Friday, February 26, 2016

Stick a Fork in the Silver Spoon

I wrote my previous blog just before the South Carolina primary, where former Florida Governor (and early front-runner) Jeb Bush finally suspended his campaign. In a free-for-all primary season where big egos and bluster have eclipsed insight and experience, the son and brother of former presidents might have been the greatest punchline of all. In a party gradually being taken over by reactionaries, Bush run as a moderate. In a race of populists and first-time candidates, Bush was a seasoned pro. Where the aforementioned neophytes lead the polls, Bush proved a hapless and undesirable candidate. Asking for his brother's help was a desperate last resort. I would take pity on him, but as a pro-gun, pro-life oligarch that waffled on marriage equality, it's kind of hard to see what Bush's appeal was, even as an underdog. In a sad sort of way, he was like the mirror image of Democratic also-ran Martin O'Malley; he had some good ideas, but his campaign was doomed almost from the beginning.

For those of you reading this that are moderate conservatives and hate Donald Trump just as much as I do, this is your best hope.

Other notes:

+ Speaking of the GOP, can someone please explain to me why Dr. Ben Carson is still running?

+ For those of you in the Chicago area, I have a number of shows up coming up in March. My improv duo Flower Shop Bangers are playing the deMaat Theater at Second City (1608 N. Wells) at 10pm on March 5th and 12th. Additionally, I'm hosting a couples-themed improv show on Monday, March 21st at MCL Chicago in Lakeview. This is on top of my every-other-week gig with Kelly Machiavelli at One Group Mind; they play March 4th and 18th at 8pm. See you there!

+ If anyone was wondering, my Oscar picks are: The Revenent, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson, Tom Hardy, Alicia Vikander, "Inside Out."


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Down The Stretch They Come

They finally started dropping like flies. At one point late last summer, there were 23 official candidates (six Democrats and 17 Republicans) vying for their party's nomination; by mid-February, the dogfight had been whittled down to two Democrats and six Republicans. With the possible exception of the ever-optimistic Gov. John Kasich, nearly all the candidates that didn't make an splash in the early going never gained momentum. Bottom-feeders and underfunded candidates like Lindsay Graham and Jim Gilmore couldn't find any substantial momentum; however, where Graham was out of the race by Christmas, Gilmore somehow lingered around until after the New Hampshire primary.

So who's left? The race for the Democratic party was going to be Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders all along. Even if Clinton (and most analysts) thought she was a sure shot last summer, there is a faction of her own party that doesn't think she's liberal enough to represent a party that is shifting further to the left. Secretary Clinton might be more qualified than the grass roots, rough at the seems Senator Sanders, but her flip-flopping and checkered history might be her undoing. Sanders is too much of an idealist (sound familiar?) but he's a worthy alternative.

Meanwhile, the Republicans and its remaining challengers represent a Grand Old Party on the cusp of a schism. Where the seemingly unstoppable Trump circus leads the pack, a fair number of Republicans would rather have a mainline conservative (Jeb Bush), an eager moderate (Kasich), a young, feisty Tea Party candidate (Marco Rubio), a literal interpretor of the Constitution (Ted Cruz), or an Christian-conservative outsider (Ben Carson) lead the way. In all likelihood, the upcoming South Carolina primary will determine who will land the nomination in August, as well as the soul of the GOP. Even if 30% of Republicans would rather have the brash billionaire, that means 70% of the party --and if I have my math right, 85% of the general populace-- would rather vote for anyone but Trump come November.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Radio Dazed

From 1999 to 2010, I worked at a radio station in some capacity. This ultimately fruitless pursuit of a life's dream could be broken down into four chapters. Chapter one would be my 3 1/2 years with WDGC-FM, my high school station. Chapter two (and to some extent, the epilogue) took place at 90.9 FM WDCB, my first paying job and as well as my first taste of professional radio. The final chapter was my two tumultuous years at Salem Communications' Chicago branch. The third chapter, however was relatively short but carried the longest-term consequences.

I was persuaded into going to community college after graduating high school. I was dead set upon attending North Central College in nearby Naperville, but the cost of tuition for a four-year private school forced my hand. As I was wrapping up my associates degree, I did some research on other schools, partially out of curiosity. I discovered that not only did Illinois State University's radio station (and school of communications) offer a higher quality program, but it was more cost-effective. After a short discussion with my parents, I set my sights on transferring to ISU in January 2006.

After settling into my dorm room at Watterson Towers and purchasing my textbooks, my first order of business was to get acquainted with the student radio station. I had first visited Z106 when I was on campus the previous October; I was impressed by the quality of the station's aesthetic and the various IBA accolades it had received over the years. I attended an open meeting where each department director (music, promotions, news and sports, etc.) introduced themselves and explained what they were seeking in a staff member. I ended up applying for four departments: rock music staff, rock DJ, traffic/billing, and sales. I eventually worked in three of these departments, but was only hired for the rock music staff.

For my first semester at Z106, I largely kept a low profile. I was happy to be there, but I didn't want to make waves. I tried out as a rock DJ again in May 2006, with a new programming director proctoring the auditions. Because of a miscommunication, I didn't know I made the cut until two weeks before Fall Semester started. After that, my presence around the office grew incrementally. By my third semester, I had been assigned to a special project reorganizing the station's manager handbook (the station bible, so to speak) and held two on-air shifts. After spending the Summer of 2007 interning at the station, I was on rock music staff, a rock DJ, an undergraduate teaching assistant, and working in the station's traffic/accounts receivable department. I had made a plethora of friends and contacts, and graduated in December 2007 thinking the impact I had made at Z106 would transition into a long career in the radio industry.

I soon discovered, however that staying in touch was easier said than done. Of the three people that made the greatest impact for me during my time at Z106, there's one person I've only run into twice since graduating (both in the same weekend in 2011), one I last saw the month after I graduated, and one right before I graduated. Social media helps, but the opportunity to have lunch or even grab a beer is scant to physically impossible. I blame part of that on geography, but also on a mountain of miscommunication.

Sometime in late 2009, I noticed that I was unfriended on Facebook by a fourth Z106 cohort. This particular girl was short in stature but big in personality; she was an aspiring comedian of sorts, and had created a persona of being bubbly and vapid. (Her signature bit of sorts was asking "what's a Porter Moser?" after our men's basketball coach was sacked.) At the same time, the station could be a hornet's nest of drama, and her cliquish and entitled mindset sometimes drove that undercurrent of tension. At the same time, I was on good terms with her (so I thought) and never had a personal issue with her.

After realizing I was unfriended, I waited a few days to message this girl and talk things out, but I never got a straight answer. I sent a friend request, which over six years later is still pending. When the station held its 30th anniversary reunion at Homecoming 2011, I approached a group of people that I was cordial with, with the girl in question somewhere in the middle of the cluster. Since I really hadn't discussed the situation with anyone, and didn't want to look squirrelly, I approached everyone in the group with a handshake and a hug. When it was this girl's turn, I embraced her gingerly and moved on to the next person; as I did so, she clenched a teeth for a split-second and muttered "well fuck, he's a hugger."

I don't think we spoke for the remainder of the evening.

Though this girl is not the only former co-worker to unfriend me on Facebook, she might have been the most astonishing. A couple of my old peers simply weren't that close, and as near as I can tell there's no tension between us. Another co-worker, the assistant traffic director during my one semester in that department, unfriended virtually everyone in our office and has totally fallen off the grid. One girl that I nominated for Staffer of the Semester (and ended up sharing the honor) proved to be humorless and easily offended. Granted, she wasn't that easygoing to begin with, but she was reliable and I admired her work ethic. In a way, her unfriending me in late 2012 felt like looking the gift horse in the mouth.

Admittedly, I am driving down to Normal in early April with some trepidation. The visit will be succinct; I'm attending a wedding in Texas the same weekend, so my time back at Z106 (now just WZND) will be somewhat abbreviated. There are a few people that I know will be happy to see me and vice versa, but it will be tricky to navigate around some of the drama and unresolved tension that lingers on after all this time. My career in radio didn't work out, and for most of the Z106 staff in the mid-to-late 2000s, they also saw their broadcasting pursuits sputter out a few years after graduation. We were a group of disparate college kids with a common goal. And we're gonna celebrate.