If you like trivia, check out my other site, THE HARRIS CHALLENGE, and play every weekday!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Obama: the Syria situation is so horrific that we're not going to do anything about it for at least 10 more days. Take that, Assad!
  • Obama to Congress: I look forward to the debate. Translation: My argument's already in PowerPoint. Yours is still in pencil. On a napkin.
  • Seriously, nice to see a former constitutional law professor turned President invoke the war powers clauses of The Constitution.

Fred Melamed and Joe Cipriano

I have raved about Lake Bell's movie, "In A World," a romantic comedy about the world of voiceover artists and the attempts by one woman to break into the male-dominated world of voicing movie trailers. It's funny, insightful, and different -- in a good way.

Yesterday, I talked with an actor who co-stars in the movie, Fred Melamed, who has also done lots of voice work for about 20 years. We were joined by Joe Cipriano, one of the top TV voiceover guys, who makes a cameo appearance in the film. I asked them why there aren't more women doing that job, what it was in the script that made Fred want to play the role, about their relationship with Don LaFontaine (the late king of voiceovers), and how they started their careers in radio.

You'll hear samples of both Fred and Joe's work during the interview, along with a very funny scene from "In A World." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/31/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a very fast shopping cart, raccoon trouble, and an odd marijuana delivery system. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Harris Challenge 8/30/13

This week's Harris Challenge includes the categories "Letterman's 20th," "Labor Day Multiple Choice," and "High School Movies." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

From My Twitter Feed

How hot is it in St. Louis today? I just asked Siri -- she replied, "You don't want to know!" Then she auto-opened the Air Conditioner app.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Poker Stories: Hot Night In Paris

Nine years ago, I went to Paris for vacation with my wife, daughter, and mother. While there, we took in all the sights together, and since my mother is fluent in French, we had our own translator everywhere we went.

But one evening, I got away by myself to play poker. I had never played outside the US at that point but, armed with my passport, a pair of real shoes (no sneakers allowed) and a sport jacket -- all of which I'd learned were required -- I went to the famed Aviation Club de France on the Champs Elysee.

The entrance looked like any other store front on the grand boulevard. Inside, the place looked classy, with wood paneling throughout. It was only open in the late afternoon and nighttime, but when I arrived around 9pm, it wasn't very busy. As a foreigner, I had to fill out some forms at the front desk, which enabled me to enter the club without paying the annual membership fee of €150, and was then escorted upstairs to the poker room, where only a few games were in progress (this was a weeknight in summer, a notoriously slow time).

I quickly noticed one difference between the tables here and at home -- they didn't have a tray full of chips in front of the dealer. To buy into the game, you got your chips at the cashier window. As for the rake, just as in higher-limit games in the US, there was nothing taken out of each pot for the club. Instead, players paid a fee to essentially rent a seat. When a new dealer sat down every half-hour, they collected the time rake from each player, then a floor person picked them up from each table. Thus, no chip tray.

I was seated in an eight-handed €€5/5 pot-limit game, where the time rake was a ridiculous €15/half-hour (at that level, American poker rooms charge $6-9/half-hour). I had assumed the game would be Texas hold'em or Omaha, but didn't know until I sat down that they were playing Dealer's Choice.

Before each hand, the player with the dealer button could choose which game would be dealt -- much like in lots of home games I'd played in over the years. There were twelve to choose from, on both sides of six plaques that were moved around the table in place of the dealer button. The choices included a couple of versions of Texas hold'em (including one with two full boards), a couple of versions of 7-card stud, and several variants of Omaha, including one I'd never heard of before named courchevel.

In courchevel, each player is dealt five cards (like in Big O, a game that has become more popular in the US in the last few years), but in courchevel, before any betting begins, the first card of the flop is exposed. This gives players a little bit more information on which to decide whether or not to play, and tends to entice more of them to get involved. Once that round is complete, the rest of the flop is revealed, and betting continues as it does in hold'em or Omaha through the turn and river, with players using two of their hole cards and three of the community board cards to make the best possible five-card hand.

Since all of the other players at this table were French, they thought they'd have an edge on me (the American interloper) by always choosing to play courchevel. They were right, but since I knew how to play Omaha, it didn't take me long to sit, watch, and figure out the small differences in strategy. There was plenty of action and I was able to hold my own in their game, but they got upset when the dealer button got to me. Because I knew that most European poker rooms only spread Omaha and hold'em, I always chose seven-card stud, the game I'd grown up playing. They'd grumble and mutter things to me in French, but no one got up when the dealer's choice was mine.

After a couple of rounds, things got a lot friendlier and some of them engaged me in conversation in English, which I appreciated, but I was still uncomfortable because of the atmosphere. All of the French players smoked non-stop at the table, causing a haze to hang in the room. At the time, most US poker rooms had started moving towards no-smoking policies, but in the years before that, I used to bring a little 5-inch fan to the table to keep the cigarette smoke away from my face. I hadn't brought it to Paris, so the stench was getting to me (the Aviation Club has become smoke-free since).

Making it worse, however, was the sweat. This was the end of June, Paris was having a heat wave, and the Aviation Club was not air-conditioned. I don't know what it is about Europeans not enjoying cold things -- good luck getting ice in your soda in a restaurant -- but the club didn't even have a fan blowing. So they kept the windows of the poker room open (yes, windows in a poker room, and they opened!), but that just allowed the heat to pour in, along with the noise of the Champs Elysses below.

