Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Analog customers losing out in a digital world

At what point does anger turn into frustration?

I’m beginning to find that out as I learn more and more about the cavalier manner in which Time Warner
 Cable is treating some of its customers.

The customers who have digital reception on their TV sets won’t know what I’m talking about. But those who are trapped in analog reception, ah, those are the folks who are being left behind.

Let me explain, or at least try to explain.

If your TV has a converter, you are receiving all the channels you thought you would be getting when you signed up for the service. But if you don’t have a converter, well, you are getting the short end of the stick.

We have one large set in the living room that is equipped to receive everything. But there are smaller sets around the house – in the dining room and bedrooms, for example – that are able to receive only those channels that TWC wants them to receive.

And TWC has blanked out a lot of channels – an awful lot.

I first noticed the phenomenon a couple of weeks ago when I tried to get the Golf Channel in the dining room. Nothing.

But I then noticed that more and more channels had become blank or carried a message saying you could sign up “to get your channel back” with a higher-priced service.

Don’t ask me to explain the difference between digital and analog.

I am not an engineer, I am a typist. But I do know that digital is better.

I noticed something else that bothered me from a personal standpoint. It has to with political interviews I will be doing in the TV studio at Lakeland Community College in the fall with one of The News-Herald editors as my co-host.

We have been doing these interviews in sort of a “Meet the Press” format since 1982. They are not broadcast live. They are taped for later showing on the Lakeland Cable Channel. The tapes are also copied and sent to smaller cable companies in the Northeast Ohio area which may wish to share them with their viewers.

Where I live, in Willoughby, the Lakeland channel is 95. Except it is blank now – unless you watch it in the living room, which has digital reception.

I have been in the habit for years of checking Channel 95 on the dining room TV just to see what was showing. Sometimes it has been an old movie, sometimes a debate on ethics staged by some Washington heavyweights, and quite often it was one of the hour-long interviews I conducted with a cross-section of the area’s leading business men and women.

I would turn on the TV and there I would be, with Tony Ocepek, or Jimmy Zampini, or Bill Sanford, or the Dick Muny family, or any of 15 similar interviews I did over the years.

Not any longer. Oh, I could go into the living room to check out the channel, but usually I don’t bother.

So in the dining room I have no Golf Channel and no Lakeland Channel.

I talked with Phil Boyle at the Lakeland Channel because we are going to be spending a lot of time and effort recording political interviews in late August, and the only folks able to watch them will be customers with digital service.

If you are an analog person, that’s your tough luck.

Phil noted that he and his colleagues have been in contact with TWC but so far have received no encouragement about change.

He showed me a letter from TWC listing the channels it has reduced to digital only in just the Mentor area.

They include 12, 20, 21, 22, 95 and 96. They are all government access, community service-type channels.

Others that are gone, unless you have digital service, include 15 (WGN Chicago), 16 (CSPAN) and others too numerous to mention.

TWC said in its letter you can get a free digital adapter through September 2015, and after that you can order all you need for $1.50 per month.

But I would think that, in the interest of a citizenry wanting to see interviews with candidates for political office, TWC would want to place a priority on that type of programming so analog customers will not be deprived of it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Celebrating family makes Father's Day extra special

If you look up all the official holidays, there is probably one for every day in the year.

You can hardly think of anything that ever happened that doesn’t have a holiday to mark the occasion.

Some special days, solemn and otherwise, are commemorated by weeks, and even months, to celebrate them and remind us of their importance.

I am thinking, for example, of National Pickle Week. You may be thinking of something else. I don’t blame you. I wasn’t even thinking of it myself until it popped into my mind less that a minute ago.

We have just celebrated many wonderful holidays, and we have many more coming up over the summer. But one of the most significant days of all – right up there alongside Mother’s Day and Sweetest Day – is one that brings tears of joy to my eyes.

And no, I don’t have any allergies. They are real tears. I am talking about Father’s Day. It is a day which we mark with a breakfast gathering, exchanges of thousands of pleasantries and many hugs and kisses.

And promises to keep in touch.

I have two darling daughters, and the lady of the house tells me that I do not call them as often as I should.

She may be right, but I also insist that mothers are much more apt to keep in constant touch with their offspring than are fathers.

I plead guilty. So from now on I will reach out across the miles and call them more often. Actually, there are not that many miles to cross. My younger daughter, Kim, lives about seven houses away, and it was she who found the house of our dreams one day when she was out walking her dog and saw the “For Sale” sign.

We lived in a much more complicated house, and with only dogs and cats and no more children at home, we were looking for something on one level.

When Kim found it, we looked at it, made an offer, and within days we had called the moving van.

Thus began a two-year adventure. That was eight or nine years ago, the bottom immediately fell out of the real estate market, and for two years I owned two houses, was mowing two lawns, paying two water, gas and electric bills and having the insurance company threaten to quadruple my insurance bill because the house was not occupied.

The day our former house was sold was one of the happier occasions in my life.

My other daughter, Diane, lives farther away. She lives on a lovely street near the Willoughby cemetery. If you haven’t figured it out yet, we all live in Willoughby, within a few minutes of each other. Nobody is more than five minutes away.

That closeness is ideal for celebrating holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, and, of course, Father’s Day.

This year we held our Father’s Day breakfast at Burgers ‘n Beer in Downtown Willoughby. Now, my brother and I have breakfast there every Sunday, except when the Lions Club is holding a pancake breakfast in Willoughby Hills. All we needed at B’nB last Sunday was a larger table. It was nice having the two girls there.

They are hardly “girls” any more, however. They are both married and have families of their own. But in spite of how much Deborah Foley, the head lady at United Way, hates my use of the word “girls” when I refer to grown women, in my heart they will always be my little girls.

Kim brought her husband, Dan, and their son, Brian, to breakfast. I always remember Brian, who has grown up into a large man, as the slugging first baseman of his Little League team who, along with Tommy Foster, terrorized, the other teams – especially the pitchers.

Diane brought her husband, Lou, although none of their three kids came with them.

The kids all have very productive jobs. The two hard-working boys, Louie and Kenny, are both union laborers who work underground in Cleveland and support their families handsomely. Their daughter, Destiny, is a graduate of Lake Erie College who works in Cleveland as an editor and who once had her picture on the Jumbotron on Times Square in New York City for working a year without making an error.

Lou and Diane have four grandchildren (those would be my great-grandkids) and I don’t have space to mention them all. I have to tell you, though, that one of them, Angelina, is in the Willoughby-Eastlake program for exceptionally bright kids and was just inducted into the National Honor Society.

It’s having kids like mine that make Father’s Day worthwhile. I hope your holiday was equally as enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Meeting with then-Col. James E. Rudder made lasting impression on this draftee

I watched the curtain go up yesterday on the greatest drama in the history of the world – the invasion of Hitler’s Europe.

With those eloquent words began one of the finest pieces of newspaper writing I have ever read. I came across the story in a book called “A Treasury of Great Reporting.” I lent the book to a friend many years ago but, unfortunately, it was never returned. You know how that goes.

That opening paragraph refers, of course, to the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, an event of June 6, 1944, which we commemorated recently as a grateful nation paid tribute to the brave Americans and their World War II allies who began the rout of the Axis forces that didn’t end until August of the following year.

D-Day may have been what Winston Churchill had in mind when, referring to Hitler as a “filthy guttersnipe and his gang of work-your-wicked-wills,” he said, “it was not the beginning, and it was not the end, but it was the beginning of the end.”

The Free World will always remember D-Day as one of the pivotal dates in history, the date on which the world gained renewed hope that we had the Axis on the run, and our troops would soon be returning to a grateful land that greeted them with ticker-tape parades, hugs and kisses, and hope for a future not punctuated by outbursts of armed conflict.

That euphoria lasted only until 1950, when we took up arms once again in our next overseas foray, the Korean War – except they refused to call it a war because, you know, we weren’t going to fight any more wars. It was, instead, the “Korean Conflict.”

Well, everybody I talked to who came back to Fort Hood, Texas, from the Far East Command said it sure looked like a war to them.

One of the most interesting people I ever met at Fort Hood was one of the greatest heroes this country has ever known. Only Audie Murphy had more medals. But Col. James E. Rudder had all the rest. He lacked only the Medal of Honor.

I may be the only person in Lake County who ever knew Rudder. I met him, and wrote about him, when I was in the Public Information Office of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Hood. Rudder was there in 1954 for summer training with his Army Reserve unit.

The timing was significant. It was the 10th anniversary of D-Day, and Collier’s Magazine (remember that?) ran a cover story about Rudder titled, “I Took My Son to Omaha Beach.”

The date on that magazine was June 11, 1954, and the cover price was 15 cents. And yes, I still have my copy of it. As you may know, I never throw anything away. (You can read the entire Collier’s article here, with color pictures.)

The significance of the role Rudder played on that historic day was that he was the first man ashore in the invasion of Europe. He was commanding officer of the Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion, and the invasion was a treacherous and perilous undertaking.

His Army Rangers stormed the beach at Pointe du Hoc and were forced to scale 100-foot high cliffs using grappling hooks, under heavy enemy fire all the while.

The battalion’s casualty rate was more than 50 percent. Rudder, the first man up the cliff, was himself wounded twice. But they dug in and fought off the Germans for two days, successfully establishing a beachhead for the Allied forces.

It was the kind of stuff movies are made of. But this was a real life saga. And the cast of characters was not of movie elites and extras but of real people.

Rudder was one of the nicest people I have ever met – a true gentleman. He was gracious, kind and most considerate of a young draftee who, fortunately, after basic combat training, was put into a job that he knew something about.

About the time I knew him he was promoted to brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserves. In 1957 he was promoted to major (two stars) general.

In civilian life he didn’t do too badly. In brief, in 1958 he became president of Texas A&M University, the college of you-know-who of the Cleveland Browns, and transformed it into one of the largest and greatest universities in the U.S. He was elected state land commissioner in 1956, and in 1967 was awarded the nation’s highest peacetime service award by President Lyndon Johnson.

Not bad for a high school football coach from Brady, Texas, his hometown, which he served as mayor for six years and where he and his wife, Margaret, raised three daughters and two sons.

Rudder died March 23, 1970, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.

Among the giants in the pantheon of American military heroes, he ranks as one of the highest.

But as I sat with him that day in his Jeep out in the wild expanses of the Fort Hood military reservation, he looked just like any of a thousand other guys in uniform that I knew.

Except he had a bearing that you couldn’t mistake. Call it “class.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Longing for the days when test patterns meant something

I usually write this column early Monday afternoon, for consumption by newspaper readers the following Sunday.

As for those who read it as a blog, well, I don’t know when they read it, but I guess that can be almost any time.

I used to worry about that. What if I might want to make a correction on Friday?

Well, I quit worrying. Let’s just say that Sunday morning readers get the final version. As for blog readers, all I can say is, “Reader beware.”

But I can relax. My worries, like most of the others I harbor, are mostly unwarranted. That is because this effort almost always is read by Tricia Ambrose, who is not only executive editor of the newspaper but is also the namesake of one of our beloved puppies. If there is anything that escapes her attention, I am not aware of it.

But I digress.

My Rotary luncheon concludes at 1 p.m. on Monday. On the long drive from the old Mounds Club, now LaVera Party Center, in Willoughby Hills to The News-Herald building in Willoughby, I am usually thinking about the topic I am going to address.

Last Monday, I got to thinking about test patterns.

Early test patterns on TV were somewhat interesting, black-and-white designs. They had character. They had meaning.

The new test patterns in color? Boring. Useless. Nothing you would want to sit and watch for any length of time, I would venture.

A couple of weeks ago, Ray DelaMotte, president of the Lake County Chapter of the Kent State Alumni
Association, had asked me and George Inscho, the noted educator who now lives in Concord Township, to be the inspirational speakers at the Blue and Gold 50th Anniversary Dinner at Hellriegel’s Inn in Painesville Township.

Except he said “keynote” speakers. I’m the one who changed “keynote” to “inspirational.”

At any rate, George was tied up that evening because of a tune-up on his pacemaker, so I had to go it alone, as it were.

I have been attending these dinners for many years as a reasonably proud grad of KSU. Imagine my surprise (shock?) when Ray asked me to be a speaker.

I knew most of the folks in the audience. And I had a lot of time to fill. So I regaled them with tales of what it was like at Kent in the late 1940s.

Now, you can’t talk about such a slice of history in Kent without talking about a downtown saloon called Mandy’s.

Its real name was the Moon Night Club, operated by the Mandelari brothers. But everyone called it Mandy’s.

Calling it a nightclub is kind of funny in itself. Basically, it was a very long bar populated by college kids who drank beer at 20 cents a bottle and watched the TV located high on the wall behind the bar.

It was a 9-inch black-and-white set, and the only program on it was wrestling. People sat and watched wrestling as intently as if it were Jack Bauer trying to escape death every Monday night on “24.”

Jack’s escapades and brushes with death are hair-raising and remarkable. So was sitting and watching wrestling on a 9-inch black-and-white TV.

The only other TV entertainment those days was standing on the sidewalk in front of the appliance store next to the theater on Main Street and watching the test pattern.

The movie theater was an up-to-date place where we went as often as three times a week to see all the first-run films. The store next door left a TV on in the window all night, I presume, and the only picture on it was a test pattern.

A couple of dozen people would stand on the sidewalk and watch the test pattern. Some were probably college kids, but a lot of them were townspeople.

I’m not saying they were unsophisticated. Don’t forget, this was 1946. I don’t know how long they stood there. Perhaps they came and went in shifts. But the test pattern thrills were about the only entertainment they required on a warm October evening.

Time Warner, my cable company, allows me to watch the Golf Channel on the big TV set in the living room.

But not on the small set in the dining room.

No sir. There’s no Channel 29 in the dining room. Most of the other channels are there, but Channel 29 is just a color test pattern.

It is not even interesting. It is deadly dull. The pattern consists of series of vertical color stripes – bright and cheery stripes. But they don’t move.

Now, I am aware what Time Warner is up to. I wasn’t born yesterday. They want me to pay for a digital converter for every TV in the house. Not me. It gets too expensive.

So I can’t sit at the dining room table and switch back and forth between baseball and golf.

It makes me furious. And what does the lady of the house think about all this? Not very much. She is very understanding. She doesn’t care in the least.

Sometimes I wish I had her temperament.

And I wish Time Warner would cut out the money-grubbing and give us consumers a break.