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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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Kansas

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.

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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…

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.

Aftermath of a Football Road Trip

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I think it was 2:17 am when we pulled into Emporia State’s HPER parking lot this morning. Fitting, because I think I had 217 seat adjustments from when we left Joplin, Mo., following the Hornets’ 38-20 win over Missouri Southern, back to the Flint Hills.

Honestly, as much as I was looking forward to watching ESU open the football season (and, hopefully, have a much better season than what I witnessed last year), I was dreading the impact Friday. The Day After. We had left around 1:30 pm to make sure we got to Joplin in way more than enough time to get set up, test the equipment, get interviews if we wanted to and settle into the broadcast instead of scrambling into it — and trust me, there is a difference in the finished product if you’re scrambling. Leaving when we did also gave me another rather large window to plan how I’d attack Friday’s schedule.

The plan: Get in around 2:30. Skip sleep (because I knew I’d snooze right through every alarm known to man outside of a tornado siren directly in my ear). Shower and be back out the door by 3 am. Write up my morning’s self-assignments by 9 am. Hope the Morning Show doesn’t sound like Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech.

Oh yeah — Record midday, plop stuff on the website and be unconscious by 10 am. Sleep until I wake up or when Ginny comes home, whichever comes first.

Well, it’s 2:20 am and I can already tell I’m going to be off schedule and not in a good way. I’ll leave it to your imagination what happened. Anyways, by the time I’ve gotten showered, let the dog out and given hugs, it’s 3:10 am. Ten minutes is an eternity in broadcasting, but I’m still in pretty good shape.

Writing goes up to just shy of 5 am before I take a break for caffeine. I’m at the same time impressed and a bit worried, thinking I’ve waited too long to start gulping down the Coke. At least short-term, that worry turns out to be unfounded. I’m still conscious and alert (something you hear on the scanner all the time) — right up until I take a quick break to pause. That’s when nice, peaceful darkness lurks until I snap back to the land of the conscious.

Surprisingly, the Morning Show goes fairly well. I don’t stumble much more than normal during the newscasts and my train of thought doesn’t derail in spectacular fashion. By 9 am, though, I can tell the three cans of Coke just ain’t cutting it.

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I still have one more story to write, another to update with sound, two calls to make on a weekend story and the web to update. And the yawns have started. In fact, they can’t stop. I’m actually thinking I could fall asleep sitting bolt upright…or get whiplash if I lean back…thinking….skngxxxxxxxx…

I’m resigning myself to the fact I’ll have to adjust my schedule. And I’m needing something — anything — to get my motivation back to where it was six hours earlier.

What’s In Outdoors ends and I have to walk up and down the hall a few times, doing some strategic air drumming in the process to get the blood going and caffeine redistributed.

9:30 am: Ron comes back and orders Greg and I to find some time to take a nap. No problem there. So long as I get these stories done and posted.

10:10 am: Stories written but putting one thought in front of the other is now getting reeeeeally hard. Listening to Pat Metheny, while relaxing, isn’t helping.

10:20 am: Change of music will have to happen. Time for Dire Straits’ Alchemy. Maybe that will help.

10:25 am: The more air drumming I do, the less work I do. Grrrr.

10:35: Singing helps to keep me awake — and I can type at the same time. I can hear Greg and AJ getting annoyed.

11 am: Web almost done. But I’m missing one picture I wanted for the front — because I blitzed that out two weeks ago. Lengthy bleep.

11:02 am: Now realizing I have ingested enough caffeine to likely keep me awake the rest of the afternoon. Looooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggg bleeeeep.

11:20: Time to resume recording. So much for 10 am. Now the goal is noon. And I have 18 minutes of news loaded for the midday AM cast. And I’m leaving stuff out. Cannot remember what I was doing 10 seconds ago.

11:27: Almost said “partly chucky” in the headlines forecast. If you want to know what partly chucky is, don’t ask. I have no idea. Apparently I’m not totally chucky today, though.

11:28: Puberty returns. That was weird.

11:34: In an effort to maintain a clean working space, AJ starts to dismantle my Coke tower. Said tower falls apart. Chuck’s rendition of Dr. Giggles (hey, we all have one) breaks out.

11:50: Final check of recorded material. Brain alternately hyper and crashy. Saved midday ag report to the wrong cart, but otherwise everything is clear.

11:55 am: Scanner….nooooo….OK. Patient transfer. We’re good.

So I’m out around noon. A busier day than I thought and, frankly, hoped, but there was some worthy news this morning. Accessibility concerns, blue-green algae impact, United Way starting its general fundraising drive and other stories. All told, seven stories today — including two rather hefty pieces — with three of those needing updates as the morning progressed.

Another #bya #sggd day. Now it’s time for pizza and nap..and to tear down this Coke tower. Chat with you guys again when its #darkandearly tomorrow.

2015 ESU MSSU

Game preview: Emporia State at Missouri Southern

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Game 1: Emporia State at Missouri Southern
Time: 7 pm Thursday, Fred G. Hughes Stadium
Coverage: 6 pm, Mix 104.9 FM and Mix 104.9-TV on KVOE.com

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s go time. Time for football season, and another pivotal season for the Emporia State Hornets.

The 2015 season begins with a battle of the known versus the unknown as ESU travels to Joplin, Mo., to take on Missouri Southern. Emporia State has the stability in the coaching staff and quarterback, while Missouri Southern is all new. New head coach, new staff, new quarterback, new schemes both offensively and defensively.

There are some knowns for the Lions. Head coach Denver Johnson had decent success at FCS schools Illinois State and Murray State before a dismal 2-10 record and spiraling attendance at the end of the 2014 campaign spelled the end of the Johnson era at Tulsa. Defensive coordinator Kenny Evans, who had decent success at Northeastern State as a head coach, may have done better as Southern’s defensive coordinator from 1989 to 1997.

The questions for the Lions, though, are legion, including how the coaching staff melds together, how the offense adjusts to a spread formation with a former quarterback-turned-running back as quarterback and how the defense does with a 4-2-5 setup.

Things to listen to Thursday night:

Can the Emporia State offensive line keep Brent Wilson upright? Wilson got through most of the magical playoff run in 2013 clean before suffering a broken collarbone. No offense to Wilson’s replacement, but the Hornets’ playoff chances died on the spot. The Hornets were already scuffling when Wilson’s collarbone snapped again during the Northeastern State victory last year, and the team looked lost, disillusioned and frankly uncaring afterward. ESU should have a dynamic offense with a stacked receiver corps and a solid stable of running backs, but none of that matters if No. 15 is flat repeatedly or on the shelf again. If, however, Wilson has time to survey the field, look out. Kavaski Ervin, Mitchell Foote and Justin Brown should all have really good years, and one of them should have a big game Thursday night if Wilson is kept clean.

Does Emporia State’s glass jaw from 2014 extend to 2015? Last year, if the Hornets got hit in the mouth or had a case of the dropsies, you could guarantee a snowball effect. Guarantee it. And if it happened in the first half, there was no hope of a comeback. The only exception was the Nebraska-Kearney season closer, when the Hornets roared back from a 28-point deficit and overcame several miscues to lose by two (no second-half miscues, no loss, but that’s beside the point here). The hope is that loss to the Lopers, which saw the emotional emergence of Eddie Vinson as a team leader, reestablished the fight the Hornets have been known for the prior two seasons.

Can ESU’s defense harass Missouri Southern’s new quarterback? ESU fared poorly defensively last year, and that’s one of the bigger understatements of MIAA football from 2014: last in total defense, 10th in scoring defense, last in pass defense, 10th in third-down conversions against and dead last in sacks (32 behind No. 11 on the list). In general, the Hornets have to get after the quarterback better this year, and there’s no time like the present. Southern QB Ty’Quan Hayes has a feel for the offense, according to Johnson, but he was a reserve running back and return man last year — throwing all of one pass in the process. Hayes was an accomplished quarterback in high school, but rust can be expected. With the right attack, the Hornets should take advantage of this.

Final score: ESU 31, Missouri Southern 21

10 Musical Acts I’d Love to See at the Granada Theatre

granada

Emporia’s Granada Theatre is starting to make a name for itself as quite the concert venue.

Modern country has been the calling card ever since Director Bryan Williams started bringing concerts to the venue a couple years ago, but classic rock is now establishing a foothold with the sold-out Guess Who concert a few weeks back and Kansas selling out within oh, say, minutes when that Oct. 1 concert was announced this past spring.

So with that in mind…and with no prior discussions with Williams…here are some of the bands I’d love to see at the Granada (in no particular order).

Candlebox

candlebox

The Seattle grunge rockers burst onto the scene with the angry “You” and wistful “Far Behind” off their self-titled 1993 debut and have been producing solid music since. They have enough hits just off their first CD to bring a lot of people to the theater.

Chances of a sellout: Decent.

Song I have to hear: “He Calls Home”

Collective Soul

collective soul

Simply put, one of the most musically versatile rock groups out there. They would be a treat in concert and shouldn’t have a problem selling out if they were booked.

Sellout chances: Strong

Song I have to hear: “The World I Know”

Indigenous

indigenous

If you like Texas blues and haven’t heard of Indigenous over the past 15 years, your address is a rock. If you are into any other music genre and haven’t been introduced, you’re missing out. Mato Nanji, the lead guitarist and vocalist, is worth the price of admission all by himself.

Sellout chances: Poor

Song I have to hear: “Awake”

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

kws

On the other side of the current blues recognition spectrum is Kenny Wayne Shepherd. If “Deja Voodoo” didn’t put him on the map, “Blue On Black” did — and he’s stayed a fixture of rock music playlists since the late 1990s.

Sellout chances: Fair

Song I have to hear: “King Bee”

Eric Johnson

ej

I wish Eric Johnson produced more music. His first two albums, Tones and Ah Via Musicom, were stellar mixtures of blues and rock, and Venus Isle was pretty good in its own right.

Sellout chances: Poor.

Song I have to hear: “High Landrons”

The Rippingtons

ripps

One of the most recognizable fusion jazz bands of the past 30 years. However, this would be a stretch for the Granada, which would be taking a huge financial risk bringing the Jazz Cats to town.

Sellout chances: Poor

Song I have to hear: “Destiny”

Mark Knopfler

mk

The frontman for Dire Straits. Regardless of whether you like Knopfler’s music direction since Straits disbanded, and honestly I’m not that much of a fan, I’d still love to see him in concert and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

Sellout chances: Good

Song I have to hear: “Telegraph Road”

Mr. Mister frontman Richard Page

richard page

Page has been the most active of the Mr. Mister alums since the band disbanded, and I love his music since he went solo. I’m also an unabashed Mr. Mister fan, especially of Welcome to the Real World and Go On. Having said that, he has virtually no name recognition anymore.

Sellout chances: Not a chance

Song I have to hear: “Into My Own Hands”

Living Colour

living colour

The band disappeared from radio playlists after Vivid and “Cult of Personality,” but it’s still pumping out its mesh of rock, funk and blues. Should be a fiery show.

Sellout chances: Fair

Song I have to hear: “What’s Your Favorite Color?”

Bad Company

badco

Boy, if Bryan could get them…

Sellout chances: Guaranteed

Song I have to hear: “Bad Company”

Who would you like to see at the Granada? Let me know. Heck. Let the Granada staff know at 342-3342.

You’re welcome.

Where Does Austin Willis Land? (Plus Patrick Crayton’s Possible Impact on Current ESU Receivers and the Hornets)

austin willis usa-today-8730375.0

There are a lot of people rooting for Austin Willis to make it in the NFL. Now they are hoping he latches on with somebody other than the Oakland Raiders, who cut the undrafted free agent this week.

It has been a long, long time since the Raiders could be considered the gold standard for personnel moves at either the player or coach level, but Silver and Black Pride, an SB Nation blog, writes Willis was having issues getting open as a receiver despite 4.38-second speed in the 40-yard dash. He was also stuck in a crowded field of receivers hoping to make an impact on the Raiders coaching staff, vying for time with guys like Brice Butler, Kenbrell Thompkins, Seth Robers, Kris Durham, Josh Harper and Milton Williams. That was before the Raiders signed veteran Devon Wylie, likely to build on the working relationship Wylie has had with quarterback Derek Carr since the two were teammates at Fresno State.

Willis was also well down on the kick return totem pole, buried behind Trindon Holliday, Taiwan Jones and T.J. Carrie.

The Emporia State graduate caught 128 balls during his Hornet career, finishing with 2,005 career receiving yards. He also scored almost 20 touchdowns, including 10 his junior year.

The cut is a disappointment for Willis, who was heralded as a possible Wes Welker-type player by The Bleacher Report shortly after he signed with Oakland. It’s also disappointing for a lot of fans — not just those of Emporia State football but those of “the little guy,” the guy from the small school who just wants a fair chance to compete against established players or more well-known recruits from bigger schools with brighter, Division I lights.

The good news? Willis apparently turned some heads in a positive way. Several journalists following the Raiders say he should catch on with another NFL team (or at least be given more than a mere passing look) because of his speed, sure hands, improved size — 192 pounds versus his ESU playing weight of around 175 — and his athleticism.

The way it sounds, Willis was a victim of circumstance in Oakland. And the Raiders did him a favor, believe it or not, by cutting him loose from a crowded field of pass catchers now as opposed to later.

Crayton reunites with former coach Higgins at ESU

patrick-crayton

Meanwhile, receivers now at Emporia State just got a gift from the football gods — from somebody who was once in Willis’ shoes.

Patrick Crayton, a wideout who made a name for himself as an NAIA All-American at Northwestern Oklahoma State under current ESU head coach Garin Higgins, is now joining the Higgins staff as a wide receivers coach.

Crayton is on board at ESU thanks to the NFLPA Coaching Internship, which lets players have what a news release calls “an in-depth, foundational coaching experience.” He’s among less than 20 former players selected for this program this year.

Talk about learning from somebody who knows the football side of things and also the trials and tribulations of impressing the coaches when not from a big-name university. Crayton played eight seasons in the NFL, making most of his headlines during a six-year career with the Dallas Cowboys before ending his playing days with San Diego in 2011. All told, he amassed 3,650 receiving yards and scored 27 touchdowns, including two punt returns for scores.

Before that, however, Crayton pretty much did it all for NWOSU. He played quarterback, wideout and returner, and he still holds several school records. He is the only NAIA player to score a TD as a passer, rusher, receiver, punt returner and kick returner in a single season.

Crayton will definitely give Emporia State receivers a leg up when it comes to X’s and O’s, route-running, blocking and the sheer football side of the equation. But he was also a mentally tough receiver during his career, and that can only help a pretty talented corps of wideouts on a team that needs to show last year’s mental fortitude and concentration issues have ended.

You think Emporia State’s receivers will ignore anything he has to say? Uhhhhhh. No.

Hornets face tough road back to playoffs

912esu

Is this a step towards ESU returning to the Division II playoffs like it did two years ago? Perhaps. The Hornets are picked near the middle of the pack in the cutthroat MIAA, but that’s about where they were picked when they had that magical run in 2013.

The season opens against Missouri Southern in Joplin on Sept. 3, and the schedule from there is no picnic. Central Missouri, the media’s No. 3 pick in the conference, is Emporia State’s home opener Sept. 10, followed by Central Oklahoma, the media’s projected No. 4 team, on Sept. 19. After games against Northeastern (Okla.) State and Lindenwood, the Hornets then face a stretch of five straight games against teams slotted to be in the top half of the conference, including Pittsburg State (MIAA No. 2, Oct. 10 at home), archrival Washburn (Halloween Day, only marginally more scary than a Halloween Night game) and Northwest Missouri (MIAA No. 1, Nov. 7).

The Hornets were beset by injuries, notably at quarterback, last year, but it seemed the collarbone break Brent Wilson suffered — his second in as many seasons — bruised the Hornets’ psyche far more deeply than any physical hurt. ESU appeared listless and dispirited, especially after falling behind, and after Wilson’s injury the only game where ESU had any second-half fight was the near-miracle finish in Kearney, Neb., to end the season.

Let’s face it. The Hornets were embarrassed by how last season played out. So this is a pivotal season at Emporia State. The Hornets have to show last year was the aberration, not the prior two seasons that featured a Kanza Bowl win and the team’s first postseason appearance in almost a decade. But this is also a season where postseason really isn’t mandatory for ESU to prove it’s headed again in the right direction. Finishing above .500, especially a 7-4 or 8-3 record, would go a long way towards erasing the nasty taste the Hornets had to deal with at the end of the 2014 season.

Red

Recently, JT Crawford asked me to play bass with him and Jane McCoy for the Flint Hills Beef Fest BBQ contest concert Aug. 22.

So we’re just under a month away from “Barracuda” and “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” From Loverboy to Johnny Cash, the Pretenders to Garth Brooks, we’ll likely have it covered.

Not having touched my bass since the last time we got together, the 2013 Smoke in the Spring barbecue event in Osage City, I was a bit hesitant to agree…only for the simple reason I haven’t had much time or inclination to dedicate to what once had been an integral part of my life.

bass 4

***

I first met Red at Paragon Music in Lincoln, Neb, back in the late 1990s.

I had started teaching myself bass guitar a few years earlier after what can only be called a failed flirtation with guitar during a failed attempt at college in Tucson, Ariz. I don’t even remember how I became acquainted with the black three-quarter model I officially started out with, or how I came in contact with the Peavey 5-string that followed. I do remember the 5-string, Thumper, was a ton of fun, either hanging out for a solo creative session or at parties.

However, I made a slight miscalculation that ended our relationship. As in not studying how to properly tune said 5-string.

Inattentiveness to details such as that is bad. Very bad. It leads to bad breakups…or, in this case, a neck so warped it’s impossible to fix. I could have done some repairs, or had somebody else do them for me), but I decided against for some long-forgotten reason. I think a large part of that was I was just looking for something else, something more basic.

So, with Thumper effectively out of the picture, and with me totally hooked on the instrument (thank you, Geddy Lee, John Illsley, Kim Stone, Roscoe Beck, Marcus Miller, Brian Bromberg, John Pattitucci, Flea, Muzz Skillings, Bardi Martin, John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Jeff Ament, Gabe Nelson, Steve Kilbey, Peter Hook and others) I was looking for something long-term right away. There were a lot of flashier (and more expensive) models to dazzle the eye and the fingers. All sorts of brands were available in all colors and finishes.

It was a rather mind-numbing choice to make. And, no, I didn’t have any mind-numbing ingredients in my body when I stopped there.

Given my budget, I had to eliminate most of the store’s selection…and hope one of the less pricey models was the one.  I didn’t really have any set criteria when I visited Paragon that summer afternoon other than my new musical partner had to feel right. It had to fee comfortable when it was draped around my neck. My fingers had to slide quickly up and down the neck.  The instrument had to hold its tune — something I had struggled with (through a lot of fault of my own) with my previous two basses.

Somehow, some way, Red did. I picked up Red for the first time, plunked a few runs — and I knew. Right then and there.

bass 3

***

Red, in case you’re wondering, is an Ibanez TR series 4-string. Twenty-two frets, two pickups, bass and volume knobs. All in all, pretty simple. There were apparently several in the series, and at this point I have no idea if I have a TR 50 or a TR 200 — although judging from a 1995 catalog, it looks like I have the TRB 50. If that’s the case, Red has a light American maple body, maple neck, Powersound pickup setup and standard four-string bridge. Oh, yes — don’t forget the Ibanez All Access neck joint. Again, nothing to make you jump up and say “wow.”

Sometimes, though, you don’t need the “wow” factor to develop something special.

bass

***

Red became more than my bass, and it didn’t take long for that to happen. With me trying to get a Catholic rock band started, and with me writing lyrics for several years beforehand, Red became more and more of a partner as I conceptualized bass lines, guitar and drum parts to go with the words. We were pretty much inseparable after a short time, and we spent a lot of long hours together.  I’d take Red out with me to work some days, over to the church on others to work on some licks. Red would stay up well past 2 am some nights me as I’d hammer out some song details or rock out a jam session with some of my friends.

Soon, Red wasn’t just my music partner. Red also became my dream partner. Music had been part of my life since my dad let me play his cornet back in fifth grade. Even as I slid down the scale from there (thick lips=no range=instrument change) to euphonium, trombone and eventually tuba in high school, I’ve always loved not only listening to music but playing — and performing. I don’t remember when my dream developed of having a rock band, but it’s always been burning for as long as I can remember. Getting a chance to play “as part of a band,” even with all of two performances (a one-song gig at a church and a youth conference), was pretty heady stuff.

Red assisted me in how I wanted my music to sound (what I can describe, at least in my head, as a mix of Rush, early Dire Straits, Candlebox, the Rippingtons without a saxophone and The Church), and although I never purchased any music software to flesh out ideas that sound is still where I want to go if I have the good fortune to do so. Red also helped me unlock my inner performer, although it took a move to Kansas and a shift in music genre philosophy for that to happen. I have never been the cleanest bass player — far from it, actually, and the more amped up I get the messier I get. But as I got more practice in front of people, the mistakes smoothed out and I didn’t let them affect me for long stretches like I did when I started. On top of that, especially as I transitioned from religious rock to more secular music later, I began realizing you can’t just stand there and play and expect people to want you back. You just can’t. You have to, well, “give them a show.”

Off the microphone or off the stage, I have no problem blending into the woodwork. Give me a stage and my bass, and something happens. Something changes. Automatically I’m trying to do what I can to keep the audience engaged, wanting more. I can’t play behind my head (tried that, didn’t work), but I’ve slid on floors, stood on tables, turned my back to the crowd and looked back through my mike at the group (people still laugh at me for that one), used my cell phone for the ballad lighter effect…all while playing what I can only describe as some active bass lines.

And Red saw it all. Was part of it all. Helped to nurture it all.

jam

***

When I moved to Emporia to become a news reporter with some sports duties, I figured I’d get to form a band at some point. Initially, though, it looked like Red and I would just hang out in my apartment. I was honestly working more to fit into the community than finding fellow musicians. Then two things happened: Crawford called me to play at Reading’s annual concert…but before that, I started dating my future wife.

I actually started dating Ginny as my time in my last praise band was ending. Things developed very quickly, and in barely four months we were engaged. The wedding didn’t take place for another year, but 11 months afterward we had welcomed our daughter, Isabella, to the world.

JT had heard me mention on air that I played bass a few months later, and he invited me to the school to play. Things went well between him and his friends, singer/guitarist Tammy Patterson and drummer Dan “Boogie” Wooge — well enough for us to loosely form a cover band, practice occasionally and look for gigs.

It took a while to develop some contacts, but that eventually happened and we did indeed get some gigs. Quite a few, actually. Osage City, Melvern, Burlingame, Topeka. Even played the Flint Hills Beef Fest main dance back-to-back years.

Life happened, though. I moved from news reporter to news director. JT, Tammy and Dan all had life-changing events of their own. And I started losing interest in playing, especially as I was poorly balancing my home life and sleep. So my personal jam times, which about a decade earlier would run in the hours, could be compressed into 10 minutes or less (usually less). Eventually, about two years ago, the jam times evaporated, with my bass guitar collecting dust on its stand.

Red sat. And waited.

Red’s still waiting.

bass 2

***

JT’s call came at a time when I finally was feeling the itch to start playing again, although unfortunately not feeling the itch enough to actually get the instrument out, find the practice amp and play. It took two weeks after JT’s invite before I finally took stock of my current relationship with my bass guitar.

Red’s a different color than Thumper, but Red’s now in similar shape to Thumper when I regretfully set it aside. Red’s been in its case for I don’t remember how long. The neck is dirty…and it’s warped.  It’s a different reason, but it’s the same sign of neglect that’s worrisome to me.

I’m not in the best of shape, either, and not just because I’m about 40 pounds overweight. My calluses are completely gone, and soft fingers make for painful bass work. Sliding my fingers up and down the neck, trying a few hammer-ons and trying desperately to remember some of the runs I’d conceptualized over the past 20 years, it still feels right to play.

Dealing with instruments is like dealing with friends. You can’t not interact with your instrument for months, in my case now 15 months, and expect you can pick up where you left off. That certainly hasn’t happened with me and Red. The timing’s currently off, the runs don’t come naturally anymore, my fingers are quite sore after the first couple minutes, the freewheel feel of piecing together the fretboard on the fly and creating a coherent but pretty fricking awesome run just isn’t there.

It will take some time to get reacquainted. Get comfortable again.

But it will happen. Over the past 15 months, I’ve rediscovered the need I’ve apparently always had to have some form of music creativity in my life. For that to happen, I need to be back with Red.

And the whole process will be worth it in the end.

When I Woke Up This Morning…I Knew That It Was Cold…

tauntaun

KVOE News reporter AJ Dome and I have been trading “It’s so cold” ideas this morning.

You would, too, if Alaska was warmer than Emporia, Kan.

I woke up this morning to an air temperature of -10. That slid to -13 before sunrise.

Wind chills? All the way down to -28.

Temperatures in central Alaska today: Topping out at 25.

It’s the coldest air we have had in several years. In fact, it’s the coldest on record for Emporia since the 1950s.

Lord knows where things would stand if the National Weather Service had some records for cold weather between 1980 and 1996, when I vividly remember 1983 (-15 air temperature, -72 WCI on Christmas Eve) and 1989 (-19 in mid-December).

There is nothing fun about this. With snow, you can slip and slide and throw and make snow angels and be a kid.

With the cold, all you do is shiver. Watch your nose turn blue or something. Feel the life drain out of you.

“Use the force, Luke.” “I can’t, Master Yoda. It’s frozen.”

At least we should be back in normal ranges for temperatures the next few days.

And, by the way, here is what we have come up with so far:

It’s so cold that…

1. Squirrels chewed through power lines to keep warm.
2. People are reconsidering their allegiances to Starbucks.
3. Penguins are comfortable wandering around town.
3a. Penguins are sticking their beaks on light poles to see what it’s like to get stuck.
4. Steak can freeze in under 10 minutes.
5. You can freeze an egg.
6. Metallica has announced they are playing their next concert here.
7. We have seen tauntauns. Honest.

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