Friday, June 26, 2009

The Garth Factor

Garth Brooks album coverImage via Wikipedia

My friend Patsi Bale Cox has written a fabulous book, The Garth Factor.

The beauty of the book is that while it focuses on the unprecendented career of Garth Brooks, it also chronicles what was going on in the country music world — and the world in general — during the time of his biggest successes.

The Garth Factor brings back a lot of memories. I remember, for example, when the number of Nashville record labels surged from eight to 30. We were all riding the wave that was the country music explosion of the early '90s, much of which was fueled by Garth. (Silly side note: I remember going home to Cleveland, the Rock 'N' Roll Capital of the World, and walking into a store less than a mile from where I grew up and hearing the country station, WGAR, playing on the radio behind the counter. Just a few years earlier, WMMS the legendary rock station, would have been the station of choice in that very establishment. I was both proud and taken aback.)

Here's my one Garth Brooks story. Okay, maybe two. In 1989 I attended the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville for the first time. One night in the Westwood One suite (it was, at the time, the place to go for a free drink) I met Garth, who was with Cassandra Tynes, who worked for independent promoter Tari Laes. They were handing out buttons that said "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," which, of course, was the name of his first single. I remember the moment, but it was mostly because I hadn't met anyone named Garth before. Beyond that, I'm not sure if we conversed, or if we did, what we talked about. There was a free bar to get to after all.

A few years later when I was working at industry publication Radio & Records, Garth, who by that time was off to the races in terms of radio and sales success, made an unexpected visit. Alone in the office in the days leading up to Christmas, when Music Row pretty much shuts down, I heard a knock at the front door. When I opened the door, there stood Garth holding Christmas presents. "Hi, I'm Garth," he said. "Ummm, hi, I'm Ken," I replied, not so smoothly. "Hi, Ken. Can you tell me where Tari Laes' office is?" (It was immediately across the street.) "There," I said, pointing in the general direction of her office. "Thanks, Ken."

So there you have it, my two brushes with Garth greatness.

I say all that to say this: I benefited both professionally and personally from country music's '90s boom, much of which was driven by Garth and the industry's attempts to find another Garth. His career has been criticized, analyzed, celebrated, dissected and criticized again, but the bottom line is that Garth Brooks is a rare one of a kind artist who raised the bar in Nashville in particular and the music industry in general.

To find out more read Patsi's book.
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Friday, June 19, 2009

Blake Shelton Is Tweetin' Hilarious

Blake SheltonBlake Shelton via

While I've had my doubts about Twitter, I'm becoming a fan. The key, I think, is in who you follow, which makes all the difference in the world.

After originally making a few poor choices—I thought, for example, that following the White House tweets would be interesting, but it's not—I've hit upon the right combination, at least for me.

No. 1 on the charts and in my tweeting heart is Blake Shelton, an artist I've known for almost 10 years. I've always thought Blake was funny, but his humor shines through on Twitter.

Here are a few of my favorite tweets from Blake:

"Just saw a lizard eat a fly. High five PETA! I stomped his little ass! Just doing my part..."

"Doing a show with with Craig Morgan today. He's taking me water boarding for my birthday!! It's all I hear about these days.. Must be fun!"

"Ok, just mixed a drink and am going to watch craig Morgan perform.... Oops! I almost forgot my earplugs and barf bag..."

"Just because you look good for your age doesn't really mean you look good... Maybe you were ugly as a youngster..."

"I used to feed my pet turkey stove top stuffing.... Stuffed himself."

"Will someone please give PETA directions to my tree stand!"

"Why can't we give the mail to jehovahs witnesses and save on postage?"

Meanwhile Blake's girlfriend, Miranda Lambert, can hold her own when it comes to Twitter.

"How come all my tweets are about Blake and all Blake's are about......Blake?:)"

It's one thing being funny, it's another thing being funny in 140 characters or less.

Another of my favorites is actor Brent Spiner—Data on "Star Trek: Next Generation," as my Trekkie friends all know.

Mr. Spiner has over a half million followers on Twitter and here's why

"Finally watched THE DARK KNIGHT. Very entertaining. Heath Ledger is amazing, and Christian Bale is great as the new Picard."

"My friend, Dave, says he saw Chem trails over L.A. yesterday. I'm not sure I believe in this, but...sorry, have to go. My nose is bleeding."

"I think it's possible the results of the Iranian Presidential election were tabulated in Florida."

I'm guessing Trekkies are pretty tech-savvy and right at home on Twitter, which probably helps explain his popularity as well.

While I prefer Facebook for honest-to-goodness, albeit mostly abbreviated, conversation, Twitter is a fun distraction.
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Monday, June 15, 2009

Livin' In The '80s

The w:floodwall of w:Parkersburg, West Virgini...Image via Wikipedia

I'm living in the past. Or at least that's the way it feels lately.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed Steve Martin's Grand Ole Opry debut. More recently, I got the opportunity to interview the members of Spinal Tap (albeit via e-mail) about the faux group's forthcoming "Back From The Dead," a collection of new and old Tap tunes.

Facebook has also contributed to my feeling of deja vu. Just over a week ago, Gerry McCracken, the man who first hired me to work in radio in Parkersburg, W.Va., and a Facebook friend, asked me if I remembered Laura Dowler, our overnight jock at WXKX (Kix 103) back in the late '80s. I said I did and he let me know that he had just "friended" her and that he was sending her my way.

As anyone on Facebook knows, adding one friend generally leads to a steady stream of new friends connected to both you and your new friend. Before I knew it, I was back in contact with several other former employees of the station.

Suddenly it's 1987 all over again. Photos are flying and I'm 25 pounds lighter, bearded and with more hair.

Ummm, never mind.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Death By Mail

So this is kind of weird. 

A week and a day after word came down that Radio & Records was being shut down, I received the last issue in the mail. Tucked inside the front cover was a letter from a Nielsen Business Media senior VP explaining the decision to shutter the publication. (Since R&R was printed on a Tuesday night and shipped to subscribers on Wednesday, the letter was probably being inserted in the magazines at roughly the same time the last group of R&R employees were being informed of their fate.)

It's strange and a little creepy to look at the magazine as a snapshot in time, knowing now what most of the employees didn't know then. It's sort of like walking through a house after its occupants die in a car crash. There are reminders of the deceased everywhere. 

There's so much unfinished business in its pages.

In what may one day be the answer to a radio-phile trivia question, financial guru Dave Ramsey has the distinction of being the last cover advertiser in R&R history.

Inside there are three full page house ads promoting the now cancelled R&R Convention '09, which was to take place in Philadelphia in September. (Consultant Jaye Albright, who recently received a refund of her R&R Convention registration fee, shares her thoughts here.) 

There's also a full page ad for another cancelled event, the 2009 R&R Triple A Summit in Boulder, Colo.

In a telling statistic, of the 21 ads in the final issue of R&R, 10 are house (read: not sold) ads, promoting everything from the convention to free job listings to the recently relaunched Web site. One full page ad, which bills the now-defunct magazine as "the industry's most comprehensive format analysis resource," strangely includes in its list 10 feature stories written by editors who were axed in the last round of budget cuts in March. 

The magazine's lone two page ad wonders "who will be this year's R&R industry achievement award nominees?" I guess we'll never know.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Going Nowhere Fast

One year ago today I was in pain. A lot of pain. A lot of self-induced pain.

A year ago gas was $4 a gallon and rising. I was (and still am) driving a Jeep Wrangler that gets about 13 miles a gallon in the city. The five miles I drove to my office on Music Row completely qualified as city driving. So did any short trips to lunch or the local Home Depot, which is three miles away.

After a good bit of consideration, I decided it was time to "go green." I was going to buy a gas-powered  scooter to ride to the office on days when it wasn't raining or that I didn't have to meet someone beyond a 10 mile radius of Music Row. (OK, exchanging one gas burning vehicle for another isn't exactly "going green," but I figured 70 miles to the gallon was a heck of a lot more green than 13 miles to the gallon.)

My wife, Leigh, wasn't nuts about the idea and told me so. My brother-in-law, Clayton, a physician's assistant, didn't like the concept either. I proceeded with my plan anyway.

I crashed the scooter on the test drive. 

Two weeks later the company I worked for told me they were closing the office I had intended to ride my scooter to.

A year later my broken collarbone has healed, albeit with a noticeable bump that I'll probably never lose, and so has my broken nose. My right ankle, which was initially diagnosed as severely sprained, has undergone surgery and months of physical therapy. 

Twelve months after the accident I finally feel better, but the damage I did will probably mean arthritis in my later years.

Who knew going green could be so painful?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The End Of An Era

Radio & Records is no more. As someone who spent seven years at the publication during two different stints, I have mixed emotions.

When I moved to Nashville in 1990 to work for R&R I was certainly familiar with the weekly newspaper from my days in radio. It was the publication for the radio industry and working there was a great entry into Nashville and the music business.

After four years in editorial and sales I moved on to Warner Bros., but R&R was still a daily part of my existence since it was my job to get records up its airplay charts. 

Three years ago R&R once again became part of my life when Nielsen, the company I was working for, bought it and closed Billboard Radio Monitor, the industry magazine I was writing for at the time. In March I was laid off from R&R in what was apparently a pre-cursor to today's news. 

There's a lot of speculation about the "whys" and "wherefores," but my own take is this: the editorial content that R&R offered, particularly on its Web site, was really no different than what could be found elsewhere. For readers and advertisers alike, there are simply more choices these days.

With few exceptions, the news that was on was the same news that was on and all the other radio industry-specific Web sites. With slight modifications, the "news" was simply a re-write of a press release. There was no further investigation or insight, which is something competitors and Inside Radio do very well.

As for the weekly magazine, the charts that were included were old news by the time they reached subscribers a week after they were first distributed via e-mail. Back in the day, before electronic distribution, I remember grabbing the magazine when it came in to A-B it with the station playlist. We didn't have local research and that was my way of finding out what was happening nationwide.

It's cliche to say that information moves faster these days, but it's the truth. I read more about the demise of R&R on Facebook in the minutes following the announcement than I did on any industry Web site. I'm sure Twitter and plain old texts spread the news quite quickly too. That's a fact that all newspapers and magazines face on a daily basis.

Is there a need for a weekly radio industry trade magazine anymore? My gut tells me there's not. Especially not at a time when information flashes past us in bite-sized morsels and radio programmers are stretched so thin that they don't have time to sit down.