Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Strange New World

I wonder … what would Gene Roddenberry think?

A little context here:

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first airing of “Star Trek”, the television series that went where no man — where no one — had gone before.

Meaning out into the stars, yes … but in the context of the mid-1960s and what was considered okay to put on television, this series went to a few places and did a few things that were just about unheard of, at the time – beyond doing what science fiction does best, namely under-the-radar commentary on current events.

On the bridge of our fair starship Enterprise: well, yes, a white fellow in the commander’s seat, and a white fellow in charge of keeping everybody well and healthy … but look at the folks who are helping them out:

An African-American woman in charge of keeping the Enterprise in touch with the outside world.

A Russian fellow — at the time, you’ll recall, Soviet Russia wasn’t exactly considered your warmest fuzziest neighbor — in charge of figuring out how to navigate the ship from place to place.

An Asian man in charge of steering the darn truck! (And firing the phasers, when sadly necessary.)

Yes, a white fellow in charge of keeping the ship propelled properly, but sporting an accent that was darn near impenetrable.

And a green — green! — alien. Not an illegal alien. And not an alien that is here to menace our heroes. And not a “little green man”, as early science-fiction writers imagined. A tall, dark (greenish) and handsome native of another planet entirely. And, um, friendly. If a bit bemused by the humans surrounding him.

As opposed to hell-bent on conquering our world. Or taking our jobs.

The crew of the starship Enterprise was meant (overtly or not) to be a microcosm of the sort of world that Gene Roddenberry believed was possible, some day in the future. His vision has been derided by some as full of Pollyanna BS in its utopian glee; but honestly, who wouldn’t want to live in a world where everyone was judged by their character and not by what they looked like?

Who, indeed.

Fast-forward fifty years from the first appearance of Captain Kirk and his merry band of genuine friends, and … well, politically, we’re not exactly in a happy-clappy utopian mist of bliss, out here.

This morning, I was listening to a segment of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, an interview with a Florida resident who is likely to vote for Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. He didn’t see himself as a hardcore, rally-attending, rally-protester-punching, campaign-press-corps-threatening Trump supporter. No indeed. Rather, he saw himself as a person who, after much consideration, really did think that voting for Trump was his best option “in a weak [election] field.”

And to wrap up his self-assessment, he said a most curious thing.

This is not one [vote] that I’m gonna be bragging about in the future. This is the first presidential election cycle in my lifetime [in which] I have not had a yard sign, a bumper sticker, a pin, a shirt, a hat … there is nothing on my property that would tell you who I’m going to vote for. I told somebody, you know, I like ‘Star Trek’, but I am not dressing up like a Klingon and going to the convention, okay? I’m going to vote for Donald Trump, but his yard sign is not going in my front yard.”

Setting aside the fact that, well, in this case, as in many others throughout history, at least one voter is glad that American elections are done by secret ballot, so no one has to know that you actually voted for Candidate X … and also setting aside the inescapable impression that he held beliefs for which he really didn’t want to have to stand up and be counted …

Here we have a self-professed fan of “Star Trek”, a program whose underlying point was that the wonderful thing about the people that is going out and exploring the wonders of outer space is that they represent race full of human beings who have figured out how to live peaceably and productively with themselves, and have matured to the point that they have begun to appreciate and value people and things and aliens that are different, rather than continuing to be spooked and scared by “strange new worlds”, and probably to be violent toward “new life and new civilizations”.

And this Florida man is supporting a candidate who has managed to awaken many Americans’ latent hatreds, by way of behavior and policies that espouse exactly the opposite philosophy from that “Star Trek” show.

I wonder what Gene Roddenberry would think.

I can’t speak for him … but as for me, at the very least I think that Florida man fundamentally misunderstands “Star Trek”.

Either that or he just likes it for the phaser guns, and spaceships, and fistfights wherein William Shatner rips his own shirt, again.

