Monday, June 29, 2009

Caution: some mild swearing and city living frustration

The songs of summer

No, it's not the often incessant driving sounds of salsa music played out of cars and houses for the entertainment of everyone, including people who need to sleep or listen to their own frickin' televisions sets BUT CAN'T BECAUSE EVERYONE MUST LISTEN TO THE SAME GODAMM BEATS PLAYED OVER AND OVER AND OVER.

Excuse me.

No and it's not the sound of poor Gizmo the pit bull trying to get his owner's attention by barking for 20 minutes straight. Or the four or five or six dogs next door – we can't tell exactly how many, but we think it's a puppy farm of some sort.

Nope, it's the ice cream truck or trucks, I should say.

From 1957 to 1962, we lived at 104 Navajo Rd. in the Sixteen Acres part of Springfield. Ah, the salad days. There was a great variety of food trucks that came through the 'hood.

I distantly remember there was one that sold just Popsicles; another that was soft serve – the ubiquitous Mr. Softee; The Ding Dong truck that sold ice cream novelties; a old man and his wife who sold popcorn – really!; and the Roll Royce of ice cream trucks, the Good Humor Man.

What a buffet of options and if you had a dime you were in business. A quarter could send you into a sugar coma.

I never remember them coming around at night. Perhaps they did.

Fast forward a whole bunch of year – we have two regular ice cream trucks coming through the neighborhood with the worst recycling electronic jingles ever. I long for the day when a simple bell or buzzer was enough to alert the urchins.

Still every now and then I feel like running out to them with a quarter clutched in my hand only now it's more like $3!

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Some of the best interviews

Recently I wrote about the three of the worst interviews I've conducted in my career as a journalist. Today I'd like to look at some of the best.

There's an element of bragging rights among writers when it comes to interviewing. It's our version of big game hunting. And I think most writers would agree that too often all you get with a celeb interview subject is 10 to 20 minutes. That's why long form interview/personality pieces are the Holy Grail for writers.

For me growing up, the "Playboy" interview was the gold standard. I think it is still the gold standard. In those pieces, a writer met repeatedly with someone over a period of sometimes months to get the best stuff. What a luxury that would be!

Generally if you have someone on the phone, you've got maybe 20 minutes before they have to move on. When I interviewed horror rock icon Alice Cooper, he had set up a number of 10 minute conversations. He was very prepared, very conversational and very professional. Obviously he was watching the clock, too and knew when to wrap things up. Could I have spoken to him more? Certainly, but those were the conditions for the interview.

Well, these following picks were for the most part longer term interviews and they are among my favorites because there was a a personal connection for me.

Vincent Price: the great actor appeared at UMass in 1983 for a performance of his one-man show "The Villain Still Pursues Me." My wife and I attended the show and the next day writer Stanley Wiater and I joined some Umass students for an interview with the man. Stan and I asked most of the questions and then walked out with Price. I taped the conversation and played it on my talk radio program. Stan sold it to Fangoria.

Price was engaged, witty and fulfilled all of my expectations as a fan as well as a journalist.

Jack Mercer: I spent over an hour with the man who was Popeye's voice for nearly 50 years at his home in the Woodside neighborhood of NYC. He and his wife Virginia were very gracious and as an audio souvenir I asked him at the end of the interview to say something as Popeye. Mercer's voice had a high pitch and it was amazing to hear him assume Popeye's gruff tones.

I couldn't look at him, though. I'm not sure why.

Jonathan Harris: The character actor best known for his role as Dr. Smith in "Lost in Space," was here in Springfield to appear at a primarily "Star Trek" convention. he was a joy to speak with and afterwards Harris wrote me a letter every time I sent him a copy of my animation magazine "Animato."

I would see him at other conventions and he would greet me warmly. He was so nice I couldn't tell him that as a kid I regularly hoped he would die so the Robinsons would finally get back to Earth.

Lillian Gish: The first lady of American movies had re-issued her autobiography in the 1980s and I contacted the publisher. I was informed that Gish wouldn't be interested in doing a radio interview, but I didn't believe it so I found her agent and asked her. Gish said, "Yes."

She was very sharp and accommodating and it was a thrill to speak with someone who career went back to some of the earliest days of cinema. Afterwards she sent me a thank you letter when I sent her a copy of the interview as it appeared in "The Valley Advocate."

Other satisfying interviews have included my three conversations with comic Dave Attell; interviewing Rachel Maddow after watching her perform her radio show; having Clayton Moore – the Lone Ranger on television – tell me that I actually knew something about his career; and meeting Maureen O'Hara and revealing to her I've had a crush on her since I was a kid – that effectively broke the ice.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A new model from Newhouse?

The daily newspaper here has been doing a slow motion death scene for a number of years – one that I think could have been prevented if the right hands were on the steering wheel.

Despite the fact they are our primarily competition, I don't think a metro area the size of Springfield – about a half million – should be without a daily newspaper.

This week, two people – both of whom are reliable, non-gossipy sources – have told me they have been told that The Republican will cease to be in October.

Now this prediction came at the same time I learned The Republican has enacted a pay cut for its staff and laid off four copy editors.

And then my friend Josh Shear pointed to this column.

In essence, columnist Rick Edmonds writes how the Ann Arbor, MI daily is about to close and be replaced with a new business model:
"In several ways, though, the Ann Arbor plan goes further than Detroit or similar cutbacks at the East Valley Tribune in the Phoenix suburbs and hybrid formats at other papers:

The Ann Arbor News, after 174 years, will close as a business.

Its successor,, will be a new Web site, built from the ground up (and therefore supplanting MLive, the current site which serves several Michigan cities with locally tailored editions).

The News's distinctive headquarters, designed by prolific Detroit-area architect Albert Kahn, will be sold. has already taken the ground and top floors in a downtown office building, annoying some by supplanting a popular coffee store.

All the staff is being dismissed. Reporters and editors, whose salaries averaged around $50,000 according to one discussion post, can reapply for the many fewer jobs in the new venture, but the pay scale is being dropped to the mid-$30,000 range for reporters.

The new publication is being called a "print product" not a newspaper. Hints are that the Thursday edition may be light, targeted to weekend planning, Sunday including longer news takeouts."

Now will this be good or bad? Frankly at a time when many people who don't have home computers or high speed access and can't or won't invest in such things with the present economy, I think a combination of web and print makes sense to both advertisers and consumers.

As I have learned time and again from people being paid to study such things, content is king and making sure the content you create reaches a maximum audience through different platforms is the key.

The problem with many dailies that in the rush to shore up profits, they cut content. Or they put their content up on the web for free.

The secret is to know which story or feature is best served by which platform. I don't see that happening very much.

In any event, I know what I'll be doing this summer.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Amy Fisher?!

Remember the "Long Island Lolita?" The teen who served seven years in prison for shooting the wife of her lover? Well, instead of being an answer to a trivia question, Amy Fisher, now in her thirties, has re-invented herself as a porn star and featured attraction stripper.

And we in Western Mass. will be able to see her next month as she is appearing at a Springfield Club.

The question is why would you want to see her?

She's not bad looking, but strips clubs are filled with not bad looking women – in fact really good looking women. The issue is the one reason a person might want to see her is due to her notoriety – a fame brought about by trying to commit murder.

Now for me, that is both a non-starter and a buzz kill.

Her appearance brings up questions about the nature of fame – who do we consider "famous" and why?

Frankly I'm fairly old school about this matter. I'm interested in people who accomplished something – writing a book, appearing in a movie, traveling the world, creating food in a kitchen – than I am in people whose celebrity hangs by the thinnest of threads, especially when that thread is attempted murder.

I guess the New York State Son of Sam Law doesn't apply to the book she has written or her recent porn tape or her dancing activities. It's too bad as I really do believe that crimes such as this one shouldn't be rewarded.

I'm no prude, but count me out for this boy's night out.
© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Some bad Interviews

Interviewing is the currency of journalism. Calling a local politician and asking for a comment is interviewing as well as sitting down with a celebrity for a half-hour. I've done both.

The rule to remember is that in most interviewing situations the subjects want the exposure because in most cases they are selling something. So, most of the time, you'll find a fairly receptive person at the other end of your questions.

Of course, it helps not to be stupid. When I interviewed Leonard Nimoy about his photos on display at a Northampton, Ma. gallery I didn't talk "Star Trek." That would have undoubtedly been a deal breaker.

I pride myself on doing my homework, but I didn't the first of three times I spoke to comic Jim Brewer. I thought he was still on SNL and he delighted in telling me off. He's a good guy and greeted me with "Hey, faggot!" the next time we spoke.

I think that was a term of endearment.

Sometimes though there isn't either much of a connection or interest. For instance,

bad interview number one

Back in the 1980s when I was on talk radio I had the chance to speak with Cassandra Peterson – Elvira Mistress of the dark. I was/am a fan and looked forward to talking about her career in comedy, how her show was written, etc. Her flack informed me I was interviewing Elvira, her character and not Peterson and I shouldn't ask about her age.


The result was an awful bit of radio with me trying to vamp with her shtick.

bad interview number two

Don McLean: consented to an interview and then put me and a couple of other writers off for an hour. Finally he admitted he didn't liked being interviewed, but knew he had to do it. I didn't play his records – yes, I was a fan as well – for years afterwards. Putz!

bad interview number three

The Valley Advocate sent me to the old Riverside Amusement Park to ride the new Loop Coaster on its opening day. It broke. It wouldn't, couldn't complete the loop. So I thought I'd talk to the guy in the Spiderman suit who was hired to help promote the coaster that day.

I asked his name. "Spiderman" was his reply. I asked again and then I got a reluctant "Peter Parker." I was then told that contractually when he was in the suit he was Spiderman. I left and wrote the lamest piece of crap ever in my career.

bad interview number four

I love interviewing comics, but this one was painful. Tommy Davidson is very funny, very talented and he seemed very agreeable on the phone. His answers, though, were almost all "yes" and "no." I remained convinced that he is a decent guy. Perhaps it was an off day for him, but it was like pulling teeth.

next up: the best interviews

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bits and pieces

Okay I promised a video of the talk rumble presented at this year's New Media Seminar and here it it:

As a fan of talk radio I love these things, especially when it's apparent the progressive hosts are much better informed that the conservatives one who are clearly spewing talking points more than anything else. Other topics that day included healthcare and that was pretty good as well.

More house cleaning:

The final Bissette caricature by outstanding artist Cayetano Garza, Jr.

And now a shameless plug: A piece I wrote is in the new issue of Filmfax. It's an excerpt from my animation book and my last ditch effort to get some publicity for it.

As a freelancer, I would recommend pitching to Filmfax, if you think you have a story that meets their criteria. They were easy to work with and paid me quickly upon publication. Sweet.

Finally for the day, I'm now on Facebook as GMichael Dobbs. Unless there is some sort of new social media that will wash my dishes, tie my shoes and convince my boss I deserve a raise, I'm at my capacity!

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Liberal talk radio diva Stephanie Miller was one of the speakers at this year's New media Seminar in NYC.

Trip to NYC

As I walked around Manhattan on Saturday afternoon I was about as high as I could be without the benefit of drugs. My mind was reeling from the information I had seen presented at the New Media Seminar, the annual talk radio conference sponsored by Talkers Magazine.

Although the major media companies are in disarray thanks to greed, a decline in advertising and a reluctance to embrace new technologies, there are great opportunities for a re-alignment of the nation's media from rather soulless corporations back to local entrepreneurs.

No I don't believe as many self-serving futurist gurus that in a few years we will all disposable viewing devices that will carry books, magazines and the Web. We won't be able to afford it.

But the future seems clear there will be a true de-centralization of news media and a return to local and regional ownership.

Thanks God for that, although it is has at a price with many people in media today losing their jobs. Out of the rubble, though, I think people will build something much better.

Technology will allow people to create a lot of content – news, movies, comics, books – much cheaper and quicker, but as Talkers Publisher Michael Harrison said, you'll have to be good to be noticed.

Michael Harrison

Here's what I wrote for the 'papers I edit:

NEW YORK, N.Y. – For the past several years Michael Harrison, the publisher of the Springfield-based Talkers Magazine, has urged the talk radio industry to expand onto the Internet and to make spoken word content available in other forms to reach new audiences and to generate additional income.

At this year’s New Media Seminar, it was apparent some had listened and many more were willing to listen.

The annual conference, presented over the weekend by the magazine, drew hundreds of radio professionals from around the country.

Although the troubles facing daily newspapers have been well documented, radio is undergoing similar problems. Last month MediaWeek reported that in the first quarter of this year, radio advertising revenues fell 24 percent. The New York Times reported in April that radio conglomerate Clear Channel – which owns WHYN, among other stations in this area – may be the biggest big media loser in the current recession. The company has been selling off stations, laying off employees and owes over $16 billion in bank debt.

Harrison, a Longmeadow resident, said at the conference the Internet will not just change broadcasting, “it will change the human race.”

Speakers throughout the two-day conference urged the audience to embrace the Internet and think outside of the traditional ways to deliver programming.

Dan Patterson of ABC Radio News reminded people that “content is king.” Radio stations can make additional revenue by putting that content onto Web sites and providing incentives for audiences to go to those sites, he said.

He added that media professionals have to be “looking out on the horizon,” watching for new technological developments.

One of those new developments being used by some stations is the streaming video service provided by Ustream. Brad Hunstable, the founder of the company, explained how with just a simple Web camera or home video
camera and a connection to the Internet, his service could give people their own live video show on the Web.

His company is currently working with singers such as Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers in producing Webcasts to reach their fans. He said that Swift’s was done with the Web camera built into her laptop computer and noted with a smile that at one point her cat knocked the computer off the living room table.

Ian Freeman of Free Talk Radio said that he wanted to continue to work in talk radio, but wanted to be his own boss. He created a talk radio program that he produces from his living room in Keene, N.H., which he syndicates to 46 stations in this country, as well as on-line to listeners on

“The Internet is not a threat to broadcasting,” Freeman said. “It’s a threat to bad broadcasting.”

Cenk Uyger of “The Young Turks” has even further refined the model of Web-based shows. Not only does Uyger have a conventional show syndicated by Air America media, but he also has an audio broadcast on his Web site,, and videos that can be seen there and on YouTube.

What makes Uyger’s business model unique is that he is selling both advertising and subscriptions to viewers wishing to support his efforts by paying for his content.

He said the program is generating $20,000 a month in subscriptions

Expecting Web-based radio programming to grow, Denis McNamara of vTuner, explained that vTuner is a computer application people can
use to seek out Internet radio broadcasts from around the world. The program allows a listener to choose a format, a country of origin and language. McNamara and others anticipate that car radios will include vTuner technology to allow drivers to listen to Internet as well as conventional radio.

Currently, vTuner can guide listeners to 1,600 Internet-based broadcasts and McNamara said the number is growing.

An example of how these various media can work in unison to deliver news and information was celebrated with this year’s Sharon L. Harrison Memorial Award for Outstanding Community Service by a Radio Talk Show Host. The award was given to Scott Hennen of WZFG of Fargo, N.D. When North Dakota was hit with record-breaking floods earlier this year, Hennen set up a special Web site to deliver news to his audience. He used both audio and video reports
on the site.

With the decline in music radio – another panel was devoted to the growing number of FM stations turning to talk – talk radio host and FOX News host Sean Hannity predicted that “talk radio will rescue the media.”

Thom Hartmann, whose nationally syndicated show can be heard locally on WHMP, believes the “third Golden Age of talk radio” is here. He sees new ways of delivering content, such as through cell phones, as widening the
talk radio audience.

