The prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons makes even the most tender-hearted of U.S. foreign- policy doves a little queasy. On Sunday, NPR kicks off a nine-part series called The Challenges of a Nuclear Iran that takes an exhaustive look at the problem. It covers everything from the prospects for diplomacy to the practical questions surrounding a military option as well as the implications for Israel, Saudi Arabia and other neighboring states. Here's a clip of NPR Pentagon correspondent Mary Louise Kelly discussing some of the factors that would have to be taken into account for launching a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites.
Memories of Woodstock, the rock-'n'-roll festival he helped create, haunt Artie Kornfeld still: the cops opening fire on the crowd of stunned hippies, body parts flying everywhere, the dying screams of musicians as the stage burst into flames, the rapes and the looting of the dead.
Of course, that Woodstock only happened in Kornfeld's raving, mushroom-besotted brain, a hellish daylong hallucination triggered by a dose of psilocybin. Only a countervailing shot of Thorazine administered by festival doctors enabled him to stagger out to the edge of the stage to see the transcendent climax of Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix's soaring sunrise performance of The Star-Spangled Banner.
``There were a lot of good trips at Woodstock, but there were some bad ones, too,'' admits Kornfeld, sprawled comfortably across a couch in a gated Delray Beach subdivision a thousand miles and more light-years away from the mud and the dope and the music and the wonder of Woodstock.
As the 40th anniversary of the festival begins Saturday, Woodstock remains a mythic touchstone for both everybody who loved the 1960s and everybody who hated them: three days of rampant drug abuse, outdoor sex and loud rock 'n' roll, all blissfully free of adult supervision. Read my full story on memories of Woodstock in Thursday's Miami Herald. And here's an enjoyable report from Herald radio partner WLRN with some interesting observations from the festival's attorney, Miles Lourie. Not to mention comments from some obscure Herald guy.
Looks like I'm not the only one who finds Lou Dobbs' rants about President Obama's birth certificate pointless and slightly nuts. On Friday night, staffers at Dobbs' CNN show got a cranky email on the subject that observed: "It seems this story is dead -- because anyone who still is not convinced doesn't really have a legitimate beef." It was signed by a longtime viewer named Jon Klein, whose day job is president of CNN.
Once upon a time, the main alternative to the dreaded mainstream media was the fillings in our teeth. When I was a kid, scarcely a month went by without a story of somebody, somewhere, picking up secret messages on their fillings. The CIA, the KGB, space aliens, the emergency medical team tending the comatose John F. Kennedy in a secret basement room of Parkland Memorial Hospital -- they all transmitted their radio traffic on frequencies that was no match for American dental technology. Of course, some tyrannical forces tried to turn our fillings against us. I remember reading about some poor old man who was chasing down Kate Jackson, one of the original Charlie's Angels, to make her stop broadcasting threatening messages to his teeth. (There was a reason why everybody always said Kate was the smart Angel.)
These days, you no longer need to develop cavities to get messages from outer space. You can just tune in Lou Dobbs, either on CNN or his daily radio talk show. His weird obsession with Barack Obama's birth certificate is reaching Martian proportions.
The claim that Obama is a secret Kenyan or Indonesian or whatever who has used a fake birth certificate to pose as an American goes back to the Democratic primaries of 2008, when supporters of Hillary Clinton first made the claim. It's been rebutted a million times a million times, not just by independent websites like Politifact.com but CNN itself.
The basis for the suspicion is that Hawaii, like many other states, is digitizing its records, and what Obama usually displays is the new digital form. But every relevant state official in Hawaii has sworn that it's valid. Even more to the point, researchers have found birth announcements for Obama published in the Honolulu newspapers in 1961. If the Illuminati were already hatching a conspiracy to get him fraudulently elected president 48 years ago, we're doomed anyway.
Nonetheless, the birth-certificate conspiracy theory still lives on the far fringes of the Internet...and on Dobbs' shows. For the past week, prompted by a trumped-up lawsuit by a soldier trying to get out of serving in Iraq on the basis that Obama's presidency is illegitimate, Dobbs has been hammering away on the theme of the birth certificate. Citing the evidence that he's wrong has only prompted Dobbs to lash out at "certain quarters of the national liberal media that are just absolutely trying to knock down the issue of President Obama's birth certificate," which are "focused on being subservient and servile to this presidency rather than being inquisitive and doing their jobs with, you know, the White House."
Well, I've never been accused of "subservient and servile" to Obama, but I think this is silly. The case against Obama's birth certificate, which was never very strong -- how many Americans have their original birth certificate? I certainly don't have mine -- was laid to rest long ago, when the birth announcements in the Honolulu newspapers were discovered. For Dobbs to raise it again, a year later, at best smacks trying to summon viewers (or listeners) with smoke and noise rather than substance. At worst, it's a right-wing version of the stupid, pointless and ad hominem attacks on Sarah Palin's supposed cover-up of the true parentage of her baby, another vicious canard that should be buried in a deep grave. Obama and Palin's enemies should confront them on the issues, of which there are plenty, and not from news flashes they got from their fillings.
From 50 years and 3,000 miles away, Larry King can laugh about how South Florida nearly ended his broadcasting career before it really began, but it didn't seem that funny at the time. He was working the overnight shift at a little Miami Beach radio station when the phone rang.
''I really want you,'' cooed the breathy female listener on the other end. ''And I'm only 11 blocks from the station.'' King promptly slapped a Harry Belafonte album on the turntable and raced out the door -- only, when he arrived at his wannabe paramour's house, to hear Belafonte on the radio: Down the way where the nights are . . . where the nights are . . . where the nights are. . . .
Reporting for work the next day, King was petrified, but the station manager never said a thing. Possibly, he didn't even know what had happened -- ''The truth is, management never listens; the suits make decisions, but they never listen,'' says King -- and possibly he knew but understood that in South Florida, hormones rule. ''Miami,'' muses King wistfully, ``is the sexually loosest place I've ever lived.'' Read my full story on King and his reminiscences about the seamy side of South Florida in Sunday's Miami Herald.
You can divide the world into two kinds of people: Those whose hearts cracked a little bit last weekend at the news that Casey Kasem was doing his final radio countdown of the hits, and those who said, ''Casey who?'' OK, there's probably a third group, maybe the largest of all -- the ones who said, ``What's radio?''
For those of us who grew up listening to Kasem play the top 40 records in America every weekend, the only thing sadder than his departure is that he outlived his own medium. When it comes to music, radio is a desiccated shell of its old self.
But back when radio mattered, nobody on it mattered more than Kasem, whose American Top 40 was ubiquitous -- and I'm not using the word lightly. In 1998, while live on the air in Los Angeles, Kasem called information for a telephone number. After he'd gotten it, his co-host asked the operator if she knew who she'd been talking to. ''Sure!'' she chirped. ``Casey Kasem!''
Kasem's supple, mellifluous voice was unmistakeable. But he was much more than just a talented set of vocal cords. The first rock 'n' roll jock to knit together a national radio audience, he was a major force in creating a national pop-music culture and documenting its history. Read my full column on Kasem, and then listen to him reveal American Top 40's very first No. 1 record on July 4, 1970.
As the rest of the country learned after the 2000 presidential election, South Florida has its own unique approach to counting things. So the folks at Nielsen Media Research and Arbitron shouldn't be surprised that their efforts to introduce new -- and, unquestionably, more accurate -- technology for compiling ratings for television and radio have been met with a reaction roughly similar to that of the apes hurling tones and tree branches at the monolith in 2002: A Space Odyssey.
Nielsen has been sued by the owners of WSVN-Fox 7 over its new set-top boxes that monitor TV viewing. And now the Miami-Dade county commissioners have demanded an attorney general investigation of Arbitron for the so-called personal people meters that are being being issued to sample radio listeners. Yeah, don't be fooled by failing banks, shootouts in the street or the political-corruption scandals that erupt on an hourly basis here: Our real problem is with rogue radio ratings. Here's an interview I did with Herald broadcast partner WLRN-FM (91.3) on what's causing all the fuss. The shocking answer: money.
UPDATE: Arbitron just blew off an attempt by the FCC to butt in on the debate over personal people meters. You think they're going to be impressed by Miami-Dade county commissioners?
More on the is-waterboarding-torture? debate at NPR: It seems NPR ombudsdman Alicia Shepard, who has been defending the network's refusal to label waterboarding as torture, refused to appear on a radio show with Salon's Glenn Greenwald, who disagrees. An NPR spokesman said Shepard declined because "she didn't want to get into a shouting match." Refusing to do radio interviews is an odd thing for a radio executive to do, seems to me, and Blogasm's Simon Owens -- who has the entire story -- seems to agree.
Bob Garfield, co-host of NPR's On The Media, had an unusual guest last week: NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard. Garfield wanted to know why NPR doesn't refer to waterboarding as "torture." Said Garfield: "The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights says that waterboarding is torture. The International Committee of the Red Cross have called what the U.S. did 'torture.' Waterboarding is unambiguously in violation of the International Convention on Torture, which has been ratified by 140-some countries." Shepard argued back that news organizations shouldn't let themselves be dragged into a legal debate: "Torture is illegal, so I think the media gets caught up in trying to figure out how to use this. And so, the one point I hope I made strongly was just stop characterizing things, just describe what they are." Read the whole very interesting exchange here. There's even an audio link for the pre- or post-literate.
Neil Rogers, for three decades one of South Florida's most popular radio voices as well as one of its most controversial, walked away from his job Monday with a fat buyout check and a declaration that his broadcasting days are over.
Rogers, 66, and WQAM-AM 560 jointly announced that he is leaving the station and that
his 10 a.m.-to-2 p.m. slot will be filled with a sports-talk show. His last show aired Friday.
"WQAM decided they wanted to go with an all-sports format, all the time," said Norm Kent, Rogers' attorney. "They made an attractive offer on the balance of his contract, and Neil took it."
Though Rogers technically remains employed as a WQAM consultant, his website, www.neilrogers.com, declared the buyout an "early retirement," and Kent said his client has no intention of returning to the air.
"It's well known how much money he's made on radio over the years, and he's talked on the air for years about retiring," Kent said. "When WQAM made its offer, he decided, ‘Why not?' If he wants to come back, there's no noncompete clause in the contract. I could get him a deal at [radio chain] Clear Channel tomorrow. But he's not interested."
Rogers had more than five years left on his deal with WQAM, which was just renewed -- at an undisclosed cut from his previous $1.5 million annual salary -- in April 2008. His show was the only non-sports programming on WQAM.
Officials at neither WQAM nor corporate parent Beasley Broadcast Group were available for comment Monday. In a press release, though, Beasley vice president Joe Bell noted that ‘‘Rogers was a ratings leader in Miami for years and we’re happy that we could reach a new accord that works well for both parties."
Rogers was pulled off the air for a day last month after WQAM's seven-second delay failed while he was reading aloud a listener's e-mail that included a deadly four-letter word. But Kent said the incident had nothing to do with Rogers' departure from the station.
The more likely trigger is a change in the technology that the radio-ratings company Arbitron uses to track audiences. Arbitron has always compiled its ratings from written diaries kept by listeners, who often write down the names of familiar shows rather than keeping careful track of whom they actually listen to.
But now Arbitron is equipping its South Florida sample listeners with devices it calls ‘‘portable people meters'' that clip onto a belt or pocket and -- using computer codes embedded in the broadcast -- record exactly what station or show is being listened to. The meters have jolted the radio world wherever they have been introduced.
"There are personalities all across the country, major names in major markets, who've lost jobs because the meters showed something the stations didn't want to see," said Perry Michael Simon, the news-talk-sports editor of www.allaccess.com, a website that reports on the radio industry. "And South Florida stations are starting to see results from the meters."
Kent acknowledged that WQAM executives mentioned the meters during the talks over Rogers' future that began about three weeks ago. "They said they needed to juice up the station's ratings as the meters started," he said. "They said they wanted a five-day-a-week host this summer." But Rogers, whose contract requires him to work only two days a week during the summer months, refused, Kent said.
For more on Rogers, read the story I wrote with colleagues Robert Samuels and Elinor J. Brecher in Tuesday's Miami Herald.