Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Were you watching NBC's Toady Show today? At the end of the 8:00AM-9:00 AM hour, Matt Lauer and Natalie Morales had just finished an interview and before the microphones were cut, you could hear Lauer scold Morales. "Don't you ever interrupt...." Fade to black. I don't get to watch the Today Show because of job constraints. I have noticed that Morales has an annoying habit of interjecting herself in an interview which either turns the spotlight on her or left turns the attention away from the subject matter.

It reminded me of a time when I worked for WYOU-TV 22 with my photographer and good friend Al Kornak. We were doing a live shot outside the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre. It was early evening, but very dark. Al and I seemed to be the only people on Public Square at the time. As I wrapped up my story, from seemingly out of nowhere, an elderly woman (forgive me, a bag lady) appeared. Without hesitation, she walked up to me and uttered those now famous words, "Are you on the air?" I said, "No ma'am, WE'RE on the air." She walked away undaunted. Al and I finished the story and thought we had signed off. I was ready to launch into a tirade when I remembered that old broadcasting adage, "the mike is always on and always live." I caught myself and luckily said nothing. Lucky because the mike was hot and had I said something it would have been shared with our audience.

Matt, remember the mike is ALWAYS on.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Greatest Quarterback who ever lived...

Few people around here remember that the great Johnny Unitas was a part owner of our Arena2 football team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers.
Years ago, the Pioneers entered afl2. Their first game at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza was a sellout. I wanted to go and take my son K.C., but he was committed to attending a clinic for his Wyoming Area volleyball team. Maybe we would see the second game in the team’s history.
Suddenly the clinic was cancelled and I engaged in a mad scramble to see if I could get tickets, any tickets, to see this history making game. I called my friend State Representative Kevin Blaum, the Chairman of the Arena Authority to see if he could help. This wasn’t a shot in the dark. I knew Kevin would come through and he did.
K.C. and I met Kevin outside the Arena about three hours before game time. He introduced us to the President of the team (I don’t remember the gentlemen’s name.)
After some brief conversation, Blaum handed me two tickets.
I remember looking at the tickets and thinking, Kevin you could have done better than this. The tickets had high numbers. We were going to be sitting in the Uecker seats. We waited until the gates opened and offered up our tickets to an usher. “Right this way sir,” he said. I thought to myself that the usher was going the extra mile to escort us to seats where oxygen was going to be served with hot dogs and sodas.
My son and I followed the usher to the elevator. I asked the usher where our seats were. “You’re in the owner’s box.”
We couldn’t believe it. We were among the first fans let into the Arena so we looked around before heading to our “box.” We made our way to the owner’s box and I opened the door. Just as quickly I closed it. My mouth fell agape. K.C. was considerably shorter then and he was looking under my arm as I opened the door. He saw what I saw.
“Is that who I think it is,” I said.
K.C. is the consummate sports fan. Baseball mostly. But even as a youngster he knew the history of sports and he knew who he saw.
“Dad. That’s Johnny Unitas.”
The greatest quarterback who ever lived was in the owner’s box. Oh yeah. He was the owner. I opened the door a second time. Unitas was reading the Citizens’ Voice newspaper. He never flinched. I closed the door again.
I opened the door a third time and slowly walked in. Unitas was grinning. He stood up and introduced himself. “Hi. I’m John Unitas.”
Now I have interviewed more than my share of famous people, but the best I could do was, “I know.”
Unitas laughed and invited us in.
It didn’t take fans long to see that a living legend was in the box. They began handing him stuff to autograph. Unitas’s hands were gnarled from his career as an NFL quarterback. He had to position a sharpie marker between two fingers that you and I cannot put together if we tried.
Unitas obliged as many fans as he could, but realized he was quickly a distraction. He exited the balcony off the owner’s box and sat down inside. Not wanting to hurt the fans, he asked my son to bring items to him and then K.C. would take them and give them back to those so hungry for the autograph of the most famous quarterback in NFL history.
“But make sure it’s OK with your Dad first,” he said.
Here was Johnny Unitas deferring to me. He wanted me to look good in my son’s eyes. Of course I said, “Yes.” I quickly understood why this man was revered by so many.
After the game started, Unitas made his way back onto the balcony. My son and I were seated on the balcony pretending to watch the game, which is pretty hard to do when Johnny Unitas is a few feet away. I walked into the box to grab something to eat. K.C followed.
My son walked past Unitas, excusing himself. As he did, Unitas wound up. With one motion he quickly cracked K.C. in the rear like a teammate congratulating the running back who just scored. K.C. was lifted in the air and landed in front of me. The smile couldn’t have been bigger. He looked at Unitas and looked at me.
“Dad, I may never wash my ass again.” I laughed. Unitas roared.

Ted Kennedy

I have a Ted Kennedy story.
The year was 1980. Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy was running for President of the United States. I was a young News Director at WILK-AM radio in Wilkes-Barre, PA.
From a young age, I was schooled in the adoration of any politician named “Kennedy.”
The office in which I compose this has two large campaign posters on the wall. One is of John Kennedy. The other is Bobby Kennedy. Both are framed originals. There is no poster of Teddy.
After weeks of trying I landed a one-on-one interview with Ted Kennedy. The arrangements were made that I would interview the Senator at The Genetti Hotel as part of his campaign stop in Wilkes-Barre. Landing an interview with a Kennedy was a big deal. The Kennedy’s were immortalized around these parts. You didn’t have to be an Irish Catholic to love the Kennedys.
Now a one-on-one interview is a little misleading. As I was waiting for Kennedy to arrive, the door swung open and in walked three men wearing sunglasses and earpieces. They were the Secret Service agents assigned to protect the candidate. They were followed by a handful of the Senator’s staff. Then the pool reporters entered. In those days there were not as many reporters assigned to the campaign. Still, one wire service reporter, one newspaper reporter and one radio-television newsman served as the pool. Suddenly my one-on-one interview included almost a dozen people other than the man I was to question. My journalistic intestinal fortitude quickly turned to intestinal discomfort.
Finally Kennedy entered the room. I was struck by his size. He was a tall, handsome, well-built man with jet black hair. I had seen him a thousand times on television and in the newspapers, but being face to face made me nervous. He smiled broadly and shook my hand with what felt like a death grip.
I had pondered the questions I would ask him. There was one question I knew would not be well received but I decided to ask it anyway, and ask it first.
Kennedy had not been in Wilkes-Barre since 1969. Then, it was for a court case involving the death of Mary Jo Kopechne who died when Kennedy’s car ran off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts. Miss Kopechne’s parents buried her in a small Catholic Cemetery only a few miles from where I sat with the man who would be the next President. I had to ask the question.
“Senator, Mary Jo Kopechne is buried a few miles from here. Do you think that circumstance will affect voters here in Northeastern Pennsylvania?”
The broad smile quickly turned into a steel stare. Kennedy had not expected that question. I can remember the question word for word. I can’t remember the answer. I knew it was something about, “no,” and a quick left turn to change the subject.
The answer was short.
So was every answer to every other question I asked. I was being punished for asking “the” question.
I ran out of questions quickly and Kennedy was off to the next room for his next interview. I extended my hand but he didn’t look at me. I thanked him. Interview over.
My flop sweat could be measured in liters not drops.
I remember vividly that the last man to leave the room was NBC-TV reporter Bob Kur who looked at me, shook his head and said, “Great questions.”
I saw that look one more time when Kennedy walked off the stage at the Democratic National Convention, refusing to shake President Jimmy Carter’s hand after Kennedy ended his quest for the Presidency. I thought to myself, “Mr. President, I know how you feel.”
Since then I’ve collected a great deal of Kennedy memorabilia. None of it is about Ted Kennedy.



For whom will you vote for President of the United States? Are you actually voting for a particular candidate or against one? It may come down to this. You’re a racist, a sexist or an ageist.

So you’re for Barack Obama. You’re impressed with his youth. You see his relative inexperience as a plus. He hasn’t been in Washington long enough to be tainted by cronyism or the “beltway” mentality. You especially like the idea of electing a black man to the Presidency without having to think about the fact that he is black. But vote against him and no matter how many times you deny it, someone will suspect you’re not voting for him because he’s an African-American. He’s black. You’re a racist.

So you’re for Hillary Rodham Clinton. You think her eight years in the White House as First Lady and her two term tenure as a United States Senator from New York make her uniquely qualified to answer the dreaded “red phone” at 3:00AM. You especially like the idea of electing the first woman to the Presidency. She is the first female candidate to make a serious run at the nation’s highest office. But vote against her and you’re a chauvinist. You’re a sexist.

What about John McCain? You’re voting for him because he’s a bona fide war hero and a Republican Senator who isn’t afraid to challenge his own party and reach across the aisle to Democrats. You like his tough stand and “straight talk” about terrorists. You believe he’s the candidate that will most protect America in the war on terror. But cast your vote for anyone else and there will be those who say you were just too uncomfortable voting for a man who will be 72 when he takes the oath of office, the oldest ever. You’ll disqualify him simply on that basis. Therefore, you’re an ageist.

Pick your poison. Welcome to the age of “ism.”