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Free Samples of a Sleep-Deprived Brain

…or what happens when family meets work meets severe weather meets baseball…

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Last of the Lions

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain waves to the crowd at a midnight campaign rally in Prescott
Reuters photo

It’s no secret John McCain’s passing leaves a tremendous hole in American politics, whether it’s in his willingness to “cross the aisle” to fashion deals, vote his conscience rather than party mandates or put country above party.

The contrast between McCain and President Donald Trump’s behavior and decorum has been striking since before Trump was elected. While more politicians have trended towards the Trump model of governance — essentially win at all costs and the opponents are idiots — the body politic has at least paid lip service to the statesmen of yore, including former Kansas Senator Bob Dole and, now, the late John McCain. Those tributes came in hot and heavy after McCain’s death Saturday, and I’m guessing a significant percentage were actually genuine.

The political problem is McCain was literally the last of a dying breed, whether in Washington or in statehouses across the country, and his death only speeds our rocky, murky path towards a scorched-earth, zero-sum incivility that at some point soon will leave nobody standing.

McCain’s death also comes at an increasingly contentious time in the relationship between journalism and politicians. His loss further charges the atmosphere. It also continues to tilt the playing field so journalists are now losing more and more ground with the public.

The respect McCain had for journalism and its place in American society began being undermined by Trump before he took office, and Trump’s Fake News Phenomenon — especially with stories he does not agree with or are uncomfortable to him — has resonated with a lot of people nationwide.

Reasonable people realize we as journalists are not the enemy — of the country, state, city or any political body in this nation. It is our job to narrate and investigate, to show and tell, and in politics to hold all to the same standard regardless of our political views.

However, this cannot be categorized as a reasonable time anymore when it comes to the media and its role in politics. It didn’t have to be that way, but we as journalists didn’t help our own cause.

We in the media can best honor John McCain, and undercut the Trump Fake News train, by simply doing our job as it was intended. No agendas, no double standards. No stones unturned. Just the facts. That’s what we are charged with finding out. And that’s what you want to know.

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Eureka, Part 2

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Adrianne Stapleford captured this and several other images of the 2018 Eureka tornado touching down outside her workplace at Orscheln Farm and Home.

When we took the air June 26 for severe weather coverage on KVOE, there really wasn’t much thought we’d be dealing with any tornadic activity.

Boy, did that change.

Scattered storms developed south of Emporia and slid southeast that evening, developing rapidly enough to cause severe thunderstorm warnings for Greenwood and southern Lyon counties around 7 pm. Once we got rolling with our coverage, though, there was one storm rapidly intensifying near Eureka. Sean Thornton, who was running the board and hails from Eureka, and I immediately started thinking back to July 7, 2016, when the Greenwood County seat was hit by another tornado. We weren’t looking at a repeat, were we?

Unfortunately, we were.

In rapid succession, central Greenwood County went from a severe thunderstorm warning to a tornado warning to confirmation of a tornado on the ground to a radar debris signature.  Our hearts just sank.

Further confirmation was rather quick in coming. The 2016 twister hit the town from the northwest, causing some damage near the golf course and then rooting in northwest Eureka as it churned to the southeast near Greenwood County Hospital and Eureka Junior-Senior High School. Based on the storm’s motion, which was almost identical on radar, it appeared likely the tornado damage path would be parallel to the 2016 storm — if not almost directly on top of it.  Instead, we came to learn later the tornado formed in southwest Eureka and apparently cut across the path of the parent storm. That’s a rarity to say the least. Now there’s at least some evidence of a second, smaller, satellite tornado touching down around the same time of the original funnel.

Unlike the 2016 storm, this twister impacted downtown Eureka and also slammed into the southern half of the junior-senior high school campus. Unfortunately, there is now a big X on Eureka from the two damage paths, and it’s very close to the school grounds.

I was four when Omaha had its “big one,” so until I covered the Reading tornado I really didn’t have a personal sense of exactly what a tornado can do to a smaller community — even though I’ve seen the damage through our TV screen. It’s a lot different in person. Eureka already had a good jump on the cleanup by the time media was able to tour some of the worst damage areas the following afternoon, but the scope of the disaster — shifted homes, smashed homes, chewed-up tractor trailers, chairs in streets, mangled fencing, buckled bleachers and all those broken tree limbs — well, it gets to you as a reporter…who lives 45 miles away.

The thing (well, one of several things) I can’t imagine is living through a tornado — and in Eureka’s case, getting hit twice in a handful of years. Having talked with several city and county officials, the area had just finished its official 2016 tornado-related efforts about a month before the 2018 storm. Lives that were finally stitched back together were suddenly ripped apart again.

Because of that and because of the unlikelihood of federal reimbursement dollars, the emphasis on — and impact of — the recovery effort has been remarkable. As was the case with the ’16 tornado, volunteers were trying to mobilize before the 2018 tornado had even dissipated. Help from neighboring counties and the state came roaring in as well, so much so that the cleanup effort is well ahead of the 2016 pace and, if nothing else, the foundation for getting back to normal will be in place soon. And having the annual Party in the Park to look forward to probably helped as well through the sense of the familiar and routine that we come to underestimate until it’s blown away.

In the days following the storm, we learned last month’s tornado was at least the fourth to hit the community since National Weather Service records began in 1950. The ones in 2016 and 2018 were, by far, the worst to hit the town.

Thoughts and prayers have gone out to Eureka since the tornado. More importantly, so has action. So often these days, a response stops at thoughts and prayers. Community disasters are an exception, and it’s gratifying to see so many people linking arms to help. I’m also looking forward to returning in a few months and seeing the progress Eureka will make after its second tornado this decade.

 

Stormchaser Fail

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Tim Marshall

Fifteen years ago, I had my first stormchasing experience as part of the KVOE News Team.

It did not go well.

Storms developed the afternoon of May 8, 2003, near Emporia and pushed rapidly — I mean 60-70 mph rapidly — to the northeast. The supercells had organized well enough to drop a tornado in western Osage County within a few minutes of passing Emporia. And eager to prove myself to my relatively new bosses, I said I’d go chase.

OK, get this straight. The storms already have a roughly 20-mile head start. They were moving at cross angles to the regional road network at up to 70 mph. They were moving away from Emporia.

And I said I’d go after them.

Yeah, right. Not a smart move on my part.

And it didn’t take long for a Hail Mary stormchaser moment to go thoroughly wrong, although my safety was never a concern. I had been on the road for less than 20 minutes and losing ground with every mile. I made a fateful turn from a gravel road to a paved road in a last-ditch effort to make up some ground. Shortly after making the turn, I began hearing a grumbling sound underneath my car. For gravel, it would have been no big deal. On pavement, that sound only meant one thing: a flat tire.

I cussed — a lot — and got to work changing the flat.

My simmering blood pressure climbed closer to boiling when I learned the supercell that dropped a twister near Reading had also birthed a second, stronger, much-longer-lived tornado as I was straining against the lug nut wrench. I admit I ignored a few phone calls from the station (and flat missed some others) as I finally got the tire changed.

Thankfully, the tornado missed Lyndon, although it gave town residents quite the show as it passed the town. All I could think at the time, however, was this was my chance to contribute to our storm coverage…and instead I was stuck on the side of an unfamiliar road, bringing back with me nothing more than a sad stormchaser fail story.

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Piecing Together My Voice…And Other Stuff

with inwoodOver the past week, I’ve been dealing with some of the crud Ginny and the kids have had — although not to the same extent. At least, I didn’t think so until Friday night.

One of our broadcast stalwarts, Tim Miller, had come down with the flu (as has most of Emporia by this point), so I was asked to broadcast Friday’s Emporia High basketball doubleheader. We had plans for me to go to the Globetrotters game at White Auditorium, but with another world tour stop in Kansas coming this week, we made arrangements and I agreed.

My voice was somewhat scratchy going in. It was completely gone going out.

I’ve found out beforehand that I’m not one of those sportscasters that can dial down my call depending on my voice condition. And winter is typically a bad time for my voice anyways, but I figured I’d load up on cough drops and water and be OK.

Uh, no.

The girls game was, honestly, noncompetitive for the most point, so I didn’t really feel the need to put added stress on my call. On top of that, my partner, Steve Inwood, sensed things weren’t going well in the vocal department, so he extended a lot of his analysis into some play-by-play, which helped me as well.

And my voice was still hanging by a thread by the time the boys game started.

In my mind, I needed a second noncompetitive game. Honestly, I needed a change in mindset.

I’ve always approached sports play-by-play with two mental metrics:

  1. Am I accurately calling what’s happening in front of me?
  2. Am I capturing the rhythm, ebb and flow of the contest?

I’ve always prided myself as somebody who can do both reasonably well — because I believe both are critical components of a sports broadcast. You can call the action well, but you lose listeners if you can’t give people a sense of how a specific play fits into the overall flow of the action. On the flip side, you can capture the highlights of a given game — great catchphrases, raising your voice and the like — but if people can’t trust you’re actually telling them what’s happening on the court or the field, well, you’ve lost credibility and you won’t have much of a broadcast career. Unless you’re a conspiracy theorist…but that’s for another post.

Anyways, E-High promptly falls behind by almost double digits, and based on the first few minutes it looks like this will be a yawner. Before the first quarter, however, the Spartans get some things figured out, and just before halftime they take a brief lead, trailing by a point at the half. By this time, the decision to gear down my call has been thoroughly overridden by that two-pronged approach I’ve had in my head for a couple decades at least. I have a sense what’s coming in the second half — a game that comes down to the final four minutes — but I don’t expect eight lead changes in the third quarter followed by a brief burst at the end of the third quarter to give E-High a 4-point lead, followed by another pair of quick buckets to push the lead to eight early in the fourth period.

When you’re calling a run for the home team, especially in a tight game, the energy level goes up and the voice raises to match. In my case, it went from a reasonable facsimile of a voice to a series of nearly incomprehensible squawks as I’m trying to both capture the play and the emotion in the gym.

When the run reverses, the voice comes down but the intensity does not. And that’s what happened. Highland Park scored eight unanswered points in 90 seconds, including two deep three-pointers, to suck all the air out of the gym. They then added six of the next eight points, by my recollection, to take a four-point lead midway through the quarter.

And then the Spartans responded, although they missed a critical pair of free throws with about 2:20 left and another pair with under a minute to go. Upshot: Highland Park leads by four with 20 seconds left, Emporia High hits a pair of free throws and the visitors throw the ball out of bounds.

So you say there’s a chance…

If anybody could tell what I was saying by that point without a translator, congratulations. And with the remaining shreds of my voice, I try to fill in everybody about the last five seconds: missed shot, offensive rebound, forced shot offline, offensive rebound, buzzer. Ball game.

Good guys lose game. Broadcaster’s voice a lost cause a loooong time ago.

Postgame from my microphone is a mixture of a whisper and a croak, and to be honest I should have just let Steve take over — possibly for the entire back half of the doubleheader. As I write this Sunday, the voice is finally starting to come back, although its nowhere close to full strength.

And as I write this, I’ve noticed several things about what it’s like when you don’t have your voice — or, in my case, a critical component of my job:

  1. If your voice is scratchy and squawky when it normally isn’t, your kids will laugh at you. Repeatedly.
  2. I’ve found it’s harder to avoid singing than talking. And the kids have made it so I can’t avoid talking. Such is life.
  3. Whispering at kids to get their attention only goes so far. And in our house, it’s not very far.
  4. There are a host of remedies for a blown-up voice. Many involve tea…and/or ginger…and/or whiskey. Haven’t tried the whiskey-related remedies yet.
  5. Timing is everything. I’m grateful I’ve had the weekend to rest the voice, relatively speaking. Having to turn around and try newscasts the following morning would have been a broadcast disaster in the making.
  6. I’m eternally grateful Sean Thornton saved over the postgame interviews and not the full games from Friday. Although it would be interesting to go back and listen to those at some point waaaaaaaay down the road.

I’m not sure how well the voice will do Monday — or how long it will last before it starts shredding again. And with this being a mild, breezy week fraught with high fire danger, it could be at least the rest of the week before I sound like I normally do. Anyways, thanks for listening in general. And thanks for staying with the broadcast Friday night. Hopefully, we’ll all be back to normal for Substate this week.

I’m a Reporter

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The past several months have been an amazing and enlightening experience for me and my family. Six months of serving as Emporia Public Schools’ director of community relations have shown me a great deal of what’s involved in a school district, from board meetings to special events to initiatives like the Kansans CAN! vision and the importance of consistent attendance.

I have enjoyed my time and my duties with USD 253, and I love the people I have worked with on a daily basis. I have also loved having a regular work schedule and spending evenings and weekends with my wife and children.

But when I left KVOE in May, I figured I was done with radio — and aside from a basketball game here or there, I believed I was done with media altogether. I honestly thought I would be able to set the reporter in me aside and switch seamlessly into a community relations mindset.

It never happened.

So on Monday I rejoin KVOE. Reason being: I am a reporter.

965844_10201268741863257_404694615_oIt’s that simple. It’s how I’m wired.

Whether it’s the DNA (my mom can write amazing books on quilting, while my aunt spent years as an editor in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.), whether it’s something about the street I grew up on as a kid (my best friend and next-door neighbor growing up is now the lead sports writer for the Oklahoma Associated Press — and has covered Olympics, Final Fours, Super Bowls and the like), it doesn’t matter.

I am a reporter.

For two decades, I froze when people said that. I’ve repeatedly said my main media interests were sports play-by-play (more recently talk shows) and severe spring weather. Being a reporter? Sure, I did all right in high school at Omaha’s Burke Beat and the North Star. Got a couple awards while at North for my efforts. And, yes, I have always taken pride in both a well-written story and a hard news article that scooped my competition. But me? A reporter? That has never been my focus in media.

Turns out that was my calling after all.

It took me six months out of the field to realize the things I enjoyed — the breaking news, severe weather, play-by-play — were just different parts of the overall reporter picture. And then, as I went along, I realized I liked reporting on community events and legislative matters.

Some reporters gravitate to one discipline — whether it be breaking news, government affairs, features, opinion, weather, community activities or sports. I didn’t. My interests apparently wouldn’t let me.

I’ve had a lot of people question how I came to this realization. I’m not focusing on that, at least not now. What matters to me is that I found my greenest grass — even though I had to leave it behind for a few months to make that discovery. You know the saying, “Life is too short to (fill in the blank here)?” Well, it’s cliched as all get out. But it’s true. Life is too short to discover your true niche in life and then ignore the signs in front of you.

For that, I have to thank God and my wife. God has ways of directing traffic, and after a while it became clear the exit I took was fruitful — but it wasn’t my final career destination. Ginny, meanwhile, realized I was struggling and suggested that I make the call to my former employer. She suffered a lot with my crazy radio schedule the past 14 years, but she said she wanted to see me happy. As fried as I was in mid-May, I was still more satisfied, gratified and fulfilled as a reporter than at any other job I have had. Ginny’s support has meant the world to me, even though it means the schedule craziness returns soon and may never leave us again. We’re working to reduce the crazy, which means I will have to slow myself down as much as anything.

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I also have to thank my former/new bosses at KVOE, who were more than willing to have me back on board. And I have to thank USD 253 for entrusting me with the community relations department this year, even though my department was far more self-sufficient than I could have dreamed and didn’t really need my help that often.

So it’s back to the dark and early, the Morning Show banter, the scanner app toning out potential stories, the hurry-up-and-wait of potential severe weather…the chronicling of life in Emporia, Kansas. I’m ready for it. And I’m grateful that so many people locally have welcomed me back to the airwaves. I hope I can build on the trust developed over the past 14 years and continue the strong tradition of KVOE News. Thank you for the opportunity to come back into your homes and report all the happenings of the Flint Hills.

 

Thanks

Well. Ready or not, it’s here. And it’s time.

After 14 years and almost seven months, my time at KVOE Radio in Emporia, Kan. — and in media in general — has come to an end.

Starting Monday, I become the community relations director for USD 253 Emporia. It’s a job that, honestly, is a natural extension of my career the past 20 years and a family link to education spanning several generations.

It’s a job that I’m excited to assume for a number of reasons. Having a normal schedule is something both I and my family are more than pleased to start. And it’s not just with the work schedule: the home schedule will change a lot next week, but I’m looking forward to the madness that is morning with kids.

The schedule is a key part of the excitement, but it’s only part of the picture. Family is the big reason for the change in careers.

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The past several years have seen an increase in overall news duties have increased along with, unfortunately, department turnover. That combination has meant a lot more time at the station or in the field than it had when I started. By extension, that meant less time at home. I’ve always wanted to be a full-time husband and father, and honestly I was serving in a part-time role in both capacities at a time when it was becoming more clear our two adoptive children have special needs relating to neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition leading to physical issues, sensory issues and delays for speech and motor skills. The further along I went, the more part-time I became.

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Station management thought outside the normal box, allowing me more flexibility to go to medical appointments and approving the addition of part-time news employees. In the end, though, it was clear I needed a 50-hour work week instead of a 70-hour week. I could cut back on the amount of news I generated, and eventually I did to a degree. However, I felt that cutting back any more than I did would be doing a disservice to the community.

Choosing a career path outside of radio was really a no-brainer. For years, I’ve had a mild interest in media relations, but recently I realized I had a few things going for me if I ever made the jump. I enjoy writing. I enjoy social media, which has become a major part of media as a whole. I adapt to different situations fairly quickly. I also realized my options were, frankly, limited because I still need at least two years of education to get my bachelor’s degree.

And as I’ve said to different media outlets and people around the area, the Emporia district has a lot going for it, so for me this is the perfect place to land as I change my career direction. There’s a reason the #EmporiaProud hashtag has taken off since Kevin Case became superintendent last year. Whether it’s student accomplishments, student-generated projects, teacher and staffer ventures and the like, KVOE’s Feel Good Friday segment could be populated several times a month with the good things coming from the district. I’ve been blessed to meet a lot of dedicated staffers at all levels in USD 253, so I consider myself very fortunate to go from the radio station to the district and utilize all the media skills I’ve developed over the past two decades.

My decision to pursue the community relations position was simultaneously easy and hard. Easy, because of the schedule, the ability to tell this district’s stories and the aforementioned ripple effect of the daily news grind.

Hard, because I never seriously considered any other career until relatively recently and realizing a switch likely ends two career dreams I’ve had for years: being the voice of a major college or professional baseball team and, more recently, owning a cluster of radio stations.

You may well have heard the story (a few times) before. Back in 1980, when i was 9, I was listening to my first Kansas City Royals radio broadcast. Before my second inning of listening, I knew sports play-by-play — particularly baseball — was what I wanted to do as a career. I already had an ear towards media as a potential career. My brother, Pete, and I constantly broke down larger cardboard boxes and turned them into news desks as young kids, and the Omaha tornado of 1975 had fostered a lifelong interest in severe weather. But above all, especially when I realized exactly how much math was in in meteorology, even with a dabble into music education as I transitioned from high school to higher education, I wanted to be involved in sports (and, no, I don’t have a pic of those days, so this earlier rendition will have to do).