What really makes me nervous is that, according to the original Star Trek canon, Earth and its humans had to endure a Third World War before they could come out the other side and start to rebuild their civilization into something that would one day become the Roddenberry vision.

Here’s hoping Mr. Roddenberry was wrong, at least in this one detail.

Twenty days.


October 19, 2016 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, news, npr, politics, radio, science fiction, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hearing Voices

I stumbled onto an intriguing job posting today.

No, I’m not looking for a new job. I just GOT this new one, for heaven’s sake.

In any case, the job is in an almost entirely different field from my current line of work; although some of the job qualifications I could have acquired eventually, had I somehow stayed in the journalism biz long enough and pointing in the right direction (which is to say, not the direction I was pointing, which was toward trade and tech journals, rather than television and radio).

National Public Radio is looking for someone to say, “This is NPR”. Repeatedly.

There’s more to the gig than that, but that detail was what got quite the attention of a number of my online acquaintances.

There’s a certain something about an NPR voiceover that makes it distinct, and distinctly different from, say, yahoo sports talk radio, or from 1010 WINS in New York City, or from most commercial broadcasters. Hard to pin down exactly what that certain something is. Once I heard some rube describe the men of NPR News as “announcers who’ve discovered their softer side”. But if you randomly turn a radio on and get an NPR voiceover, whether it’s “from NPR in Washington” or from a local affiliate’s on-air personality, you know you’ve hit public radio.

To describe the NPR voice, I suppose I could use adjectives like calm, relaxed, urbane, serene, or folksy; but that would label me as biased toward the organization. So sue me; I like the sound of it. With a few possible exceptions like the Car Talk guys, just about everyone on public radio, from news programming to “America’s Test Kitchen”, has those certain, yes, soothing elements in their voices. It’s a little jarring, the first time you hear “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” when one of the panelists is comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, he of the reedy and slightly desperate voice.

THAT’S what it is – nobody at NPR ever sounds like they’re breathless and desperate. (Except around pledge drive time, but that’s not really programming, that’s begging. So.)

Anyway, the job opening. I’m not qualified. I have a few of the qualifications that NPR lists in its classified ad, but not nearly enough for them to toss my resume in the “take another look” pile.

We’re looking for someone with serious production chops, … and is comfortable managing a complex workflow and ‘ready-to-air’ deadlines.” So, not me. I’ve only visited radio stations.

Must have strong [experience with] Dalet, Adobe Audition, ProTools or similar production tools” … I’ve heard of the latter two, but I admit that I looked at the first one and heard the word “exterminate!” in my head, so I think that tends to deny me full marks.

[Must have] at least four years of production or broadcast experience with emphasis in professional voice announcement and production” … not even nearly close, unless you count my emcee work at church hymn sings.

[Must demonstrate] at all times respect for the diverse constituencies at NPR and within the public radio system” … well, I know people who can confirm that I’ve never made fun of Garrison Keillor, Ira Glass or any attempt by NPR to cover professional sports, so that’s something. And, years ago, I wrote a set of lyrics to the tune of “O Tannenbaum” that on the surface made me sound like I was taking shots at the public radio fundraiser, but actually there was plenty of affection involved. (“O woe is us, O woe is us / If we don’t get your pledges / Our operating budget is / Ragged ’round the edges”…)

So, knowing that I was not going to be a finalist for this position, nonetheless, I got to wondering: what would I sound like if I tried to make an audition recording?

Very few people I know actually like the sound of their own recorded speaking voice. Something to do with how we’re used to hearing it from inside our own heads, and it sounds different on the outside, where we never are. Many times, students of mine have exclaimed, “that’s not me! That’s not us!” Ah, but it is.

(I’ve gotten used to my speaking voice. Now my singing voice is another matter, but that’s one thing that’s great about being a church choir director: you’re almost always facing away from the congregation.)

From the NPR ad: “Bonus points for the ability to sound authentic on the radio – we’re not looking for ‘the voice of God.’”

You’re not? Why didn’t you say so sooner!?

