By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Americans are happy listening to wallpaper. But, background sound usually doesn't sell stuff. I think multi-station owners and the drovers of Wall Street are overlooking one of radio's assignments: delivering select groups of attentive listeners to advertising messages.
Basic economics lead multi-station owners to reduce expenses to grow profits to pay the debt they incurred to buy the station to give investors something for their risk(s). Nothing wrong with that. However, they do it by consolidating operations and making all their stations sound the same. Is radio on the way to becoming fast food? I think something is wrong with that.
As a buyer of advertising time and space, I once recommended, and used, radio as a primary medium. Now, I am witnessing its eroding ability to ring cash registers. Is the creeping homogenization of radio turning this once powerful, intrusive, local advertising medium into a weak media alternative?
A follow-up with those who like national radio and those longing for a return to localization? Wasn't KRBE the first FM station in the nation to play Rock & Roll/Top 40/CHR? Now it happily follows the pack? Tsk-tsk.
I just read your article "Played Out." You hit the nail on the head, but you didn't drive it in far enough. When are these "follow-the-leader" radio stations going to wake up? There are so many more good songs that they could be playing also, besides the same old shit, that is to say, Boston, Fleetwood Mac, Journey and my all-time favorite, Queen's "We Will Rock You."
Those 100 people KRBE supposedly calls for their research must be like a bunch of lemmings, following each other over the cliff. They also probably eat only vanilla ice cream and drive a Chevrolet Celebrity.
If these idiotic program directors would give us a little more variety, they just might be surprised. My only regret with your article? Peter Rainer should have written it.
Voice of Reason
Hobart Rowland's article on Houston radio was the voice of reason I've been waiting to hear for a long time. I'm often completely shocked by the lack of a sense of adventure of Houston radio and of the radio listeners of Houston. I mean, how many times can we all hear the same Jewel or Foo Fighters song without wanting to put an ax through the car dashboard? All of the most popular stations are at fault. If you're as sick as I am, I urge you to turn off the radio, go buy tapes and CDs of talented, adventurous artists (but I wouldn't bother going to a mall music store, where I'm sure most of you 104 drones buy your music) or explore the dial and look for other stations.
KPFT is a good one to check out from time to time. Take some chances, people: Familiarity only makes you stagnate.
And There You Have It
Just read the article "Played Out," by Hobart Rowland. I've been wondering for quite some time why Houston radio sucks so bad; now I know. Have to go to Austin and listen to KGSR from time to time; otherwise I play a lot of CDs of my own down here.
Art Car Glory
I want to thank Shaila Dewan for the great story she did on the art car parade ["Burning Ambition," April 16]. It was better than the parade itself. Art-car-making is a not-so-serious process. As a matter of fact, it's almost devoid of pretension. However, the parade is usually more interesting than the numerous fluff pieces that made up most of last Saturday's event. The art car parade was made up of too high a percentage of silly, brightly painted clown shoes. There were too many family values, too many rules and far too much of a corporate presence for it to be remotely enjoyable. Every time I heard the phrase "The Bank United Art Car Parade, Powered by Pennzoil," it made me sick to my stomach.
There was a nice subtext to Shaila Dewan's story that concerned the lack of attention local artists receive from the local press. Journalists are often too lazy and insecure to make up their minds about something that is not blessed already by New York, Chicago or L.A., and therefore miss out on what is clearly a flavor of art unique to Houston. Houston artists are industrial. Houston artists smell. And Houston artists are usually pissed off -- and with good reason. They're ignored by the mainstream press, but what is worse, they're mostly ignored by the lazy "alternative" press as well.
So this story is fresh. It was mighty. I was happy to see it. So what's next, Houston Press? A cover story on the greatest of all living bands, Rusted Shut? Probably not. But if you've got the cojones to do a story on Don Walsh, you'd gain great respect.
It's hard to estimate the power of the press until it affects you, personally. Case in point: I met Mike Scranton 11 years ago, and he was introduced to me as "the guy who made barbecue pits." