Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Another "wizard" is gone

By Don Keith
We lost one brilliant human being the other day.

I first met Courtney Haden when we were both students at Alabama. I knew right away he was smarter than the average Broadcast and Film Communication student, most of whom would have been happy to just graduate and then pull the midnight-to-six deejay shift on an AM in Clanton.

We sort of kept up with each other but I'll never forget the day he and Greg contacted me and asked if they could provide me a short comedy sketch bit on my morning show on WRKK K-99FM. Their demo of "4th Avenue Car Wash" was so brilliantly observational, bitingly on-point and goofily funny on so many levels it was an easy answer. Plus they were offering it free. It went on the air right away and ran for I-don't-remember-how-long. (I'm tearing the place apart hoping to find some cassettes of the show. Greg Bass? Help!)

I wondered but don't remember asking why they weren't doing a radio show somewhere. The medium desperately needed them. Soon they were, on Kix106. And it was good. No, it was TOO good. And I was glad I had moved on to Nashville and did not have to try to compete. He and Greg are among those "wizards" to whom I dedicated my novel, WIZARDS OF THE WIND, radio personalities who could work magic with a couple of microphones, a pair of turntables, and some tape cart machines.

Last time I saw Courtney, I was voicing a book at Boutwell Studios, a dry and verbose training manual for employees at some factory somewhere. He made it a fun experience. That was no small task, engineering efficiently while trying to stay awake and not giggle at my solemn, serious tone. We promised to get together soon and catch up on everything that has happened since 1968, but...well...you know how that goes.

Then, in this day of instant communication, I did not hear about Courtney's crossing the bar until this morning. I know one thing. If there is any way possible, he will pen a droll, astute, accurate, heart-breaking, hilarious article about the whole experience. And I'd read it and, as usual, wish I was half the writer he was.

I'll be checking upcoming issues of Weld and other local publications, just in case he finds a way.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How rapid technological change cost me almost $200

By Don Keith
Rapid technological change often brings us convenience and benefit we could not have even dreamed of a few years ago. Take booking a rental for our annual family beach trip. Once upon a time, such a transaction was conducted blindly, typically by mail, or on a long-distance telephone circuit.

Now, we are able to not only see and easily compare potential places, with rates, amenities, available dates, and more, but we can book them quickly and securely. It is especially helpful to be able to see photos of rooms to determine how beds will work for our brood, the size of the kitchen and living area, and to confirm the pool is not a plastic tub on stilts. Good stuff!

But I just learned a costly lesson. All that convenience and info may well mask the fact that you may encounter unexpected costs.

I'll try to make this quick, and hope it saves some of you some money. We were pretty sure of the property we wanted to rent. I Googled it and quickly found that it was actually rented by two different outfits, a local real estate company and VRBO.com.  The local outfit's website was lacking a bit in design convenience so I switched to VRBO to better peruse the pictures, rates, availability calendar, and other info. Both sites clearly showed identical rates and open dates so I went ahead and began the booking process on the VRBO site.

All was fine until I got to step two and noticed that the total price--including a $250 cleaning fee, a $100 administrative fee, and a whopping 11% lodging tax, all of which showed as additional charges on both websites--was still more than $200 higher than what it should have been.  It appeared to me that they may have charged me the "pet fee" though I clearly indicated in step 1 that we would have no pets with us.

So I reverted to the old-fashioned way and called the VRBO customer service number. A nice lady who spoke very difficult-to-understand English assured me my total rental would be exactly what I first expected and insisted that she stay on the line while I completed the online form, just in case I encountered other anomalies.  I tried but in only a moment or so, their nice form refused to accept the expiration date on my credit card, even though it is valid and I had entered it precisely as they told me to.

Again the hard-to-understand lady offered to enter the info on her end and get the reservation completed "before someone else takes the open week you want." I allowed her to do so.

"Have you read and agreed to our terms?" she asked at one point.

"No," I told her. "Your web site will not allow me to see them until sometime later in the process."

She assured me there was no commitment until I had accessed and read the terms, which I soon learned consisted of about six pages of tiny print.  While she waited, I skimmed it as well as I could and actually saw no issues. It was identical to other terms I had seen from other rentals in the past.  It did include the really scary info that unless you purchase their renter's insurance, you cannot cancel the agreement and get any of your money back, not even if there is a zombie apocalypse or the planet is destroyed by meteors. I did not want to pay over $300 for such protection, nor have I in the past, so I agreed to the terms.

Then, when she told me the grand total, it was the higher amount that had sent me to the toll free number in the first place. First, the cleaning fee was actually $275, not the $250 listed on both websites. "The owner probably raised the fee and we just have not updated the site," she told me.

OK. The clock was ticking. Vultures were probably swooping in and grabbing my week, the only one the entire family had decided would work for everyone.  But what about the rest of it?  Another $180?

"That is the VRBO charge...what we charge for handling the rental for the owner. It also covers our customer satisfaction guarantee. We cannot complete the rental unless you agree to that."

Dumb me, I assumed VRBO got their $180 whether I rented on their site, the real estate company's site, or directly from the owner.  I further assumed they had exclusivity and that I would pay no matter how I committed.  I swallowed hard and did the deal.

Minutes later, when I received an email receipt--from the local real estate company, NOT VRBO--I noticed the charge was the original smaller amount I had at first expected, plus the unexpected $25 of cleaning fee increase.  No $180 for VRBO's time and trouble and customer satisfaction guarantee.  Same with the email confirmation from my credit card company that I get anytime anything gets charged online.

I promptly called the real estate folks to see what was what.  They were extremely nice.  Even apologetic.  The lady--in a nice way--told me I was a sucker for going with VRBO and not using their site.

"But I thought VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) was cheaper or at least the same as you real estate guys," I whined.

"Rarely if ever," she said. "They charge the same rates we do plus a fee to cover their overhead and make a profit."

"That's not built into the rate?" I naively asked. "Your commission is."

"No. We always urge renters to use our site and not have to pay their fee."

"Where on your website do you urge us to do that?" I asked.

"We don't. We are afraid there may be legal ramifications."

"Legal ramifications for telling folks that the other guys charge more than you do?" I asked her incredulously. "Oh, and what about the additional $25 plus the 11% tax on it to clean up the joint after we vacate?"

"Oh, the owner must have raised the price and forgot to tell us."

"Shouldn't you make that change on your website?"

"I'll put in a work order but it may take several weeks."

Rapid technological change, indeed! But she did immediately volunteer to remove that charge from our total.  I also told her the credit card charge they had already done did not include the VRBO fee.

"They will run the card a second time for that," she assured me.  Indeed they did.  That bit of email news arrived by the time I had finished my chat with the nice lady.  And she remained nice, even when I fussed about how their website was funky and that was what sent me galloping over to VRBO in the first place.

I admit I was the typical gullible shopper.  I assumed too much.  I assumed VRBO was cheaper (or at least the same cost) as the local real estate guys.  Then I assumed the real estate people would charge me that extra fee if I worked through them instead of VRBO.  And that if I didn't nail down that one week we needed, it would be gone in an hour or two.

No, I should have told broken-English-lady at VRBO goodbye when she insisted I read all those pages of fine print and pay the unexpected fee.  And when she didn't immediately agree to honor the cleaning fee as it appeared on their website. Then I should have verified the price with the locals.

But it was so easy.  So convenient.  The pictures on the VRBO site were so beautiful.  Even when I hit a snag trying to rent online, there was the English-language-challenged lady perfectly willing to type stuff into the form for me.

And for all that technology, I ended up paying $180.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Latest suggestion for the AM broadcast band? Zap it!

by Don Keith N4KC

As noted in many previous posts, I am convinced that no amount of fiddling with arcane rules or tweaking technical regs will ever save the AM broadcast band.  Despite the fact that most of us baby-boomers grew up on AM radio, that whole side of over-the-air commercial broadcasting has been soundly whipped by FM.  And new challengers for aural attention--satellite, digital, in-car broadband, and more rapidly developing technology--have only hastened the service's inevitable demise.  It is beyond being on life support.

Now, an influential group has a rather dire but eminently practical suggestion for the new administration on what to do with AM: kill it.  Euthanize it. Put it out of its misery. But do so in a humane and fair way.

Read the article in INSIDE RADIO and you'll see what the group's thoughts are. I wholeheartedly agree.

Oh, and though I'm not sure which other radio-frequency services might have desires for 540 khz to 1700 khz, but we Amateur Radio operators sure would like to have some more room for our experimentation, public service activities and just plain fun.

One thing is for sure. With us on those frequencies, there would be more listeners than the current users have in most cities.

Friday, November 4, 2016

More bad news for traditional media...but no surprise

by Don Keith

It's no surprise...and especially to regular followers of this blog...that the revenue news from traditional media continues to decline in the face of rapid technological change. That change, of course, has radically affected how people consume media and how advertisers attempt to get their messages in front of those consumers.

Here's a recent blurb from MediaPost, which follows buying and selling of advertising, concerning yet another dip in the New York Times Company's revenue for the most recent quarter:

It’s worth noting that [circulation] revenues now make up 59.7% of NYTCO’s total, up from 41.3% in the third quarter of 2010. The proportion derived from advertising has fallen from 51.8% to 34.3% over the same period.

Share of print media income from circulation has not been so high in, I'd guess, decades. Advertising was the primary generator of revenue by far. And classified ads were a huge portion of that. Have you who still read newspapers noticed the size of your classified section? Were it not for legal ads, mandated by governmental entities, most newspapers' "want ads" would be a page or two on a good day. And note that this change in percentage of revenue does NOT mean people are paying more to subscribe. It means advertising revenue is dropping like an anvil.

But let's not just pick on the doomed newspaper biz. An interesting observation from research guru and blogger Mark Ramsey:

In TV, meanwhile, it’s well established that everything you see on your cable box (assuming you use a cable box) is being paid carriage fees by the cable operator. In other words, that’s not ad revenue, it’s subscription revenue, and you are paying for it directly through the middleman of Time Warner or DirecTV or U-Verse or Cox.

And that begs the question: How do traditional radio and TV charge customers for content as their revenue from ads goes down, down, down?

Yes, TV gets some money from cable systems and satellite companies in return for their signals being re-broadcast. But it will soon not be enough to off-set ad revenue declines. That and the time will come when cable and sats will be more than willing to drop local signals--where legal--when TV stations ask too much for carriage fees. You see the threats all the time now.

Radio? Assuming there was a way to charge listeners for the pleasure of getting "Rock 107, the Best of the '80s, '90s, Double Zeroes and Today!" how much would you be willing to cough up?  None, you say?  "I can get music streamed to me anytime anywhere, usually without commercials...even in my car and for free!"

That means traditional media will have to come up with other ways to make money off their brands besides ads in newspapers in driveways or commercials interrupting "We begin 13 Action Team News at 7 with breaking news, but first this word from the legal firm of..."

Web sites? It's been a struggle so far. But radio's and TV's survival depends on creative thinking and content worth seeking out. Content that is even worth paying for.

Sorry but I'm not optimistic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Your car, your Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, your dashboard future

by Don Keith

Anyone even mildly interested in new automobiles is certainly aware that one of the things that is changing most rapidly is the media and communications technology in the dashboard, and certainly when it comes to that big video screen in the middle. Thanks to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto--the current leaders by far for the in-vehicle entertainment system--our automobiles are quickly gaining almost unlimited information and entertainment possibilities.

A recent article in USA TODAY says:

The auto industry is racing to keep up with the growing demand. Less than a year ago, fewer than 50 vehicles were offering one or both, or were scheduled to. For the 2017 model year, the list has grown to more than 100, and more announcements are expected in the coming months. General Motors now offers both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on 30 models. Ford wasn’t even on the list a year ago, but for the 2017 model year it becomes the first full-line vehicle manufacturer to offer Android Auto and CarPlay on every vehicle line it sells.

For those unfamiliar with this sea-change, such technology simply makes the dashboard in your car an easy extension for the capabilities of your smart phone. From your car you can surf the web, watch video, listen to music, talk shows, and podcasts, get directions, check traffic, listen to music, listen to news, check your email, post on Facebook, write your blog post...hey, you get the idea! (Hopefully most of that not while driving.) You can even make telephone calls, as radical as that sounds.

I just bought a new Honda truck and was impressed that my lower end model allowed me to synch a Bluetooth phone or other device and easily make calls and such. That is only scratching the surface of what higher end models of my Ridgeline and many other cars now offer.

What does this mean to the constituencies of this blog? Amateur radio?  Broadcasting and other media?

Lots. Hams can now worry about new ways our mobile radios can interfere with the stuff that all the other occupants of our vehicles really want to watch, see and listen to. We will have to be even more conscious of RF interference in these systems, just as we were when electronic gas injection and the ubiquitous computer first appeared in motor cars. Remember keying the mic to talk and having the car stop dead in the middle of the freeway?

Broadcasters? Even though the traditional AM/FM radios are not going away (though some manufacturers no longer supply an AM receiver as a standard offering), the fact that people in cars--who once had few other choices besides broadcast radio--have a literal worldwide web of potential media offerings they can consume. You can only imagine what that effect will be on Rock 107 with its stream of a couple hundred high-testing classic rock songs played over and over and 15 minutes of commercials each hour...and few other reasons to listen.

Amateur Radio operators and car manufacturers will figure out ways to minimize potential interference. That is what we do.

Broadcasters, on the other hand, either don't have a clue or are not willing to do what they must to try to keep people from turning down (or off) their radios so they can use all that other exciting technology that sits there less than an arm's length away as they zoom down the highway.

If they are not listening to radio, ratings go down. If ratings go down, revenue decreases. If revenue decreases, today's over-the-air broadcasters will do more of what they have been doing. Fire all non-essential personnel. Chop sales training. Pay lower commissions to sales reps. Order them to make more cold calls rather than develop true marketing plans for potential ad clients. Automate something else. Forget research and promotion. Sell more commercials for less dollars per announcement. Run fifteen or twenty commercials back-to-back after "107 minutes of commercial-free music!" Postpone maintenance on studio and transmitter equipment. Cut benefits for employees. Blame the ratings companies when audience declines. That is, do whatever you have to do to make cash flow look positive to blow smoke for stockholders, Wall Street analysts, or the venture capitalists who invested in your group in the first place.

And continue to wonder why things are going downhill so quickly. Damn rapid technological change!


Thursday, September 29, 2016

It only took eighteen years

by Don Keith

In a previous life, your blogger worked with a company called Arbitron.  They were the guys that measured and syndicated radio listening estimates and pretty much had the market to themselves.  While I was there--and a member of the executive team--I had the opportunity to observe and discuss progress on a radical new way to determine radio listening.  They were developing a system in which every radio station would include a digital signature in their over-the-air audio which could not be heard by listeners but could be detected by a small device they were to call the Portable People Meter, or PPM.  The PPM would be worn or carried in a purse by "panel members" and would, without any input by the person carrying it, record what stations were actually being heard...or if there was any listening at all.  The person would drop the device into a charger sometime during the day and it would not only recharge the battery but would also dial up a telephone number and dump all the day's data into the Arbitron computers.

Considering that all of Arbitron's measurement of radio listening audience was then being done by providing volunteers with little paper diaries that they were to complete and mail back in to show what stations they listened to, I felt this new technology would result in much more accurate and complete data.  See, as a former radio station personality, manager, programmer and owner, I knew the archaic diary methodology was rife with what statisticians like to call "artifacts," quirks that made the data less accurate.  Plus, it was just downright expensive and it was also getting more and more difficult to recruit volunteers--especially in certain age and ethnic groups--willing to keep a written diary of their actual listening for a whole week.

Yes, there would be problems with the PPM, too.  We knew that.  Major among them was the cost of developing the devices, the framework necessary to upload data to our computers, and replacing lost or broken devices...once we found out they were no longer working.  And, of course, the considerable cost of perfecting the technology in the first place.  To help pay for it, we anticipated the assistance of other potential partners, chief among them being Nielsen, our equivalent on the TV viewing audience measurement side.

We saw the PPM as a superior way of gathering passive, single-source, multimedia data.  The digital signal could be employed on any medium that made a noise.  That included both radio and TV and in all their variations -- internet streaming, out-of-home, satellite (like XM), and much more -- and would give invaluable data on media usage habits since the same person would measure all media at the same time, not just through a paper diary, a set-top TV box, or by answering a random telephone call during dinner.  We would not only know where they went when they dialed off their favorite station, but if they went to TV or to satellite.  Of if they simply consumed no media at all, which is also valuable to know.

Nielsen was agreeable.  They realized the potential to their business, too.

Sometime later, though, and after I had left Arbitron (believe me, there is no connection), Nielsen apparently cooled on the PPM and stopped financial support.  I have no idea why.

Then, a few years ago, Nielsen bought Arbitron.  Few speculated it had anything to do with PPM.  Most felt that they just saw a new potential market they could capture in one fell swoop...or by writing one big check, anyway.

Now, almost eighteen years after we came up with the idea, I see the headline in today's INSIDE RADIO:

Nielsen To Use PPM To Measure Local TV Viewing.
Nielsen will use the Portable People Meter to measure local TV viewing in 44 markets where the meter is currently used to track local radio audiences, the company announced Thursday. Deploying the PPM for double duty will enable the measurement giant to double local TV sample sizes and introduce out-of-home TV measurement in the 44 markets.  
More details at insideradio.com

Okay, some of the PPM problems we foresaw remain.  A few we never anticipated have cropped up.  But potentially, the technology can provide the same passive, single-source, multimedia consumption, and provide the reasonably accurate data we thought it might.  It appears Nielsen finally decided the same thing.

Look, it is not just radio and TV stations that need reliable listening and viewing estimates.  It is advertisers, too, who spend billions and need to be sure it is going to the stations and programming content that can actually help them sell stuff.

But it is also a good thing for listeners and viewers.  Unless programmers know what people are listening to or watching, and where they go when they leave their station or channel, they won't be nearly as responsive to public demand as they could be.

Maybe the PPM is not the absolute best.  There are others working on some exciting technology but it hasn't happened yet.  And it's not like stations and advertisers can go to the other TV or radio ratings company.  Right now, it is almost entirely Nielsen.

And it appears that big hulk of a monopoly has finally awakened and realized what they have with the PPM.

Friday, September 16, 2016

An open letter to my local newspaper -- part deux

By Don Keith

This is a follow-up to my previous post, a diatribe against what is left of my market's "daily" newspaper, THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS.  It is yet another example of a mass medium attempting to survive in the face of rapid technological change and the almost overwhelming shift in how people consume media in the 21st century.

And, like other media I follow (especially broadcast radio and over-the-air and network TV), and despite their attempts to remain viable, all they can seem to do is ignore their customers--current and potential--while theoretically trying to find a way to continue to exist.

I gave an example of how the NEWS attempted to do this by suddenly offering four "enhanced feature editions" a year as well as a Thursday special edition on Thanksgiving Day with all those Black Friday ads...whether subscribers wanted these editions or not.  They would simply and happily cut subscriptions short by enough to cover the costs of these wonderful but not-necessarily-desired specials and bill the renewal earlier than they were supposed to.  Earlier than we poor subscribers had agreed to allow them to do.

UPDATE:  I received an email a few days after my rant to the so-called customer service department that they had opted me out of the first "special edition." I assume that means I won't pay for it.  No mention of the other three coming up.  Or the Turkey Day extravaganza.

I must not have been the only one with a beef.  There is now a special mailbox on their confusing and routinely ignored automated telephone answering system devoted to questions about those very "special editions."  How do I know about that dedicated voicemail box?  Let me tell you...

Our "daily" paper only publishes on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.  However, one thing I could usually count on was that the paper would show up in my driveway on those days, usually well before 6 AM.  While about everything else is wrong with the paper...lack of line editing, huge pictures taking up editorial space, outdated stories, no follow up on continuing stories, same story appearing in multiple sections of the same edition...I felt I could at least get the beast delivered.

Not today.  No paper.  I waited until after 9 AM to report it.  That operation requires going through a gamut of "Push 1 to turn off delivery for vacation, push 2 to cancel your subscription, etc." before finally getting to "Push 7 to report a missing, damaged or wet paper."  It may not have been 7 but it was on down the list.)

Ding!  "7" led to another lengthy list of possibilities before I finally got a recording asking if I was calling from the number associated with my account.  It didn't tell me what to do if it was so I said, "Yes."  "We apologize for any inconvenience.  We will redeliver your newspaper within 90 minutes."  Click.  Call disconnected.

Three hours later, still no paper.  I go through the whole routine again, including choosing the number...9...that is supposed to allow me to speak to an Alabama Media Group operator. A live person.  Precisely what I need in order to explain my frustration and maybe get some satisfaction.

It rings and rings and rings and, after about five minutes, disconnects me.  I dutifully dial back, but this time I let the out-of-work former female disk jockey go through all the options on both menus before she says something about speaking to a customer service representative.  Ding.  But I do not get a human at all.  I should mention that at several junctures, I was informed that the company was experiencing unusually high phone volume and the wait might be considerable.  After fifteen minutes on hold, I availed myself of their insistent offer to call me back when my turn came up.

I had my doubts about that particular promise but they actually did call me back after about twenty minutes.  And it was a human being on the other end of the line.  Eureka!  But the young fellow quickly made it clear he could not help me with a delivery issue.  That would have to come from the customer service department, the very bunch for whom I was holding when I opted to get called when they could finally find the time to speak with me. But he interrupted my attempt to so inform him to tell me he would transfer me and immediately did just that.  Maybe he was just tired of calling all of us back.  Or having us question the marital status of his parents.

Guess what.  I got the "high volume of calls" message and the offer to call me back should they ever have a free rep to get me my paper.  After about ten minutes holding, hearing that message over and over, I was about to once again hang up and start all over when a sleepy-voiced, very depressed-sounding lady came on the line. She assured me they would have me a paper within 90 minutes, that my usual guy was off today and his replacement was running behind.

Poor planning on someone's part, I thought, but it could happen.  I thanked her and waited.  Understand this is now about 11:30 AM.  The fill-in guy really was running behind!  By more than six hours!

Two more hours of my dwindling life whiz on by and still no paper has been tossed onto my lawn.

I begin dialing again but there have now been subtle changes in the convolution that is Alabama Media Group's exotic phone tree.  Now, when I finally get to the department to which they insist I go, I am told by the out-of-work DJ that the customer service department is only open until 1 PM, and only on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.  I am welcomed to leave a message and someone will eventually contact me to resolve my issue.  They have shut down customer service without rectifying my seemingly simple problem!  I do leave a message, and, I admit, my demeanor and language does not reflect my usual calm and understanding nature.  I cuss some.  I yell.  I plead.

Finally, at about 3, I call back and begin hitting--in my search for anyone who is not previously recorded or gone home for the day--the buttons for the newsroom (rings and rings for five minutes and finally disconnects...thank goodness I didn't have a big news tip for them!), classifieds (rings about ten times before I give up), and, finally, retail advertising.  I figure if anybody will enthusiastically answer the phone it would be a salesperson trying to fill with paid ads all that space in the paper now occupied by full-page photos and ads for upcoming Alabama Media Group "special editions."

Someone answers!  Never mind the circuit is so distorted we can hardly understand each other.  Before I can even explain that I am not calling to buy space, that it involves getting a copy of the very rag for which she sells ads, she hurriedly tells me she will transfer me to customer service.  Maybe she could tell by my voice that there was no commission in it for her if she talked with me.

"No! No!" I scream, trying to let her know there ain't nobody there until Sunday morning and I'll be in that never-ending high-volume-of-calls-but-we-can-call-you-back-when-it-is-your-turn diatribe and will only be allowed to leave yet another profane voice mail  But she has already hit the button.  Well, it is a different extension apparently.  This time I get a message that I have reached "technical support" and should leave a message so a "supervisor" can get back to me "soon."  Never mind the message sounds as if it was recorded inside a culvert beneath a city street.  I once again leave a blistering but likely incoherent--except for the select Anglo-Saxonisms typically uttered by gentlemen from the docks--message about my plight.

It is 4:15 PM as I type this.  The paper has not arrived yet though many "90 minutes" have come and gone.  I cannot go subscribe to another paper.  There isn't one.  Yes, I could go online and read what passes for news on AL.com, but frankly, it is a frustrating experience, filled with dead-end links, ads that creep in and obliterate whatever it is I am trying to read, and others that start playing at a painful volume somewhere on the page where I can't find it to try to turn it off before it fractures my computer speakers.  I could also read the online mock-up of the actual printed paper but it requires constant squinting to determine if I want to enlarge an article or ad to be able to see it, and is so clunky to operate it is the equivalent of an hour on a treadmill just trying to do the Jumble.

I suppose I could even climb in the truck and run down to Kangaroo and get a pack of jerky, a Red Bull, and this morning's BIRMINGHAM NEWS.  But principle forbids.

Look, Tuscaloosa, Jasper, Cullman and other smaller cities surrounding Birmingham have daily papers.  They can all manage to publish and stay afloat with a paper that shows up every day of the week.  From what I hear, they usually manage to get a copy onto the property of subscribers with a modicum of dependability.  Yet in a media market of better than a million souls, one with a proud tradition of print journalism that has included several Pulitzer Prize winners, Alabama Media Group cannot manage to get it done in Birmingham, Alabama.

As an experienced observer of media of all types, I understand the challenges facing traditional print media.  I really do.  But why hasten the inevitable by doing such a terrible job of trying to keep happy those few customers they have left?  Can't they simply do their best to serve us until we all die off and they can fold the paper once and for all?

Even when they get around to printing up a paper, it now appears they can't even find anybody to drive it out to my place and toss it in the gutter.  No, even as they fumble all the other aspects of putting together a newspaper, they now seem intent on messing up the most basic facet of all:

Fulfilling the sacred agreement they have made with subscribers to actually deliver the damn thing to them!