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I got my chance at sports broadcasting at KLIN in Lincoln, Neb., but I had to earn it. First, I had the part-timer trial by fire (rather, trial by boredom) as the overnight board op. Once I proved relatively competent at that, I was shifted to days — and then several duties opened up in relatively rapid succession. I was allowed to fulfill my weather fix as a spotter/reporter, including reports on a small twister near Cortland. I was also allowed to be the station board operator on several sports, including Lincoln Stars junior hockey, and the network board operator for Pinnacle Sports coverage of several University of Nebraska sports, including Husker football. (Talk about a Saturday: pregame coverage — 4.5 hours, game coverage — 3.5 hours, postgame coverage — up to 5 hours…a predecessor of things to come). And I got my first taste of professional news.

News as a career was never a goal of mine. I repeat: never a goal. But apparently I had a nose for it. I should have known from my days at the Burke High Beat and North Star high school newspapers that I’d go into news at some point. And like my early days behind the markered-up cardboard box, I had a premonition of things to come from family. My aunt, Cheryl Butler, spent decades in print journalism, including lengthy stops at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Washington Post. And my mom was starting to launch her own writing career — and cementing her status in the world of quilting as a result.

Starting as a cub reporter, I went from fires to school boards to the Upfront Story, our in-depth (as in-depth as you can get in 95 seconds) feature of the day several times a week. And then — something I didn’t appreciate fully at the time — I was put on Live at 5, KLIN’s afternoon drive-time news show at the time as a co-anchor. Jane Monnich, John Soukup and I worked to sculpt newscasts and snag guests for the hour-long program before Jane and I — along with Dan “The Weatherman” Staehr and Jim Rose — wrapped up the day’s local, regional and occasionally national events.

Mind you, this was all as a part-timer. It was the inability to gain full-time status that led me to a three-year stint in print journalism, first at the Wahoo Newspaper (yes, that is indeed the paper’s name) before two years at the Lincoln Journal Star. At the Wahoo Newspaper, I was again a multi-duty staffer, handling news, sports, photography and page design. At the Journal Star, I was strictly behind the desk, editing copy and designing pages.

But I couldn’t stay away from radio. And even though I couldn’t get a full-time position in sports (trust me — I tried), I could at least keep my foot in the sports door by taking a position at KVOE. So in October 2002, after a gentle nudge from former general manager Lee Schroeder, I packed up with the help of my dad and made the four-hour trip from Lincoln to Emporia. And on Oct. 14, 2002, I took the air in the Kansas Flint Hills for the first time.

The position was officially for a news anchor/reporter, which automatically involved severe weather. It also involved high school sports and remotes — so essentially exactly what I was doing at KLIN with a full-time paycheck to go with it. However, it was, admittedly, rocky at the start. I was so nervous and so eager to please that I sprinted through my newscasts like a chipmunk on meth (cheetah on crack…you get the picture) and then I stumbled through some casts like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner…before he went cliffdiving (it happened every episode on TV and it almost happened every newscast). How I won a first-place newscast award from the Kansas Associated Press my second year was beyond me. Still is, honestly.

Quickly on awards, since I brought up that topic: I’ve been fortunate to win my share from the Kansas Association of Broadcasters for news, features, severe weather and sports. Maybe it’s wrong of me to say, but I’ve always considered awards as validation for what I’m doing, either individually or as part of a team, and just as importantly as enhancement of the station’s prestige. I’d like to say I’ve added to that prestige the past 14 years, but that’s not my place to judge.

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Much more than the awards, though, my focal points as a news reporter have been to be complete, be fair to all sides, to ask the necessary questions (realizing it may be quite some time before those questions get answered), to eliminate anything subjective in the on-air and online reports and to learn from all my interactions. The learning aspect is underrated among today’s new reporters, in my estimation. I’ve seen several incoming reporters who have a set idea about media, whether it’s in the broadcast persona, what should or shouldn’t be covered and even how to deal with their management or employers. Reporters with a split persona (one for the airwaves and one for everybody else) have a much better chance of a sustained career, in my opinion, although I’m not so sure that should be the case.

As a sports broadcaster, I’ve always felt my role has been to relay exactly what’s happening, both on and off the field of play. It was never enough to just report the on-field action; I also wanted to capture the emotional ebb and flow of the game I was covering. Leaving that out, to me, ignored a critical piece of the action for listeners and later viewers as our high school sports coverage went online.

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Speaking of online: There’s no doubt the advent of the Internet and social media has thoroughly transformed news outlets. It certainly transformed operations at KVOE. Starting with a series of Microsoft Word documents that served as a rudimentary website, KVOE’s online presence has transformed into an award-winning, content-rich website (emphasis on content-rich). Facebook and Twitter see several updates a day, and that’s leaving out the rapid-fire severe weather and breaking news alerts. My goal has been to drive people from the web and social media to the airwaves and back again, using one form of media to highlight and bring attention to the others.

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I’m grateful for the in-house relationships I’ve developed at KVOE, whether it be the Morning Show and ESU football crew of Ron Thomas and Greg Rahe, evenings and weekends with Sean Thornton, high school sports with Scott Hayes and the off-mike interactions with the sales staff, secretaries, part-time employees and station owner Steve Sauder. They mean more than you will realize.

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I’m also marveling at the sheer number of stories over the past 14-plus years, sometimes up to 12 a day, and the breadth of news:

I’ve covered destructive fires, whether it be homes or the Fourth Avenue Dining Company. I’ve seen people die just feet from me as I covered crashes and trauma calls. I’ve seen the pain of victims in murder and sexual abuse cases as their situations work through the court process.

I’ve seen massive shifts in legislative policy in Kansas, ranging from the so-called three-legged stool to the glide path to zero. I’ve also watched a decade-long fight over education funding.

I’ve watched Emporia develop a vibe and mojo — thanks to events like the Dirty Kanza and major disc golf tournaments as well as a concerted effort by local government leaders and education administrators to think outside the box towards that very end.

I’ve had the chance to broadcast state basketball championships, attend a Major League Baseball All-Star Game and fulfill my long-deferred goals of doing baseball and football play-by-play, even if only on a fill-in basis.

I’ve had a chance to interview a Heisman trophy winner, a local racing hero, baseball legends, world-known musicians and influential politicians — and a lot of people I only run into either downtown or at Emporia’s Walmart.

I’ve watched moderate risk severe weather days turn into absolute busts. And I’ve seen severe thunderstorm watch boxes turn into destructive tornadoes in Reading and Eureka.

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And I’ve been honored to balance the bad news with the good. The Feel Good, that is. KVOE’s weekly Friday feature has been an absolute joy, and not just because of the 2 minute, 5 seconds of finished product. I’ve had the good fortune of listening and learning to some wonderful stories and meeting some great people as a result. As far as I have been concerned the past few years, the report every Friday morning has been gravy at the end of the weekly process.

Yes, there have been lots of fun and interesting times as well. I’ve dressed up as an 1980s-era rock star to cover Boo in the Zoo (wearing far more hair than I’ve ever had naturally in my life). I’ve served as a pitchman for a weight loss drink. I’ve emceed bridal fairs, just weeks before I’ve dressed as a Smurf or a Flintstone to generate money for Special Olympics and had my head shaved to raise money for St. Baldricks.  (I’m still trying to forget my alter ego, “Anita Shaver”…)

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It’s been a great career, but it’s time to turn in my key card, delete my scanner app and launch forward.

Besides telling the positive stories for USD 253 Emporia, I’ll also be filling you in on any breaking and rapidly developing situations affecting schools and school kids. On top of that, I’ll be coordinating all things enrollment. I’ll also be attending all USD 253 Board of Education meetings and helping to facilitate projects like the Hopkins Awards, American Education Week cookie delivery and other special events. So my plate will be full, even though my schedule will be considered normal by most (totally different to me).

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I’ll also be taking over for a local legend, whether she likes the designation or not. Nancy Horst has held the community relations position for over two decades after a notable career at the Emporia Gazette, and she has been the embodiment of professionalism during my tenure at KVOE. She has also been more than generous with her time as I start peppering her with questions about my new job. I have two big shoes to fill coming Monday morning.

But I don’t forge ahead before saying thank you to my family. They helped me keep my sanity, even though they may well have been losing theirs with the number of short-notice schedule changes and lengthy times away.

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And I want to thank you for listening. Thanks for having me with you as you wake up…whether it’s at the breakfast table, in the shower, in bed or wherever. Thanks for hacking through 14-plus years of stumbling newscasts. Thanks for bearing with some admittedly inane, silly, occasionally stupid and sometimes totally off-target references to different topics. And thanks for trusting me as a reporter for the news happening around the world and here at home all these years.

Time to wrap it up and ice it down. Thanks, everybody. See you around town.

On the course for BBC


My GBLP is declining.

GBLP? What’s THAT?

Well, every year KVOE has our Brewers and Broadcasters Classic at the Emporia, Kan., Country Club. It’s a scramble-format tourney that uses a modified (maybe extra modified would be a better descriptor) Stableford scoring system.

It’s a two-day deal. It’s very popular, usually filling up a week or two before the tourney begins. And for us at the station, it’s all hands on deck.

ALL hands on deck.

We usually take a six-hour shift. For those of us who have a six-day week, we pick our day off. Which for means Sunday morning.

For the first few years, my job was to see which drives on a par-3 were closest to the pin. Closest got a prize. I’ve also spotted for closest approach shot for a separate prize.

The last several years, I’ve been on Hold No.5, spotting for balls leaving the fairway and heading into either “the deep spinach” or the row of trees currently behind me.


(Why spinach? Why not, oh, cabbage or Brussels sprouts or alfalfa? I digress. Actually, no, I don’t. We officially had to dig for a ball in the mushrooms today. The mushrooms!)


And here’s where GBLP comes into play.

It’s not an official statistic. At least, I don’t think it is for golf course workers. But GBLP is short, in my mind, for Golf Ball Location Percentage. And, as I said, mine is slipping fast.

Honestly, I have no idea why I’m on this assignment. My eyesight has never been good (some would say even with the thick or highly-adjusted lenses I’m currently using). Back when I used to live near a public 9-hole course in Omaha, my brother and I would return balls to golfers (and sell others left behind later). One of our unspoken contests, at least as I took it, was to see which one of us could find stray golf balls faster.  He won repeatedly. 

So, as you can see, I may not be cut out for this task.

As I write this, it’s 9:15 am. I’ve been spotting now for 90 minutes and I’m on my sixth (seventh?) group of the front nine. I have had my fourth close call (not quite a near-miss) from incoming missile attacks. And up until this sixsome approached, my GBLP went from 67 percent to 16 percent. I saw four of the six balls land with my first group and just one with my last group.

It seems like this happens every year. It’s normally a high sky, which doesn’t help, and today has minimal cloud cover. 

As mentioned before, I haven’t had the dump-out-of-the-Gator scramble to avoid incoming attacks yet. But it’s coming. 

Honestly, all of us volunteer spotters should eschew the orange vests and be outfitted with these T-shirts, courtesy of The Far Side:


And next year I’ll tell you about the GTVTR.

The Golf Tournament Volunteer Target Rate.  Which just went up…

To be or not to be: Dramatic news writing is the question

News writing is a lot harder than it looks.

Part of that is just the nature of news. We have to get a lot of information out, and for broadcast — radio and TV — we typically don’t have a lot of regurgitation time (insert your own visual here). I’m fortunate in my current position because upper levels of management have given my department the leeway to give a 15-minute news hole for our featured newscasts. This means our staffers have the unmentioned go-ahead to flesh out stories with all the necessary details so our listeners and Web site readers get more details than other broadcast media outlets can provide. It’s not to the level of print journalism — again, the time factor rears its ugly head, especially with the number of stories we’re generating — but it’s one of the things I really like about small-town journalism in general and our station policy in particular.

But part of that is also a desire to, well, spice up the news. And, in some cases, that’s being kind.

I remember a TV news anchor in Omaha from the late 1980s who relayed all information — all information — in the most dramatic terms possible. Car crash? Disastrous, even if it was a fender-bender. Fire? Always destructive — which technically was true, but obviously there are different levels of destruction from such incidents.

It didn’t take long for said anchor to depart the TV station for greener pastures and more mundane news writing (and news delivering) to return to that station’s airwaves.

The problems with dramatic news writing, especially for basic and breaking news, are severalfold. First, it’s distracting to the listener and to the Web site reader. Second, it’s numbing to the audience, especially when people eventually figure out the adjectives and the actions don’t match.

Problems don’t stop there on the broadcast side because a dramatically-written story automatically causes an anchor to change his delivery emphasis — and in some cases to leave what’s actually important underemphasized.

News stories written with a lot of flowery language may generate more online clicks for a certain period of time. However, once readers realize there’s much ado about very little, they will find other news sources that focus on the truth, regardless of how boring the details may be. And your news operation will suffer a damaged reputation as a result.

As far as I’m concerned, a news department’s focus should be in the following order.

  1. Truth in all aspects
  2. Engage with details
  3. Entertain if dictated by content

As you can see, embellishment of details is nowhere on this list. However, go back to the paragraph about online traffic. Once grandiose language is allowed and online traffic seems to increase, a news reporter can be easily tempted to either write things out of context, blow things out of proportion or write things that simply can’t happen just so more people come on board the Web site. Many have taken to the temptation…to the detriment of the profession.

After having seen dramatic language — both elsewhere and, unfortunately, in my department — and after hearing from people over the course of time, it’s my experience that the story content drives readership and listenership far more than how dramatically it’s presented.

Basic is boring when it comes to news writing, especially for hard news. There’s no doubt about that. But given the choice between dramatic and dry, basic is also best.

I Have Seen…The Baseball Promised Land

Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera and Wade Davis celebrate after Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in New York. The Royals won 7-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Royals catcher Drew Butera and Wade Davis celebrate after Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in New York. The Royals won 7-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Eleven years ago, my wife Ginny and I had our first formal date as a couple. I asked her to a Kansas City Royals game against Cleveland and I was pleasantly surprised when she accepted.

The Royals were bad that year, miserable bad, sweat-on-sunburn-painful bad. Bad enough where outfielders looked at each other during a fly ball, jogged in for the third out and had the ball land behind them. Bad enough where a first baseman got eaten up by a tarp…not really, but you get the picture. Bad enough where fireworks were touched off when a batter walked. (OK, they didn’t all happen that year, but after a while the cumulative effect just rolls together into one mind-numbing nightmare lowlight). Bad enough where our attention wasn’t on the game but on developing the Ballad of Coco Crisp. I forget how that goes.

Last night, shortly before midnight, we cuddled up on a couch and watched Wade Davis close out the New York Mets for a World Series crown.

And what a crown. And what a team.

The never-say-die attitude of the Royals was discussed at length, especially as the comebacks started to mount. The reasons behind the comebacks were also given a lot of air time as the World Series continued and eventually culminated. One of the reasons I haven’t heard mentioned, especially about the Royals hitters, was what can best be described a lack of baseball ego. Think about it. The Royals sometimes had some pretty poor at-bats early in playoff games this year, but go back and follow the ABs in pivotal situations. There were very few wasted plate appearances, very few wasted swings, even if they weren’t all productive.

Dale Sveum’s “keep the line moving approach” demands that hitters make contact as often as possible. But it dictates an unselfishness among batters, urging them to put their individual wishes aside for “the big hit” — namely home runs — for the greater good of a hit, a baserunner, an increase in pressure on the defending team.

Under that pressure, Royals opponents cracked, buckled and eventually caved.

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Look at the Mets as a classic example. Look at how the deciding rallies started in Games 1, 4 and 5 to prove the point. Rushing on defense led to critical errors, setting the table for possible victories — but the Royals also took advantage, which is the big thing (and what had a lot of us worrying about the team’s postseason fate back in September when KC wasn’t finishing off teams).

The Royals weren’t clean by any means in this World Series — two potentially costly errors by Gold Glover Eric Hosmer and a fielding brain fart by pitcher Franklin Morales that locked up the Mets’ only win. Doesn’t matter. Not with this team.

As an aside, I have to credit the Fox broadcast team for their Game 5 coverage. As unabashedly biased as Game 1’s play-by-play went, the crew of Joe Buck, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci changed their tune by Game 5 and were about as fair and balanced as you can get. Kudos there.

Back to the team that matters.

This was a team that has been labeled as destined to win, and not just because of what outfielder Alex Gordon called a cockroach-like inability to go away. It was a team brought together by the heartbreak of losing the World Series last year and fused by the unfortunate passing of Mike Moustakas’ mother and Chris Young’s and Edinson Volquez’s fathers. The word team often blends into the word family when it comes to championship-level sports. The Royals embody that blend perhaps better than any time I have followed for a long time, in part due to the losses that matter on the scoreboard and the losses that matter in life.

Speaking of the on-field losses, it was less than three years ago that Royals fans had enough of the team’s current direction. Myself included. And honestly, it was hard to blame us. Starting in 1995, the Royals dove into one of the most inept stretches of baseball, losing 90 or more games almost every season, looking bad on the field and lost off it. Starting the 2013 season, the Royals had to use a second-half shove to get into the playoff picture and give fans some hope General Manager Dayton Moore’s “Process” and Manager Ned Yost’s crustiness were worth supporting. Both were just about the door if the Royals had another lifeless summer.

If you want to look back, that walkoff grand slam hit by Justin Maxwell against Texas — one of the best non-playoff baseball moments I’ve ever seen, in person or on TV — was a feelgood moment to essentially end the 2013 season. But it also served as a precursor to what we saw this year.

If you want to look back, the 2014 Wild Card game was yet another prelude.

And now there’s no need to look back.

I was 14 when the Kansas City Royals slid past St. Louis in the 1985 World Series. Say what you want about the Don Denkinger call in Game 6 that year, but the Cardinals flat melted down in that inning and throughout Game 7. The Royals’ core from that team didn’t completely end its useful baseball life for several years, so I thought at least one more playoff push was in the cards. It wasn’t. Not for a loooong time. The team then got so bad and the front office so clueless I thought I would never see another title.

This must have been what the Israelites felt some 3,000 years ago criscrossing the Palestinian desert and then being told The Promised Land was in sight. It wasn’t 40 years in the desert, but three decades of mainly rudderless direction is plenty long enough.

There are a ton of questions about the 2016 Royals. Can KC re-sign Gordon to a deal and get Ben Zobrist on board for another year or two? How will the Royals handle Danny Duffy and replace Johnny Cueto? Can the Royals reclaim their magic from this year?

Right now, it doesn’t matter. I and millions of Royals fans have finally seen the baseball promised land.

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