Thom Hartman

Despite the challenges facing the industry, radio veterans such as Laurie Cantillo, the program director of WABC, said she is “bullish on talk radio.”

“It’s the original chat room,” she said.

Springfield Mass. market superstars Bax and O'Brien were also among the speakers.

Video to follow tomorrow from the Talk Rumble in which a variety of hosts duked it out over a number of topics. Today, though, here's a quick look at the hotel where I stayed.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, June 04, 2009

On the road

I've just packed my bags to get ready for my road trip tomorrow to NYC to attend this year's New Media Conference presented by Talkers Magazine, the Bible of the talk radio industry.

The magazine is published in Springfield, so it's a local story for me the daily won't cover and it's also a great educational event. There's no fat at these things – just a lot of solid information that applies to a number of media. I wish I could say about newspaper conferences I've attended.

Here's the agenda.

While in NYC I'm going to try to swing by the annual alternative comic book show presented by the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. I went last year and I was very impressed with the quality of work out there.Here is more info.

I've got one day off this week and even then I will need to take a couple of photos for work. Yay! I love 50- 60 hour weeks! I'm a middle aged American male doomed to an early grave through over-work!

Well I guess that was a little dark. Sorry.

Keep an eye peeled on my Twitter account as I will be posting often through the conference.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, June 01, 2009

Stereo sound be damned!

Birthday road trip

Thanks to our friends Kim and David, we had a little movie-going adventure for my birthday. We went to one of two motels in this country with a drive-in theater in its back yard, allowing you to watch the movies from the comfort of your room.

The Fairlee Motel and Drive-in is in the village – and a pretty one at that – of Fairlee in central Vermont on US Route Five and spitting distance from the Connecticut River.

Built in 1960, the motel operations are clearly not the central part of the business. Most of the rooms are rented as apartments and my wife and think that only two or three were actually available for lodging.

We arrived at 3 p.m. Friday and had to call the owners at their home to come down to register us and let us in a room. We were given the option of coming back at 7 p.m. when they were setting up for the movie, but we wanted to stash our stuff.

Despite the lack of emphasis on this end of their business, the room was immaculate with a small refrigerator, microwave and flat screen TV. And yes, the picture window did indeed look directly toward a drive-in movie screen. A vintage 1960 audio system – actually an intercom of some sort – was there next to the window.

Bring your own shampoo if you go and a glass for water as neither are provided. And if you can figure out the 1960s controls in the shower before you scald yourself, you're one up on us.

We decided after a scenic drive down Route 5 to nearby White River Junction that we would dine at the concession stand of which the owners took great pride. The food was expensive – two cheeseburgers, an order of onion rings, an order of fries and two sodas was $28 – but it was all prepared fresh and homemade and tasted great.

Now I didn't go to drive-ins as often as I would have liked in high school and college. The first reason that as a farm boy and I had to get up early. The second reason is that my girlfriend's father would have killed me.

My family did go when I was a kid and I have fond memories of taking a bath, getting into my pjs and being loaded into our 1955 Buick along with blankets and pillows for a trip to the drive-in. I did spill a cup of lava-like hot chocolate from the concession stand – damn those enticing commercials before the films! – on my mom once.

This trip proved quite nostalgic for me. I loved it and I was happy to see the drive-in fill up with cars full of families. The theater only shows films with a rating of PG-13 or less.

I wish this truck hadn't been in the way, though. We quickly discovered that we couldn't lay in bed and watch the movie. The angles were all wrong. So we had to drag the two chairs in the room into place.

But, once the show started there was a little of the old magic of seeing a movie on a big outdoor screen. And the movie, "Knowing," had a horror sci-fi theme as well – good drive-in material.

They even had a vintage animated intermission clock film between the features.

The next morning we found a great diner.

A a small but interesting flea market on the town green.

Although I couldn't really recommend the Fairlee experience to anyone but died-in-the-wool movie or drive-in buffs, we had a great time.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs