Friday, April 14, 2017

FM Radio May Become Obsolete Sooner Than You Think

About ten years ago I abandoned FM radio. With the exception of two power outages that required me to use the battery-operated radio on top of my refrigerator to stay connected to the outside world, the majority of my listening originates from Internet radio. Practically every radio station in the country is available to listen via live streaming with a push of a button. If I like the music they play over a radio station at one of the Delaware Beaches, I simply google the station and click "listen now." A radio station in San Francisco that plays 1970s classic rock offers a better selection of songs than the local station here in Pennsylvania. 

In the last few years I found myself listening to CDs so often that I failed to renew my Sirius/XM contract. I enjoyed commercial-free radio and did not mind paying for it. But the Internet offers the same with larger options. With these facts it will come as no surprise to you that the country of Norway, three months ago, did away with FM radio altogether. And according to a recent article in The Telegraph by Henry Bodkin, published April 13, the country of England may be the next to follow.

According to the article, Internet Radio use in the U.K. "is now at record levels, with 48 million adults listening to more than 1bn hours each week in the last three months of 2016, according to industry monitor Rajar. The Government has said that once that milestone is reached it will undertake a review which could result in the FM signal being switched off." Some who read this may laugh but let us be honest: we change with the times or the times change without us. 

At a crab feast this past summer, at my Uncle's house, I overheard retro jazz music playing from the speakers. I asked my Uncle what station he was listening to. He said Pandora. That is the website where you can custom your playing list based on preferences. Type "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby and you will hear multiple songs similar in nature. A cool feature retail stores have picked up on.

At a friend's house last month I observed his 14-year-old daughter listening to music with her iPhone and headphones. I asked her what she was listening to. It was not music. It seems one of her classmates has a weekly radio program on Friday nights and then puts his program on the web as a podcast. She was catching up with a recent broadcast. I asked her if she knew how many listeners he had. She flipped a screen to his home page and showed me the public stats. Her fellow classmate had more than 6,000 unique listeners. Quite a following. I questioned whether she knew how to operate an FM radio because she was a Millennial, born in an era when all communication stems from the Internet.

Incidentally, the one trend I prefer to avoid is politics. Talk radio can be addictive and it is estimated more than half of the factoids expressed over Internet talk radio is inaccurate, giving Snopes.com a run for their money. No greater threat was evident than the recent Presidential election when more than half of the postings on Facebook regarding today's politics were inaccurate. "You don't listen to talk radio?" a friend asked me a few months ago. "Nope," was my response. "Because it's all talk." What I do listen to are comic book geeks discussing their favorite moments of the latest big screen adaptation, with commentary that is often thought-provoking. Walden Hughes has a program on Saturday night focusing on old-time radio. I listen as often as I can over YesterdayUSA.com. To add, last week I was pulling garden weeds while my iPhone was playing Seeds of Awakening, a collection of yoga-themed music someone posted on Soundcloud. 

Which leads me to the thought of the week: statistically the digital revolution is embraced with open arms in growing numbers. But whether you want to listen to Roy Rogers serenade cowgirls, old-time radio programs or Broadway/movie soundtracks, consider exploring your Internet options now. In a few years the United States Government may consider switching off FM signals. A situation considered unthinkable a few years ago will eventually become a reality. Just give it a few years.

Friday, April 7, 2017

New Books, Old Subjects: Book Reviews

Don't you hate it when good books fall under the radar and we almost miss a good thing? That happened last month when I picked up two books about passionate subjects of mine: The Shadow and silver screen cowboys. With today's technology print-on-demand opens the door for good reads that might otherwise be rejected by major publishing houses. The con here is that publicity is trimmed down to a point that one has to shoot a cannon in a crowded street to promote a book. With that in mind I would like to light the fuse and bring to your attention two good books that warrant mention -- books that otherwise might have gone overlooked. 

