Friday, February 20, 2009

You can't go home again. WRFN becomes Norse Code Radio

I'm going to sound like an old man in today's post.

When I say that I graduated from college thirteen years ago, it makes me feel old. I graduated from Northern Kentucky University in 1996. Looking back, I wish I had majored in something different. Alas, I majored in Radio/Television with an emphasis on engineering. I wanted to be a broadcast engineer.

The way that turned out is a story for another day.

Since I enjoyed radio, in my freshman year of 1990 I was instantly attracted to the campus radio station, WRFN. It was there that I found my home away from home. It was there where I spent all my extra time, where I became a DJ, learned the art of voiceover work, production, promotions, sales, and became the general manager in my final year. I put a lot of myself into that place, trying to make it the best little radio station I could. And I succeeded in improving it both technically and aesthetically. I had an awesome set of friends, and we all worked together to keep th station going. It was like our own little club, and we loved it.

WRFN was set up to mimic a commercial radio station. We had a definite format to follow, modern rock mixed with classic rock We logged all music and spots and promos we played. WRFN was kind of a training lab to learn how to work in radio, even if the only audience were those who had to listen in the university center or those few who tuned in their radios in the dorms.

We did things almost the same way as the "real" stations: we sold air time, produced and played commercials, read PSAs, played station promos, wrote and read news. We signed on in the morning and signed off at night. We followed a playlist and went live when the log told use to. We played carts, records, and CDs. WRFN was a place to hone our talent both in voice and production. The longer we worked at it, the better we got. We had a lot of students work in commercial radio after leaving WRFN.

Everything was analog from 1990 to 1996. Except for CD players, everything was done on tape. We played records on the air. There was no computer.

And we were happy. These were among the best years of my life.

However, radio had been changing and we didn't know it. Analog was shifting to digital. Computers were taking over the radio studios. Even the CDs were disappearing along with the old cart machines.

And since I graduated, internet radio has come into its own in supplementing terrestrial radio.

Which finally drags me to today's point.

WRFN went through a whole lot of change after I graduated. WRFN was dark for a lot of the time; it seemed like people weren't interested in it for a while. Eventually the doors reopened, new staff was brought in, a lot of the equipment was replaced. The studio moved. They started broadcasting again, until it went dark and went through more transition into which we find the little station today.

The station has moved yet again and no longer resembles what it once was. Welcome to Norse Code Radio, which has no distinct format. Today the station is located in a small room with a laptop and a tiny audio mixer. I found these pictures through their website. As you can see, it's no longer a training ground for future broadcasters, it's your basic little internet radio station.

And that's not a bad thing at all.

In today's world, there's almost no point to learn how to do radio. Companies have cut their staff in half and the reality is that there are far fewer jobs available in radio anymore. Internet radio has allowed just about anyone to take to the web and broadcast their favorite music.

One thing that amateur internet broadcasters have to learn how to do is make themselves stand out. The problem is that there are far too many choices of internet stations to listen to. I could go on and find a hundred different stations playing basically the same thing.

One of the chief problems of amateur internet broadcasters (by which I mean, webstreams that are not streamed off of a commercial FM or AM radio station) is that they tend to lack any kind of personality. The station plays like a music service with ten or fifteen songs in a row, then a brief station identifier. I guess I'm in the minority when it comes to radio listeners who want to hear any chatter. I like chatter. I like listening to the wacky personalities. I like to hear someone introduce a song, or entertain me with a clever piece of production.

Norse Code Radio is somewhere in the middle. NCR isn't set up to be a training lab for future broadcasters, it's a place for an NKU student to play his favorite music for a couple of hours and have some fun. I've been sampling the station for the past few days and found that there is no real format. There are two-hour blocks of shows where the person plays specific types of music. Most of what I've heard is alternative and its variations, some classic rock, some modern rock, and an interesting Japanese rock show.

With all due respect, most of what I've listened to lacks personality, but two of the shows deserve mention. I listened after six on both Wednesday and Thursday nights and have enjoyed both the music and personalities of those who were on. It didn't sound like they were following any kind of format; they didn't have liners to read, promos to play, or even PSAs. It sounded to me like they were playing their favorite music and having some fun doing it.

That's really what WRFN boiled down to when I worked there from 1990 to 1996. A place to play your favorite music and have some fun. We all did have a lot of fun and most of us took our roles very seriously. I think it's great that WRFN is back in 2009, even if has lost the slogan we gave it around 1994, Northern's Best Rock.

I plan to listen more often and see how my old radio station is coming along.

I know a piece of equipment they desperately need, though, and that is a good processor. Winamp may be a great tool, but their levels are all over the place, one song plays loud, the next one is soft, the microphone is somewhere in the middle. I'd suggest an Omnia-3net and that would make them all the more listenable.

Otherwise, it's not bad to listen to, and I have pretty eclectic tastes.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Are you an author? Here's how not to impress me.

I love meeting other writers. It always fascinates me to see what kinds of subjects interest other writers, whether fiction or nonfiction. Well, except poetry, I suppose. Poetry is so subjective that what one person likes, another person hates.

Let's set aside poetry for another discussion.

Writers who finish their books will invariably seek publication. I am doing that right now. Hopefully soon I will post a happy blog announcement saying that I have found an agent for my book. Hopefully that day comes soon.


For many authors, though, that process takes too long. They want their books published now.

In some cases, they'll finish writing their novel in two months. ("I can dash off three hundred pages in two months," I heard one writer say once. That's nice, but how long did revision take?)

So they google "book publisher" and find a helpful list of vanity presses, and at the top is PublishAmerica, about the worst vanity press I have ever come across. This Washington Post article is three years old, but its information is still relevant. These writers, not doing any further research, will either doom their manuscripts to Publish America or pay several hundred to several thousand dollars to another vanity press like iUniverse, Trafford, xlibris, booksurge, and the list goes on and on.

This is not the way to get published. But many writers seem to feel that it is.

What doesn't impress me as an author is when I meet another author who tells me he or she has a book published through a vanity press. My first question is always, "Who published it?" because I want to know. Is it Random House? Dell? Bantam? Even Bleak House Books? If so, I find that very impressive. Here's an author who has done all the work necessary to achieve the status as "published author." (And here's an interesting aside, legitimately published authors rarely call themselves "published authors." That moniker usually belongs to the vanity press authors.)

In answer to my question, the author might respond with "Booksurge." Or God help me, "PublishAmerica."

And here's my typical response:


That doesn't impress me at all. This tells me right away that this author did not do his homework, did not do the proper research, and just paid someone to print his words.

I could pay Trafford a thousand bucks to print up all of my blog posts, but that doesn't make it saleable literature.

Now, there could also be other reasons why this author went vanity:

"I queried a hundred agents and/or publishers and they all turned me down."

"I'm too old to wait for around for a response from a publisher."

"The publishing industry is closed to new authors. They're mean that way, you know."

I won't refute all the above claims, except to say that if a hundred agents and/or publishers turned down your golden words, then there could be reasons why that happened: bad query letter, incorrect submission, publisher didn't want another book on that subject, book badly written despite your claim that your boyfriend loved it. The list goes on and on.

And the publishing industry being closed to new authors? Please. Stephen King won't live forever. Both Michael Crichton and John Updike recently passed on. New authors have to step in to take their place. Have to. Publishers want the next King, Rowling, or heck, even Stephanie Meyer. But many unpublished authors believe the crap that comes from the vanity presses.

Take this quote, for example. This is a direct quote from a representative from Trafford Publishing posted on the Absolute Write message board:

"New authors seeking publication face a great challenge because publishing companies flooded with unsolicited manuscripts simply do not have resources to take a chance on unproven talent."

This is an utter bullshit line used by vanity presses to try to convince their potential customers that publishers don't take new talent.

Aspiring authors, do some research. Get a copy of Writers Market 2009. Visit agentquery and read what agents are looking for. Visit their websites. Read their blogs. You'll see that many of them specifically say they are looking for new talent. Write a query letter until it shines and follow their guidelines explicitly and only submit what they want to see.

Then later, when I run into you someplace, you can say, "I'm published with Random House."

That's impressive.

Between acceptance and publication takes a long time, perhaps up to two years or more. I've seen some PublishAmerica authors' blogs that say something like:

Submitted manuscript: May 1.
Received reply: May 3.
Signed contract: May 5.
Book will be published: May 20.

And they're excited about this, proclaiming, "I'm a world famous published author!"

Dude, or dudette, No, no you're not. You're neither world famous nor actually published. You're an author because you wrote the words, but that's it.

It never seems to dawn on some of these people that there is something seriously wrong when a publisher accepted their work the day after they submit it. They don't see any red flags when said publisher says they "won't change a thing" to their manuscript because it's so perfect.

Then, a month or two later, their book comes out. And bookstores don't want the 75 page $25 novel that's listed as unreturnable with a bad discount. And authors don't know why.

Same thing with a typical vanity press. Bookstores don't want them. You can't get your booksurge novel in bookstores nationwide because there's no distribution with vanity presses and PublishAmerica. The vanity author must hand sell the books himself.

And sorry if I sound elitist, but that does not impress me.

On the flipside of all this is self-publishing, whether through (which is a PRINTER) or doing it yourself at the local print shop or Kinkos. Self publishing is not a good option for fiction. Strange as this may seem, many authors disagree with me on this point. They'll print up their novel at the local print shop, sell it at the local book store, and that's pretty much the only place you can find it. If you've got a great book, you're doing your readers a great disservice by publishing this way.

Nonfiction, OTOH, has its place with self publishing, if the topic is narrow enough that commercial publishers aren't interested. If you have a small, but solid audience, you can sell your self-published nonfiction book yourself with minimal effort through your website or word of mouth. If you want it in bookstores, you have to be your own distributor and get them there yourself. And people, that's a lot of work. Your new job, besides writer, is salesperson.

I met an author who self published a Civil War book whose subject is a specific battle. The books are well written, beautiful, and reasonably priced. He distributes them himself quite successfully. This is a more rare case, but there are enough readers interested in the Civil War to justify this sort of publishing. I asked him why he didn't submit to a commercial house. He explained that he did and got offers for publication. However, he would have received the typical 10% royalty and didn't feel the return justified the ten or so years he put into researching and writing the book. And I agreed with him, although for me, the additional sales work involved would have been too much for me to handle.

I applaud him as a success story in the world of self publishing.

And that does impress me. I say, good job.

But in other cases, especially with fiction, publish with a commercial publisher if you want respect in the writing community.

Otherwise, you'll just be another vanity author.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Cincinnati Subway: The Top Reasons why it never happened.

Since more blog posts and websites are popping up around the web concerning Cincinnati's famous hole in the ground, I thought I'd take a few minutes and share a comprehensive (it's not that long! Seriously!) list of reasons why the subway project never came to fruition. This information can be found in my book, The Cincinnati Subway, but if you're too impatient to wait for a copy, then here we go.

Cincinnati was quite a different place in the late 1800s. Downtown was much more isolated, confined to the "Basin," the depressed area surrounded by the hills. Suburbs were developing on top of those hills. Outward towns like Blanchester were accessible by horse-drawn wagons.

The interurban railroad system linked Cincinnati to all the other major cities in the Midwest. This was the way to travel circa 1900.

Cincinnati's streetcar tracks were incomptible with at least half the interurbans' tracks. Some interurbans could drive right into downtown Cincinnati and drop off passengers where they wanted to go. Others had to drop off passengers on the outskirts, and they had to take a streetcar to their destination, which could add another hour onto their trip. Loaded down with suitcases and impatient children, this could prove quite a headache.

Meanwhile, the Miami-Erie Canal wound across the middle of downtown. By 1900, the canal was no longer used and was more or less becoming a fetid swamp.


It was twofold: eliminate the canal, and allow all interurbans to access the heart of downtown.

That's the reason.

Now, there were secondary reasons for the need for a rapid transit system: alleviate streetcar overcrowding, allow downtown workers an easier and faster way to get from downtown to their homes in area suburbs like Saint Bernard or Oakley.

So, in a nutshell, by 1913 they started making plans for the rapid transit system. World War I happened and pushed the schedule back a few years.

Construction started in 1920. By 1927, the money had run out.

But that's not the reason why the subway failed. If they, meaning Mayor Seasongood, felt it was a necessary project, he would have found the money. Perhaps after 1930 it could have been a good WPA project. But it wasn't. Why not?


The interurbans were going out of business.

Yup. It wasn't money, although that had a lot to do with it. Henry Ford is to blame. See, when the subway was planned, the automobile was The New Thing. People travelled everywhere by railroads and interurbans, and by streetcars in the city. But, around 1915 or so, the Model T started selling like the proverbial hotcake. Now, almost anyone could afford a cheap car. People stopped taking the interurbans. Interurbans started going out of business. Ergo, the subway was not needed.

There were other issues as well.

As automobile usage increased, streetcar ridership declined. There was less of a need to move passengers from streecars to a subway.

Because of the automobile, the shape of the city started to change. New roads were built. Existing roads were widened. Old buildings were torn down for parking garages. Why spend money on a subway when other construction took priority?

While the canal was indeed used for underground subway tubes, the initial need for the subway was now gone. The canal was gone. In its place was Central Parkway, a "grand boulevard" which would include fountains, benches, and trees. Now, even Central Parkway was eliminating the need for a subway.

The money did run out. Here's why. The rapid transit project was planned before WWI. They felt that $6 million was enough to do the whole loop. And around 1912/1913 it would have been. However, after the war, construction prices had literally doubled in cost. There was no way for them to have predicted that. So, they built what they could with the money they had, which was only some construction on the western half. Also, there was some overzealous spending during the time, that could have been linked to graft and politicians scratching each others' backs, but that has yet to be actually proven. I believe that paperwork was shredded.

Last but not least was Cincinati's savior, the great Mayor Seasongood. Yes, he overturned bossism. Yes he reorganized City Hall into a nine-person committee. But he was dealing with the boss-appointed Board of Rapid Transit Commissioners. The Mayor did not like the Board, and the Board did not like the Mayor. His continuous clashes with them over every little thing further solidified his stance that a rapid transit system was not to be continued after their terms of office had expired in 1930.

As a result, Seasongood did not look ahead to Cincinnati's future needs and determine that while Cincinnati didn't necessarily need a complete rapid transit system in 1929, it certainly might twenty to thirty years later.

And now today, Cincinnati could definitely benefit from a modern light rail system. The problem is that if they started building one now, it wouldn't be ready for twenty years. By then we'll all have flying cars and won't need subways.

Which is why voters won't vote for the issue when it goes on the ballot. They're already paying sales tax increases for the new Paul Brown Stadium for those fab fab fabulous Bengals, as well as other things like the new baseball stadium and Fort Washinton Way. Light Rail would result in another sales tax increase, and most residents won't be able to use the light rail system when it's complete. They'll be dead.

So, there it is. That's why Cincinnati doesn't have a rapid transit system today. Never again don't let anyone tell you it was just a money issue.


The new Doritos "Free Doritos!" Superbowl Commercial winner. Go Dave and Joe!

"Two nobodies from nowhere" walked off with the million dollar prize from Doritos for their Superbowl commercial that beat two Budweiser commercials.

People, that's huge!

The winners are Dave and Joe Herbert. My wife went to high school with both Dave and his wife, and we hang out periodically. Dave told us about the commercial a few months ago and showed it to us on a little portable TV set/DVD player (given to them by Doritos for their 2006 commercial entry). I was blown away by it and said, "Oh, that has got to win!" I mean, a snowglobe thrown into a crotch? How could that lose? And the acting was dead-on, too. Overall, it was a quality commerciall, and professionally done.

Voters liked it because they won.

See the commercial here.

Dave told us about a trivia board game they had been developing, and now it looks like they have the money to produce them.

Go Dave! You are on your way!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

New updates

I guess it's clear, for anyone who stumbles on my edge of the world, that I haven't blogged much. That's changing, though. I've had a busy year. For the past ten months or so I was working overtime at my job which included almost every weekend. The time I had left over was enough for me to work on one of my hobbies, which was restoring a 1967 Mercury Park Lane convertible, or my novel, or some house chore that screamed at me to tend to.

Many things have changed in the last month.

The car is about 75% complete, but needs an engine rebuild. I had planned to work overtime to pay for it.

When I wasn't working on the car, I was writing my book. The book is finished now. Several beta readers have it, and I am actively querying literary agents right now.

A baby is on her way. I am expecting my first daughter in early March. I have had to prepare a bedroom in our house for the nursery. This room was formerly my room, my library, my little man-space. I had to move all my crap into the spare back bedroom which is half the size of my library and strip the wallpaper and prepare the walls for painting. My new library is under reorganization right now.

Meanwhile, I am unemployed. I was officially laid off from work on January 16. The wrecked economy is to blame for this one. There was a major work slow-down and more than half the workforce was let go. I hear that they're still letting full-time employees go. I was a contractor, and had been for two and a half years.

Now, with no paycheck, I'll have to rely on unemployment checks to subsidize my wife's paycheck. I have no health insurance on myself anymore, either. My wife has insurance, and will have it on the baby. But my own boo-boos will have to heal on their own without the aid of a doctor.

My job loss of course gives me the time I need to do the things I didn't have the time for before. This includes preparing my novel for submission. Done. Work in the house, being done. Work on the car? No, can't afford that luxury any longer. I'll be lucky if I can afford gas for the beast.

This also gives me the time to blog. Blogging can take a while for me to do. Before I had a choice: work on the car, work on my novel, or blog. I had to choose the novel because I wanted to finish it. Alas, now I have the time to blog and I have interesting topics to discuss in upcoming days.

I am also beginning work on a new project for Arcadia Publishing. This is a book about Beverly Hills Country Club in Southgate, Kentucky. Not the Supper Club that everyone remembers, most notably for the 1977 fire. No, this is the Beverly Hills of the 1950s, when this nightclub was the hottest club in town. Look for this book at the end of this year.

Upcoming topics: local radio versus satellite radio, annoying radio commercials, Cincinnati streetcars, and of course writing books. Vanity presses versus commercial publishing houses. Guess where I stand on that topic?