So for kicks, I marched over to my little digital recorder device, took a deep breath, and read the copy that NPR suggested would constitute a proper audition recording.

Support for this program comes from Zurich Insurance, providing risk management and insurance solutions to help businesses meet their ever-changing needs. Learn more at Zurich N-A dot com. {ZUR – ik}. Novo Nordisk, committed to diabetes care and changing lives for more than 90 years. Novo Nordisk hyphen U-S dot com. and CarMax, offering more than 35,000 used cars and trucks. Online, and in stores from coast to coast. Learn more at CarMax dot com. This is NPR.”

I will admit that speaking those words … words which for the most part are just ads for NPR’s corporate sponsors … put my mind in a different place than most words I speak.

All Things Considered is a production of NPR News, which is solely responsible for its content. Transcripts of stories you hear on this program are available for free the following day at NPR dot org. Select the “Transcripts” link on every story page. To find out more about the movies you hear about on NPR programs, go to NPR dot org slash movies. This is NPR.”

The equivalent in the non-NPR world would be contributing your own voice to the paragraph “You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.”

Or substituting your own voice for the CBS Sports announcer who used to rattle off the commercial sponsors of its NFL games: “Brought to you bahhh…”

Or using your own voice to pull a Don LaFontaine movie trailer maneuver, saying things like, “In a world… where this and that collide… one man… has the power to change the world… forever.”

Can’t pull any of that off. Sorry.

But this, I can manage:

And even though Ernest Shackleton organizes another doomed expedition to the Antarctic whenever he hears us say it … this is NPR, National Public Radio.”

May 22, 2013 Posted by | media, npr, radio, technology | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Olympic Withdrawal

The upshot of this piece may well be this: this very moment, in a room near where I am currently writing, I have one of the NBC’s lesser-known networks on the TV. They’re running edited-together highlight packages of the recently-completed Olympic Games. London 2012 lives on, seemingly. And I like it.

Just the sound of the Olympic track and field events, swimming races, volleyball games is enough to take the sting out of the truth: the Closing Ceremonies are over, and all the athletes are now at Heathrow Airport trying to get out of the UK. And when I swing past the TV on my way to fetch something or get something to eat or whatever, I’m comforted by the sight of the pastel decorations all around whichever venue is being featured; color schemes and logos that would be laughed out of the planning rooms of most other sporting events are embraced and encouraged in Olympic brainstorming sessions, and that alone can make watching the Olympics that much different from any other event.

And so, with that as backdrop and backstory, I continue to live in the recent past. More accurately, a few moments from the Olympic fortnight are still reverberating in my head, and not all of them were top headlines. Here are some entries from my Virtual London Olympics Spiral-Bound Reporter’s Notebook…


[] “Never mind the gymnastics tonight … this afternoon I watched the women’s judo final: the US woman won the gold medal; she climbed onto the top medal platform; and at the first very note of the Star-Spangled Banner, her composure just dissolved. Confession: I had to get up and make a sandwich.

Meanwhile, the TV cameras showed the fiance of said gold medal winner, and he was very very happy. A gentle note to this fine young man: behave well. You are marrying someone who can flip you.”

[] “There is controversy in badminton. (That alone is a sentence I never thought I’d type.) Seems a Chinese doubles team was been removed from the tournament because they were playing with a strategy of positioning themselves well for the medal round, which appeared to all observers to be, in certain circumstances, playing not to win. I saw highlights: these people were blatantly serving into the net, repeatedly. On the one hand, they were interpreting the official rules correctly, which probably means someone needs to go back and edit the rules a tad. On the other hand, if you’d paid ridiculous money to see an Olympic event, you’d want to see athletes appearing to try to go higher, faster, stronger (louder); thus the ferocious booing is understandable. Apparently no one outside the US knows the phrase ‘Black Sox’.”