Ed Hulse, editor and publisher of the award-winning Blood 'n' Thunder magazine, wrote a book extensively covering the cinematic world of The Shadow, a.k.a. Kent Allard, a.k.a. Lamont Cranston. After a thorough retrospective of the pulp rendition, The Shadow Magazine, Ed explores every film short, television pilot and movie rendition of The Shadow. Starting with the Universal film shorts of 1931 and progressing to the 1994 Alec Baldwin movie, the various incarnations of The Shadow are explored: the haunting voice of conscience that doubled as a horror host, the radio announcer who turned detective, the cloaked figure from the 1940 Columbia Pictures cliffhanger serial, the often-comedic rendition from Monogram, the two television pilots (invisible crime fighter and mystic mind-clouder) and plot summaries from un-produced screenplays from the 1980s.

If Ed Hulse was delivering a slide show about the history of The Shadow in cinema, Flickering Shadows: How the Master of Darkness Brightened the Silver Screen would be a transcription from his presentation. Ed provides commentary and opinion about each of the films, trivia regarding budgets and production dates, and sprinkles his work with photographs from promotional posters, press books and glossies.

While there have been books published on the subject of The Shadow, pulps and old-time radio, which incorporated briefs about the motion-pictures, it was great to see a book devoted solely to the motion-pictures under one cover, even if the book comes just under 100 pages. 

You can purchase a copy of the book here:


For many people, the mention of names like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger bring to mind images of good-guy cowboys of TV's Old West, riding famous horses to chase bad guys across a small black-and-white TV screen. Those same western heroes are also remembered for their iconic status as role models -- heroes who embodied a sense of fair play and standing up for what it right as they championed the cause of the oppressed. As a friend of mine once described, "We had real heroes then. People to look up to and aspire, and every story taught a moral."

Matthew McKenzie wrote Creeds, Codes and Cowboy Commandments, exploring the moral compass that assisted our heroes and icons, which paved the way for a generation of baby boomers who today still live out the values of decent living. As with organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, cowboy heroes established safety clubs that were approved by Parent-Teachers Associations. There was the Roy Rogers Safety Club, for example, with such codes as "Study hard and learn all you can," "Always obey your parents" and "Love God and go to Sunday School regularly." Roy himself, in those film shorts syndicated to theater chains, reminded children that the best members were those who lived up to the values on the back of their membership card. Roy opened those film shorts with a quick prayer to the Lord.

"Roy never passed up an opportunity to do good work," author Bobby Copeland once remarked. "He visited children's hospitals whenever he could, he gave money to lots of charities; he didn't like to talk about it though, he just did these things. He was very concerned about being a good model for kids."

It seemed every cowboy hero had their set of creeds and codes from Buck Jones, The Lone Ranger and Bobby Benson. Such creeds were carefully selected to represent passages of the Holy Bible, pleasing to any concerned parent looking over the shoulder of their little one. Wild Bill Hickok (Guy Madison) had nine rules in The Wild Bill Hickok Deputy Marshal's Code of Conduct, from "I will be neat and clean at all times" to "I will protect the weak and help them." God and country were also included: "I will respect my flag and my country" and "I will attend my place of worship regularly." 

Anyone who took the time to revisit those old telecasts of Howdy Doody know what I am talking about. How many times did Buffalo Bob close the broadcast reminding children: "Don't forget church and Sunday School."

Matt dedicated one chapter for each of the major cowboy heroes, documenting not just the safety clubs, Cowboy Code of Honor and the rules, but also reprinted the collectibles that children received in the mail after writing to the stations and networks. Biblical connections that were the initial inspiration for many of the creeds and codes is unraveled, along with storylines and dialogue from selected episodes. Matt did a great job reminding us that our favorite cowboy stars lived their lives setting a good example. As William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy) said in an issue of TV-Radio Mirror,  he never drank or smoked because "I'll never willingly disillusion one person who believes in Hoppy."

Matt's book can be purchased here: