Saturday along with his cab driver in a taxi crash while vacationing in Morocco.

Though I never got to personally know Wine very well, he was my clergyman during the mid-90s. My life was profoundly affected by his work, and now I hugely regret never having gotten around to requesting a radioactive telephone interview over KIRO here in Seattle, where the Society's local chapter is known as The Secular Jewish Circle of Puget Sound
. The learned Detroiter was broad-shouldered and strapping in stature, and thus someone I figuratively and literally looked up to. And until last weekend, Wine was the only person still living who had started a major movement within American Judaism, the founders of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist strains long having passed on.

Wine's Associated Press obituary describes the 1965 Time interview which catapulted him to national fame, but neglects to explain what was explosive about it: therein the then-37-year-old longtime Reform rabbi admitted he had pretty much all along been an atheist. (It’s amazing that his public disbelief in G-d is never mentioned in the AP copy.)

That magazine interview instantly made Wine perhaps the most controversial theologian in the country for several months, a notoriety which spread word of Humanistic Judaism only two years after its rather obscure beginnings in suburban Detroit. Few members his congregation stuck with Wine after he disaffiliated the Birmingham Temple from the Reform movement in mid-November 1963. And within a week an avalanche of Dallas news would bury this remarkable story of professional and philosophic courage. But in time, Wine's
sect—catering to Jews unable to believe yet still unwilling to sever cultural ties to the faith—would grow to more than a hundred temples worldwide, including two in Israel.

During my newstalk career, listeners have often asked about Humanistic Judiasm; KIRO callers in particular have questioned the legitimacy of the mere idea of a non-believing religious group. I point out that Wine was hardly a unique clergyman in this regard; after all, Buddism is arguably an atheistic religion.

For my own part, a confluence of factors compelled me by 1999 to convert through the Society's Chicago chapter, and ever since I've cheerfully described myself as something of "a phony-baloney Jew”. Still, my involvement in the Society would increase, and in fact, Wine's movement would serve as the solution to the closest thing I've ever had to a crisis of faith.

By my 30s I had pretty much given up, reluctantly, on religious belief, having intellectually settled at an agnostic point of view after fruitlessly seeking since adolescence even a scintilla of tangible evidence that G-d exists. Therefore I couldn't comfortably join any church, but thanks to some theology courses back at Boston University, I had attended services in houses of worship from Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy to Hinduism and Islam, including numerous Protestant denominations, mainstream and otherwise. (This theological probing wasn't merely course-requirement compliance or youthful curiosity; decades later, while attending the 2002 Winter Olympics, I spent two entire days touring numerous shrines and sites around the Salt Lake City area while quizzing various LDS officials about Mormonism.) And since I'd been almost exclusively dating Jewesses ever since my freshman year at BU, I had naturally also been inside more than a few synagogues in Boston during the 70s and then in Los Angeles during the 80s.

The wildly-disparate rites I had witnessed over the years typically struck me as contrived at best and silly at worst. Yet those conducted within Reform temples somehow seemed to make more sense to me than any of the others, or at least avoided encroaching upon my personal rationalist space. Because I felt a certain spiritual vacuum in my life, I would eventually try to convert through a Reform rabbi in L.A. I'd met at my health club. He was just fine with the fact that I was agnostic, but he eventually came to resent my admiration for Reagan to the point of politely suggesting I find myself another rabbi. That experience cooled my religious enthusiasm for a few years.

Then, on only my second day in Michigan, having arrived in March 1993 for what would prove to be a three-year overnight run at heritage newstalker WJR/Detroit, I found myself dining at a deserted Jewish deli in suburban Motown. It was late on a Friday afternoon, the lunch crowd was long gone and the only person there to talk to was the proprietrix, a fiftysomething looker who seemed to take a rather maternal interest in this new kid in town. The conversation eventually led to my confiding that I was interested in again attempting conversion, figuring my meeting a few congregants along the way might also hasten my acclimation to the city to which I'd soon be broadcasting.

She had only one recommendation of a temple, and it wasn't Reform. But when she mentioned the Society for Humanistic Judiasm, I replied that it sounded way too New Age for a spiritual skeptic like myself. She dismissed my cynicism and instructed me to head over to the Birmingham Temple for the services there commencing three hours hence. She insisted Birmingham would be ideal for me...and it was.

As I have occasionally been contending to my newstalk radio audiences ever since Detroit, the Nobel committee in Sweden ought to widen its scope. Among the several important disciplines they've ignored is theology. If the economics prize was a worthy addition in 1969—and it was—then awards in art, architecture, music, philosophy and theology are each also warranted. In particular the Nobel Prize for Theology would seem a no-brainer, inasmuch as the vast bulk of humanity identify themselves as religious to some degree. Nobel bylaws prohibit posthumous winners, so even if those Swedish arbiters of accomplishment were to someday follow up on my suggestion, they couldn't give it to Wine, who I'd been publicly suggesting for years would constitute a bold choice as its first recipient.

Any Wine acceptance speech in Stockholm would surely have been memorable, as he was (along with the late civil rights pioneer James Farmer) one of the two finest orators I've ever met. For providing a fulfilling pathway for those of us secularists—agnostics like me or downright atheists like Wine—prevented by reason from embracing faith yet longing to formalize our seriousness about life, Sherwin Wine's career deserved to have been honored as only a Nobel laureate's is.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Moonwalker Harrison Schmitt & Styble on KIRO

Apollo 17 Geologist-Astronaut Harrison Schmitt, who roved the moon during NASA's final lunar landing mission in 1972, will be interviewed over KIRO/Seattle during the 10 pm hour of the Sunday night, July 22, 2007 edition of The Bryan Styble Program.

Dr. Schmitt is one of only nine still-living moonwalkers, and will take listener questions and comments.

This radioactive interview will be followed by two hours of Open Lines for Open Minds, discussing everything in (or out) of the news.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Styble's KIRO schedule

Longtime KIRO overnight newstalk host Bryan Styble is nowadays heard every late Sunday evening into Monday morning on The Bryan Styble Program, 10 pm-1 am Pacific Time throughout Greater Seattle-Tacoma and, with KIRO's regional nighttime signal, over much of the Pacific Northwest of the North American continent.

Anyone in any time zone around the globe can tune in the program's live streaming at
www. 710

For your time-zone conversion convenience, Styble's live broadcasts are heard:

Mountain Time: Sunday nights 11 pm-2 am
Central Time: Monday mornings 12 midnight-3 am
Eastern Time: Monday mornings 1-4 am

Universal Time aka
Greenwich Mean Time: Monday mornings 5-8 am

Styble receives—and always responds to!—e-mail at:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Joking with Vincent Bugliosi

When legendary prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi telephonically appeared on The Bryan Styble Program on KIRO a couple of weeks ago, I had but a single hour to cover the most written-about investigation of all time. (That historical fact accounts for why his massive new JFK assassination book Reclaiming History is heftier than most dictionaries.)

Thus, I wasn’t about to end our discussion with a joke, especially a certain elaborate, airtime-consuming one, however proud I am that it's original and many listeners have praised it as clever. This was even though that often-contentious hour might indeed have benefited from a concluding moment of levity, since various skeptical radioactive callers had vigorously and even angrily disputed Bugliosi's powerfully-argued thesis that Oswald not only did it, but acted alone.

Bugliosi remained on hold through the ensuing top-of-the-hour KIRO news break, to record what in the radio biz is known as a promo liner: “Hi, I’m Vince Bugliosi...and when I’m in Seattle, I get radioactive with Bryan Styble on KIRO!" But before his graciously doing so, I hoped to get a laugh out of the man who was able to get the death penalty for Charles Manson.

One of the central attributes of Reclaiming History is that it at least cites every one of the more than a hundred various conspiracy theories which have been posited in the JFK case since the 60s, and then systematically refutes many of the better-known ones. But nowhere in the tome's 1600 pages is there consideration of a particular theory I conceived in a mischievous moment a decade ago, and have been relating to my audiences every November ever since...and which just happens to be the only all-inclusive scenario yet proposed:

You figure Castro had ample reason to engineer JFK’s assassination as payback for the numerous failed CIA attempts on his own life, so it's easy to imagine the Cuban dictator dispatching a hit team to Dealey Plaza. Likewise, Khrushchev was still sore over the Missile Crisis, so the KGB has a crack assassin at the scene with his own spotter. And it was common knowledge that old Hoover bitterly resented the young President, so there's a couple of FBI snipers also waiting that Friday afternoon. The Kennedy brothers had been leaning on the Mafia for years, ergo a Sicilian team on-scene. And LBJ had clear motive to get his boss out of the way, so Johnson's people in Austin sent some rogue Texas Rangers upstate to Dallas. And her husband's relentless philandering had finally driven Jackie to murder, so with the help of the Radziwills she hooked up with a mysterious European hit man. By noon, dozens more would-be assassins had arrived, each in the secret employ of one of a hundred-odd vengeful figures the President had once wronged, each waiting for that familiar head to appear in the cross-hairs. Even kindly old Abe Zapruder had hired a trusted buddy who's good with a rifle, to ensure the home movie he'd be filming would be worth a fortune.

So they’d all converged on Dealey Plaza, many jostling for elbow room on the crowded Grassy Knoll (“Hey, we've been here since dawn—find your own damned knoll!”). Then the motorcade rolls by at 12:29 and just as every gunman steadies his barrel, Oswald opens fire from six stories up, squeezes off three shots and two hit their marks…as all the other guys think, “Nice...we can just go home now!”

On the other end of the line in Los Angeles, Bugliosi more than chuckled upon hearing my punchline…and then after a second or so of silence, laughed again even more boisterously. And then asked, “Mind if I steal it?”

So just maybe the forthcoming trade-paper version of Reclaiming History will include—with attribution, I trust—my little joke about that enormous atrocity.

A podcast of the Bugliosi appearance on The Bryan Styble Program will soon be available for download on the KIRO website.

Michael Medved & Styble on KIRO

Nationally-syndicated radio newstalker and author Michael Medved, whose widely-respected daily broadcast originates weekday afternoons from KIRO sister-station KTTH/Seattle, has graciously agreed to a live interview during the 10pm hour of an upcoming Sunday evening edition of The Bryan Styble Program on KIRO, shortly following Medved's late-July return from Israel.

Space Needle Art

Is it art? Indisputably yes. But a more interesting question is whether perhaps the tattoo—along with its less-permanent but often more-provocative cousin, the body piercing—should be also classified as a more particular, if not more peculiar, variety of artistic expression: performance art.

That onstage genre has well earned its reputation for intellectual laziness, given how many of its practitioners self-indulgently expect their audiences to respectfully sit through, say, a deliberate consumption of a sandwich or a dramatic reading from the Yellow Pages. But the lack of creative worth is a critique hardly applicable to the many positively inventive and lovely forms which tattoos take. And performance art does share an important aspect with more respected forms of stagecraft such as theatre and magic: it inherently projects the artist's skill.

In the case of conspicuous body art, while the wearer casts forward someone else's artistry, it is nonetheless his own vision—or at least one possessed when it was acquired—which is thrust upon all whom he encounters. You don't just wear a prominent tattoo or body piercing, you display it, and maybe even show it off to anyone who doesn't squeamishly react.

The annual Evolution Tattoo Convention here in Seattle each autumn seemed, technically, an inappropriate subject for my long-running Coagula column, where an earlier version of this piece was originally published. That's because my space in the avant-garde art magazine was putatively the only text in a given issue not about art. Remembrance of Things Present instead reported on and assessed American popular culture, and as such, the largest tattoo/piercing festival in the Pacific Northwest fell squarely within the column's domain. Moreover, the prospect of mingling with hordes of illustration-covered and rod-punctured people in the Cradle of Grunge was something irresistible to a guy who, as it happens, is still bothered by a residual spot of graphite imbedded in his right palm, the result of a 1970 classroom mishap.

So more than two years before I arrived at KIRO in March 2005, while still an afternoon-drive broadcaster in Albuquerque, I headed my otherwise uninked and unpunctured body toward Seattle. My destination was the warehouse district about a mile east of The Space Needle, where I was anxious to witness considerably smaller needles working their way under the skin of some of Evolution's more adventuresome attendees.

Many of my neoconservative colleagues in newstalk radio expend considerable rhetorical energy imploring their listeners to never succumb to tattooing's increasing popularity. In presumptuously minding other people's personal business, they forget that libertarianism and individualism are values which (supposedly) animate conservative ideology. And they're also reinforcing the notion that those right-of-center politically are just a bunch of squares. I wasn't surprised to see that the unhip were not in abundance at Evolution.

One of the many engaging characters I encountered that weekend was a guy in his 20s named Mike. He sports seven or eight disparate and colorful tattoos over his legs, arms and neck. Mike first went under the vibrating needle at age 12, contends that Mom was cool with that, and fully recognizes that "it's a commitment, that's for sure. If you ever end up regretting it, you didn't do it for the right reasons."

To confirm that Mike didn't do it for some wrong reason, such as peer approval, I invoked the old desert-island scenario. When questioned if he would have done the same with his body if he'd known he spend the remainder of his days in isolation, he unhesitatingly responded in the affirmative.

The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that the tattooing process at best hurts and at worst is excruciatingly painful. So it's impressive to note that none of the dozens of attendees I witnessed being tattooed even for a moment betrayed any of the discomfort they were unflinchingly enduring.

An entrant in one of Evolution's several tattoo contests was a 270-pound woman named Carrie, who affects a decidedly butch appearance, yet whose upper arms each display true beauty. On her left is rather stylized she-devil dominatrix, flanked on her right by something I wasn't aware tattooists can achieve, near photo-realism. The stunning right-arm pin-up employs delicate shading and resembles one of those old Playboy illustrations by Vargas—except that this long-legged vixen is bound in chains. As Carrie repeatedly flexed her arms, she talked of originally having envisioned her unnamed companions as being able to thusly pulsate in tandem, in some sort of animated dermal dance.

One of the least-festooned Evolution attendees, a thirtysomething librarian named Sean who sports three comparatively nondescript designs, delineated his personal Rule of 60: "I won't consider a tattoo if I think there's any chance I won't still like it when I'm 60 years old." He says the only factor keeping him from adding many more is a fear of what impression they might leave during future job interviews.

A striking sight among the 50-odd artist booths was a handsome fellow named Brian. But his distinctive appearance wasn't characterized by any especially elaborate tattoos, at least by this convention's standards. Rather, he stood out in that crowd due to the fact that he always dresses—including, he insists, while slinging ink at his suburban Seattle studio—in a fancy three-piece pinstriped. He explains that while he's ruined a couple suits with the inks he expertly applies to his clients, he so dresses to lend himself a unique look in his world while also nobly serving to counter the seedy image retains even in the post-Punk 21st Century.

One less well-dressed artist, who works under the single name Jher and owns a shop in Denver, wears arm tattoos which are neither illustrations nor one of those non-representational Celtic ring designs that nowadays so frequently circle arms. Instead, from his wrists up, his arms are thoroughly covered simply in black ink, save his elbows. I inquired what it is about the elbow which evidently makes the skin there either too painful or impractical to tattoo, but my curiosity turned out to be ill-placed. "Nothing", he amiably answered, "I just haven't decided what kind of tattoos to put there." He went on to describe a New Zealander colleague who has blackened his entire body below his neckline (as well as filing down his teeth to points and scarring his back in order to mimic a crocodile).

Those who came to Evolution that year to view exotic piercings were probably disappointed, since the body art displayed was mostly ink-imbued rather than metal-inserted. But the convention's biggest letdown came after my having repeatedly viewed a fascinating spectacle recycled through the weekend via video projection. The production starred a hardy guy swaying, suspended by chains from the ceiling by about a dozen barbs hooked into his shoulders. Evolution's scheduled climax - an in-person demonstration by another such Foucault's fool - never came off, for reasons which about which the genial promoter was vague. But I doubt the cancellation of the finale was due to any second-thoughts on the part of the suspendee, since Evolution was one place where no one seemed regretful about painful or permanent choices.

For my part, I don't regret politely declining a couple artists' gracious offers to adorn, gratis, my tattoo-free body. Like most journalists, I normally embrace just about any freebie. But I passed, in part because I'm not sure I wouldn't rue my choice of design twenty minutes after the stinging faded, much less twenty years hence. Does the typical tattoo wearer experience such static moods that he never tires of his colorful upper-chest tiger and instead sometimes long for a monochrome lower-back leopard? Or, for that matter, a buttock blonde or a pelvic Pistons logo?

I lived in Los Angeles during the early years of punk rock, and vividly recall a 1983 encounter with a mohawked young man outside an East Hollywood club following an Exene appearance there. Over half of the starboard side of his face was tattooed with three quite wide, dark-blue angled stripes, sargeant/chevron style. He departed on his Harley before I could approach him and inquire what band he played in, since I presumed him to be a musician.

As he roared off, all I could think of was the fellow's likely bleak future, should the creative ambitions I assumed he had eventually not pan out and end up being replaced by more practical goals. (Sure, Melville's noble savage Queequeg might have displayed copious facial tattoos which were even more grotesque, but he also never had any greater professional ambition than harpooning the likes of Moby-Dick.) This guy probably had anguished parents in some suburban home somewhere wondering where they had gone wrong with their future doctor or lawyer son.

But my perspective changed after I hung out with the invariably cheerful tattoo bearers at Evolution, people to a man and woman not merely comfortable with their "commitments", but downright delighted with them.

If tattoos are performance art, those on the face of that guy in East Hollywood certainly gave me a command performance, still haunting this member of his "audience" decades later. But maybe I figured him wrong.

That is, he may or may not have been able to eventually integrate his predilection for extreme body art into some offstage profession by, say, becoming a tattoo artist himself, or at least landing a lifetime gig at a used-CD store. But even if he never realized such a career, I'm no longer quite so certain that nowadays he can't still look in the mirror contentedly.

Poll Faulting

Here are the startling results of a recent computer poll ranking male opinion of the most attractive women seen in the American mass media:

1. Comedienne Rita Rudner
2. Iconoclastic philosopher Camille Paglia
3. ESPN anchor Linda Cohn
4. Former CNN Headline News anchor Lynne Russell
5. Actress and comedienne Sandra Bernhard

"Whose total female package most turns you on?" was the question posed to an exclusively heterosexual male population via my computer. I selected myself as the first respondent queried, and to avoid contaminating the results with such alleged beauties as Anna Kournikova, Jennifer Lopez and Tyra Banks, no other guys were asked.

Those still reading this—and few would blame anyone who isn't—are surely wondering how I get off (so to speak) wasting my readers' time with a list of those who happen to appeal to my decidedly idiosyncratic taste in women.

My roster is no joke; I'd gravitate across a room to any member of that quirky quintet. And its inclusion of a couple whom few men probably consider even good-looking, much less beautiful, merely proves that old saw about different strokes for different folks.

Yet my absolutely personal list is no less legitimate than many of the pointless polls and ridiculous rankings which clutter our popular culture nowadays, masquerading as reliable indicators of public or critical opinion. Professional pollsters produce accurate, fascinating and often enlightening readings of the American mood employing methodologies termed "scientific" because they scrupulously adhere to well-established statistical principles when soliciting the views of a thousand or more randomly-selected individuals. But such polling now is the almost sole domain of the national media, major political campaigns and governments, about the only entities with enough bucks to commission such expensive surveys.

Local news organizations, cable shows and websites should leave polling to the big boys who can afford it. But instead, the lower tiers of the news and entertainment media cynically exploit the vanity of their audiences by inviting participation in decidedly unscientific polls. Sampling only those opinionated enough to take the trouble to call in or log on renders the results inherently inaccurate and thus meaningless. This trend actually predates by a few years the mid-90s explosion of Internet. When inexpensive phone-in technology became widely available in the late 80s, producers could then beseech everyone to chime in on "issues" which were sometimes downright silly, and typically charged automatically each voter a half-buck or more for the privilege of anonymous involvement.

With the ubiquity of the Web, this mindless practice has now run amok, with broadcasts, publications and websites staging an endless parade of online, "instant" (albeit free) polls. And they're frequently on questions upon which no one in the audience has any information to base an opinion ("Will the Mideast peace process work?" or "Will J.Lo stay with Ben?").

A related cultural annoyance is "ranking". Compilers of these usually dumb lists may not pretend they're representing public opinion—indeed, many insist they're merely aiming to spur debate—but they do imply that their selections are carefully made.

And when VH1 awhile back devoted ten hours to something called The 200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons, well, you figured you were in store for some real all-timers. So why did Britney Spears (20), Puff Daddy (35) and the Osbornes (40) ride so high when Walt Disney didn't even make the cut? (He was, though, indirectly represented through his creation Mickey Mouse (17).)

Oprah Winfrey and Superman as Numbers 1 and 2, respectively, were choices as dubious as they were disparate. Uncontestable entries like Presley (3), Ali (16) and Sinatra (27) each warranted their high placements, but the bulk of the roster was populated by flavors-of-the-month like Gwen Stefani (142), Dr. Phil (194) and Cartman (198). Even more preposterously, the Friends cast (11) grossly outranked The Three Stooges (167).

Of course, VH1 saw no need to uphold its contention that it was sequencing only those who have "significantly inspired and impacted American popular culture." It's obvious that most were picked simply to appeal to the music channel's young-and-hip target demographics, something evidenced most pointedly by the absurd placement of JFK Jr. (24) above JFK himself (32).

Not that subjective ranking is always worthless. Indeed, one of my favorite books and thus a frequent subject of discussions with my KIRO callers is The 100. It's an offbeat, single-volume history of our civilization which constitutes the most ambitious list ever. Therein science historian Michael Hart sequenced the most influential people of all time.

But instead of assembling his hundred names over an afternoon or two as some hack TV producer lazily would, Hart vigorously and comprehensively defended every choice in a style which displayed his formidable knowledge of history, science, the arts and philosophy. Thus each biographical sketch was actually a lengthy essay explaining why, say, Columbus (9) places just ahead of Einstein (10), yet right behind Gutenberg (8).

Sitting atop this group of ultra-achievers is Mohammad. Hart argued that his combined religious, political and military impact in the 7th Century and his continued shaping of today’s world makes The Prophet the single most influential person ever. That of course also puts him ahead of fellow historical heavyweights Newton (2) and Christ (3), a ranking which, upon the tome's 1978 release, publicly outraged several American fundamentalist preachers. It's also a choice with which another incendiary man of the cloth, Osama bin Ladin, presumably agrees.

But it's doubtful big-picture rankings like Hart's will ever be in fashion. On tonight's local newscast, you'll more likely be asked which showbiz babes you find "hot". Well, I already told you who I think is hot. (And this blog is not taking a poll on why at least two of my Top 5 are, alas, gay.)

ABC's Monday Night Faux Pas

[originally posted December 27, 2005]

With Monday Night Football ending its remarkable 35-year run on ABC last night with more of a whimper than a bang, I thought I might finally tell a story I've never shared with my talk radio audience. As it happens, this behind-the-scenes tale was my initial first-hand exposure to the staggering magnitude of the money at stake at the broadcast network level, even in this era of splintering audiences amid a multiplicity of cable and satellite competition.

As I explained over KIRO this morning, it is breathtaking how few people recognize what really was at root regarding ABC's loss of MNF, the most prestigious—and lucrative—of all NFL broadcast properties. Many explanations have been offered as to what brought on this sad end to a storied broadcast tradition, but it seems that everybody (save that Radioactive guy Bryan Styble, 'natch) has been missing the obvious.

Many observers argued incorrectly that MNF lost its luster due to the parity-obsessed NFL regime that succeeded Pete Rozelle, as ABC increasingly found itself airing games pitting .500 teams against one another. (And I often wonder whether the late Rozelle, the greatest commissioner in pro sports history, would have authorized his successor's long march of the league away from dynastic spectacle—the Patriots' recent success notwithstanding—toward competitive mediocrity.)

Nor does the blame for the decline of MNF reside with ABC brass, or at least not for their lacking to keep even with Fox as its NFC coverage consistently led the way with eye-candy graphics and other dazzling gridiron broadcast innovations.

No, ABC's critical mistake was when they decided that the oversized John Madden could cover for two people in the MNF booth. Sure, in Al Michaels they had someone who was reliably competent, even if too often cloyingly so. But the sad fact is that the overrated Michaels is still surfing the wave of fame generated by his inspired "Do you believe in miracles!?!" hockey call at the 1980 Winter Olympics. To his credit, Michaels seldom got in the way of Madden's always trenchant and good-humored analysis. Still, never did Michaels approach the graceful combination of insight, articulation and elegant vocal authority that Pat Summerall, easily the finest NFL play-by-play man ever, routinely provided Madden through all those seasons they were teamed, first by CBS and then at Fox.

It remained painfully obvious every Monday that no matter how larger-than-life Madden might be, he was still just one man playing off his play-by-play partner. And MNF became a cultural phenomenon because there had always been three characters standing on-camera in that booth.

And, not at all incidentally, for so many of those memorable seasons, one of that trio was Howard Cosell. Taller in stature and accomplishment than any of his various boothmates, Cosell made MNF the event that even non-football fans recognized it to be by the mid-70s, all the while being the first sports figure to expand the realm of professional athletics beyond that of mostly immature men playing overpriced games. Cosell brought intellectuality (and literate bombast) to sportscasting, and thusly appealed to an unprecedented portion of the American public by regaling and/or infuriating them.

When Cosell quit MNF in the late 80s, the same sports commentators who had once so savagely scorned and ridiculed him were soon pondering in their columns whether it could ever recover from his departure. It couldn't.

Actually, it might have, had the ABC suits realized that to replicate the Cosell-inspired magic they needed someone who could bring a similar combination of intellect, sports knowledge, showmanship and controversy to the team. There was and is only one other person on the American media landscape with that formidable package, and he not only was available, but actually was also highly covetous of the gig!

Not that talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh needed the income or the exposure. But for months starting in 1999, he took the truly startling step of lobbying for the job on his own nationally-syndicated show. He offered to take his daily Excellence in Broadcasting efforts on the road each Monday via remote from the cities to which ABC would dispatch him during the NFL season. But even the clout of his EIB omnipresence couldn't land him that prestigious weekly platform. ABC apparently believed that the conservative's (wholly unwarranted) reputation for being an extremist loose cannon would scare away more viewers than his invariably-entertaining act would draw. It was also said that ABC feared that he couldn't check his ideology at the skybox door, something he not only surely could and would have done, but publicly pledged to do.

When ABC punted and instead awarded the gig to erudite comic Dennis Miller for a much-lampooned run which would only last two seasons, the die was cast, although it still would be another half-decade before MNF would draw its last breath, last evening.

While sitting in today for Limbaugh himself, Mark Belling was arguing the same point I've long been hammering about Cosell's unquestionable and central value to MNF. (Belling is the estimable Milwaukee-based newstalker who has been getting frequent EIB fill-in duty ever since longtime Rush subs Sean Hannity and Tony Snow went into direct or indirect talk-radio competition with Limbaugh.)

Belling agrees that Cosell's presence made MNF the monster hit it became by its third season. And Belling didn't, but should have, noted that Cosell managed to achieve that while seldom receiving more than strained cooperation from the thin-voiced Frank Gifford, whose resentment of his intellectually-towering partner was never far beneath the surface. Compounding this chilliness was Gifford's favoring good ole boy Don Meredith's goofy comic-relief antics over Cosell's consistently cerebral contributions. All of which was even more inexcusable given that Gifford somehow neglected to bring to ABC many of the broadcast skills he had honed while doing The NFL Today. That was on CBS during the 60s, before he was named to replace the durable Keith Jackson in the triumvirate's play-by-play role after the initial MNF season.

But Limbaugh was spurned by ABC, Cosell is long deceased, and now the broadcast-network version of MNF finally is dead too, deservedly. But I never fully realized how valuable a property it was to ABC until I started working for the network again in 1998. (I had previously been heard on the ABC-owned WJR/Detroit during 1993-96.) I temporarily left radio for a television newswriting slot at the network-owned WLS/Chicago, and then soon learned of something that, unbeknownst to me and just about everyone else outside the cloistered world of ABC Television, had been going on since 1996.

ABC had known for a couple years that a walkout by its technicians union was imminent, mostly over benefits issues. And indeed, in the fall of 1998, management beat the union to the punch by locking them out. But by the time a settlement was reached in February 1999, a fascinating back-story had played itself out, one of which I've never seen any newspaper or broadcast coverage.

So I shall tell it here and now. As it happened, the biggest concern that ABC bosses were said to have was not merely that a strike would be called, but rather when it might come down. Timing is everything when you walk out on The Man, as the transit workers in New York City demonstrated last week with their Yuletide strike. ABC management in the mid-90s figured that their union might wait until, say, 8:57 pm Eastern Time some autumnal Monday to walk, leaving the network without any technical ability to air its signature MNF broadcast.

So for the next two years, the network funded a full contingent of several dozen technical and production personnel who would trundle each post-Labor Day Monday to that game's site in its own truck caravan, shadowing the ABC A-team and setting up camp on the opposite side of that week's stadium. There they were ever situated, always poised to electronically switch over and thus seamlessly pick up the coverage, should the prime crew find itself ordered by their union leadership to take picket signs in hand on only a few minutes' notice. One can only imagine the cost of such dual-deployment, but ABC willingly footed the bill week in, week out, for nearly two NFL seasons.

And mind you, all of this was for but one potential sportscast, since by game-time the following week, ABC would have scrambled to assemble a replacement-worker team to air the remainder of their MNF games without interruption for the duration of the strike. Which, as it happens, is precisely what the network did during its eventual 1998-1999 lockout. But in the meantime, it accrued a two-year running tab of surely astronomical proportions merely to avoid a single broadcasting embarrassment.

Think about that the next time you're wading through the commercials which punctuate
Desperate Housewives and According to Jim.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Jayne Meadows & Styble on KIRO

Next Sunday night July 8, 2007, Bryan Styble will interview Hollywood stalwart Jayne Meadows, widow of Tonight Show originator and television legend Steve Allen, during his first radioactive hour on KIRO from 10-11 pm Pacific Time, followed as usual by two hours of Open Lines for Open Minds.