[] “I like National Public Radio fine, and Susan Stamberg particularly. This morning, though, their reporting and commentary this morning about the Olympics is unbearable in its snark and holier- or hipper-than-thou attitude.”

[] “Watched a bit of two-man kayaking. A couple of these guys were paddling so hard, I would swear I saw the top edge of their boat actually get below the level of the Thames River. Could’ve been an optical illusion, I suppose, as no one drowned all week.”

[] “I’ve had a great time watching springboard diving, because of many of the divers’ approach to the end of the board, to wit: stand ten feet from the end … take a step forward and launch yourself (one-footed) in the air … come down on the other foot and similarly launch yourself yet again … NOW hit the end of the board with both feet and do the voodoo you do. Splatsh!”

[] “I’ve had a miserable (and short) time watching platform diving, though, because I am desperately afraid I may watch one of these wood sprites crack her head on the platform. It’s not (*PUBBA-dubba-dubba-dubba*) springboard diving anymore.”

[] “Memo to Conan O’Brien: usually you are a funny man. However, is it worth the laughs you may have gotten, to make fun of US Olympic weightlifter Holley Mangold’s weight? That’s 350 pounds she’s lifting. Can you lift that? She’s at the Olympics. Are you? Will you ever be? Sorry, Conan, but let’s face it: Ms. Mangold can lift, what, three of you?”

[] “In the last 24 hours, I have watched: men’s doubles badminton, men’s field hockey, women’s team handball, women’s water polo, women’s 8s rowing, and women’s weightlifting. Why? Because [thank you, network execs who decide what kind of sports are popular] I won’t be able to watch these interesting sports for another 3 3/4 years. (Yeah, yeah, men’s basketball, whatever.)”

[] “Hands down, the most tolerable NBC Olympics announcer is long-time Celtics TV guy Mike Gorman, over at the Team Handball venue. Understated is appreciated.”

[] “Follow-up to yesterday’s Olympic media criticism: the Most Tolerable Studio Anchor Award goes to Michelle Beadle (Costas a distant, distant second). Whoever NBC had to trade away to get her from ESPN, the deal was a slam dunk. Humor that’s actually… funny; and if she’s reading copy off a teleprompter, you wouldn’t know.”

[Postscript: upon further review, the referees have decided that the name “Costas” needs to be excised from that last paragraph, and replaced with either “Dan Patrick” or “no one”. -Ed.]

[] “It’s the women’s-eight crew competition, and the US wins gold again, and AGAIN, at the helm is the mighty Mary Whipple!”

[] “With water polo and team handball, I appear to have chosen the two Olympics sports where whistles mean something but they don’t stop play — and there are approximately 42,000 whistles per game. Sounds like a pack of drum majors or something.”

[] “Thanks to my being a political junkie, for the first time ever, I was actually aware that there was an equestrian event that didn’t involve logical horsey things like jumping over stuff without knocking it over. So I watched about five minutes of the dressage event. I didn’t get to see the Romney Horse, but I saw enough to make me wonder: how in the living heck can they (and how in the heck long does it take them to) train a horse to move like that?! And, with regards to judging these tap-dancing equines, … I suppose if humans can be judged on floor exercise and figure skating, I guess horses can be evaluated on their dance moves.

[] “Confession: I will watch the US women’s soccer team play anywhere, any time. If I were a soccer coach coaching anyone other than the US women, I would be completely terrified of Alex Morgan. Go to the dictionary and look up ‘explosive acceleration’ and you’ll find a picture of Ms. Morgan’s feet.”

[] “For the record, before either the US or Canada wins this one [women’s soccer semifinal match]: this has been a nasty ol’ soccer game. Very entertaining. It’s Bruins/Canadiens of the early ’90s out there.”

[] “So the US women beat Canada in soccer in an epic match, and afterward the Canadians creeb and moan about two missed calls. I am tempted to trot out the ‘life ain’t fair’ meme, but that was really close to an American handball. So, in the bronze medal round, statistically France is all over Canada – something like 23 shots to 4 – but Canada prevails, on a goal in the 91st minute. Here’s the thing: I’d love to see the replay of that goal, because I would have sworn a Canadian striker was about ten feet offside on the play. But if the linesman had made that call, would it have destroyed the Canadians psychologically?”

[] “My favorite quirky thing of the whole 2012 Summer Olympiad is from Greco-Roman wrestling events: the Challenge Brick!!”

[] “The balance beam event, in women’s gymnastics, still makes me very, very, very, very, very nervous. My not-too-overactive imagination imagines one bad step and a head hitting the beam on the way, inevitably and inexorably, to the ground. And the sound that would make. And sixteen thousand spectators inhaling sharply.”

[] “One of the pre-recorded pieces that NBC showed, to kick off an evening broadcast, was about the US women’s gymnastics team from the Atlanta games in 1996. Much was made of Kerri Strug’s early-career struggles, but her eventual ankle-bending, pain-induced-grimacing final vault, which clinched the gold medal for the US team. Inspiring story, but there was one thing I wish they hadn’t included so much of, for the sake of my very young niece and nephew, with whom I was watching this. They showed archival video of an injury which Strug incurred while training several months before to the US Olympic trials, in which she came off the uneven bars (I think) all wrong and landed splat on her head, neck and back. The landing was bad enough; but what was truly awful to watch, and I swear they let this video clip run for 25 horrible seconds, was Strug lying there, writhing in pain (and yet trying not to because as it turned out she dinged up a couple of actual spinal vertebrae in the fall), with a look of mingled pain and disbelief, and making sounds that no ten- or six-year-old should be forced to hear, on prime time television.”

[] “Your instructions are simple: go to YouTube, find a world-class doubles match in the sport of table tennis, and watch. This is not the sport I played in the basement as a kid. It ain’t all slam-bang (that’s singles). It’s actually intricate.”

[] “In the Beach Volleyball gold medal match, it’s Misty May and Kerri Walsh (the latter seeming like a genuinely fun person, even in the midst of dogged competition) put on what can only be described as a volleyball clinic. However, in the end, I much prefer volleyball with a floor that you can actually jump off with some oomph.”

[] “And that [US/Japan gold medal final] entirely entertaining (if stressful) soccer match is what the world [of sport] could use more of: full-tilt competition with precious few whistles, no cheap fouls, and one largely ceremonial yellow card. If the US’ semifinal match v. Canada reminded me of a Bruins/Canadiens slugfest of a playoff hockey game from the early 1990s – a chippy affair played with cheerful bad attitudes – then the gold-medal game v. Japan was Borg/McEnroe minus the yelling at the chair umpire. It was almost elegant. The red-jerseyed Japanese team’s offense was so mesmerizing that I found myself admiring it and not remembering that I was supposed to be pulling for the navy blue US people.”

[] “Women’s team handball final. Rough-and-tumble, physical game all afternoon long. Norway heavily favored over Montenegro, but Montenegro never trails by more than two goals. Fifteen seconds left, Norway ahead by two, with the ball. Norway holds the ball; Montenegro certainly appears to genuinely applaud Norway players. Sportsmanship. … Time runs out: Norway sheds tears for gold; Montenegro smiles wildly for the silver they weren’t expected to achieve. … Good game.”

[] “If you, as a TV announcer of track and field events, are hoarse before the end of the evening’s broadcast? … you are yelling way too much. Period. The end.”

[] “Checked into the Closing Ceremonies briefly, just in time to hear 80,000 or so people do the world’s largest ‘you-hoooooooooo’ in the midst of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. This is truly tolerable!”

[] “Oh. George Michael. Never mind.”


I used to think that shifting the Winter Olympics by two years was just a craven attempt by Committees and TV networks to make more money more often.  Now … I think it’s the best idea ever.  When do the Winter Games start again … ?

August 13, 2012 Posted by | celebrity, entertainment, Famous Persons, heroes, media, sports, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment