Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Can't Forget Cactus

Cactus Pryor—The Voice of Austin

He was the voice of Austin, Texas. Richard “Cactus” Pryor’s voice is now silent.

No, it’s not really silent—too many people remember.

OK. Maybe this is a page from “Old Austin”. A lot of people are Austin residents now who may have never hear his voice, but Cactus Pryor is an integral part of Austin broadcast history and Austin itself.

There will be many memorials over the coming days about him. This is not one. I’ll leave that to others.

I’m talking about the voice that was and is Austin.

In Austin’s broadcast history, there have been several distinctive voices. Paul Bolton, a former KTBC AM, FM & TV news director. Neal Spelce won national awards for coverage of the shootings from the UT Tower in 1966 for KTBC AM. He later anchored at both KTBC and KEYE TV. These are news voices. What about others?

There was Joyce Isaacs at what was KTVT-TV, now KXAN-TV. She was on radio too. There are Bob Cole, Jodie Denberg, John Aielli, and Sammy Allred

Jim Swift continues at KXAN TV.

One could consider Dave Jarrott, Larry Todd, Judy Maggio, and Kevin Conner. All moved from station to station, but stayed in Austin becoming part of the fabric of the city.

So far none has achieved the level of Richard “Cactus” Pryor. He worked for KTBC/KLBJ for some 60 years. Yes, Cactus appeared on TV, but he didn’t do news.

For years, he was a morning staple. The “Cac and Jack” show followed the morning news block on KTBC-AM and later KLBJ-AM. He and “Packer” Jack Wallace exchanged barbs for a couple of hours. They might play a little music. It was sometimes irreverent, and it was “don’t miss” AM radio in Austin. It was nothing, nothing like talk radio nowadays—or maybe it was. Jack left us in the 1980s.

Cactus continued his morning “commentaries” on KLBJ. I became news director of KLBJ AM & FM in the early 1970s. When Cactus would go on vacation, he’d ask me to fill in.

No, I could never fill in for Cactus Pryor, but I had lots of fun being able to write stuff in the first person. News is almost always in the third person. I could actually say something rather than report something. I’m not witty, however. After Cactus was on vacation once, I asked him if he’d heard any of what I’d aired. He said that he had. I asked him if it was OK. He smiled graciously.

Gracious. That’s one of the adjectives one could use to describe Cactus Pryor.

Besides being Austin’s voice, he was Austin’s Bard. There are many, many venues where he held forth and held important people’s feet to the fire, including Lyndon Johnson. (Lady Bird Johnson owned KTBC AM-FM-TV).

Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary, wrote in her book “Start with a Laugh”, “Well, that’s Cactus. I love him, the whole state loves him, and well they should because he never has forsaken us for the big time and the bright lights. Let use lift our glasses, our flasks, or coffee cups to Cactus.”

© Jim McNabb, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lost Longhorns

What if the Longhorns Suck?

The Longhorn Network is out there, but the Longhorn network isn’t here where the Longhorns live. It’s debut was yesterday, Friday, August 26, 2001. Its studios are right here in Austin, yet we can’t view it. I can’t even review it.


We’re talking about big money and uncertainty. ESPN promised to plunk down nearly $11-million a year for all Longhorns all the time over the next 20-years. Now, ESPN is looking for program carriers like Time Warner Cable, Grande Cable, AT&T Uverse, Dish, and Direct to pay them for that programming. In turn subscribers to those services will cover those costs.

That’s why I say that the Longhorn Network will end up on an upper tier at Time Warner and perhaps a premium channel costing extra. Are subscribers willing to pay more for the Rice vs. UT football game and eight men's basketball games? Oh, there will be other sports too—softball, volleyball, and the Mack Brown Show, all repeated several times. Are these worth the extra cost?

The question of the costs and return on the investment are why no carrier has signed a deal to bring the Longhorn Network to the Austin market.

Yes, “Several operators in the state of Texas – Consolidated Communications, En-Touch Systems, E-Tex Communications, Bay City Cablevision, Mid-Coast Cablevision and Texas Mid-Gulf Cablevision -- will make the Longhorn Network (LHN) available to University of Texas fans,” according to a release issued Friday (August 26, 2011). “This network is dedicated to serving the passionate fans of the University of Texas, and we appreciate the support of these operators in that effort,” said David Preschlack, executive vice president, Disney and ESPN Media Networks.

Whoopie for them.

I’ve berated Time Warner in the past for failure to come to table and negotiate “must carry” contracts with local stations or other proven programming services. TW still won’t carry the NFL Network, and there is an obvious audience for those games. What to do with the Longhorn Network is different however. The Longhorn network is a gamble.

What if the vaunted University of Texas Longhorns football team sucks? Will anybody watch? Will anybody care, even in Austin? The Horns were a woeful 5-7 last year, hardly a record that would attract viewers other than the faithful if they can’t do any better.

In a valid comparison Darrell Rovell reporting for CNBC compares the network possibilities with the University’s inability to sell seats to the Rice game. “With hundreds of tickets under $50 for the Rice game, Texas sent out an e-mail to its season ticket holders this week offering half-price seats on its non-marquee games. Some of those seats are in areas where people have paid a donation on top of the face value, showing just how overpriced some of its tickets are,” Rovell writes.

I’ve seen notices where season-ticket holders are trying to ditch their seats to the Rice game. Who wants to sit in the stands and roast while watching an unranked Longhorn team? It’s bound to be at least in the 90s when the game starts at 7 p.m., and sunset isn’t for about another hour.

There will be a way to watch the Longhorn Network in Austin. If had been launched in a national championship year, people would care. People would pay. This year, it’s hard to say—hard for everyone involved.

© Jim McNabb, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hello? Robot Calling

Polls, Pundits, Politicians, and Reporters

The conservative-leaning Rasmussen poll reports today (Tuesday, August 23, 2011) that “Most voters (53%) oppose public schooling ... for illegal immigrants. Some politician is going to pick up this statement and the supporting statistics and run with it. It might be somebody from the State of Texas. Then, the media will dutifully report it.

The question was “If a family is not in this country legally, should their children be allowed to attend public schools?” That’s a fair question, a question being asked often these days, but who is on the phone.

Recently, I wrote about polling and its place in the political process. Those running for office live and die by research. It was more than that stupid straw poll in Iowa that made former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty that brought his Presidential campaign to an end.

“Obviously the pathway forward for me doesn't really exist so we are going to end the campaign," Pawlenty said on ABC's "This Week". He read the Tea Party leaves and left. It had to do with polling, and polling leads to money. If you’re running out of money, you can’t campaign.

Back to Rasmussen and schooling for children of illegal immigrants, the poll didn’t ask what should be done with these kids. If they’re not in school, where are they? Are they on the street? Are they in gangs? Are they headed for jail, jails and prisons supported by our tax dollars.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to give them an education? Then, they could become tax-payers contributing to society rather than taking from society.
Again, remember the demographic answering questions for Rasmussen. Rasmussen makes calls to land line telephones. The number of people with land lines is shrinking. People still using land lines are an older demographic.

That older demographic often argues against school taxes since their children have already graduated. So, they ask, why should we be paying for someone else’s children—legal or illegal? The answer, of course, is that we are paying forward. We, our society and cities, need an educated population.

While Rasmussen claims accuracy of +/- 3 percent, plus or minus three percent of what?

As I wrote two weeks ago, one and four households were cellphone only, no land line, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-four percent of those wireless-only users were between 18 and 30 years old.

Now, here’s something new: Rasmussen can’t call those wireless numbers. Why? A live person isn’t making the call.

“Rasmussen is a robo-pollster, which means that he calls people with automated equipment and has a robot voice ask the questions, to which respondents punch in numbers on their touch pad. By law, robo-pollsters cannot call cell phones,” says Dr. Frank Newport, Editor in Chief of the Gallup Poll. “So his methods are fast becoming obsolete,” Newport continues. “They attempt to make up for this by adding in online polls, but they are of dubious randomness.”

Newport, author of the book “Polling Matters”, tells me some 40-percent of the calls Gallup’s people make are to cell phones and the percentage will likely go up. “Gallup and the industry have been focused on dealing with the changes in how people communicate for years and are generally keeping abreast of it. The next challenge is conducting surveys using text and smart phones, but we are not quite there yet,” Newport says.

I could find no recent Gallup polls asking the same question as the Rasmussen poll, but when journalists, viewers, readers, and consumers of media see statistics, they should consider the source and the methodology.
Further, if we poll the parents of these children now attending public school, children who are learning English, history, civics, and other subjects citizens take for granted, there is a Gallup poll saying that illegal immigrants are coming to the United States for precisely this reason, education.

Note: Frank Newport, PhD is a Texan, a graduate of Baylor University, and a former broadcast journalist in Houston, now living in Princeton, New Jersey.

© Jim McNabb, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Big Night for Sports

Saints Vs. Texans and More

Wish you could see West Lake’s Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints take on the surging Houston Texans tonight (Saturday, August 20, 2011)? Can’t find a listing in the Austin American-Statesman’s Sports pages? Worried that it’s not being broadcast/telecast in Austin?

No worries.

The game is being shown at 7 p.m. on KNVA TV (CW), a place where you not expect.

The newspaper does list the game in its TV schedule and KNVA and Time Warner both confirm it.

So, if you have three TVs, you can watch the Saints vs. the Texans on KNVA, the Texas Rangers vs. the Chicago White Sox on WGN or TW 77, and the streaking Houston Astros (Yes, they have a winning streak going. Shocking!) on Fox Southwest—all at 7 p.m.

Find something cold in a 12 ounce can and pull up a chair.

© Jim McNabb, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

All Longhorns All the Time

Longing for Longhorns

The email subject line says: “Don't Make Bevo Angry. Call Time-Warner Today.” The sender is sports network ESPN.

The launch of the Longhorn Network powered by ESPN is only a week away. Yet there is no deal and no announcement of where or whether you will be able to see the Longhorn Network right here in the middle of Texas, Longhorn Nation, the Capital City, Austin, Texas.

“Time Warner Cable continues to have ongoing discussions with ESPN about the Longhorn Network, [and] we are hopeful to have an agreement in the near future,” said Eddie Diroff a TW customer service representative when asked about the Longhorn Network during an online “chat” session.

The email mentioned above leads me to think that ESPN negotiations may not be going well with the largest cable company in town and the second largest in the nation. Time Warner has a long history of going down to the wire with local TV stations and networks while arguing over the costs and revenue.

Now, it appears that ESPN is attempting to put pressure on the cable company by emailing subscribers. “Let Time Warner Know You Want the Longhorn Network Added to Your Cable Line-Up,” the email says. The statement is actually a link to Time Warner’s Facebook page where you are expected to post a plea for the cable to carry the Longhorn Network.

It may be also an attempt to ascertain demand for the fledgling channel. Demand could help answer the question of how much the channel is worth and possibly how many people might be willing to pay for its programming, including the Rice vs. UT game, September 3rd, scheduled to be shown exclusively on the Longhorn Network.

Diroff expects his “chats” to increase.

“With the upcoming launch of ESPN’s Longhorn Network on August 26, 2011 we anticipate increased calls from customers about the status of carriage on Time Warner Cable as customers [who] have seen advertising from ESPN creating awareness of the channel,” Diroff says. “As of today, no video provider has announced a deal to carry the Longhorn Network.”

Well, we all know that the Longhorn Network will be available on Time Warner Cable and probably Grande. Throw in Dish and Direct too.

I’d be willing to bet the farm that it will be a premium pay-to-view channel on Time Warner. Certainly, it will be in the digital tier where TW wishes all channels lived, but you will be able to see all Longhorns all the time.

© Jim McNabb 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is Rev. Al Sharpton a Journalist?

Who Is A Journalist?

New post at http://austin.culturemap.com/newsdetail/08-16-11-22-54-is-that-person-a-journalist/

newsmcnabb is now posting to CultureMap.Austin.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Headlines and Statistics--Bad Methods

What do you think of Obama? If you have a cell phone, the surveys don't care.

See the post at

newsmcnabb is now posting to CultureMap.Austin.