Friday, February 21, 2020

Revive In Style

A new Broadway revival of West Side Story just opened and it's not only a revival but also a reimagination. The song "I Freel Pretty" as been dropped (perhaps a little too creepily objectifying in 2020) and the choreography is more hip hop. Also, the great musical Company is soon to be revived and this time Bobbie is a woman.

There are some people who don't like the idea of old musicals being reimagined but I'm all for it: art shouldn't be static, it shouldn't be frozen in time. It should live and change -- just like life!

Mike & The Media

C'est tres gauche to declare yourself ahead of your time but goshdarnit if Mr NYC wasn't ahead of his time in calling out how the media covered Mike Bloomberg during his 12 years as mayor.

As the former mayor and current multi-billionaire campaigns for president, breaking all spending records in the process, his time as mayor is coming under scrutiny. This is only fair for someone who governed -- really ruled -- the nation's biggest city for more than a decade and is now asking to be promoted to the nation's highest office. Certainly, if Bloomberg wins the nomination as president, I'll vote for him but cannot say I'm excited at the process.

But what's also coming under scrutiny is how Bloomberg was able to shut down the ususal media barrage of criticism and complaints and "disses" that every mayor and public official has to deal with. With his money, he basically bought off special interest groups that would otherwise break his balls and he intimidated the press into giving him glowing coverage. Now he's trying to do the same thing at the national level -- but it isn't working.

Perfect example of how Bloomberg was covered vs. De Blasio, his successor: whenever De Blasio goes to the gym to work out for an hour, the media slams him. When Bloomberg flew to Bermuda on his private plane every weekend, the media said nothing. 

Read this big article about how Bloomberg "owned" the NYC media as mayor and then read some of blog posts from 2007-2013 -- and you'll see how prescient yours truly was in seeing how this mayor and possible president operated then -- and now. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Interview: Allan Sniffen of the New York Radio Message Board

Long before social media conquered the Internet -- and our world -- message boards were the original go-to-places for people to debate and give their opinions on various issues online. Most of these message boards have vanished but one is still going strong – the New York Radio Message Board founded by Allan Sniffen. 

The NYRMB has faithfully tracked the ups-and-downs, and unending changes, of the NYC radio business since 1996. I discovered the message board in 2002/2003 in the aftermath of the Opie and Anthony St. Patrick’s debacle that generated headlines about how far “shock radio” would go to cross lines of decency in pursuit of ratings. What I also discovered about the message board were how many people in the radio business posted to it, and how informative and intelligent most of the discussions were. This was and remains all due to Allan’s diligent oversight and curation of the message board, -- keeping it a smart and civil platform for radio professionals and fans to congregate. 

Allan was kind enough to answer Mr. NYC questions about the NYRMB and the evolution of music and talk radio in NYC in the 21st century. And he also tells us what made him a lifelong radio fan – and how, in radio, talent is everything. 

Tell us briefly about the history of the NYRMB and what inspired you to create it?

I started the Musicradio WABC web site in 1996. I thought it would be interesting to have visitors comment on that era of WABC so I created the message board in 1997. After a few weeks it was obvious that there was only so much to discuss about a radio station that had changed its format years earlier so I decided to shift the focus to current radio topics. It needed to have a catalyst to prod response so that was the role I took on. 

Why do you think the board has lasted for as long as it has? What has made so many people in the NYC radio business flock to it for so many years? 

My conception for the NYRMB is for educated and informed commentary. I don't want poorly written, cheap shots under phony names. I have always encouraged quality over quantity of both posts and posters. 

What topics and/or radio personalities generate the most discussion -- and controversy -- on the board?

The more provocative and polarizing a personality, the more response. Bob Grant. Opie and Anthony. Rush Limbaugh. Howard Stern. They all invite (or invited) controversy so listeners tend to either love them or hate them. Consequently, they make good board topics. Radio station format changes also tend to inspire commentary especially if former formats were once very popular. WNEW-FM dropping rock. WCBS-FM becoming Jack. WRKS ("Kiss-FM") abandoning its urban format. WPLJ giving up its legacy. 

What are some of the biggest NYC radio stories it has covered since it came into being?

WNEW-FM dropping its rock format (1999), Opie and Anthony's St. Patrick’s fiasco (2003), WCBS-FM becoming Jack (2005) and returning to "Greatest Hits (2007), media consolidation (over the last two decades), lack of a country music station (up until 2012), retirements of great Top 40 DJ's (Dan Ingram, Harry Harrison, Dan Daniel and others), WPLJ dropping its heritage (last year). 

How has media consolidation and technology (i.e. streaming and podcasting) changed the music and talk radio landscape? 

Media Consolidation: We now have clusters of stations competing with other clusters (as with iHeart Media competing against Entercom). It used to be a single station verses other single stations. Today, you don't pick a format in a vacuum. You have to consider how it fits into your cluster and how it will compete against the other corporations' clusters. Plus, obviously, consolidation has eliminated many, many jobs. 

New Technology: 

Music formats: Streaming from Pandora, Spotify and Apple have created tremendous competition to conventional music radio. If the only thing a listener wants is his or her favorite songs, new technology is a better alternative. It can be better tailored to each listener and has no commercials. 

Talk formats: There are so many podcasts that the sheer number of alternatives has splintered off many talk radio listeners. That's especially true for young listeners. Plus radio hasn't significantly updated the talk format. It's mostly the same as it was 25 years ago on low quality sounding AM. 

In the years since the message board started, how has the radio business in NYC changed in your observation and opinion? 

Consolidation changed everything. There are fewer and fewer jobs that pay less and less money. Radio is billing only about 30% of what it used to. Any business that has a drop like that must reduce costs. Listeners frequently don't understand that and are quick to condemn their local station. Unfortunately it's a much bigger problem than a single station or manager. That said, all is not lost for conventional radio. It's not going anywhere because it has its own advantages. It's easy to receive (radios that don't drop out and no data fees). It reaches lots of people quickly and in real time. It can provide a human connection. The business of radio needs to remember those assets and use them. 

In the era of Fox News and numerous conservative web sites, is right-wing talk radio still as relevant as it used to be? Also, how will it survive with an aging and less commercially desirable demographic -- or is it more resilient than people might imagine?

Right wing talk radio has done well because it's entertaining. It's not about politics. New York City is politically liberal yet it has spawned many successful conservative talk show hosts (Bob Grant, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and more). Fox News learned that from the talk radio format. Make it entertaining and people will listen (or watch).

The problem with today's talk radio format is that it's mostly on AM and has stagnated over the last 25 years because it can't appeal to younger listeners with its poor sound quality. AM can't program "younger". The result is the same people have kept the same jobs for much longer than they would have in previous eras when they would have aged out. Media prefers younger listeners because advertisers will pay more for them. Since AM is stuck with older listeners for technical reasons the talk radio format has stayed with the same hosts for decades. That will only work until everyone, listeners and hosts, get too old. AM radio's future is not a bright one. 

It seems like shock jocks have faded into history. Opie and Anthony are no more. Don Imus is dead. Howard Stern has been on satellite for almost 15 years and is nowhere near as outrageous as he used to be. What do you think happened? 

Younger talent is not getting much opportunity on radio. The business won't pay or encourage them. At the same time, new media has spawned many podcast and streaming stars. A few have broken out as with Ben Shapiro but even he relies more on his podcast base than on his AM radio listeners. Traditional radio doesn't want to take a chance. Howard Stern cost Infinity/CBS-Radio (now Entercom) a fortune to both pay and defend. It was worth it on a business basis in the '80's and '90's but radio is not going to make that kind of investment today. Too expensive and too risky. 

What made you fall in love with radio and who are some of your favorite radio personalities? 

For me, the most fun radio ever was Top 40 radio of the sixties and seventies. Dan Ingram is my obviously my favorite but I liked almost everyone from that era on WABC, WMCA, WPLJ, WOR-FM, 99X (and others). Not all were from New York. John Landecker at WLS/Chicago. The "Real" Don Steele at KHJ/Los Angeles. The great Top 40 DJ's could generate excitement and enthusiasm over a 10 second song intro and then come back and do it again 2 minutes later. It sounded like fun because it was in real time, unscripted and fast paced. I try to create that feeling on my Rewound Radio live shows. 

Finally, what makes NYC radio so endlessly fascinating? 

Change and evaluating what works and what doesn't. Great radio ideas can fail for one of two reasons. Was the concept a bad idea or was it a good idea that was executed poorly? Figuring out which is like evaluating a baseball team and its players. That said... radio is less interesting than it used to be. It's becoming more and more homogenized with managers taking fewer and fewer risks. Personality radio is less in both quantity and quality on almost all formats. Anyone can play music or read a political press release. The talent is surrounding those basics with entertainment. 

Thanks Allan!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A Ride on the New York Subway - In 1972

Last week the MTA formally retired the R-42 model subway cars from circulation, the oldest ones remaining in the fleet. They had been shuttling New Yorkers around since 1969, half a century  of loyal service. The R-42s were rather dull but very solid cars with unbroken grey seats and wide spaces, acommodating a lot of people.

The subways have evolved a great deal in the last 50 years, going from a literal hell-whole to something out of the space age.

In late 1972, Vivian Gornick wrote a now classic essay about the nightmare that was the then-NYC subway. With great narrative detail, she paints the picture of a system -- and a city -- on the verge of collapse, a repository of societal failure.

Today, obviously, the city and the subway are much improved -- and the R-42s witnessed this change first-hand.

Crispin Glover's Infamous Letterman Appearance - 1987

Friday, February 14, 2020

Review: "Out for Justice" (1991)

There are many great NYC movies. Out for Justice is NOT one of them.

But while it's a very DUMB movie, it's also a very FUN movie. Lemme 'splain why:

Steven Segal, one of our great screen thespians, plays a goomba cop from Dyker Heights, Brooklyn named Gino Felino (yes, that's the fellow's name). Anyway, Gino's from da' neighba-hood and he's determined to bring down a goomba mobster named Richie Madano who's murdered Gino's goomba partner Bobby Lupo. (It's a movie that consists entirely of Goombas, many years before "Jersey Shore" mainstreamed them.) Anyway, the whole movie consists of Gina prowling around Brooklyn, lookin' for Richie, committing much violence along the way. "Anyone know why Richie did Bobby Lupo?" is Gina's constant, unanswered refrain, usually delivered before hurting someone really bad. Then he finds Richie, more violence ensues, and it's over. Complex it is not. 

But, you see, Gino's not "out for revenge" -- oh no, he's "out for justice." All of his violence is justified. This was the early 1990s, after all, when crime in NYC and the nation was very high, so the idea of ultra-violent cops delivering punitive justice was a more palatable idea than it is today. Got it?

The plot of this movie is secondary to the numerous scenes where Segal demonstrates his superior abilities at beating people up. There's a small subplot where Gino gets back together with his estranged wife -- "Are we talkin' reconcilliation, ova' here?" is a real line -- plus we learn that our hero is also an animal lover (the movie ends with his puppy urinating on a man's head which is played for yucks and is one of the more lighthearted moments in the film). Shockingly, this stupid but very entertaining movie boasts a great cast (other than Segal): Jerry Orbach, Gina Gerson, John Leguizamo, a pre-Sopranos Dominic Chianese and a pre-ER Julianna Margulies are all in it. And there's also a great early Beastie Boy's song -- "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn." 

This is a great movie to watch with a bunch of your friends while drinking heavily and yelling at the screen. In fact, there's no other way to watch it.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

"No Schmutz!"

The Mighty Page Six

In this era of social media and the eradication of newspapers, gossip columns and pages are dying.

But Page Six still thrives.

Because it's not a particular column but mostly a bulletin board for gossip, it has outlasted many a columnist and competitor. It's been around since January 1977 so it has outlived many an era in this constantly changing city. However, like NYC, it's not what it used to be -- Page Six used to be decidedly nasty, vicious, making the big and powerful look small. These days, it's much more gentle and benign.

This long history of Page Six is definately worth a read if you're interested in the background of a  particularly weird and powerful NYC institution. 

Buy Chinese!

The coronavirus has hit China and other places hard -- but, fortunately, not NYC (at least not yet). 

That said, Chinese New Yorkers are suffering economically from this. Due to the virus's Chinese origins, Chinese businesses and Chinatowns in NYC are seeing reduced activity. 

This is bigotry, pure and simple.

So Mr NYC encourages all his 8.6 million fellow citizens to go out and buy Chinese. Go to your nearest China town and buy something! Anything! Order Chinese food (I did last night)! 

NYC is not the great city we love without a thriving Chinese and Asian population. Chinese New Yorkers are our fellow citizens -- they aren't just like us, they are us! 

So go out and BUY Chinese! Today and every day!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Farewell Fairway

Within the din of our country's accelerated slide into fascism is that the fact that the NYC supermarket institution Fairway will soon cease to exist.

Founded on the Upper West Side in 1933, Fairway was for decades the original upscale grocery superstore. Go into your typical Fairway and you could find every kind of olive and olive oil and ground coffee bean and fresh bread and pastries and delicious soups as well as seafood and meat and deliciously prepared meals. 

To walk into a Fairway, for me, was heaven. 

By 2007 it had expanded -- to four stores in NYC and one in New Jersey. Then it was bought by  a private equity firm and did the classic private equity hussle: it loaded the company up with debt, rapidly and irresponsibly overexpanded, became financially unsustainable, paid their executives ridiculous salaries -- and now is bankrupt. Soon all Fairways will close, a nearly century-long legacy eradicated by greed and mismanagement. 

It's aggravating because this is a tragedy not caused by gentrification or the Internet or any of the other usual suspects but just by bumbling by rich people.