Saturday, March 31, 2007

Algonquin

I recently went to give a talk to an Introduction to Brodacasting class at Algonquin College. Their teacher is Al Uhranyiw...which I think I spelled right, who I know from my days at CD Warehouse. He'w a guy who has worked in radio and TV all over the area, and now he teaches at night. I don't know how much insight I can provide to broadcasting students, but I can certainly provide entertaining stories. The time I had an audience of twenty for a brazilian waxing, the time I got banned from the Spencerville Fair, the time I smashed up yet another station vehicle, and the time I found myself with a woman in the basement of a house in Waterloo, with no real idea of how it came to pass.

It's pretty cool to see students that are interested in the world of radio. Until I actually began doing radio, I wasn't really interested at all. Oh, I listened, I liked it, but I never gave much thought to the inner workings of a radio station, the programming methods, or the selection of songs. The number one question, especially since the class was about the Doc and Woody show, was complaints. How many complaints do we get, how do we deal with them, what's the worst one, have you ever been in real trouble, stuff like that. I told them about our most recent complaint, the lady who suggested that our show about PETA was over the line. "I've finally GOT you!" She said. "I've been waiting for the day you'd slip up and cross the line, and here it is! You're finished!" It was fairly hilarious, and frankly we love complaints like this one. We send it off to our lawyers in Toronto, they do some stuff, and we never hear about it again. That's about it. Unless there's a complaint with some merit, it's done there. and so far, in my time at CHEZ, there has not been a single complaint that needed any further action.

One of the students showed my the latest issue of the Algonquin Times, the student-run newspaper put out by the journalism class there at Algonquin. My picture was in there, next to an article all about Asspirations of an Intern. I thought I'd seen reporter-looking people taking my picture at the event, but they hadn't talked to me. It seems to me if you're going to write anarticle, the least you could do is interview the subject of that article. At least that way they would have known I actually WENT to Algonwuin. But that being said, the article was actually good. Much better than the one in the Sun, as it certainly captured the tongue-in-cheek nature of the whole exhibit. Good stuff comes out of Algonquin. Except me. I'm some of the bad stuff.

Weddings irritate me. Except maybe this one.

I am actually looking forward to Doc's wedding. Partly because once it's over, he might actually be back to normal and have his head in the show. And partly because it may actually be a wedding worth attending. 5:00 wedding, 5:15 cocktails, 5:30 dinner. I might actually be out of there by 5:45! That's my kind of wedding. Speedy and efficient. None of this pomp and circumstance and swans carved in ice and individual place settings featuring a goldfish swimming in a bowl under a candle.

Also, it's on a golf course, which stands to reason, as Terry is perhaps the only golfer I have ever met who is more avid about the sport than is Doc himself. I love it. No microphones, no speeches, just a DJ, a dinner, and a driving range. I had prepared a CD for the occasion, thinking there WOULD be speeches. Woody, at times, is known for beginning to talk, and then talking, and then forgetting to stop. I thought there was a good chance he would get up to the microphone at some point, and the wedding might not end until the show began Monday. So I had a CD burned with the music from the Oscars that plays you off the stage when your acceptance speech time is up. I was going to slip it to the DJ, then cue him to play it about 45 seconds into Woody's time on the microphone. Brilliant, I thought. But that is all avoided with no microphone and no speeches.

I learned all I needed to know about Doc's wedding when I told him I had to pick up my suit from the dry cleaners today. He looked at me like I had a second nose and said "suit? you know it's just a wedding, right? It's not like a work Christmas party." This was a good sign. If the idea of me wearing an actual suit to Doc's wedding was ridiculous to even Doc, this would be OK. However, I am still going to wear the suit, since I know it is NOt ridiculous to Terry, who I'm certain is far more invested in the small details. When I handed my reply to the wedding invitation to Doc one morning, there was some worry that it would not be well received, having not gone through the proper channels of real, actual mail.

But Doc has to worry about Terry, who I'm sure is very cool about most of this stuff. I have to worry about my girldfriend, who has forced me into a haircut, because my hair was long and shaggy, and a dry-cleaning of my suit because it smelled like feet and fried cow brains. Don't ask. I was really thinking I liked the hobo appeal of my suit and hair, but it was not to be. I will be well-groomed and presentable today. I don't know why I bothered, the whole thing's only going to last 48 minutes!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Heaven and Hell and the Purgatory that is Megadeth

I was pumped for the Heaven and Hell show last night. Not that I'm a huge heavy metal fan, or even a metal fan at all. But I am a big fan of Tony Iommi, and the staggering riffs he created while with Sabbath for so many years. Also, the prospect of seeing Ronnie James Dio is pretty huge, in the grand scheme of all things musical. Although he is largely unknown outside the world of heavy metal, he is just about the absolute pinnacle of that metal world.

