Friday, November 21, 2008

Well, Then May I Use...?

I'm concerned about a growing sentiment in the Radioactive e-mailbag.

Thrice recently it's been observed that the essays herein feature too many big words. And yes, there were also similar complaints lodged by some of my KIRO and WJR callers over the years, each of whom went to the trouble of accepting my standing invitation to "book yourself as a guest" on the program anyway.

Sorry, but the only thing at issue in the paragraph directly above is the word "too".

That is, in my universe, as long as one doesn't misuse it, a given word's length--or obscurity--is irrelevant. And while those are important considerations of which every wise writer remains ever aware, they nonetheless shouldn't prompt anyone crafting sentences for print or broadcast to resort to inadequate substitutes which dilute or even corrupt shades of intended meaning.

So as a reader, I always feel it's my bad whenever--at least every other article when tackling The New York Times--I encounter words whose unfamiliarity drives me to the 11th Edition of Mirriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. And I used to repeatedly try the patience of much of my overnight KIRO audience by wistfully musing how incalculably improved our civilization would at least semantically be, were that the book which is almost universally and so faithfully consulted throughout the West, instead of The Bible.

But...if it turns out the readership hereto collectively regards big words the way I do tie games in the NFL [see "Rush and McNabb, Tied Intelligently", directly below], well, something just may have to be done.

So tell me where you stand on this, please.

BRYAN STYBLE/somewhere

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rush and McNabb, Tied Intelligently

With only six minutes remaining in this morning's busier-than-usual edition of The Rush Limbaugh Program over the aptly-if-immodestly-entitled Excellence in Broadcasting Network, the host had somehow sequestered enough airtime to still shoehorn in a big football story.

So following typically trenchant analyses of: bailout mania; those Islamic neo-pirates; transitional Presidential maneuvering; Tom Daschle's Lazarus act; and the EIB daily staple, selective inconsistency by the people he so amusingly scorns as the "Drive-By Media", today we were able to hear what I'd been awaiting all week: Limbaugh's take on the staggering ignorance displayed this week by star quarterback Donovan McNabb. It happened in the wake of that rare National Football League tie McNabb's Eagles played to on Sunday afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals in Philadelphia.

Now, only if you have eschewed radio for years and also long ago abandoned every other news source are you likely unaware why Rush Limbaugh and Donovan McNabb constitute a combustible combination.

On the last weekend of September 2003, the bombastic broadcaster was in only his third week as a panelist on Sunday Morning Countdown, ESPN's NFL pre-game show, when he speculated on the air about what might be behind the uncritical coverage McNabb had always seemed to enjoy. And then in the space of 70 hours, events would startlingly, even breathtakingly ricochet into Limbaugh's forced resignation.

In the end, it was perhaps broadcasting history's most famous firing spectacle since another October surprise dismissal almost precisely a half-century earlier. And that one was executed by the only other personality to ever dominate radio as thoroughly as Limbaugh continues to do in our own era.

It was on a brisk autumn morning when pop singer Julius La Rosa suddenly found himself sacked not by a defensive end but by a defensive entertainer, indeed the very host himself of the wildly popular live program Arthur Godfrey Time.

This particular late-morning daily variety show was actually but one of four various Godfrey series running concurrently on either broadcast medium back in 1953, and notably was one of the first radio/television simulcasts.

Radio or TV, day or night, weekday or weekend, if Godfrey fans couldn't get the man himself and they usually could, then at least one of the many Little Godfreys--the stable of young entertainers like La Rosa whom he professionally nurtured and so proudly called his family not his stars--was always coming up on the air somewhere in a few hours.

Such was once the wide exposure and cultural reach of the late showman. Time was when the name Arthur Godfrey was at least as familiar as Rush Limbaugh's is today. I've heard Godfrey called a forgotten man, but you have to have heard something before you can forget it, and fact is, darned near every time I've heard Godfrey's name over the last two decades, I was the one saying it.

The RadioactiveSeattle reader presumably need not be tutored, but the general public generally has an imprecise understanding of what a simulcast exactly is. Specifically, most people don't realize that the radio portion of many simulcasts continues after the TV portion has signed off, or less commonly, vice versa. Imus in the Morning, now on life-support after resusitation on RFD-TV cable, is a contemporary if contemptible example. And oddly, because of this loose understanding of the dual-medium broadcast format's structure, it so happens many persons of a certain age to this very day are quite firmly yet falsely convinced they clearly remember seeing La Rosa's "swan song".

Well, it certainly was nothing if not memorable.

La Rosa was situated in his usual place that morning, in the front rank of those folding chairs over to the side that all the Little Godfreys would occupy while awaiting the coveted call from centerstage to contribute their talent. Summoning La Rosa, Godfrey with his familiar headset on that Monday looked not unlike a football coach sending his players into the game from the sideline.

But Godfrey wasn't on the sidelines, he was right in the middle of something. And also probably the only person, performer or backup, technician or visitor, in the entire large studio aware that a certain decision had been reached. It had proved such a tough one that it had even required a second corporate powwow that weekend. This was a serious matter which would shortly be dispensed with, a simple business dynamic hardly foreign to Godfrey, who behind the scenes was an often serious man and an always successful businessman. No one ever called Godfrey a comedian anyway, even though he certainly made a lot of people laugh over the years. No, his business was always more about making people smile. Maybe that's why he liked La Rosa so much.

That also is maybe why Godfrey sounded a little off his usual confident stride that morning. Or maybe he just hadn't yet sipped enough of his longtime sponsor's Lipton Tea, an unusually wonderful product by the
way. A tea which helps you start your day off in the best of ways. You know, a really fine tea Lipton is, you really oughta try it soon. Why not look for Lipton's the next time you're in the aisle of your favorite market?

Now anyway, the room where all this was going down was termed a "large studio" a couple paragraphs above, but that's by the modern radio industry standard. Had this all occurred not in New York but in the California studio where Godfrey's storied career would essentially conclude in 1972, there almost certainly would have been many more eyewitnesses to what happened to La Rosa that morning.

Anyway, I doubt many people there in person picked up on the fact that the Godfrey vocal verve which had served him so well for so long sounded missing that morning. No, his fans loved Godfrey too much to notice any of the faults that some close to Godfrey would complain about to gossip columnists.

In fact, Godfrey's celebrity was so massive that headline writers occasionally referred to him by only the first syllable of his surname. Such Obama-style adoration almost certainly meant that Godfrey never imagined that merely by firing someone, he'd actually be firing himself.

The people Godfrey had been huddling with that weekend were his longtime CBS patrons. With anyone else, you'd call them superiors or even bosses, but no one was Godfrey's boss. One insider who'd not heard a word about it was a key Godfrey aide. Talk about irony: do you suppose Andy Rooney in 1953 ever dreamed he'd live to see a day when more Americans knew his name than Godfrey's? Way more? For whatever reason, the future 60 Minutes curmudgeon that Monday was as out of this loop as La Rosa would soon learn he was, maybe the only time in Rooney's illustrious CBS career he was ever clueless about anything.

Now, millions of people may have heard La Rosa's typically skillful vocalizing of "Manhattan" that Monday morning in Manhattan, but in fact only a few fortunate folk would actually see what journalists 55 years hence still talk, or at least blog, about.

That's at least in part due to office building architecture, believe it or not. For the towering structures into which studios typically had been installed since the earliest days of radio in the 1920s seldom allowed for large volumes of interior space. So studios could be comparatively cramped from the perspective of one of those types who wasn't content merely to listen to his favorite radio show.

Those who did hear Godfrey from the comfort of their homes in those days weren't typically listening in a bedroom or even a kitchen. Radios in the early 50s were still usually quite large. The sort of smaller--even tiny and portable!--radios that I grew up with in suburban St. Louis didn't start appearing until the late '50s, after Bill Shockley and a couple other smart guys in a laboratory somewhere had cooked up that transistor thingie. (A brilliant and society-shifting idea for sure, but sometimes it doesn't matter how brainy people consider you, you'll still be hated for other stuff. Shockley, who died in disrepute in 1990, could have backed me up on that.)

Anyway, when people were awaiting their favorite Godfrey show, they typically gathered in their living rooms, at least for evening broadcasts. Yep, people used to often listen to radio in groups. By my era, things were different; no doubt the largest group ever to hear Open Lines for Open Minds with Bryan Styble in Detroit over WJR in the '90s or The Bryan Styble Program this decade over KIRO fit inside a car.

Many skilled and valued broadcast engineers have worked my radio talk shows over the years, and I've had some good screeners too. But the producer --meaning the person who decides program content--of every edition of my various programs under various titles over various AM signals was always the guy whose name was in the title.

Like Godfrey, come to think of it! So, hey, I guess at least I've got that much in common with him. And if my shock of hair was more strawberry- and less dirty-blond as you'd expect atop someone named Bryan, maybe they'd even would have said I look a bit like him. And that would have given me at least two Godfrey traits, which granted ain't many, but nonetheless is more than are displayed by some successful broadcasters these days.

Anyway, in the old days, listening to the radio was much more a communal activity, comparable to how we still regard theatre or going to the movies. And sometimes you might even dress up and go watch the stars of the day actually do their radio programs. And while most of those such studios were nothing much to look at for anyone not fascinated by radio, some facilities actually were impressive installations. And every studio had programming emanating from it that was fascinating--at least to a radio guy--to watch being created.

Imagine having the opportunity to witness a consummate professional like Limbaugh--or some bomb thrower like Michael Savage, or just a local firebrand like Dori Monson--conduct their contentious call-in confabs as a member of the studio audience. Had this ever been the practice in modern commercial newstalk radio, it's interesting--if macabre--to wonder if, following some WJR or KIRO broadcast, I'd have ended up being thereafter compared not to Arthur Godfrey, but to Alan Berg. (I trust no RadioactiveSeattle reader need look up the latter name.)

But back to less unsettling ideas. Yes, once upon a time--even into the late-6os in a few instances, actually--anyone who could get to New York or Los Angeles could witness as studio audience members all sorts of network radio shows being broadcast live. But the early-generation facilities around Gotham often didn't comfortably contain all the required performers, musicians, engineers, production assistants and sound-effects guys, plus their equipment. So there might not be all that many spectators after everyone else had already filtered inside, especially on a big production like Godfrey Time.

Those shows which weren't in such close quarters were often those based out in Hollywood, especially after the war, in buildings that were mostly horizontally-oriented. Facilities that also in many cases would eventually come to be seen as naturally better configured for a medium that involved equipment much bulkier than the stuff the radio guys were wheeling around back then.

Of course, by the mid-50s, fewer and fewer radio shows were even using studio audiences anymore...because in 1953 that box with the flickering pictures was already heralding to many--and certainly to a certain red-haired radio star who preferred to be thought of as a friend--that the sun had already set on the heyday of that other, older box which as he understood better than most insisted the audience provide its own pictures.

Speaking of which: maybe you're about my age and, perhaps due to clumsy word choice on my part, your own mind's eye has still not focused well on what this all looked like to those who were there. So watch Radio Days, which I sometimes think, maybe due to insurmountable genetic bias, is Woody Allen's best film; it's unquestionably his finest period piece.

But hey, this is 2008, so don't devote 90 minutes to a film where you never see the auteur's face anyway (a young Seth Green provided the only visual complement to Allen's own unseen surrogate-
narrator's voice-over reminiscences). Instead just pull up one of the several available YouTube videos about this famous morning, Monday, October 19, 1953. Then watch the whole historic business unfold for yourself.

But prepare for disappointment. For my part, I wanted most to see the cascade of expressions cross La Rosa's handsome face. Not because I relish seeing anyone heartbroken, but maybe if I can learn from how he handled it, it'll go okay the next time I lose a radio gig. Which of course I'd have to get first. Wish I could sing.

La Rosa sure could, though, and as you may have guessed by this point, there's no extant footage, film or video, of La Rosa's performance of "Manhattan", much less of Godfrey's introduction of him. Much less of the historic dispatching out-cue. But we've got the audio, and hey, since childhood I've preferred radio to TV anyway.

Godfrey had plucked the Brooklinite out of anonymity in the United States Navy only two years prior, and by 1953, there was a new five-star general in the White House who a lot of people said they liked, and a new star on the Godfrey shows whose fat bags of fanmail proved he was liked too. But not everyone liked that the bags addressed to the guy whose name was on the show were not nearly so stuffed. Ike may have had five of them, but Godfrey didn't have any stars, he had friends. And he was about to lose one.

Surely every Little Godfrey felt a special thrill whenever they could deliver on one of the host's folksy requests:
"I would like Julie, if he would, to sing me that song called 'Manhattan', ya got that one, do ya?" So La Rosa stepped to the microphone to tackle the Rogers & Hart standard with that catchy tune and a swinging metre.

What would happen next would take Manhattan...The Bronx and Staten...Island, too. Along with the rest of the nation. All by storm.

Two minutes or so later, Godfrey sounded a bit detached as he thanked La Rosa for his typically heartfelt turn in the spotlight, saying gently and wistfully to the studio audience and his listeners across America: "That was Julie's swan song with us".

"Swan song". Two words which would forever change two lives--La Rosa's obviously, but also Godfrey's. And the substantial murmur everyone heard as that word "us" slipped off that tongue that had served Godfrey so magnificently and so reliably for so long didn't surprise me when I finally heard it a half-century after the fact.

For surely most of the audience knew precisely the meaning of the idiom Godfrey had just invoked. But not the good-natured sailor himself immediately, as the papers would later report. But the ambiguity in La Rosa's mind was only momentary, for his boss quickly added: "He now he goes out on his own, as his own star, and I know you wish him Godspeed, same as I do."

So while indeed millions did hear, and to this day probably tens of thousands would still swear they saw all this--only a hundred or so people in fact watched the axe fall on that golden throat that Monday a little before lunchtime. For history records that all of this transpired during those final hours of Arthur Godfrey Time which aired only over the CBS Radio Network.

La Rosa's still kicking, incidentally--maybe even the occasional football?--and thus has been able to enjoy the last laugh on the icon. He's now survived his ukulele-strumming employer by a full quarter-century. But I've not seen the velvet-voiced vocalist interviewed lately, however, so I'm uncertain if La Rosa's famous "lost humility" has ever been recovered.

Those were the other two famous words from Godfrey that week, these infamously invoked the following day, at the damage-control press conference he called justify his cashiering of the cherubic crooner. But Godfrey's decision--feebly defended as being brought on by La Rosa himself when he "lost his humility"--would soon prove so unpopular with the La Rosa-adoring public that it would signal the end of the redhead's reign as the nation's most powerful--and beloved--broadcast personality. Godfrey would find himself in other controversies, and be behind other unpopular if less-conspicuous firings, but there would be no other Julius La Rosas. Just as there would be other powerful broadcasters, but not another Arthur Godfrey.

Rush Hudson Limbaugh III, another out-sized character who found success with microphones in more than one medium, is the only person, besides Oprah, who can claim here in the new millennium to have amassed a Godfrey-scale store of American broadcast clout. And also like Winfrey, the newstalk titan often wields it advantageously. But make no mistake: their two respective manners of influencing society are as disparate as their core audiences.

But maybe what you might expect from two Baby Boomers separated by not one but several divides: female-male, black-white, hope-cynicism, intuition-logic. Because whereas Winfrey deals effectively in emotions and feelings, Limbaugh's domain definitely is argument and ideas. And that's also why he works in call-in radio--where ideas must be constantly defended--rather than on a set in a TV studio tossing softball questions at guests sitting on soft cushions.

The Rush Limbaugh Program is entering its third decade of unprecedented dominance in nationally syndicated commercial newtalk radio. Yet to some people, it's more talked-about than listened-to, since many of the program's severest critics freely admit they've yet to actually tune to the Excellence in Broadcasting Network even just to hear what they hate, preferring instead to absorb some of the ocean of ink that Limbaugh generates. Some others, who have more than sampled Rush's radio act and dislike what they hear--like my own mother, as it happens--find the radio raconteur's most striking fault to be his apparent severe allergy to false modesty.

Limbaugh considers that an asset, I'd imagine. But granted, when you combine unequalled broadcasting and satirical talent with braggadicio--exaggerated for comedic effect for sure but also surely sincerely expressed--the result every time is gonna be exponentially in your face. Limbaugh of course understands how this off-putting this is to many, and in turn deftly uses it to his program's advantage.

But consider this: it's really too bad for them that the ESPN brass, during all that Donovan McNabb nastiness in 2003, apparently never thought to simply dust off Godfrey's no-humility complaint about La Rosa and recycle it as their own pretext for canning Rush. I mean, it might have proved flatly impossible to dispute their excusing rationale!

But instead, ESPN was soooooo uncool. Feeling the heat, suits at the sports cable network preferred to punt the pontificating pundit for the most pusilanimous of possible reasons: to cravenly defuse a racially-charged imbroglio that the fiery McNabb's own petulant behavior had at least fueled if not downright torched. No political arsonist he, Limbaugh's only crime was in astutely highlighting on-air the uncritical coverage he had discerned sportswriters disingenuously providing a hothead in a town never known for its beat writers' warm relations with the players they cover and sometimes socialize with. And in wondering if any of this might be related to certain incendiary questions regarding long-purported League-wide racial imbalances in coaching and the game's front office. Once things were ignited, pyromaniacal print players on the periphery around Philadelphia promptly pounced with their poison pens--though they needn't have. Because fellow journalists working independently in South Florida, where Limbaugh's EIB empire is based, before week's end would break another story, which represented an entirely different kind of hot water for the newstalker. The stunning painkiller-addiction scandal that would in turn swiftly yank Rush off his own show for a five-week rehab stint of course most importantly would threaten something that is every newstalker's most priceless asset, his credibility. But in Pennsylvania, never imagining how close Limbaugh might be to self-immolation, the press corps just pressed on, feverishly fanning the flames of the McNabb affair, whipping things into a firestorm that would rage around the pigskin heaver's head...yet somehow when all the smoke had finally cleared, Philadelphia's ever-embattled field general was still seemingly unsinged, and soon enough even no longer unhinged...but not before Limbaugh's relationships with key ESPN figures, both off-air and on-, had been incinerated.

So Rush didn't just get fired, he got burned.

Nevertheless, the popular myth is that this entire tableau was just another example of Limbaugh inadvertently scalding himself while deviously stirring that always-simmering pot called race.

Belabored thermal metaphors and absolutely annoying alliteration aside, the pertinent facts all suggest that the ugly affair was exactly zero percent the fault of this amazing verbal artist, who just very well may be the most talented person ever to speak into a radio microphone. And one whose gift is engaged routinely, publicly and oh so influentially in positively dazzling fashion: Rush's matchless broadcast mechanics most weekdays thrust this mostly-improvised daily production at the medium's most massive audience like a perfect spiral pass.

And what's pulled down from the air by the ears of his some 20 million weekly listeners is not merely a first-rate commercial newstalk radio show, but also an unparalleled combination of meticulously assembled and dynamically presented analysis of that day's political and cultural news, content that often is absolutely compelling but always circumscribed by old-school broadcast instincts which also spotlight his seemingly fathomless elocution and elucidation faculties. And perhaps most remarkably and certainly most importantly, it's ever an ideologically-argued program which nonetheless deftly ensures the listener never feels like the host's first priority is swaying his vote.

No, clearly Rush's primary order of business always is making his listener laugh. Which, of course, in my case he does consistently. But not with mere humor or satire, much less "entertainment", as his masterfully-crafted program is so widely but ignorantly dismissed as principally representing. Limbaugh strives to do it through wit. Often of the biting variety.

The remarkable depth of the artfully-layered Limbaugh broadcast is thanks to various attentions to detail on his own or his staff's respective parts, each a subtle enhancement whose further enumeration and delineation might only serve to distract this essay. Besides, we're talking football. But it's noted here because of how starkly the entire Rush package ends up contrasting with the pathetic public figure cut by McNabb.

After McNabb's bungled Bengals game this week, the revelation that the temperamental Eagles passer has all along been unaware that regular-season games in the NFL can end in a draw confirmed an impression left every time I've watched him on TV without his helmet on: even brief interviews expose McNabb as an incurious fellow prone to simplistic reasoning. And he often sounds embittered to boot, perhaps angry he isn't compared with the game's greats often enough.

Of course, I could be selling McNabb short; that is, maybe he is oblivious to what a vanishingly long-shot the Professional Football Hall of Fame seems for him. It may not get the City of Brotherly Love's big Number 5 even a yard nearer Canton, but now McNabb can at least demonstrate he's not a total fool simply by electing to keep quiet this time, thus avoiding losing another round of public exchanges with Limbaugh, though last time he never seemed to realize how inherently unfair a fight he had picked.

McNabb's many media apologists may have even had a point in arguing race contributed to his being regarded like Rodney Dangerfield, had McNabb's career not been so uneven, to put it politely. It's difficult to honestly describe McNabb as anything more than a passer of just so middling ability by NFL standards. Indeed, had his early coaches seen fit to slot the young Donovan instead into low-profile positions while still back at those Pop Warner and prep levels McNabb was muttering to the cameras about this week, I doubt he would even have eventually emerged as an NFL standout, much less ever attaining the kind of stardom he enjoys today, which of course is what enables him to get away with his tired variation on the spoiled super-jock act.

Now you might counter that McNabb's career "numbers", as it's so often imprecisely phrased, suggest otherwise. That might even be correct; I've no idea what his stats are. More important, I don't much care, because they're all but irrelevant to the way I evaluate athletic talent.

I respect the NFL game far too much to simply lapse into mental sloth, as fans--and sportstalk hosts--do whenever they conclude, ipso facto, that some QB Smith is necessarily a better player than some QB Jones simply because Smith happens to have thrown a bunch more TDs or fewer interceptions than Jones did during a season or over their careers. Now, Smith is clearly more successful--but unless that individual success engenders team progress up the standings, Smith's personal accomplishments are ultimately unimportant, except on MVP ballots. Players who "look better on paper" refract and even corrupt analysis of sport, and the statistics any player generates are of real interest only when records are threatened.

No, the sum of a quarterback's talent is far more dependent upon that set of particular physical and mental skills he's able to draw upon to effectively react to the many fluid factors which materialize betwixt the hike and the whistle. Those few seconds comprise a kinetic constellation of often-unforeseeable considerations, many of which affect yardage attainment, due either to the opposing defense's might and guile or just luck of either variety.

So scrutinize how someone plays football, rather than poring over numerals copiously but obscurely embedded in tables of fine print. Which represent quantities, it so happens, that often skew in one direction or the other what those figures would otherwise imply in a perfect, chance-free universe. Which even a flawlessly-officiated NFL game never approximates.

Of all the offensive, defensive and special-teams positions, the passer is also uniquely situated to be disproportionately credited for his team's success, a circumstance of which McNabb especially has been a beneficiary and which thus was an intensfying factor in the ESPN mess. Even when not calling plays and merely handing off or pitching out, a quarterback still has far more opportunity to distinguish himself with creative application of his talent through dogged and artful play.

By now it should be manifest why the NFL quarterbacks I've most appreciated over the decades include the commanding yet graceful style of Roman Gabriel, the flamboyant dynamism of Dan Marino, the relentless precision of Peyton Manning, and, inasmuch as I still find sometimes myself inspired by that annis miribilis of 1984, even the idiosyncratic determination of Jim McMahon.

Amid that crowd, McNabb doesn't warrant even an honorable mention, his fluke Super Bowl appearance notwithstanding. Like most of the League and indeed the bulk of the entire human race, McNabb's just average. Which, of course, was no sin...until he started behaving as if entitled to all that which comes to those who do spectacularly excel. And a decade before McNabb, an arguably more-talented black guy named Doug Williams had already passed the Redskins to Super Bowl victory.

Much of the 2003 reportage, especially by the local Philly scribes, was said to have intended to somehow elevate McNabb's chance for success in an always-tough league. The thinking, however dubious, was supposedly that his ascension might prod League suits further on unrelated but lingering racial-imbalance issues the NFL has been pressured about, probably unfairly. For his egocentric part, McNabb wasn't just enjoying uncritical press coverage, but enjoying reading it as well. Once Limbaugh lamented this double-standard over ESPN, numerous character assassins at the cable network and elsewhere in the sports media immediately took aim...but only after McNabb's racially defensive--and indefensible--response to Rush had already served to paint a bull's-eye on the forehead of the contr0versial broadcaster.

A sizable fellow compared to most NFL quarterbacks, McNabb is a guy whose mouth still dwarfs the rest of his body, and is but one of literally thousands of examples I might cite as proof of a Styble adage I've seen precious few exceptions to over the years: pro jocks are like children--they should be seen and not heard. Whether discussing being sacked by a defensive end or spouting off about Limbaugh's supposed bigotry, McNabb's feeble faculty for articulation reminds the listener that it's especially fortunate he early on exhibited substantial ability at football.

If this episode doesn't confirm what kind of minimal mind McNabb seems to be saddled with, maybe nothing can. And I'm well-acquainted with, and of course rue, the ugly history of some professional football gatekeepers both in the ownership and coaching ranks, who surely and shamefully prevented many worthy black athletes from ever getting even a shot leading an offense.

Yikes! I just realized the lineup in my personal Hall above--Gabriel, Marino, et al.--is exclusively Caucasian. So I'd better augment this, pronto. Let's see, uh...Jim Plunkett, he's got the kind of preferred lineage I need, plus he won a Super Bowl. And Michael Vick--whatever else you say about him, he sure raised ball-hogging to an art form before recently finding himself otherwise professionally-engaged by the government, maybe reportedly at only twelve cents per hour but at least with access to an enclosed and well-attended workout field where no one's gridiron skills likely rival his. And I'll add James Harris too, since after all, the obscure Bill and eventual Ram has the distinction of actually pioneering this black-starting-quarterback thing, way back in 1969.

Problem is, what's common to each of that supplementing trio is what McNabb also so unfortunately exudes: mediocrity. Not that I, even in my prime, might have held my own against any of them, mind you. But rather that none stand very tall when measured against the high skill level the NFL has strived to maintain and is what stands as, more than anything else, what during the Rozelle era forged the League into the gold-standard of American professional team sport.

(It's unclear just how far behind the NFL it is that Major League Baseball now lags in this sequence, which one can actually trace back to the 19th Century. That is, besides in turn having easily and perennially outpaced the mismanaged NBA and the hapless NHL once they had joined the procession. But I am convinced this particular contest, for exalted status as America's Sport if not the national pastime, is definitely no tie.)

By this point, perhaps you're
wondering if this guy Styble maybe for some reason just has it in for McNabb. Anyone who knows me could attest I harbor no bias much less prejudice regarding McNabb, aside from my usual fundamental orientation opposite anti-intellectuality. But in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit I never thought McNabb read even passably well those few words scripted for him in that long-running Campbell's Soup commercial he made in 2002 with his mother, Wilma, whose stage name is Mama McNabb.

By the way, a radio version of that soup-slinging Mama ad for Campbell's attained heavy rotation on many newstalk stations during the middle of the decade, including KIRO/Seattle...though I don't remember ever hearing it during The Bryan Styble Program. Then again, I almost never listened to the spots running during my show breaks; when calling myself The Hardest Working Man in Newstalk Radio, I was referring to my effectively-24/7 show-prep ethic, not some ability much less any inclination to spend four consecutive hours either conducting or then additionally listening to commercial newstalk radio.

For Limbaugh's part, his brief treatment today of McNabb's breathtaking ignorance of the tie-rule concentrated on the fact that NFL refs always state emphatically to both sides during the overtime coin-toss ritual that a tie is possible. But Rush said he isn't certain if McNabb is typically part of the Eagles contingent in those brief huddles convened before each such-necessitated overtime period.

Neither do I know if McNabb's ever been in one of those...but team captains always are, and starting QBs are almost always one of the team's offensive captains. But it probably doesn't matter even if he's never trotted out for the zebra's spiel and flip, for he's the sort of guy who might hear the words of an authority while never listening to them. As the putative leader of the Eagles offense--for many years now--McNabb shoulders under those pads an immense duty to his teammates, not to mention his coaches, the Eagles ownership and their entire fan base. He displays unpardonable contempt for all these parties by shirking his miminal responsibility to familiarize himself with the major rules of the game and anything else attendant to a thorough understanding of his end of this entire elaborate enterprise.

I'm not saying McNabb should have memorized the NFL rulebook, which as I'll demonstrate below, can be rather complicated. Yet every pro football passer is expected to master every detail of his team's thick loose-leaf playbook, which can be a lot more complex than the rules. Presumably, but now maybe not so necessarily, McNabb's don't-need-that-info attitude doesn't extend to the Eagles playbook.

But all this doesn't merely point to the shallowness of McNabb's knowledge. It also reflects his capacity to process that information, which is what people usually mean by the term "intelligence." And every quarterback's smarts impact his value as a player, as already shown. How good a player ultimately is depends on how well his mind integrates his various physical capabilities during the furious few seconds of a pro football play. A cavernous gap has been exposed in the professional kn
owledge base of a guy paid a fortune to understand all this inside-out, but someone so cerebrally lazy he never entirely learned even the basics. Since McNabb failed to at least minimally cover those various bases which enable him to live in luxury, this in and of itself seriously speaks to the quantity of raw intellect he's been blessed with.

In a less celebrity-infested business, such dumbfounding dereliction of duty would of course result in being instantly fired, and followed even sometimes by prosecution for criminally-negligent failure to uphold fiduciary responsibility. But this is pro football, and McNabb's in the lynchpin position anyway. (Although I do plead guilty to mentally musing about a McNabb-captained team of tough-but-amateur football players squaring off against another such squad led by Michael Vick, with both squads ideally attired in striped uniforms. Think they might play to a tie?)

In any event, by disgracefully inflicting damage on Limbaugh's career, McNabb had already, to combine concepts borrowed from a couple well-known games where you can't tie, dealt the race card from the bottom of his deck and in the process won himself the immunity idol.

That's the troll awarded each week during some seasons of the Survivor game, and is akin to the sort of protection offered by The Justice Brothers. This hilarious EIB parody vignette series brilliantly skewers Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and I hope shall soon also lampoon this McNabb ugliness. Limbaugh reportedly writes the bit for Paul Shanklin
[see "EIB Parodies Creedence", archived 2/4/2008], the versatile Memphis-based musical impressionist who convincingly emulates the vocal subtleties of both racial shakedown artists, each of whom could trade tips with McNabb on engineering racial power plays.

Now maybe you're thinking, Jeeze, first this Styble jerk thinks Limbaugh, a widely-dismissed blowhard, can do no wrong, and NOW just he's pilin' on, right on top with Rush--just another couple of envious white guys dissin' a role-model hero tryin' so hard to prove Obama ain't the only brother who can smartly tackle a tough job.

Those premises are false. Limbaugh can do lots wrong, and in fact I'm unhesitant to slap him for his minor misses and slam him for the major ones whenever warranted. It's just that, when it comes to broadcasting, he executes almost nothing wrong. Which, of course, is why his program is every bit as terrific as I argue it is.

As for McNabb being undercut by supposedly-bigoted analysis: McNabb's sole job is to get the Eagles offense into the end zone, including anything as well that is necessarily attendant to that aim. Like, uh, y'know, uh...maybe bothering to familiarize yourself with the structure of the game, considering that a historic franchise worth hundreds of millions of dollars weekly entrusts you each autumn with the ongoing competitive success of the whole shebang?

It so happens I'm interested this latest McNabb story for additional, and quite disparate, reasons. Simply put, I hate NFL ties.

Way more than I dislike the regular-season ties in the NHL. Or those ties so commonplace in soccer, where many games frustratingly end up 0-0. Or even the infuriating 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee, declared a draw at 7-7 0nce the bullpens were depleted. I'm still surprised it didn't culminate in the lynching of Commissioner Bud Selig, who invoked the powers of his office, in his home ballpark as it happened, to conclude the contest deadlocked, suspending it after the 11th inning.

Of course, ties can have their charms. I actually hope for them during my nightly appointment with Jeopardy!, as equalling the top-scorer is the only avenue by which either of the other two contestants can thwart the producers' stingy only-the-champ-keeps-the-cash rule. In thoroughbred racing, ties make for some amazing finish-line photographs. And as everyone knows, in tennis, you're never tied at zero, but at, if not in, love.

But I detest NFL ties, and not merely because they're said to be "like kissing your sister". That's a juvenile critique I've heard for decades, though admittedly this debate seems never to have been much of a burning issue among pro football fans anywhere except in front of my living room TV each fall. Nor have I ever seethed We wuz robbed! after some
fave team ended up missing the playoffs because of one.

No, tie games in the NFL are loathsome for two other reasons. First, even when they don't occur--and until Sunday there hadn't been one since 2002--they nonetheless still have to be accounted for in the standings each day. That is, ten games into their disappointing 2008 season, the Seahawks are right now officially 2-8-0, not merely 2-8. Since that previous tie, all this amounts to six years of weekly NFL standings, in every daily newspaper and in a zillion other places, every single one of which had, if correct, that pesky "-0" appendage tacked onto every team's record. I find this textual superfluousness inelegant, glaring and annoying, and thus worthy of extirpation.

But this tie-score malevolence of mine is also rooted, deeply, in NFL history. Bizarrely, a loophole in the standings rules concerning ties for decades allowed a team to start the final game of the season far beneath the division leader--in last place, in fact--and yet still leapfrog into the Conference Championship game as Division Champion.

Almost as weird is that it wasn't repealed until after the NFL realligned in 1971 into the AFC/NFC configuration the League still uses today, a restructuring widely but erroneously believed to have been the merger of the two leagues. The old American Football League in fact merged and dissolved into the NFL in 1966, even though the owners decided to maintain the fiction of their extant 16-team-NFL/10-team AFL allignment until 1972. Only then was the standings-jumping loophole was closed. But how on Earth could it ever have been?

Few people ever knew about this obscurity I first learned of in 1967, from someone well-schooled in NFL arcana. It's unclear how much before the 40s it was instituted, much less why, for it had the potential, at least in theory, to profoundly corrupt the integrity of the playoffs.

I haven't seen this referenced anywhere in the numerous stories since McNabb had his classic D'oh! moment Sunday, incidentally. Thus my reporting might seem questionable. Maybe even so much so that some reader might peruse the NFL archives online, maybe additionally in an attempt to prove this smug Styble guy to be as fact-challenged as he just last week and two postings below indicted Michael Medved and others for being ["In Fact, Compared to Rush, Nobody Listens to Medved!"]. Anyone who so manages to identify the applicable section of the NFL rules will find I'm not making this up.

It so happens that, because of the method the NFL then used to calculate divisional standings, a team's ranking each week was sequenced not as a strict function of its win/loss/tie record, but rather according to its winning percentage, expressed as a three-digit quotient. And there was an odd but key exception: any ties were subtracted from the divisor before the quotient was calculated.

For example, a Coastal Division team, say the Rams, in late October 1967 at mid-season might have won four and lost the other three of their first seven games, the NFL regular season being only fourteen games long in those days. With the placeholder ties column, that would put them at 4-3-0. Now say their upstate rivals the 49ers were then at 5-and-2, also without having tied any of their opponents. San Francisco would thus be ahead of the Rams at 5-2-0
, and "one game up in the standings", as sportscasters phrase it more often in baseball than in reference to the gridiron game. So after seven games, with the Baltimore Colts and the Atlanta Falcons rounding out the Coastal standings, the Rams (4-3-0) would trail the 49ers (5-2-0) in the Coastal standings. Obviously.

So the 49ers in this fictional case would be ranked ahead of the Rams in the Coastal Division, by .714 versus .571, the first figure rounding off from 0.7142857... , the result of dividing 7 into 5. All of which results in standings in this case identical to those which would have been generated by a conventional ranking-by-record system. Since none of those games were ties.

But there were ties in the NFL back then. And quite a few, in fact, occurring routinely around the League most game Sundays until the League's late '70s institution of a single additional 15-minute period during which nearly every overtime game since has been decisively settled. But with every team back then limited to only 60 minutes of clock-time per game, the '67 season would see both the Redskins and the Vikings racking up three draws over their 14-game schedules, while every team in the Central Division that year tied at least one game.

So why not haluncinate an utterly improbable yet nonetheless theoretically-possible scenario after that memorable Summer of Love in 1967: Imagine that the Rams, say, amazed everyone through the fall of this alternate 1967 by heading into the final weekend of the season with an eye-popping record of 0-0-13. Winless, granted, but, hey, also undefeated.

It's easy to see why five if not six of that odds-defying baker's dozen of stalemates would have been registered against other Coastal rivals, for in those days, as now, every NFL team played each of its division rivals twice each season. So the Coastal Division standings going into the final Sunday before the playoffs might have looked like this:

Colts 10-1-2
Falcons 9-2-2
49ers 5-7-1
Rams 0-0-13

The NFL has always backloaded its schedules with intra-division contests, slating as many as possible during the final two weekends of the regular season to heighten the likelihood that teams get to "control their own fates", as it's said. So that fourteenth and final Rams game very likely would have been against another Coastal squad, in this case the 49ers--whose sole tie was, of course, registered against the Rams.

An interesting problem crops up when calculating the Rams number each week. Once you've tossed out the ties, you're dividing zero wins by zero total games. Now, even high school algebrists know why logic dictates that division by zero be undefined in every branch of mathematics. But what's applicable here is actually dividing zero by zero, and practitioners of more exotic mathematical realms understand that 0/0 turns out to be something even stranger, a confounding category known as "indeterminate".

But the NFL, I gather, wasn't nearly so computationally punctilious, so its practice was that such a record would just, naturally, belong in that division's cellar, even though as stipulated by NFL rules this oddball variety of winless record cannot, within universally-accepted mathematical rules that are ironclad, even have a percentage per se, .000 or otherwise!

It's hard to account for non-countability, so I'll just use quotation marks to clarify what the actual, percentage-based standings after the penultimate weekend's games would be:

Colts .909
Falcons .818
49ers .417
Rams ".000"

Now, say the Rams then managed to rise to the occasion and outlast the 49ers in that last game, earning them a final 1-0-13 record, while the Colts defeat the Falcons to finish their schedule with an impressive 11-1-2. After subtraction of the ties, that sole Rams win would have then been divided not by 14, but instead by the total of non-tied Rams games. Which, of course, would have been 1.

Well, even first-graders know what you get when you divide 1 by 1. Thus the resulting "winning percentage" of 1.000 would have easily bettered the .917 figure posted by the playoffs-missing Colts. And astoundingly, the Rams bound from the Coastal basement into the first round of the postseason, just two wins away from the Super Bowl!

Of course, the championship game was still then not yet known by that name. And anyway, at which point in this annis hallucinis, ya gotta figure the Rams would have then in the Western Conference Championship likely encountered and then been methodically steamrolled by the Lombardi-led Central Division powerhouse Packers...

Never mind that the odds against stringing together thirteen consecutive ties is roughly on a par with the vanishingly small likelihood we taxpayers have of ever again seeing much of that $700 billion bailout bankroll. But my hypothetical 1967 season was possible...just like it's also conceivable that fate might someday somehow balance the karma by making McNabb again experience the impoverishment football has so generously allowed him and his soup-dispensing mom to forever escape. He has fraudulently accepted a king's ransom without assuming those responsibilities incumbent upon every field leader of an NFL franchise. McNabb has disgracefully fumbled not the ball, but his career. After earlier trying to shove Limbaugh out of bounds.

Incidentally, I realize my fanciful little exercise in football-standings ciphering might strike some as pure nonsense. To a cynic, it might even seem vaguely reminiscent of numerology, but my fiddling with fictional standings figures is hardly as silly as that practice. (Indeed, that's so preposterous a belief system that it hardly even qualifies as pseudoscience, and therefore probably shouldn't so often be featured on that overnight radio phenomenon which most of its listeners, if not its callers, likely realize would be a more honestly-entitled show were it called Hoax to Hoax with George Noory.) But I wonder how many of those who think my imaginary and improbable Rams record has been a pointless waste of my time, not to mention of my mind, have ever participated in a fantasy football league, a bona fide squandering of time and mind, not to mention money.

Speaking of sports and time-wasters, RadioactiveSeattle readers have requested I write about all-sports radio. As I explained to KIRO callers whenever the subject came up, I don't reject the idea of sports-talk programs, which as specialty shows represent a legitimate subgenre of talk radio. A few such productions in Seattle and in other markets are actually even of considerable quality and thus both supplement and even augment the newstalk schedules of which they are a part. For instance, Dori Monson--who may or may not still be peeved at me over that Marv Albert thing in 2006--anchors KIRO Seahawks coverage each fall that is such an enlightening-while-amusing package that I'd probably still love the show even if I hated football.

But all-sports radio stations and networks are a different matter entirely. Both are insidiously metastasizing formats which
embody corrosive programming trends that for years now have degraded commercial radio by lowering or abandoning standards of exposition and discourse.

Fact is, I don't listen to KJR a lot, much less any of the other obscure and marginal sports-radio outlets available via anemic signals around the Sound. But why might your RadioactiveSeattle correspondent--a rehab-resistant talk radio junkie who expends nearly as many hours enduring lousy newstalk shows as he does tuned into quality ones--mostly avoid an entire talk radio format?

Especially when that particular variety of programming propagation showcases such frequently laughable manglings of English, not just from its endless cascade of cliche-parroting interviewees on the field or in the locker-room, but often emerging as well from the hosts themselves, all to such an extent that in the end, the all-sports format constitutes what could be the funniest radio this side of those goofball evangelists who bloc-purchase their airtime?

That's a considerably more complicated question, which of course deserves an answer. But right about now just about no one wants to read just about anything else from Bryan Styble.

I'm painfully aware that this is an oppressively long essay, and feared it might so evolve almost from the outset. What I didn't realize was how lousy I am with some numbers. Oh, I know my algebra alright--heck, for me it's not a chore but almost a hobby--but with some numbers, I'm just worthless, like the value of all those zeros I was monkeying around with above.

Usually I'm decent at estimating, but not when I first conceived this, while just sitting there listening to my favorite show. Hey, here's an idea! A big one, but I can handle it. It'll take a thousand words for the Rush and McNabb stories. Naw, check that; nobody tells the Rush Story in less than a book, but still maybe a quick essay will be sufficient to tie, as it were, the draw in Philly on Sunday to the Limbaugh-McNabb tiff back in 2003, which I've always wanted to write about anyway. But how did Julius La Rosa ever end up as the half-time show in the middle that gridiron feud? Oh yeah, getting fired by Godfrey. Good thing this is a blog--no editor to fire me!

If it's any consolation, I'm confident this was harder for me than for anyone with the stamina to read it. I mean, you just try dividing anything by zero.

I also realize blogs are widely ballyhooed by the digiterati as ushering in some brave new world of communication where quicker, more succinct thoughts reign supreme while more leisurely, expansive and reflective analyses are consigned to the dustheap of history. So yeah, maybe I should have dumped a dozen or so of my subsidiary expositions and gotten this all done with only a tenth as many words. After all, time is money. It's later than you think. Crime pays. That's showbiz. Life's a game. Keep It Simple Styble. Hey, maybe the soul of wit is brevity!

Which makes me wonder: would Shakespeare have preferred radio or TV? Oh, he'd surely have agreed with me--he was a words guy himself after all, and was more than sharp enough to notice how TV values even a bad image over a good paragraph every time. And he never needed pictures anyway--he never even saw a photograph, for Heaven's sake! I bet the Bard would have caught that scary Shadow every Sunday night. Orson Welles not only was a memorable Hamlet, but a haunting Lamont Cranston too. And Welles especially understood radio and frightening audiences and maybe most of all, the power of ideas. Which is really just the power of long as you mean the words you use.

And nowadays any idea--even ones carefully considered!--can be transmitted from your head into mine in the space of five minutes, encoded in English and instantly propelled at the speed of light about the planet by the Internet. From raw idea to global blogosphere dissemination, in all of five minutes.

Which is about how lengthy a breather I'd get during commercial or newsbreaks while conducting newstalk radio shows for 19 years in Detroit, Seattle and lesser burgs, and even briefly in Los Angeles and Chicago. But certainly never even once in a CBS studio, cramped or otherwise, in Manhattan. Alas.

This essay uses a lot of words. Many of which are somewhat lengthy, and I certainly hope they are all spelled correctly, since I detest--though not quite as intensely as NFL tie-games--spellcheck. Another bias.

As it happens, about ten minutes before I typed this sentence, I briefly abandoned my keyboard to walk outside to deposit a plastic bag in the alley dumpster. And it was stuffed as tightly as any of La Rosa's mailbags, I'll say that. So maybe I'll compose a posting about my little two-minute drill to the alley and back. Or catalogue what I tossed out. Or philosophize on garbalogist A.J. Weberman's famous dictum that "You are what you discard." Should be able to pound it out one in an hour instead of a week, like this one's taken. Heck, if I ever actually wrote it, "Trashbag Follies and Foibles", or whatever I'd entitle the posting, would still be wider in scope than some websites I've stumbled upon. But those weren't ones I'd ever bookmark.

Anyway, there's one word which this essay has yet to employ, despite there having been many passages where it would have been perfectly appropriate, if not polite. It's a word I don't much use in text or in voice, even though I do know how to spell it. (Easy--just six letters, none silent.) In fact, one of my closest friends flatly insists it be never used, by me or anyone else. She argues that this word makes me sound "common"...though I'm betting anyone who has persevered with this essay as far as this point would argue this marathon posting's author has a lot more in common with the word "uncommon".

Now, I've heard this so-far-unused word often applied to Oprah or Rush, but never to Godfrey, though a decision or two of his may have inspired its employment. I've even read of people using it in reference to Eisenhower, but those quotes are from the Cold War 50s, not the wartime 40s or the current era. And, depending on how you vote or think, you might have often called George Walker Bush this word over the last eight years.

I actually know a guy who uses this word when he talks about Jim McMahon, but I don't think he would to his face. And I really can't imagine anyone using it about La Rosa, though that may just be another bias of mine, the one for nice smiles. On the other hand, maybe RadioactiveSeattle will someday cover Don Imus in depth. You'll read this word a lot then. And depending on how much you resent my prose style, you might apply it to me. Or maybe you've even astutely decided this absent word has been for some reason consciously avoided.

Okay, I admit it, I've been holding back, especially in the McNabb sections. Of course, any decent writer always endeavors to avoid repeating words; some English instructors contend you oughtn't use any qualifier--i.e., an adverb or adjective--more than once per page, though I've not calculated how frequently that works out to over a 12,000-word essay. Only problem is, I never took any of those writing courses, something I'm sure many RadioactiveSeattle readers lament. (Complain to the Boston University administration; they should graduate no one lacking extensive training in the basics of composition. The future will be saturated with blogger postings, after all, and since there won't be many newspapers left, those blogs had better be coherent.)

So we writers pretty much only get only one shot with each word, and I didn't want to blow it. No, not with this one. So get ready, it's coming up.

Many, many people do inspirational, or ignorant, or logical or ludicrous, or constructive or confounding things. Or compassionate or cruel, or substantive or superficial things. Other people do courageous, or cowardly things. Or mean, or honorable, or thoughtless, or bold, or hypocritical things.

Fortunately, many people also do just simple good things. Or understandable, or unforgivable things.

Or inexplicable things. I happen to like being around women who are apt to say "inexplicable" instead of "odd" or "weird", but as it happened, it was always females who I'd find sometimes calling me that same dreaded word on a Sunday afternoon, while watching the football Cardinals during the 60s and 70s. Sure hope no one calls me it while I'm enjoying the Seahawks game this weekend.

Some people must have called me this word when, in adolescence, I would enthuse about my all-time favorite NFL team. That was the Los Angeles Rams coached by the late George Allen, even though I wouldn't actually live in California until 1980. Allen coached the Rams over two stints beginning in 1965. Like Rush and La Rosa, Allen also got fired--by the Rams ownership in 1970, and then two years hence rehired, only to be fired again, all before Allen would pull his own Lazarus act by then having his greatest NFL success with the Washington Redskins.

Still, I imagine Allen might counter his greatest success was unrelated to the game. Allen died New Year's Eve 1990 quite possibly as an indirect result of an icy Gatorade dousing his well-meaning Long Beach State players drenched him with at the end of his final sideline appearance a fortnight earlier. George Jr. turned out so talented and respected a Virginia governor that he'd end up being seriously considered Presidential timber for 2008--until the same sort of underhanded racial demagoguery which got Limbaugh fired by ESPN would also quickly scuttle young Allen's presidential aspirations long before the New Hampshire primary.

Yet what I envision most whenever I think of the senior Allen is his wide and infectious smile, something the coach didn't pass onto the politician. And I realize many people around the League found him to be a strong-willed yet petty fellow--not unlike Godfrey, actually--but I never saw Allen that way, win or lose on Sundays back when I was in middle school. I always preferred to believe that the happy face I saw on the sidelines or in a post-game interview reflected his true self--an irrepressible optimist who reminded me both inspirationally and physically of two other men, one famous for multiple reasons and another obscure.

Yes, George Herbert Allen vaguely resembled both Ronald Wilson Reagan and Lewis John Stibal. As it happened, my dad didn't much like Allen, considering him a "crybaby" coach. And now that I think of it, Father wasn't much impressed either by the second career of that intriguing new California governor I'd been reading of with increasing interest. Dad may have been an only minimally-educated bricklayer, but he sure knew pro football; he's the guy who told me about that tie-game rule quirk for calculating NFL standings, after all.

Allen, Reagan and Stibal. Now there's an ever-grinning trio, each also blessed with a terrific head of hair. (You'll have to take my word about the third guy.) Any of those three men would turn stern or even angry when necessary, but every time I think of any of them, I always see their smiles. And that makes me smile, naturally.

As it happens, I'm burdened with a crooked smile on my own homely face, so I
compensatingly maintain as unmoved a visage as possible. But maybe it's good to not turn heads. 'Cause heck, if I looked like Dan Rather or Brian Williams, I might have ended up working in the wrong medium! It's true that broadcasting's oldest joke is how "you've got a great face for radio."

Anyway, that smile business clearly doesn't apply to most of the rest of us. Indeed, we regular folk just up and lose it from time to time--though with some people it's more like from time to time to time to time. I'm talking about how people can get a little hot under the collar. And then, depending on how well they keep their cool, they might just do a slow burn but soon enought going from mere fiery to actually arsonous. That's right, some extreme types even resort to criminality, and while real flames are incalculably more painful and destructive than metaphorical ones, some prisons are only figurative, not literal, yet can confine nonetheless.

What's that, you ask? Whatever happened to that mysterious word I've been making the reader await?!? And wasn't this never-ending posting supposed to be about McNabb ?

Well, I was talking about Donovan McNabb just there. Anyway, the reader is owed an apology, for glancing up at the wall now, it turns out this segment has gone into overtime! So we'll get to that still-unidentified word--along with everything else remaining in our entire production this morning--quite shortly, I promise! So by all means, please stay tuned--we'll bebackinaflash, rightafterthis short break...

Okay, we're back. And Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks for hanging on for the entirety of my blog posting for this Wednesday, the 19th of November, in the year of many people's Lord, at least, Two Thousand Eight.

Before the break, I was yakking about something I've yet to say, teasing y'all about a certain word which can't be found above. Rest assured your patience will be rewarded, and it shall be finally utilized just three sentences shy of this essay's long-awaited final period. That's a reference to punctuation, mind you; I'm done with the football metaphors.

You see, only now do I fully realize something important about my own intellect, or what passes for it, at least. I mean, beyond how my reasoning ability is surely compromised by my Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis, not to mention the bi-polar behavior (or at least writing), the apparent Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, and whatever other less-conspicuous psychological conditions also hamstring my thinking and thus cripple my ability to compose anything worth reading, or succinct. Yes, beyond that entire annoying pedantic package presented by the ever-talkative Styble, which in the end compelled so many nice listeners to just not like the guy. Although I confess I was always grateful that it was also some of those same people who insisted they anyway still enjoyed WJR's Open Lines for Open Minds with Bryan Styble or KIRO's Bryan Styble Program, and like me or not, certainly gleaned a lot of offbeat knowledge and analysis from my on-air efforts.

I'm not proud of this, but I was always pretty slow in school. With grade inflation already having set in throughout American public education even by the early '60s--thank you John Dewey, Ph.D., et al.--the As and Bs I pretty much exclusively earned in suburban St. Louis and then later in Boston were all therefore obviously meaningless. This continued right through 1977, when BU would finally bestow on Bryan Styble--and Howard Stern during the same ceremony, incidentally--a bachelor's degree from the College of Communications. That's a sheepskin, by the way, which not a single newstalk radio program director, whether prospective or already my boss, has ever verbally noticed, much less apparently valued. Of course, few talk radio execs favor literate shows anyway; on-air attitude sells nowadays, not erudition. Which, not incidentally, is one of several reasons why Stern today is on satellite radio while I'm on Blogspot.

But even we goof-offs slouching at the rear of the classroom are sometimes still sensible enough to eventually learn, if only from our mistakes. And thinking back to La Rosa and on forward through to Limbaugh, I've now come to a realization about my favorite subject. And what's dawned on me about radio is something far more grave than any of the assorted trendy neuroses with which I'm clearly afflicted.

I happened to have been a newborn in 1954. But had I been an adult in 1953, it's now clear that back then I would have been hopelessly locked into a mindset that, in light of how the broadcasting landscape would evolve over my lifetime, turns out to have been a mentality that I can only describe as profoundly stupid: Yes, this radio guy would have bet against television back then. Because, the old story goes, anyone who's really smart understands that the pictures are always so much better on radio than on TV.

So is it now finally clear why I occasionally ratchet the thermostat way up for a paragraph or two?

BRYAN STYBLE/somewhere

Friday, November 14, 2008

The New (and Unimproved) KIRO

Several e-mailers have privately requested that I comment on the ongoing staged relocation--relegation is a more apt word--of heritage newstalker KIRO/Seattle to the FM band.

Specifically, how I see the long-term implications of the surrender of that sterling 50,000-watt amplitude-modulated signal at 710 kHz, with wide regional coverage that is impossible to attain via FM technology. Whose amazing reach, not incidentally, allowed my overnight broadcasts on KIRO to be heard as far north as southern Alaska and as far south as northern California.

I'm flattered anyone is interested in my views on this historic--if profoundly ill-advised--move. But I'm also mindful that unloading my thoughts in detail regarding the decisions that led to this will be cynically misperceived as just so much sour grapes about the Mormon management team that cancelled my show--and likely my career--earlier this year.

Not to mention the ugly fact that any discussion of the matter herein might well be immediately lampooned in a certain mean-spirited and puerile local blog where ideology counts for everything and broadcast professionalism is always discounted and often even disdained.

So I'm reluctant to publish exactly how the new KIRO, a development that has been in the works for some time now, strikes me. But I bet you can accurately imagine what I--and surely most other old-school radio newstalkers--think of it.

BRYAN STYBLE/somewhere

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In Fact, Compared to Rush, NOBODY Hears Medved !

As a lifelong commercial newstalk radio aficionado--and one even so fortunate as to also have been a longtime professional practitioner of this favorite media genre of mine--I am of course eternally grateful to Michael Medved. That's because each weekday he delivers Americans the second-most-intellectually-nourishing program in all of national radio syndication. (It's no mean feat being bested only by the EIB Network, after all.) But Medved still should be more factually scrupulous.

This afternoon's edition of Medved's monthly Conspiracy Day broadcast--always impishly scheduled near the full moon--still has several minutes remaining, but it's already been been undermined by several factual mistakes avered by the host. For instance, a good portion of D.B. Cooper's ill-gotten money was recovered. And Presley's televised concert from Hawaii was in 1973, not the more celebrated Elvis year of 1969. And the United States still has a Secretary of the Navy.

Yeah, I know, I know--everyone makes mistakes. So why not just let Medved slide on the occasional misstatement, you might reasonably wonder, especially given that decidedly inferior conservative shows like Glenn Beck's and Michael Savage's are far less factually-intact than Medved routinely proves himself to be on-air.

True, for every single factual miscue, large or small, that the self-described "Cultural Crusader" Medved commits, that clown Beck gets at least three times as many names or dates or locations wrong [see "Beck's Ego Eclipses Fact", archived 2/20/2008], whereas the demagogue Savage probably averages five if not six times as many, so ill-informed that self-indulgent blowhard is. [see "Savage Sure Is No Einstein", archived 5/13/2008] But any astute Beck or Savage listeners not blinded by ideology probably expect that, given how superficially and pseudo-intellectually each approaches darned near every subject I've ever heard either verbally explore. That is, listeners have ample reason to realize the accuracy bar is set way lower on the reckless Beck and Savage broadcasts than it is over at the responsible Medved show.

It isn't that factual errors are inexcuseble; indeed, they're downright inevitable, at least when working in a live format. But one can, through meticulous word choice, ensure they slip through only minimally. Take the trouble to invariably insert qualifiers which circumscribe that portion of what you know from what you're less certain about on a given subject, and you always skate clear of thin ice. What Medved should have said regarding that infamous Thanksgiving weekend skyjacking from SeaTac in 1971 is, "They never found the guy or his remains, and I don't remember hearing they ever came up with any of the money..." or some other such phraseology which ensured his statement was true.

This was an enormous error--so large that I won't be surprised to see Medved open his show tomorrow with a correction. Not only did authorities eventually recover much of the $200,000 ransom, but last year there were numerous published stories about how the FBI finally returned the tattered $20 bills stumbled onto by a 10-year-old youngster on a Columbia River family picnic in 1980, which the lucky fellow has recently been selling, legally, to collectors via Ebay.

The Presley mistake wasn't egregious, but still notable, for the concert cited wasn't just another forgettable tour stop for him and the Memphis Mafia; it was a landmark event in rock history. Not because of his performance, mind you, for that particular show was like all of Presley's post-1968 stagework, i.e., littered with sterile or just careless phrasing which thoroughly obscured his prodigious talent, and thus in the end artistically worthless. But all that jumpsuit silliness notwithstanding, Aloha from Hawaii turned out to be culturally significant anyway, merely because of the technology it ushered in.

Hawaii came up because a Conspiracy Day caller was straining the credulity of Medved's audience by confiding how he's convinced all those Presley's-alive theorists are right. Why? Because he happened to be hanging poolside somewhere on Oahu a decade ago when approached by a graying, sunglasses-shrouded stranger whom he thought resembled the late icon. Now, in his account, the guy behind the shades didn't claim to be Presley, nor was Medved's intrepid caller prompted back then to investigate the question. He's just since kinda concluded that it, well, must have been The King! (Could be! And you know, I once met a guy in a Chicago bar in 1999, and I think he might have been Sinatra! Or Caruso. Well, one or the other, anyway.)

Oh well, that's the way it goes with far too many of the earnest-but-dubious ideas Medved attracts each Conspiracy Day. Medved was, as is his wont, humoring this caller's fantasy when he mused, "Let's see, I know he did that Hawaii concert in 1969..." Yes, Michael, '69 was a huge year for Presley, but that's because of the annual extended-engagements he commenced that summer in the Las Vegas International Hotel's showroom--the only venue he would ever play in Sin City after 1956, incidentally.

The Aloha From Hawaii monstrosity four years later--typically over-produced and thus drained of all artistry under the smothering supervision of Colonel Tom Parker--may have been musically a joke, but it was a groundbreaker. It was the first satellite-distributed popular music concert broadcast live globally, and thus was the forerunner of Live Aid a dozen years hence, which was musically important. Few people remember it was staged in the middle of the night, Honolulu time, on Sunday morning, January 14th, so that European and Asian audiences could be targeted. And just about no one recalls how that also happened to be the Sunday when, hours later at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Dolphins would complete the only perfect season in NFL history by outlasting the Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

Medved even got wrong the almost-universally-known fact of the year of Presley's demise. He had it as 1979, before being quickly corrected by his caller. Egad, one of the most publicized accouncements of the 20th Century was that he expired upstairs at Graceland sometime in the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 16, 1977. And so blanketing was the ensuing media coverage that week that few now recall that another mega-celebrity, Groucho Marx, died the day following Presley's Thursday funeral in Memphis, which I attended with a couple of Dylanologist pals who drove down from St. Louis with me.

Medved this afternoon also, amid a discussion of lingering theories claiming James Forrestal's 1949 suicide plunge from the 16th story of the Bethesda Naval Hospital wasn't intentional, declared that "we used to have" Secretaries of the Navy, the position from which the clinically-depressed Forrestal had been famously fired. What Medved said was
true, but only technically: indeed we did have them prior to Truman's postwar reorganization of our military, along with Secretaries of the Army and Secretaries of War.

But that latter office morphed into the Secretary of Defense in 1947 (just as the War Department changed its name if not its mission before moving into its new digs, The Pentagon). Whereas we never stopped having service Secretaries, adding one as well for the new Department of the Air Force in 1947. Medved should know that, if for no other reason than the fact that John Lehman, Reagan's terrific Secretary of the Navy, has guested on Medved's show at least twice.

Had Medved been writing, rather than broadcasting, regarding these matters, he'd likely have ensured his submitted copy caught these mistakes (or at least employed a fact-checker to do the research for him, as national pundits usually do). But I'm proud that never during my 19-year call-in hosting career did I invoke the lame radio-is-done-in-real-time defense to excuse my factual errancy, however minor. And neither should Medved or competing broadcasters.

A related phenomenon is how Medved and his sole more-intellectually-gifted colleague Limbaugh each display a terrible habit which degrades their generally-solid credibility: they both employ preposterous hyperbole. Now, most of the exaggerations emerging from Limbaugh's lips are for comedic effect, granted, but that's only rarely so with Medved.

Maybe the most blatant example is how each dismisses Face the Nation. Over the years and through a cascade of capable hosts, that broadcast has remained as creditable and credible, if less newsbreaking, as This Week on ABC or NBC's Meet the Press, post -Russert at least. But to Medved and Limbaugh, "nobody watches it"--a phrase I've heard each utter verbatim regarding the venerable Sunday morning interview series.

What they're referring to is that the decades-old CBS show for many years now has drawn fewer than half the viewers its buzz-generating competition has. Medved often contemptuously says the same thing about his onetime network PBS, as well as NPR, when in actuality what he's arguing is that public TV and radio audiences are--generally, but hardly always--dwarfed by those of commercial broadcasts.

This also comes into play in when Medved cloyingly factors box office into his discussions of film. Citizen Kane, to pick a celebrated example, stands as a stunningly great picture or a profoundly lousy one, or anywhere in between, based exclusively on what the viewer sees over a couple hours, not on how many viewers happened to see it over a couple weeks, or decades.

Obviously, this judge-work-on-its-own-merits principle applies also to radio and every other creative endeavor. Yet I have little doubt that, whatever charms of my offbeat broadcast style Medved might have noticed or even valued, behind my back he probably always at least mentally dismissed my KIRO efforts.

That's because listeners throughout the Puget Sound region tuned into The Bryan Styble Program during the wee hours, and thus my principled if idiosyncratic broadcast reached but a fraction of those hearing even the less prominent daytime local shows, to say nothing of the vast national reach provided by Medved's syndicator. I hope it doesn't seem snarky much less embittered for me to point out that, though it may be destined to perpetually remain in the ratings shadows of its ABC and NBC counterparts, the viewership of Face the Nation nonetheless averages better than twice the number of Medved listeners weekly, a figure of which my onetime fellow Entercom Broadcasting/Seattle host is justly proud.

For the record, through all of my numerous private, off-air conversations with Medved since we first met during a 2003 Los Angeles talk radio confab, he's generally been respectful and sometimes maybe even admiring of my work. But his on-air tendency to dismiss films or broadcasts because "nobody" supposedly sees or hears them suggests that he ultimately considers me, and every non-primetime call-in host, a non-player on the newstalk radio field.

A newstalk radio non-player is, of course, precisely what I am nowadays--and likely forevermore. Anyone reading this blog's mission statement is aware I've been relegated to listener--and caller, of course--status. That's been the case ever since the Mormon regime that in early 2007 bought KIRO cancelled my 2005-2008 late-night/overnight run nine months ago.

But whilst I was privileged to professionally play on that field over the years at various stations in various markets from huge to tiny starting in California in 1989, I always remained mindful of the solemn duty every broadcaster shoulders to accurately marshall information for his audience. And all along I upheld the sacred, if only implied, trust the audience has in a host; listeners might not possess a firm grasp on factual detail themselves, but I understood how they still rightfully expected that of anyone entrusted with the microphone. And I learned early on how most of the audience understandably but naively and quite erroneously presumes that every talk host is actually concerned about the factual integrity of his or her words.

Now, of course a
few do apparently care every bit much as I always did; Dave Ross, Thom Hartmann, Bill O'Reilly and Mark Davis spring instantly to mind. But most of the others, rather than owning up to any slipshod regard for the verifiable while they're focussing on the arguable, instead usually respond whenever so challenged that anyone noting such things is just mired in insignificant detail. (Need I quote any of David Boze's high-handed responses to my various respectful if incisive calls into his often estimable program?)

Hearing how so many hosts so dismissively handle error-highlighting callers, it becomes clear that it's mere lip service when they reflexively and so disingenuously insist corrections are always welcome on the phone bank or in the e-mailbox. The ugly truth is most are far less interested in getting the details right than they are in drawing--or dragging, in the cases of Beck and Savage--the audience nearer a particular line of political thinking. Which may rank as the most important of the several reasons why I've been iconoclastically arguing for decades that the principal aim of an intellectually-honest newstalk radio show should never be to sway votes.

That's not to say a host oughtn't voice and defend political views on the air, of course; that would be next to impossible on any issues-oriented show anyway. But it's an immense imposition on the listener, and all but unforgivable, whenever that's the point of the show, as is now increasingly the fashion.

Limbaugh's sterling broadcasting instincts ensure his amazing program, as ideological as any in mainstream newstalk radio, without exception honors this subtle but vital distinction. But the same can't, alas, be said of The Michael Medved Show. Reflective of this is how, when fielding correcting calls, Limbaugh generally seems appreciative, while Medved often sounds less grateful than irritated after some alert caller catches his formidable memory misremembering something.

But in newstalk radio, even minor uncorrected mistakes can add up, over time, to major credibility erosion. In fact.

BRYAN STYBLE/somewhere