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, October 30, 2014

Remembering superb sports broadcasters

“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

So said General Douglas MacArthur after he was relieved of his command (fired) by President Harry Truman because the two had differing opinions on how to pursue the “police action” in Korea.
So the man immortalized in song as “Fighting Doug MacArthur” came home, testified before Congress and the ditty was amended to “Old soldiers never die, they just testify.”

All of which has nothing to do with what I am about to tell you. It is a shameless takeoff on the original song, which is (in my words), “Old sportscasters never die, they just...”
They just do whatever it is that they do. They either fade away, or live forever in the memories of their loyal followers.

I have had more than enough to say recently about announcers on the Cleveland sporting scene, particularly those reporting on the doings of the Indians and the Browns, but I keep getting mail from readers asking why I didn’t mention so and so.

So today I will make one last desperate attempt to mention the other so and sos.
But first I would like to take note of a nice letter I got from Matt Underwood, one of the two superb broadcasters who bring us commentary on televised Indians game.

His partner, of course, is Rick Manning. But you already knew that.

Matt had some very nice things to say about that previous column. So naturally I will reciprocate by saying something additionally about him and Rick.

Here goes: They are both very competent sportscasters as well as being exceptionally nice guys. And well dressed. And they are far superior to all the other guys who broadcast both baseball and football.
I cannot address the subject of basketball because I do not watch basketball. The reason is simple. I do not understand basketball. It is too complicated for me.

When you think of something as basic as grown men bouncing a ball on a wooden floor and then tossing it up, hoping it goes through a hoop, I think to myself: “Self, I must be missing something here. People would not pay to watch anything so simple as a playground game engaged in by exceptionally tall people the only point of which is to bounce a ball on the floor (or the ground) and toss it through a hoop. How is this different from bean bag toss? What is it that I am missing?”

So I have decided to forget about basketball and concentrate on baseball and football, because I understand both of those games. So let’s move on.

Much has been written in the past few days about the horrific East Ohio Gas fire in a respectable, nice Slovenian neighborhood on Cleveland’s East Side that killed so many people and burned to the ground so many homes.

What does that have to do with football? you ask. Just this. The fire was the night Willoughby Union High School played Wickliffe in football at Lincoln School field in Willoughby.
As we looked to the  west, we could see the flames lighting up the entire skyline. It maybe a point of reference that would not occur to anyone else, but for me it is a searing memory of a tragic event that changed the lives of so many fine people and devastated such a large portion of a nicely manicured neighborhood.
Do you know where you were that night in 1944? I know where I was, and I will never forget it.

But I digress.

Larry Reichard of North Perry Village wanted to know why I didn’t mention Jimmy Dudley in any of my previous columns about sports announcers. Well, I should have. And Bob Neal, too. They shared the same microphone, but they hated each other and didn’t speak for many years.
Larry also said his daughter and her husband bought a 1962 Corvette that was once owned by a member of the Neal family.

This I do know, Larry. If that car was owned by Bob Neal, he never gave Jimmy Dudley a ride home in it, even if it was pouring down rain.

Which brings us to Bud Boylan (Shaw, Class of 1945) and Ray Skopar (Collinwood, Class of 1946).
(I am beginning to run out of space. I will have to make this a brief, as they say in law school.)
Both Bud and Ray have fond memories of those old time radio broadcasts, especially the ones that arrived on Western Union ticker tape, which were recreated by Jack Graney and Pinkey Hunter.

When Graney would say, “It’s a hot shot, through the box, out over second base for a single,” one of them would yell, “Foul Ball.”
I think it was Ray. But I am not certain, because I wasn’t there.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Advice columnists can be entertaining

Advice columns in the newspaper are more than valuable sources of information that teach us to improve our condition, cement relationships and achieve success in love, life and the pursuit of happiness.

They also provide a measure of entertainment not available in other venues, such as movies, television programs and sporting events.

The latter would include the Browns beating the stuffing out of previously winless teams.

Oh well, if not last Sunday, perhaps next. But I digress.

Pre-eminent among advice columns for generations were the fabled twin sisters in real life, Dear Abby and Ann Landers.

They ruled the roost among sob sisters longer than Lassie ruled the silver screen. Or than Lawrence Welk dominated the airwaves.

Abby spoke in Cleveland a millennium or so ago, and since her syndicated column was one of the staples of our star-studded lineup, we wanted very much to do an interview with her.

But she had no time for that. She had to leave immediately after her speech for the airport to catch a plane.

Come to think of it, why else would anyone be in a sweat to get to the airport?

I managed to get her on the phone, and she was very sweet. But she was also firm. She had no time to spare.

But we came up with a plan. She was taking a limo to the airport. I asked: Would it be OK if our society editor, Louise Bartko, and I rode along with her to the airport, so she could talk to Louise along the way?

Abby said sure, we agreed, and it worked into a fine story, which I never saved for posterity because, after all, I can only save so much stuff over the course of 64 years.

Another columnist who responded to questions of every ilk and persuasion was Dr. George W. Crane, whose son, Phillip, became a noted congressman from, I think, Illinois.

Dr. Crane got a query from a reader one day who asked about watering her African violets while on vacation.

The good doctor replied that they must be watered but very sparingly. It must not be overdone, he warned, because he once put too much water on his violets and it killed them.

The column required a fresh headline every day, one that accurately related to the subject matter. So I put a head on it that I thought was terribly clever. Perhaps you will agree, perhaps not. It said:

“Doctor caught with his plants drowned.”

Our current columnist on medical matters, Dr. Roach, is worth your attention every day, because you never know what he might come up with.

Just the other day (Oct. 20) he adjudicated a father-son dispute about the efficacy of sitting on a baseball to cure, shall we say, a pain in the posterior. His answer was memorable.

But his column Oct. 15 was my all-time favorite. A reader said:

“I am a reasonably healthy 66-year-old male. I walk five miles a day. I have no knee problems. My doctor says I am walking too much and will wear out my knees. Do you agree?”

“No, I don’t agree at all,” Dr. Roach responded. He proceeded to elaborate in a torrent of well-chosen words, including a lecture on osteoarthritis, which he didn’t seem to think was a factor here.

He concluded, “Exercise is so good for your body, mind and spirit that this persistent myth needs to be corrected.”

I am sure the doctor is right, but he could have had a lot more fun with his answer had he given it a little more thought.

He might have said: “Tell me, M.D. (he was the questioner), if you have been faithfully walking five miles a day, how far from home are you right now?”

He also might have interviewed several people who deliver mail on foot (they used to be called “mailmen” but are probably known as “mailpersons” now because, you know, mailman is not politically correct in that it is a sexist term) to find out how their knees are doing.

Other sexist terms I worry about are manhole covers and the cry, “Man the lifeboats – the ship is sinking.”

Well, the language is also sinking. But that is another story.

Meanwhile, I will have to ask my mailman, Dave, how many miles a day he walks and how his knees are holding up.

Problem is, he moves right along and has little time for small talk because he has a lot of miles to cover every day.

It’s probably a very nice walk on a crisp autumn day. But in a foot of snow, not so nice.

M.D., the guy who wrote to Dr. Roach, didn’t say anything about walking five miles a day in a foot of snow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Seasonal crop of yard signs in full bloom again

So here we are, only a few weeks from Election Day, and as I drive about the county I see a profusion of my favorite seasonal crops growing in yards, vacant lots and other sites that are prized by politicians for displaying their wares.

Those, of course, would be political signs.

These multi-colored beauties adorn previously unoccupied territory from one end of Lake County to the other. I presume they are arising in other counties as well. But I don’t venture into other counties very much, so I can comment only on what I am seeing hereabouts.

What I am seeing is what politicians must consider to be the favorite reading matter of would-be voters. Why else would they plant their names so resolutely from Wickliffe to Madison.

They are probably hoping the gentle rains will make them grow and proliferate.

The signs, I am sure, are intended for the consumption of low information voters, the ones who see a red, white and blue (or green, or gold and yellow) sign and cause a voter to say, “That’s all I need to know. I am convinced, and I will vote for him (or for her, or for it in the case of an issue.)”

You must admit, the information contained on a yard sign is somewhat sparse. It is not persuasive enough to convince anyone above the moron level to cast an informed ballot.

But the theory is sheer repetition of the name. If you see enough signs begging you to “Vote for John Fonotny for County Fence Mender,” you begin thinking to yourself, “Hmmm, Fonotny must be a pretty good fence mender. He must be because he has a lot of signs. I’m voting for him.”

Or for her, as the case may be. For all I know, John Fonotny may be a woman. Stranger things have happened.

I have a very good friend, and I mean a very good friend, who happens to live on what any politician would consider a prime location.

That would be, a corner lot with great exposure to traffic.

“Traffic” here is defined as people in cars, in buses or on motorcycles (airplanes are excluded) who might be inclined to vote for someone whose name was on a sign posted in a prime location.

So I asked my friend: “Do you approve of all those signs?” The implication, of course, is that some politicians, or their minions, might drive up under the cover of darkness and pound in a stake bearing the name of a candidate and steal away without being detected.

“Yes,” my friend said. “They are all clients of mine.”

I was dumbfounded. “You mean, that’s all it takes to get a sign in the lot next door to you?”

I debated him only momentarily, pointing out that he was overlooking a candidate who was by far the superior choice in one of the races.

My friend admitted I had a point. We will see on Election Day how that works out.

I have never permitted a political sign to be erected in our own yard. I hasten to add that the lady of the house also has freedom of speech and choice in this matter, and she has never disagreed with me about this.

I will make one exception. We have permitted signs a couple of times promoting the passage of issues.

They have been signs that said “Vote Yes, Will Not Increase Taxes.”

Now, I have to admit that this is the approach to be used on low information voters, because it gives no cogent reason for voting for the issue.

The sign merely says, “Vote Yes.” But it carries a very strong implication, because what it really means is, “Vote Yes Because I Said So.”

You see, what this literally means is: “If you trust our judgment, then vote ‘Yes’ for this issue.”

Conversely, if you don’t trust our judgment, then vote any way you wish, because if you are going to be that way, we really don’t care how you vote.

But we are two people – two honest citizens – who would never lead you astray.

I had a friend who ran many years ago for countywide office. He had no yard signs. “You better get some signs, pal,” I told him.

“Hah!” he scoffed. “Signs don’t vote.”

Perhaps he was right. But most of the people who voted in that race didn’t vote for him.

I always wondered if the voters who overwhelmingly chose his opponent derived most of their information from reading yard signs.

It is possible.

And how can you establish a ratio between signs and votes if one candidate had no signs?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beware if computer is thinking along a different line than you

I am not alone in my fondness of typewriters.

After last week’s essay, I heard loving comments about them everywhere I went – all week long. Four people interrupted their breakfasts at Burgers-N-Beer to talk about typewriters. One-time Willoughby Patrolman Bill Crosier talked of using the two-finger, hunt and peck system to type out his reports – if Capt. Joe Pachnowski let him use the machine.

And Lorrie Rowe was kind enough to email a picture of her 9-year-old granddaughter banging out a story on an old electric typewriter, as well as a photo of her mother’s old Royal typewriter, which no one is allowed to use.

“Thanks for the memories,” she wrote. No, Lorrie. Thank YOU.

Now, of course, most typewriters collect dust as we do our compositions on computers.

(I am using one right now, so if anything goes wrong here, it is not my fault. Blame the computer.)

What can go wrong with a computer, you ask. Plenty. And everything. That is because typewriters don’t think, they just do what you tell them to do. But computers. Aha! They are always thinking. They think electronically. And if they are thinking along a different line than you, well, good luck with that! A computer will do whatever it wants to do, no matter what you want.

The results can be disastrous. Two recent examples come quickly to mind.

Two weeks ago, writing on Robin Palmer’s computer at The News-Herald, which I do for about an hour and a half every Monday, I wrote an entire column for the coming Sunday’s paper.

As I got to the very end, within one or two words, I hit a key that turned everything black.

Everything disappeared. Everything. I began to panic. My palms became sweaty. I asked everyone in the newsroom to help me find the column which I had just lost.

People who know a lot more about computers than I do, especially Assistant City Editor Bill DeBus and Executive Editor Tricia Ambrose, pitched in, assuring me it was in there somewhere.

They looked and looked – in the backup, the hard drive, or wherever you look to find missing columns.

Nothing was there. Nada. Zilch. Rien. It was totally lost. I took some deep breaths, went to the men’s room and splashed cold water on my face.

Then I returned to the newsroom, picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again. (I almost felt a song coming on.)

I rewrote the entire column. I tried to recreate the one I had previously written. I don’t know if the outcome was as good, better or worse than the original, but do you know what? You can never replicate your first effort exactly as you did it before. It is utterly impossible.

Example No. 2: I was sitting at my computer at Lakeland Community College, typing furiously. I was outlining several pages, single-spaced, of topics for conversation for the “Jim and Jack Show,” three one-hour discussions by Jack Platz and me on topics of interest – to us, at least – on the good old days in Lake County.

Much of it was about politics. All of it was about local history. Jack wrote his notes on a legal pad with a ball-point pen. Good move. Me? I used a computer. Big mistake.

After a few hours work, I finished and tried to move the copy. A note at the top of the page said, “Not Responding.” (I get that a lot on my computer.)

I tried and I tried to get the computer to do anything. All the machine would say was “Not Responding.”

I asked all the ladies in the office to help me. They tried. No luck. I left for the day with the machine still turned on. Nancy Brooks said she would look at it later on. I called her late in the day. No movement. Still “Not Responding.”

That evening I turned on my little computer at home and tried to recreate all the work I had done at the college. What a chore!

When I finished, I forwarded it to myself electronically at Lakeland.

Next morning when I arrived and looked at the computer, the “Not Responding” line was still showing. I called the college’s “Help” number.

I was able to retrieve what I had sent from home, print it out, and use it for notes as Jack and I, along with our emcee, Bob Cahen, went down the hall to the TV studio to record the first of our three broadcasts on county history as we recalled it.

Bob is a masterful interviewer. Jack, a longtime college professor, county commissioner and Democratic Party leader, has total recall. And the two guys at the controls, Phil and Sam, are master technicians.

I think we got a pretty good result. It, along with the shows we will record later this year, will be broadcast on the Lakeland Cable Network. When? Don’t ask. When they are ready to show them, I suppose.

Meanwhile, don’t give up on typewriters. Computers may be here to stay, but typing machines will always be a treasured part of Americana.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Does anyone else miss typewriters?

Remember typewriters?

Wow! What a wonderful invention. What a great way to put your thoughts on paper. People used to write whole books on typewriters.

Remember Ernest Hemingway? He wrote entire novels on typewriters. How about “A Farewell to Arms?”

He wrote it on a typewriter.

(Editor’s note: If someone looks up that last statement on a computer and discovers he wrote the book with a pencil on a legal pad, don’t call me – I’ll call you.)

Back when I was thinking about going to college, I thought I wanted to be a sportswriter. It took me a while to get rid of that notion, but meanwhile, I was aware I would have to know how to type if I worked on a paper, so in my first quarter at Kent State I signed up for Typing 101.

Boy, was that boring! You learned how to type in the first week. All you did was type repetitions of FRF space, FRF space, and like that. And you learned how to type, “If you are planning to work in an office, there are many things which you should know how to do.”

I guess that sentence was considered good practice for the minimally challenged. I mastered it before the first quarter was over.

Newspaper reporting was fun when stories were written on typewriters. You would stick two or three sheets of copy paper in the machine, insert one or two sheets of carbon paper, and go to town on the day’s latest adventures.

Our three reporters, Gerry Snook and Max Somebody and I would sit around the city desk after deadline and compare “dupes” to see who had written the most stories. In those days, each reporter would write 10 or 11 stories – some of them very short, of course, but some of them epics dealing with breaking news stories such as murders and other forms of social mayhem.

There are no more typewriters in newsrooms, and perhaps possibly not anywhere in the world. Oh, I know of two of them. I still have one in my office at The News-Herald and I have one at home. That one has a very wide carriage. I do not know why.

Typewriters are excellent for addressing envelopes, especially for those whose handwriting falls barely short of being legible.

The lady of the house has perfect handwriting. She attributes it to the nuns who insisted upon it. But I never went to parochial school, so I just learned to write in the old-fashioned way, from public school teachers.

Just last week she asked me to write out a shopping list, which she dictated as she strode about the house looking for the usual things – her glasses, her cell phone, etc.

When she was ready for the trip to Giant Eagle she took a look at the list, wadded it up in disgust and left in a listless manner, one might say. She said she couldn’t read it.

Typewriters are still my writing machines of choice. The problem is, I have no idea where to buy a new ribbon for my two faithful servants.

So I write the way other people do. If I want to make a list, I use a ball point pen and one of those many thousands of note pads that arrive in the mail from people who want you to send them money.

I call them “tin cup” letters. If not the little note pads, they send you gummed stickers with your name on them.

Here’s a news bulletin for everyone who sends me tin cup letters with return-address labels inside –  I DON’T NEED ANY MORE OF THEM.

I already have many thousands of them. I would throw all of them away, but there is not enough room in the green-with-a-yellow-top recycling container.

If Waste Management tried to dispose of all of them at once they might gum up the machinery.

Here’s the nice thing about typewriters: Basically, nothing goes wrong with them. Whatever does go wrong is usually a small thing that anyone with an IQ above two digits can fix without going crazy.

But now everything is written on computers. And don’t tell me nothing can go wrong when you are writing on a computer or I will tell you that you are nuts.

I write this column at The News-Herald. I write a lot of other important stuff on a computer at Lakeland Community College. And I write other, basically unimportant stuff on my computer at home, which I try to turn on about once every three weeks.

Mostly I use it for emails. And even with that minimal amount of usage, plenty of things can go wrong.

I should have said can and do go wrong.

I started writing this piece intending to tell you about the things that can go wrong with computers when you try to write something that makes sense.

But that will take at least another week.