It's kind of like seeing Public Enemy, or B.B. King in that they are the most respected in their genres, and even if you're not a rap fan or a blues fan, you would still like to see them because of who they are. I suppose, more accurately, it's like seeing Jonah Lomu play rugby. Only those in the rugby world have heard of him, but he's the greatest to ever play, and one might feel the need to go to a game of his were it held in Ottawa.

We hit the Georgetown for a couple of pints before show time, but it took us a while, and by the time we got to the Civic Centre, Down had already finished their set. I was kind of looking forward to seeing them. Kinda. Apparently their guitarist was formerly of Pantera. Or Slayer. Or Sepultura. Or something of that ilk. But, I got to see the full Megadeth set. Which was actually better than I had anticipated. Much better. Dave Mustaine must be almost 50 by now, but from the distance I was watching, he still looks like a fifteen-year-old boy on stage.

And they were quite good. The guitar is phenomenal, as we figured it would be, and the vocals are muddy and unintelligible, but I've listened to some Megadeth before, and come to the conclusion that their lyrics are for the most part irrelevant to their songs. So who cared? And the crowd really responded. People must have done some serious smuggling, because we were all thoroughly searched on the way in, full-pat-down style, and yet the air was thick with some kind of sweet smelling smoke. You could see it billow up to the ceiling through the spotlights, adding a fairly cool effect to the stage show.

I couldn't shake the idea watching Megadeth that they reminded me of another band, one that was more familiar to me. Then I realized - I feel like I'm watching that band from the movie Airheads! It was like Brendan Fraser, Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi were playing Flying V guitars on the stage in front of me! Super! But a lot of fun nonetheless. I spoke for a bit to Pat from Long and McQuade, who had organized a meet-and-greet and signing session earlier that afternoon with Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice. Apparently he was a super guy, talking it up with fans and signing stuff.

Heaven and Hell were great. Loud, heavy, all one would expect. Dio seems to have lost a little vocally, he was keeping it toned down about an octave from where he used to sing, but he still has the tone and power that made him great. I had to leave early, due to that whole doing-radio thing to which I have committed myself, but I heard two of my favourite Dio-era Sabbath songs, Children of the Sea and Mob Rules, so I left a happy man. Way to go, Sabbath! Still rockin'.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

CHEO lottery

I have rarely seen a better set of prizes than I saw for the CHEO lottery today. Kevin Keohane from CHEO came in to announce the launch of the millionnaire lottery, and it's sweet. Still a one in seventeen chance of winning a prize, but the prizes this year are unbelievable.

The Early Bird is nice, as always. It's a good idea to grab the tickets early. And the Grand Prize is a million dollars cash, as always. Plus a trip and some groceries. But it isn't really the Grand Prize this year, it's the Mega Grand Prize. That's because the second-place prizes are too big to be second place prizes. So now they're called Grand Prizes, and the million bucks is the MEga Grand Prize.

The "second place" prizes, and there are TEN of them, are 100,000 dollars cash. Plus a trip and some groceries. Every year, this lottery gets better and better, and this is the best I've ever seen. Well worth the 100 dollar ticket, (or 3 for 250) for a chance at all that coin. And even if you don't win, you're still helping the kids at CHEO, and you'll feel good anyway. Buy a ticket!

Monday, March 26, 2007

More hockey

I got hockey into my head, so I rented Canada-Russia '72, the famous series that was made into a mini-series by CBC and then put onto DVD for our amusement. Of course, I didn't realize that's what I was getting. I thought it was a documentary about the famous event, not a cheesy re-enactment.

No, this was a mini-series created by the CBC with a bunch of low-rent Canadian actors. And they were so enamoured with the fact they were playing Paul Henderson or Phil Esposito, or that they got to say "Coach Sinden", that they forgot completely how to act. As I meandered around the room and listened to the DVD, at times I really thought it had ended and Trailer Park Boys was on instead.

And the hockey was weak also. It seemed like they were trying to match the sequences up to the famous radio broadcasts, which I THINK were still authentic. But in doing so, it may as well have been figure skating, or, in it's worst moments, a bunch of 7 year olds playing hockey.

And, of course, in true Canadian fashion, the Canadians were glorified (even Alan Eagleson) and the Russians were the horrible villains. Bobby Clarke's obvious intent-to-injure slash that broke a Russian ankle? Glossed over. Just good hard-nosed old-time hockey. Eddie Shore, puttin' on the foil coach, that sort of thing. I was born almost ten years after the series actually happened, and I still know so much about it that the movie taught me nothing I didn't already know. That series is such a large part of the Canadian cultural identity that we don't need a dramatization. But I'm sure we'd love to see the actual, real, series on DVD somewhere.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Most of us love a good hockey fight. I know I do. I know Randall does. Despite his objections, he really does look at www.hockeyfights.com every morning.

Today that was his comment. They talked about it on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night, it was in the Sun this morning, it's in all the papers and all over the web. Should fighting be taken out of the game?

Randall is right. The fighters today - Georges Laracque, Wade Belak, Brian McGrattan - they are so big that they could indeed kill someone in a fight. Remember last year in the playoffs against the Russians when Zdeno Chara somehow got into it with Vincent Lecavalier? I remember Chara thinking about it for a split second, before putting the fist away and deciding to let Lecavalier live. Thank god.

But this is the NHL, and it's the new NHL. Somehow this belief that Americans won't watch if there's fighting has wiggled it's way into the braintrust of the league. Ridiculous. Americans barely watched before. Now, fighting is down a lot, goals are up a lot, there is more room, the game is faster and more exciting. And the Americans are watching even less. I believe hockey is ranked somewhere below tractor pulls and poker on TV in the States.

In Nashville, the Predators might be the most exciting team in hockey. But in their stands, it looks like a Lynx game. Is it because there's less fighting? Maybe. There's no way to tell for sure. But the lack of fighting certainly isn't bringing those fans out in droves.

There are two problems with fighting now. The instigator rule, and dirty hits. Real fighters in the NHL now are the biggest guys on their teams, and they're there for one reason only. To fight. Half of them dress for half their team's games, like McGrattan, and the other half get 5 or 6 minutes of ice time a game, like Laracque. And they fight each other. And only each other. How many McGrattan-Peters fights have we seen in Ottawa-Buffalo games?

The reason fighting helped in the old NHL was that it protected star players. This is why Pittsburgh signed Laracque, to protect Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Jordan Staal. But how can he? If Crosby gets cheap-shotted, Laracque can't go on the ice until the next shift. By that time, the player who delivered the cheap shot has been on the bench for two minutes.

And it's not like Laracque is going to fight that player anyway. That player isn't a fighter. So if Laracque goes after him, he will get the instigator penalty, hurt his team, and maybe the Penguins lose. So what happens? He fights the opposing team's fighter. They agree, so there's no extra two minutes, and maybe he wins, maybe he loses, but how does that protect the star? How does that amount to retribution? It's a pretty empty gesture.

I can remember the old days (by old I mean like 1990) where there were a few stars who could take care of themselves. I remember seeing Keith Tkachuk and Cam Neely get a few Gordie Howe hat tricks in their day. (A goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game.) And the fighters, the Bob Proberts of the league, could actually play. They got a regular shift. Probert was a 20-goal scorer for Chicago. The toughness and the ability to fight was an added bonus that protected Denis Savard.

One of the most satisfying moments I've had watching a hockey game was seeing Cam Neely get cheap-shotted by Ulf Samuelsson, then fighting him. Samuelsson was a big guy, but he wanted no part of this fight, and he turtled. So Neely picked him up off the ice, and fed him a shot, then dropped him back down. Then he picked him up again, fed him a shot, and dropped him. The refs let it go for about seven punches before they stepped in. This was a more effective way of punishing a slash than two minutes in the penalty box.

So in those days, you played dirty, YOU payed the price. Not some teammate whose job it was to stand in for you when the fighting began. Now, the only way to get that retribution (and make no mistake, hockey players WILL find a way to get even) is to deliver a cheap shot of your own next time you play that team. We saw it last week with the Leafs and Devils, and in extreme cases, it looks like Bertuzzi on Steve Moore.

Not that this justifies what Bertuzzi did. Fighting or no fighting, he would probably have done that at some point anyway, and there's no excuse for it. But the dirty play is far more dangerous than fighting. Yes, someone could be killed by the big fighters, but it's far more likely someone could die after being hit from behind.

The Todd Fedoruk - Colton Orr fight seems to be the spark that ignited this debate again. Yes, it was awfully scary to see Fedoruk carted off the ice in a stretcher after being laid out by Orr. But Fedoruk shouldn't really have been playing, and certainly not fighting. He just had his face rebuilt after being knocked out in a previous fight. The man should have his head examined, and maybe not play hockey any more. God knows if he was a boxer, he wouldn't be sanctioned to fight until the next NHL season.

Randall mentioned something this morning about making fighters put boxing-style pads inside their gloves to soften the blows. I guess that could work. But here's a slightly more easily-enforced idea:

The solution seems simple to me. Get rid of the instigator, which doesn't work. Much as I hate to agree with Don Cherry. And change the rules for fighting. Don't allow goons into the NHL where that's their only skill. Make the fighters play. No coach will want to play someone 20 minutes a game if they can't score or play defence. Maybe suspensions. Like, regular fighting gets no suspension. But if a player gets into a fight in a game, but has less than 15 minutes of ice time in that game, he is suspended automatically and the team, the coach, and the player all get fined.

I don't know if that would work, or even if it would help. But there is one thing for sure, and that is that the instigator does NOT work. Fighting is a part of hockey, for better or for worse, and we need to find the best way to make it safe, not get rid of it completely in some knee-jerk reaction to an admittedly dangerous situation.