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Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

I realize that this is getting plenty of coverage, but I can’t resist …

It started two days ago when The Columbus Dispatch posted this video — by late Wednesday it has amassed more than 6.2 million views at YouTube.

In true viral video fashion, the offers for help flooded in for Ted Williams, who used to work in radio until drug and alcohol problems derailed his life. Then:

While he was being interviewed for Ohio radio station WNCI 97.9 Wednesday morning, a representative from the (Cleveland Cavaliers) told Williams, “We’d like to offer you full time work with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as Quicken Loans Arena … On top of it, because we know you’re a person trying to get up and on your feet, Quicken Loans is actually offering to pay a mortgage on a home.”  “That’s it,” he gasped. “That’s the best deal ever. You just made a whole new version of sweat under my armpits.”

As Mary Elizabeth Williams notes over at Salon, the story is more than Williams’ jaw-dropping broadcast voice. It’s the humility and graciousness that animates his voice. How many times do we pass by the homeless and not even pause to consider their talents, their stories?

It is also astounding how a brief video, with a captivating human story, can galvanize our attention. Since I started writing this post a few minutes ago, the number of views at YouTube has climbed by — 1 million. That’s right, 7.2 million views and counting — all because someone cared enough to stop and give a voice to someone who was otherwise ignored. A small, human act of grace — with big results.

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Edgar Martinez’s series-winning double against the New York Yankees in the 1995 playoffs remains the greatest moment in Seattle Mariner history — and Dave Niehaus was there to make the call.  But as great as his call was in that moment, there were scores of other calls just as good spread throughout the 34 years he worked as the voice of the Mariners.

Word of his death today hit all Seattle fans hard. Like all great baseball broadcasters, Niehaus was just not a guy who called a game. He was a friend you invited into your home or your car, painting pictures with words and regaling you with stories. Baseball, more than other sport, lends itself to that connection with broadcasters. My love of the game really started while listening to Bob Prince call Pittsburgh Pirate games on KDKA radio. Niehaus had the same sort of sway over Mariner fans.

It didn’t matter that more often than not the Mariners were a bad team. Niehaus still made the games entertaining without becoming an empty shill; if the team played poorly he felt your pain — or really, it was more like you felt his. When they played well he shared the joy. My oh my he did. 

Back in that magical year of 1995, when the Mariners not only beat the Yankees but saved baseball in Seattle, Niehaus carried us along with every thrilling moment. Seattle Times columnist Terry McDermott captured Niehaus’ flavor well:

Like all great artists, Niehaus gives the impression he is artless, that you could do what he does. You could not.

He prepares but never practices. He almost never thinks about what he will say or has said. He asks; the words answer. He laughs, parts the air with hands and arms, enjoying the sound of the words as they come sailing out. …

Bart Giamatti, the late classicist who somehow ended up commissioner of baseball, once wrote that games were ways of remembering “our best hopes.” It’s to this sense of memory and fable that Niehaus genuflects.

This evening, as I drove my son and several of his pals to and from soccer practice, I listened to callers and colleagues reflect about Niehaus on local sports radio. As good as he was in the booth, he was twice as good on the outside, they said. Gracious. Caring. Attentive. Friendly. Welcoming. The stuff that really matters.

My oh my, we’ll miss him.

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The story was written with a whimsical, oh-look-at-those-cute-old-lefties tone. But it was also a classic example of what happens when ideologies (or “ologies,” as Paul Farmer calls them) harden. I did chuckle at first at statements like “You’re a Reactionary Fraud, Alex!” But I also felt a little bit like crying.

It was a New York Times story about a board meeting for WBAI, a “free-speech” radio station long on the precipice of financial disaster and over the edge with internal turmoil. The station has a long history of drama; it gained legal fame with a case involving the broadcast of George Carlin’s seven dirty words routine, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court (FCC v. Pacifica). But what was once a station that drew youthful listeners now has an audience with a median age of 62. Here’s how the Times reporter described the board meeting he attended:

The effect was like wandering into a dysfunctional family at Thanksgiving. Everyone seems to have known everyone too long; the backbiting never stopped.

“He’s C.I.A., you know?”

“She’s a Stalinist!”

Yes, the example here is at the extreme end — and makes for an entertaining story — but this tendency to ossify is something I’ve seen in the young as well as the old, and from folks on the left and the right. It happens when conviction overwhelms openness, when pride dispenses with humility, when righteousness blinds us to the virtues of others. But in the end it’s not enough to be in the “right” if it means losing track of another person’s humanity.

Though the story was published months ago, this image of WBAI has stayed with me as a cautionary tale. It’s easy to find ways to divide, to separate ourselves from others. It takes far more strength to reach across the divide and extend a word of grace to those with whom we differ. This isn’t being soft; it’s treating others as we would like to be treated ourselves. I feel like I’m writing a trite truism as I type these words, yet all around us — and within us — it can be so difficult to live this. But in the end, especially for Christians, it is one part of the way of the cross.

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