With the combination of the smoke, the heat, the odor of my deodorant-eschewing table-mates, the exorbitant time rake, and a game I wasn't enjoying or profiting from, I didn't even play a couple of hours before bidding them au revoir and bonne chance. The other players said good night -- and laughed when one of them told me to come back sometime when I didn't want to play stud.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kevin Spacey On Why Content Matters

Kevin Spacey gave the keynote address at the Edinburgh Television Festival to talk about why "House Of Cards" is a hit for Netflix, and remind the audience that, regardless of the delivery system, it's the content that matters...

You can see Spacey's entire 45-minute speech (well worth it!) here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

From My Twitter Feed

I will always remember where I was when I didn't care one bit about anything that Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, or anyone else did on the VMAs.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Jason Gay Goes Wild

Jason Gay is a sportswriter for the Wall Street Journal and one of the co-hosts of "The Crowd Goes Wild" on the new Fox Sports 1 channel. When he joined me on America Weekend, I asked Jason what it's like to work with Regis Philbin, as well as his fashion battles with Trevor Pryce, before digging into some sports topics:
  • whether the NFL forced ESPN to drop out of a documentary on football concussions;
  • the odd relationship between New Yorkers and Alex Rodriguez;
  • whether any American other than Serena Williams will do well at the US Open.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Gloria Allred on Bob Filner's Resignation

Attorney Gloria Allred returned to my America Weekend show today to discuss the resignation of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, which she advocated during our last discussion. Allred represented some of the 18 women who accused Filner of sexual harassment, which he denied in remarks to the City Council on Friday when it voted unanimously to accept his resignation.

I asked Allred if she was happy to see him go, whether her clients would proceed with civil suits, and whether there's a criminal case against him. I also asked Allred for her reaction to Filner claiming he was the victim of a "lynch-mob mentality."

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Tom Skerritt

Tom Skerritt has appeared in more than 40 movies and 200 television shows in the last five decades. His resume includes "Aliens," "Top Gun," "Contact," and an Emmy award for "Picket Fences." Later this year, you'll see him as General Ulysses S. Grant in "Field Of Lost Shoes."

Today on America Weekend, I talked with Skerritt about The Red Badge Project, an organization he started to help returning war veterans recover from PTSD and other war-related mental health issues. We discussed that, as well as his work in the original "M*A*S*H" movie and several episodes of "Cheers."

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/25/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a hot tub full of manure, breasts on fire, and the cheap way down a mountain. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Spotting A Face In The Crowd

The NY Times published a story last week about facial recognition software that the government is trying to develop, which would allow law enforcement to pick people out of a crowd from a distance. It's those last three words -- from a distance -- that make it difficult, as Ars Technica senior editor Cyrus Farivar explained on my America Weekend show.

I asked him how far along the technology is and how far behind our legal system is in developing laws to protect Americans from being tracked everywhere we go in public. We also discussed which database has photos of all of us that the system can compare images to, whether there's value in facial recognition for homeland security, and the connection to what Facebook already does in identifying people in pictures posted on the site.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Bad Doctors

There's an old joke that asks, "What do you call the student who finished last in their class at medical school?" The answer: "Doctor." That's also too often the answer to what to call physicians found guilty of malpractice or misconduct. You might think they were no longer allowed to practice medicine -- but you'd be wrong.

After a USA Today investigation showed that thousands of doctors who have been banned by hospitals over errors haven't been punished by the state medical boards that license them, I invited Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the Public Citizen Health Research Group to explain why they're allowed to continue practicing. I asked him why there isn't a national database that patients can check to see if a doctor has a bad record, so we can make informed consumer choices about our health care -- and why other physicians aren't even allowed that information before making a referral!

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Vin Scully

Vin Scully announced yesterday that he'll return as the broadcaster for the Dodgers next year -- for his 65th season. No other broadcaster has ever done the job as long, or as well. Sure, St. Louis had Jack Buck, Detroit had Ernie Harwell, Chicago had Harry Caray -- but even they would all bow down to Vin.

I'm not a big baseball fan. I never go to Cardinals games, and only see them when they're on the TV in a poker room while I'm playing. But as a broadcaster, if I'm on vacation driving around in Los Angeles during baseball season, I'll put the Dodger game on the radio just to hear Vin.

He's so good, he works alone in the booth -- there's no color analyst necessary when you have a man with his depth of knowledge and his storytelling ability. In fact, I'd argue that it's the latter that has kept audiences enthralled even more than some of Vin's historic calls. Yes, he was there for Sandy Koufax's perfect game, Hank Aaron's 715th home run, Bill Buckner's World Series error, and so many other famous moments -- and he not only chose the right words, but also knew when to be silent and let the TV cameras or radio microphones soak up the crowd's reaction, sometimes for a full minute or more.

Yet, it is the everyday Vin Scully broadcasts that make him a legend. Considering the pace of baseball, the person behind the microphone has to fill a lot of time. The mark of a great baseball broadcaster is what they do in the booth during a boring game, when it's 7-1 in the eighth inning, most batters aren't even getting on base, and so many fans have left the stands and headed for their cars that the hot dog vendors are yawning. And that's where Vin shines. He knows all the players, the managers, the owners, and the history of the game. He shares stories about all of them -- and when there's still dead time, he'll talk about where he went to dinner, or who he met last night, and always make it entertaining.

Still, ask Dodger fans for their favorite Vin Scully broadcast, and they'll usually remember game one of the 1988 World Series, where Kirk Gibson's home run seemed like a scene right out of "The Natural." You've probably seen that video dozens of times, but what you may not know is the back story, which Vin shared with an assemblage of Dodger fans a few years ago...

That's classic Vin Scully. He even took his time telling that story.

Linda Ronstadt

So sad to hear that Linda Ronstadt will never sing again. She said in an interview yesterday that she has Parkinson's Disease, which makes it impossible to control the muscles that let her sing. She also suffers from hand tremors and has to use a wheelchair.

My father died of a disease related to Parkinson's, and it was heartbreaking to see his body breaking down even though his mind was still intact. Although Ronstadt, who is 67, hasn't released an album in 7 years, it must be driving her crazy not to be able to sing. That's what singers want to do -- even if they're not singing professionally anymore.

I saw Ronstadt a couple of times at the peak of her fame in the late 1970s, and remember how shocked I was the first time. I had never seen her on TV, and this was long before music videos, so the only way I knew her was from her songs on the radio. When she stepped out onto the stage, she was tiny -- barely five feet tall -- but the voice that came out of that body was so powerful it would have filled the venue without amplification.

She was versatile, too, winning 11 Grammys for pop performances, country performances, Mexican-American performances, tropical Latin performances, and children's albums, plus a Tony Award for "Pirates of Penzance." Now that once-amazing vocalist can no longer do what she loves.

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/24/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a wedding photos mishap, a bat in the face, and a stolen car in the crosswalk. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Don't Mess With St. Louis

Today, KTRS radio General Manager Mark Dorsey announced that the station would not run commercials voiced by Texas Governor Rick Perry urging Missouri businesses to pick up and move to his state. In an announcement that ran all day on KTRS (and was picked up by media outlets nationwide), Mark explained:

Once we, the management of KTRS realized these commercials were focused on stealing locally owned companies away from St Louis, we suspended airing these commercials immediately. We understand people have different viewpoints on public policy and we welcome that debate everyday on our airways. But as one of the few remaining locally owned radio stations in the country, we feel the need to stand strong with other small locally owned business and defend our region. Governor Rick Perry, Don't Mess with Missouri, and don't mess with St Louis!
The Texas commercials airing in St. Louis seem akin to car dealer A going onto car dealer B's lot and using B's loudspeakers to tell customers that they'll find a better deal at A's dealership. You can imagine how B would feel about that, which gives you an idea what I heard this afternoon from Missouri Governor Jay Nixon when called my KTRS show to thank the station for its support -- and stayed on the air with me for an extended discussion, in which he did not hold back his contempt for Perry and the move-to-Texas message. He also called out the state Chamber of Commerce for inviting Perry to Missouri next week to promote his agenda. Nixon had a couple of suggestions for the Texan's visit:
When he comes, he should go to a store and buy something because he'll notice it's cheaper in Missouri because we have a lower sales tax rate. And when he's here, maybe he ought to look at buying a house, because our property taxes are way lower than they are in Texas. And he won't have any trouble getting somebody who can help him add up the numbers, because our kids' ACT scores are way higher than they are in Texas.
The other voices you'll hear in this audio are my colleagues Dan Strauss and Ian Geisz. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 8/23/13

This week's Harris Challenge includes the categories "Mayors In Trouble," "Call Me Chelsea," and "Batman Before Ben." You can play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Don Lemon on MLK's Dream

Don Lemon has a special airing on CNN at 8pm CT tonight about the upcoming 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, which I consider the greatest oratory in the history of this nation. I talked with Don on KTRS about that historic day in Washington, and the fact that King ad-libbed the final five minutes -- the entire "I Have A Dream" section did not appear on the written version of the speech. I also asked him how much of the dream has been attained. Don also talked about others who were there, including Congressman John Lewis (who was the youngest speaker that day) and Rachel Horowitz, who worked in the office to help organize the March On Washington but missed the whole thing.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Don Lemon's special, "We Were There: The March On Washington, An Oral History," airs tonight at 8pm CT and will repeat Sunday night.

Seinfeld's View Of Late Night

I have written before about how nothing spontaneous happens on late-night TV talk shows, because every guest is pre-interviewed, the host knows what they're supposed to ask to set up a certain story, and the guest knows they're supposed to tell that story, introduce a clip from their movie, and move on. There's no actual conversation -- most of the time. That's not to say that the format doesn't offer some entertainment, but if a star is making the rounds, it's not unusual to see or hear the same stories told in the same way, just in different venues.

Jerry Seinfeld just did an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, in which he touched on this problem, and compared it to his web series, "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," which is not about the promotion of anyone's next project, but rather a conversation between a couple of funny people. It's the same casual discussion you find on many podcasts (e.g. Marc Maron's "WTF" or Kevin Pollak's "Chat Show") -- but not on any of the late-night TV shows. I find it ironic that in many TV markets (including St. Louis) reruns of "Seinfeld," which have done very well in the ratings, will lose their slot after the late-local-news on many Fox affiliates (and other independent stations) because of the return of yet another high-energy pre-interview no-conversation promotion engine, "The Arsenio Hall Show."

The Hollywood Reporter: Before you get in the car with Sarah Silverman or Mel Brooks, what's your preparation process?

Jerry Seinfeld: There are no notes. I like the stuff that just comes up because I'm really curious. David Letterman loved that I asked Alec Baldwin, "Who do you think has worked harder to get where we are?" Now if you can imagine that conversation happening on a talk show in front of an audience, it stops right there. All of a sudden there's a "Whoa!" And I don't want to deal with that. I felt like the talk show needs its next iteration, and I don't know if this was it. This was a personal experiment of mine. Talk shows as we know them are performances, and so I wanted to try to do one without an audience, clips and something to promote.

THR: Can this ever be something that translates to TV?

Seinfeld: I've heard some conversations about that. I have not really participated in those conversations.

THR: Do you watch the late-night talk shows? Do you have any thoughts on the landscape?
Seinfeld: I have to say that most talk shows leave me with a sad feeling, and I don't think that's the goal. When I was a comic in the 1980s, I was on the road somewhere every day, and I'd get back to the hotel and it was Carson and Letterman, and I looked forward to that all day. Those shows made me happy. I'm not quite sure what happened. It's probably just proliferation and fragmentation.

THR: Is there a way to do another kind of late-night show where you can have a more in-depth conversation with guests the way you do on Comedians in Cars?

Seinfeld: I don't think so. You need the audience and the band for the energy, and people want to show their clips. These shows are promotional vehicles for the industry. They're not talk shows, per se, they're kind of setup talk shows. "I'm gonna ask you this, then you say that." The shows are pretty cheap, too, so until it becomes an unworkable business model, I don't think you'll see change. Same as the movie business. Until this thing implodes from within, which feels like it's not too far off
The entire Seinfeld interview is here.

In A World

In a world where every movie is an action-adventure full of explosions and CGI, or a raunchy comedy that rips off "The Hangover," or a rom-com with no romance and no comedy, it's a pleasure to see a funny original story that offers a view of a corner of show business heretofore unexplored.
That movie is "In A World...," written and directed by Lake Bell, who stars as a woman trying to break into the male-only business of movie trailer voiceovers, an industry that for a long time was dominated by the late Don LaFontaine. He's the guy who not only created the phrase "in a world" for trailers, but whose deep voice thundered through thousands of them, setting a standard that few have ever matched.

Not only is the writing clever and quick (I laughed out loud at a screening earlier this week), but Bell has assembled a terrific cast, including real-life voice guy Fred Melamed as her father and rival as she tries to burst through this show business glass ceiling. Melamed, by the way, may steal the title of hairiest-man-ever-filmed previously held by Robin Williams. There are a few shots of him with his shirt off -- including one in bed with the young woman who plays his new girlfriend that had me wondering what the actress thought the first time she had to run her fingers through his sweater-like natural fur.

The cast of "In A World" also includes Rob Corddry, Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Geena Davis, and a very funny cameo by Eva Longoria. Bell gives them all moments to shine while she gets her professional and personal lives intertwined and lampoons the industry she obviously loves. I won't give any more away, but I'll strongly recommend you see it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

This Was Not A Test

One of my favorite voiceover stories involved a guy who did imaging for rock stations all over the country in the 1980s from his studio in Chicago. He had an incredibly deep voice and ballsy delivery that fit perfectly with what we were doing at WHCN, the rock station in Hartford where I was the morning guy. I can't remember his real name, but we called him Joe Balls. 

When we first hired Joe, Program Director Dan Hayden asked a couple of us to help him come up with a bunch of stuff for him to do. The deal was that he'd record anything we wanted for a basic flat fee, as long as it fit on 10 double-spaced typewritten pages. So we sat down in Dan's office and came up with intros for every show, every feature, every newscast, every weekend special, every promotion we had planned. We brainstormed for an hour and when we had exhausted every idea, we had only filled nine pages.

Then someone suggested having Joe record the weekly EBS test announcement.

Today, those tests (now called EAS alerts) only take a few seconds of airtime and consist of a few quick bursts of electronic modem handshake sounds and not much more. But 30 years ago, the EBS test took up a full minute. Everyone complained about it, but since every station had to air the test every week, by law, there was no competitive disadvantage to it -- although it did bring our rowdy rock station to a screeching halt. 

The EBS test started with an announcer saying:
This is a test. For the next 60 seconds, this station is conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test.
Then we'd have to manually play the Attention Signal, an annoying-as-hell tone that lasted approximately 22 seconds, followed by the closing announcement:
This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would be followed by official information, news, or instructions. This station serves the [Hartford, Connecticut] area. This concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System.
The FCC was pretty strict about how stations could present the EBS Test. They wanted it done straight and serious, and most stations did. At one point, there was a singing version that some stations played, but the FCC fairly quickly made that illegal. The government made it clear that, if we were all going to die, fun would be outlawed.

We thought having Joe record the EBS announcement would satisfy the demands of the FCC, but still fit in with WHCN's rock and roll image, so Dan typed it up on that tenth page and sent it to him. A week later -- this was in the pre-digital days -- we received a reel of tape from Joe with the stuff he'd recorded for us. As we hoped, all of the promos and intros sounded great. We laughed and cheered as we listened to it the first time in the production studio.

But when we heard his ballsy voice reciting the EBS test announcement, no one said a word. Even after it was over, there was a long pause. Joe had really kicked it into high gear and pushed his voice to the limit on this one, making it sound like the most dramatic thing he'd ever read.

Finally, Dan said, "That's the scariest thing I've ever heard. If we put that on the air, our audience will think a nuclear attack is underway. No, we can not put that on the air!" Everyone nodded, and Dan made us all solemnly promise that Joe's EBS test would never find its way into the main studio, where it might "accidentally" be played on the air. We all agreed immediately, but as soon as we left, I told Tom, the production director, "Make me a copy of that!" Irv (the afternoon guy) and Phil (the night guy) both chimed in, "Me, too!" We all burst out laughing.

The next day, in my mailbox, there was a box with a five-inch reel of tape inside. I knew from the message on the outside that it contained a copy of Joe's EBS test.

On the label, Tom had typed, "To be played only in the event of Armageddon."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Return of Icahn

From my Twitter feed...

  • Carl Icahn's company has bought Lumiere Place casino. I'm sure he'll treat it just as well as he did that other prominent St. Louis business, TWA.

The Voice In The Booth

A friend who saw my entry yesterday about famous voiceover guys asked if I've ever done that kind of work. The answer is yes, but at no point was voiceover work my fulltime job. I always did it on the side without allowing it to interfere with my regular radio gigs. Still, when I was starting out, I would have loved to be a television booth announcer.

For one thing, the guys who did that job at the network level (e.g. NBC's killer trio of Bill Wendell, Don Pardo, and Fred Foy) had long-term contracts and lots of job security. Secondly, I just loved the way they sounded in their few seconds of airtime. I was particularly taken with the guy who did the promos for "The Mike Douglas Show," an afternoon talk show syndicated by Westinghouse in the 1970s.

I don't know his name, but he always sounded like he knew all the stars on the guest roster personally, because he only identified them by their first names. As a slide with Kirk Douglas' picture appeared on the screen for five seconds, he'd say, "Kirk...with Mike...tomorrow!" Or we'd see Charlton Heston and hear, "Charlton...with Mike...today at 4:30!" It couldn't have been simpler, but the guy really sold it, every time.

In my mind, I could hear myself pushing my teenage broadcaster voice down a couple of octaves to intone, "Zsa Zsa...with Mike...tomorrow." Or, to promote a really big get for Phil Donahue, "Jesus...with Phil...today at 10!!"

But I never had a network gig like that. In fact, I wouldn't have known who to approach to even have a shot at doing it. However, I have had a few local opportunities, including the one I wrote about three years ago, remembering my fill-in work for the booth guy at WDCA-TV in Washington, DC, where my friend Mark Feldman ran the marketing department. 

I was later hired to record intros and promos as the original voice of NewsChannel 8 when it launched as a local cable news outlet in the DC area in 1991. I also provided the recorded voice of a radio announcer for the stage comedy "Shear Madness" when it debuted at the Kennedy Center in 1987 (they used that recording until 1992!). And in the early 1980s, I did some voice and on-camera work for WTXX-TV (an independent station whose promotions guy, Mike Watt, was a fan of my radio show), as well as some imaging for radio stations in Oneonta (NY), Flint (MI), and Monterey (CA) that my boss was consulting. Along the way, I voiced a few industrial videos and plenty of commercials, too, but I have forgotten when and for whom.

I have always found voiceover work relatively easy. If someone else provides the copy, I'll usually nail it in a take or two, so there's no time pressure -- unlike commercial work, which can involve many more takes because the client or agency rep doesn't feel like they're getting value for their money. In their mind, for what they're paying me, it doesn't matter if I did it perfectly the first time. I should sit there for a half-hour or more and keep doing it over and over until my throat is raw.

Broadcasters, on the other hand, want it quick and clean -- faster than you can say, "Oprah...with Dave...tomorrow!"

Previously on Harris Online...

Baby Veronica

There's a little girl named Veronica who is caught in a legal tug of war between her biological father in Oklahoma and her adoptive parents in South Carolina. The matter went to the US Supreme Court earlier this year because the father is Cherokee, and therefore the child is covered under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. But even after the court's ruling, the matter still isn't settled, and three-year-old Veronica still doesn't have a permanent home. I discussed all of this on my America Weekend show with Jason Aamodt, an expert in tribal law and assistant dean at the University Of Tulsa law school.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Killed For Fighting Nonsense

I wrote last month about Sanal Edamaruku, the Indian skeptic who has had to flee his country because of death threats after he dared to point out religious nonsense that was hurting people. Now, another Indian rationalist has been assassinated. Narenda Dabholkar had led a campaign to get one local government to pass legislation banning superstitious scams and black magic, the first of its kind in India. With his death, this landmark bill may not become law, which means criminals will continue to pull their cons on unsuspecting people. As Sanal said today when asked who might have killed Narenda, “It is not the victims of superstition who are normally against rationalists but the exploiters who are using superstition and are using the gullibility of people, they are the ones against us.”

Voices You Know

I just got home from a screening of "In A World," a new movie written, directed by, and starring Lake Bell. I can't review it until Friday because of an embargo, but I can tell you that it's about the people who do voiceovers for movie trailers -- a business that for a long time was dominated by Don LaFontaine. He's the guy who created the "In a world..." genre, and voiced thousands of trailers and commercials until his death in 2008.

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Don and another top voiceover artist, Joe Cipriano, who you've heard on thousands of promos for Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC, as well as several awards shows. I have dug that conversation out of my archives (from May 10, 2005) so you can listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Here's a 2006 "Today" show segment with Don LaFontaine, Joe Cipriano, Mark Elliott (the voice of Disney movie trailers for three decades), and a a couple of others...

10 Things That Make Me Tune Out

Ten things that make me tune out of a TV or radio show immediately:

  1. A discussion of who will run for president in 2016.
  2. Any sentence that includes the word "Kardashian."
  3. Movies whose cast includes Adam Sandler, David Spade, or Rob Schneider.
  4. A chef or restaurant owner who "dropped by" with food.
  5. Any news or sports show with three or more "experts" on-screen simultaneously.
  6. Tips on how to handle a very hot/cold day.
  7. Anyone explaining or discussing fishing strategies.
  8. Anyone claiming to hunt ghosts or aliens.
  9. Soccer results or so-called "highlights."
  10. The word "Trump."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Beatles Historian Larry Kane

I enjoyed my conversation with Beatles historian Larry Kane last month on America Weekend so much that I invited him to join me on KTRS today to tell more stories from his new book, "When They Were Boys," which covers the band in the years before they came to America.

Larry told me (and co-host Claire Kellett) about:
  • how they got to Hamburg and how dark their lives were while playing there;
  • the night in 1960 when it all came together and the crowd rushed the stage for the first time;
  • the time John Lennon almost beat a guy to death;
  • why a book written by their press agent, Derek Taylor, is worth about $6,000;
  • why Larry initially didn't want to cover their first US tour in 1964, but was glad he did.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Michael Mann, Climate Change Expert

Today on KTRS, I continued the conversation I began a few weeks ago with Michael Mann, one of the world's leading climate researchers. Since he began publicly warning about the Earth's rising temperatures and the effects of climate change 15 years ago, he and his colleagues have been attacked by the fossil fuel industry, right-wing politicians, and climate change deniers -- and it has gotten very personal. Mann writes about these battles in his new book, "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From The Front Lines."

We discussed the extent to which those forces have tried to squelch his important message about what humans are doing to ourselves, including attempts by people in power to intimidate not just Mann, but other scientists as well. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Also on Harris Online...

Sharing Your Doctor's Appointment

Would you share your doctor's appointment with a stranger? What about a half-dozen strangers? Some physicians have begun offering patients these group appointments, and they say the feedback has been mostly positive.

I can't see sitting in a room listening to other people whining about their medical problems or having them hear about mine. Nor do I believe that in a society where everyone shares everything they see and hear with the rest of the world on Facebook and other social media, my fellow humans would keep the information heard in these sessions confidential. But Dr. Richard Kratche of the Cleveland Clinic says the group-meets-doctor concept does work, and he explained why on my America Weekend show.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How Does Test Tube Hamburger Taste?

br> A couple of week ago, scientists introduced the world to the first test-tube hamburger, a piece of meat grown in a laboratory. Josh Schonwald was the first journalist to taste the in vitro meat, so I asked him to join me on America Weekend today to describe how it tastes, the science behind the burger, and the impact it could have on the world's food resources.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Drive-In

There are only about 350 drive-in movie theaters left in America, none older than Shankweiler's, in Orefield, Pennsylvania. Its owner, Paul Geissinger, joined me today on America Weekend to talk about a business that still thrives in some parts of America, thanks to dedicated mom-and-pop ownership, and families that still pull in to see two movies for the price of one.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/18/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a cowboy in the parking lot, a sleeping driver, and a non-hostage hug. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Sinbad Is Back

You may know the comedian Sinbad from his years on the sitcom “A Different World” or movies like “Necessary Roughness” and “House Guest.” He had some tax problems in the last few years that cost him a lot of money -- and his house -- but he's working again. He’s one of the voices in Disney’s animated movie, “Planes,” which opened last weekend, and he’s also back to his original job, as a touring comedian. In fact, he has a concert movie called “Sinbad: Make Me Wanna Holla,” which will be shown in theaters on Thursday, August 22nd.

On my America Weekend show, he talked about working on "Planes" with a bunch of other comedians, how his years with Bill Cosby helped shape his career, and why he'll never be known as a surfer.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

What Will The Next iPhone Have?

According to Ina Fried of AllThingsD.com, Apple will introduce a new iPhone model on September 10th, so I invited her to join me on America Weekend to explain what features it may have and the impact it will have on the rest of the smartphone industry. We also discussed Google's latest efforts in that arena, why Microsoft struggles with hardware, and how Blackberry has been left way behind.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mary McDonnell

I have enjoyed Mary McDonnell's work in several movies, from "Dances With Wolves" and "Passion Fish" (both of which earned her Oscar nominations) to "Sneakers" and "Blue Chips." She has also done lots of television work, including her current TNT series, "Major Crimes," which will air its summer finale Monday night.

When she joined me on America Weekend, I asked her whose idea it was to spin off her character from "The Closer" into her own series, whether working on cable means less ratings pressure and more creative freedom, and why she likes the pace of a weekly TV show. I also asked her about one of her co-stars in "Sneakers" (and it wasn't Robert Redford, River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, or David Straitharn).

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

What Makes Candy Crush So Successful?

Candy Crush Saga is the most-played game on Facebook and the top-grossing iPhone app, making it a big money-maker for King, the company that created and distributes it. So I invited King's Games Guru, Tommy Palm, to talk about the phenomenon on my America Weekend show. I asked if it's possible to set out to make an addictive game, how much the company knows about its players, how many levels of Candy Crush he's gotten through, and whether King plans to go public anytime soon. We also discussed the game's online fan base, and how Candy Crush can avoid the fate of other online game fads that have come and gone.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/17/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a lion that's not a lion, mosquitoes gone wild, and an adventure in the woods. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 8/16/13

This week's Harris Challenge includes the categories "Show Me The Birthday," "Westerns," and the weekly topical questions, "Have You Been Paying Attention?" You can play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Newsweek Gets Skeptical

There's a big piece in Newsweek today, "James Randi, The Amazing Meeting, and the Bullshit Police," by Michael Moynihan, who was at the annual TAM get-together I attended last month, where he interviewed Randi, Jamy Ian Swiss, Michael Saunders, and other important skeptics. He spends a little too much space on disagreements within the skeptical community, but if it awakens some closet skeptics or opens the eyes of those who believe in nonsense (and what Randi calls "woo-woo"), then we'll take the publicity.

Casting About

I enjoyed a documentary HBO is running this month called "Casting By," about the women (mostly) and men who have found the actors who became stars in various major motion pictures and television shows throughout the years. I was going to write about it, but Ken Levine -- who knows a thing or two about showbiz after his years on "M*A*S*H" and "Cheers" -- has said everything I would say, and more. Read his column here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Poker Stories: Table Talkers

A poker room, like any other place, is full of characters. The locals, the regulars, all know each other and everyone's familiar with this guy's habits, that one's tendencies, etc. There are quiet players, talkative players, funny players, lousy players, good players, unpredictable players, and obnoxious players. They're all out to take each other's chips, but they're also aware of social boundaries that can't be crossed because you're going to see these same players the next time you return to the table.

There are some players who deliberately try to annoy, playing a psychological game to knock you off your stride. That's fine, as long as it doesn't go too far. The last thing I want at the table is a poker bully who might scare off some recreational player who has just come to have a good time and doesn't mind losing some money. I know one player who has a taste for beer and a very short temper and if you get on his wrong side, he'll attack you verbally the rest of the evening -- not because he wants a physical encounter, but because he wants to get revenge by taking your stack (before he gets thrown out of the place, which has happened more than once).

In Las Vegas, the tables have some regulars but far more tourists, and that's where the dynamic gets interesting. A few years ago, I was in a game when, a new player sat down, announced that he was a writer from San Francisco, and immediately started talking about how he was going to run over the table by playing hyper-aggressively, raising a lot, and bullying people out of pots.

There wasn't much chance of that, because the table was full of pretty good players, and one of them -- a pro named Skinny Jimmy -- has a reputation for playing great poker. He regularly crushes the higher-limit games, and you can see why just by watching him. He keeps his mouth shut, but his eyes don't miss a single thing anyone's doing. He stays passive for a couple of rounds to pick off everyone's tells and playing style, and then he pounces. It's like that barroom poker scene in "Maverick" where Mel Gibson promises he'll lose for the first hour and does, but by then he's seen enough to use his opponents' tendencies against them.

Meanwhile, the writer just kept on talking and talking. He wasn't engaging anyone in conversation, just essentially doing a monologue for what may have been a full hour. At one point I wanted to remind him that the bottle says to take only one Ritalin at a time. If the waitress had brought him a Red Bull, he might have exploded. He could give aspirin a headache.

Meanwhile, at the next table, there was a talker of a different kind. This guy kept telling the table that he was the "best player in the world." Aside from Phil Hellmuth, I don't know any poker pro who brags about their abilities at the table. The better you are, the less you want people to know how good you are, because it makes them less likely to play a big pot against you.

Fortunately, no one really thought this loudmouth was all that good and it was fairly enjoyable to see him losing most of the hands he played. Of course, his ego wouldn't allow him to admit that he'd made a bad play. Instead, he'd insist that a worse player would have lost all their chips.

He was right. He was great. At losing.

The oddest thing that happened to me in a Vegas poker room was when a woman walked up and touched my chest. Now, don't get excited. She was an older woman -- naturally, since this is me we're talking about -- and we were passing between tables when she stopped and complimented me on my shirt (we're already in a weird area). Then she reached out and put her whole hand on my chest to feel the material before she moved on. I stood there stunned for a second before my skeptical side kicked back in.

That's when I reached for my pants pocket to make sure my wallet was still there. It was.

So I just wrote her off as another poker room oddity. At least she was quiet.

More Quirky Bets

Richard Wiseman is back with more tricks to pull on your friends...

Goodbye Amazon

For years, I have included links to Amazon on this site for books by authors I've interviewed, or titles I've added to my Movies You Might Not Know list. Whenever a reader clicked on those links and bought those items, a tiny percentage of the purchase price was kicked back to me as an Amazon Associate. It never amounted to much, maybe a few hundred bucks a year.

But no longer. Today I received an e-mail from Amazon:

We are writing from the Amazon Associates Program to notify you that your Associates account will be closed and your Amazon Services LLC Associates Program Operating Agreement will be terminated effective August 27, 2013. This is a direct result of the unconstitutional Missouri state tax collection legislation passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Nixon on July 5, 2013, with an effective date of August 28, 2013. As a result, we will no longer pay any advertising fees for customers referred to an Amazon Site after August 27 nor will we accept new applications for the Associates Program from Missouri residents.
While we oppose this unconstitutional state legislation, we strongly support the federal Marketplace Fairness Act now pending before Congress. Congressional legislation is the only way to create a simplified, constitutional framework to resolve interstate sales tax issues and it would allow us to re-open our Associates program to Missouri residents.
We thank you for being part of the Amazon Associates Program, and look forward to re-opening our program when Congress passes the Marketplace Fairness Act. 
Internet commerce has exploded in the last decade, while state coffers have been depleted, so many legislatures have enacted laws which tax online purchases from companies that have a physical presence in the state. There's no federal levy (yet), and Amazon does not have a Missouri facility, but the new Missouri law includes an affiliate nexus clause, which institutes the tax on any purchase that flows from a link on a website whose owner is located within the state.

So, from today forward, you won't see any Amazon links on new posts on Harris Online. You'll still find them on old posts because there are thousands of them, which I don't want to go back and re-code. I assume that they'll still take you to the correct page on Amazon, but I'll no longer receive my tiny commission.

None of this is to dissuade you from doing business with Amazon. I completely understand their reasoning, and will continue to be a customer -- but no longer an affiliate.

The Perfect High-Five

Every Friday, when I walk into KTRS to do the 3-6pm show, Alex, the 21-year-old receptionist, looks up and says, "Best part of the week!" She's not saying that because she's happy to see a bald, middle-aged guy enter the lobby, but because she knows that my appearance means her work week is almost over.

I always walk up to the front desk and give her a high-five, but a couple of weeks ago, we were a bit off, and our palms didn't connect. It happens, but when it does, I always want to get it right, so I taught Alex a trick a friend told me about recently.

When you go for the high five, instead of looking where the hands will meet, or at the other person's face, keep your eyes on their elbow. With that simple change in perspective, we tried again and, sure enough -- clap! -- our palms made that satisfactory slap. And then, we had to high-five to celebrate the perfect high-five, and it worked again.

How often do you get to make the best part of someone's week even better?

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • I'm a big Breaking Bad fan, but would appreciate it if we could go just one day without half the world writing an article about it.
  • Almost a real airport: glad to see Lambert will finally offer free wi-fi, even if it's only for 20 minutes at a time.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Documentary Deception

I enjoy good documentaries, and have included several of them in my Movies You Might Not Know list, from "Hoop Dreams" to "Comedian" to "The Smartest Guys In The Room" to "Shut Up and Sing" to "Iraq For Sale" to "Man on Wire." But one of the problems with documentaries can be the filmmaker's willingness to edit the footage and write the narration to suit an agenda.

Which brings me to Morgan Spurlock. I have enjoyed some of his work, including the "30 Days" series he did for FX a few years ago, particularly one episode in which he embedded himself with a coal mining family in West Virginia and went down to work in a mine every day to show what that life was like. He did another where Spurlock and his fiance tried to live for a month on nothing but minimum wage jobs. He's done some interesting work along the same lines on his new CNN series, "Inside Man," and did an entire movie about product placement called "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." The man knows how to create reality-based entertainment.

That said, I've always had a problem with the project that made Spurlock famous in the first place, "Supersize Me," where he ate nothing but McDonald's food for every meal for a month. At the end of the experiment, he had gained weight, developed liver problems, and become lethargic. It seemed like a damning tale of the impact of fast-food on all Americans, but my skeptical mind saw some red flags.

When I discussed the movie with Spurlock in 2004, we talked about how his then-fiance was a vegan chef who cooked for them at home, so introducing all of that beef and fried food into his diet would naturally screw up a metabolism that wasn't used to it. That's a point he didn't include in the movie, which seems relevant to me. We also discussed personal vs. corporate responsibility about what goes into our mouths. He also responded to criticism from Soso Whaley, another guest of mine who also ate at McDonald's every day for a month and ended up losing weight.

This morning, I read a piece called "Six Famous Documentaries That Were Shockingly Full Of Crap," by Amanda Mullen, in which she takes on Spurlock's claim that he was consuming 5,000 calories a day on his all-McDonald's diet:

As Tom Naughton points out in his documentary, Fat Head, there's simply no way Spurlock could have been eating that much food if he was sticking to his own rules. A large Big Mac meal clocks in at "just" 1,450 calories, and it's by far one of the fattiest items on the menu. This means that even Supersizing lunch and dinner every day and adding dessert falls well short of the 5,000 calories a day Spurlock's nutritionist claims he was consuming. In an effort to find out just exactly what the hell, Naughton attempted to contact Spurlock to obtain his food log, but Spurlock (who makes a huge deal in his documentary about McDonald's never calling him back) never called him back.
Meanwhile, researchers from the Making Sure Movies Aren't Stupid department of Sweden's University of Linkoping tried to replicate Spurlock's experiment by tasking healthy college students with the challenge of eating 6,000 calories of fast food per day, inadvertently also answering the question "What's the easiest way to get guinea pigs ever?" At the end of the 30 days, the students had none of the liver or cholesterol troubles Spurlock reported. According to the guy in charge of the experiment (aka an actual scientist, not the guy who created MTV's I Bet You Will), the students' metabolism was able to adapt to the extra amount of food they were eating. They did feel more tired, but none of them experienced the mood swings and depression Spurlock claimed to have endured.
Mullen's piece also points out agenda-driven deceptions in other documentaries, including "Waiting For Superman," Bill Maher's "Religilous," "Searching For Sugarman," "Nanook Of The North," and even one of the most beautiful docs I've ever seen, "Winged Migration." Read it here.

Previously on Harris Online...

Hidden Cost Of A Low Minimum Wage

Jim Alexander e-mails:

I read your recent commentary on raising the minimum wage.What these companies don't seem to realize is that constantly having to hire new people is an expensive undertaking. There is a cost associated with hiring and training, and the more turnover they have due to low wages, the more expense they incur. Doubling the minimum wage would encourage employees to stick with the company, which in turn would lower turnover costs. It would also result in better-trained employees, since turnover results in losses of people who have been trained. Happier employees also translates to better customer service, which in turn brings in more customers (and more money).
Consider hiring and bringing an employee to fully-trained status as a Bell Curve. More turnover lowers the average height of that Bell Curve, meaning that employees are less trained and more expensive. This is all simple math that any business owner should know. Why McDonald's and other associated businesses cannot figure this out continues to baffle me. Thanks for giving this concern a forum.
Well said, Jim. It's another case of people predicting disaster despite the past proving that no such disaster will occur if a positive social change is made. That is, whenever wages have gone up in the past, employment hasn't dropped, and the economy has thrived because the workers have more money to spend.

My gut tells me the same will be true of all the gloom-and-doom predictions about Obamacare. What I like to see -- if those predictions don't come true, and having 30 million more people covered by health insurance accrues to the positive for our nation -- is someone holding those who made those predictions accountable. There's not enough of that in our media, other than on "The Daily Show," which routinely shows clips of people contradicting themselves over time or being outrageously wrong about something that turned out to work despite their best efforts.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Breaking Bad's Science Adviser

"Breaking Bad" returned to AMC tonight for the eight episodes that will finish the sage of chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-making-drug-lord Walter White. I didn't watch the show when it first aired, but caught up with it by binge-watching the first four seasons last summer. I was hooked worse than a meth-head by the brilliant storytelling and acting and cinematography and twists and turns.

There was one other element that drew me in -- an obvious attempt to get the science right. The person responsible for that has been Dr. Donna Nelson, an organic chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma, who has served as science adviser for "Breaking Bad." Today on my America Weekend show, I asked Dr. Nelson:
  • How she became involved in the show and what she contributes;
  • Whether all organic chemistry professors know how to make meth;
  • Whether "Breaking Bad" has made more students register for her classes;
  • What it was like to visit the set and see the chemistry of the people who make the show.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!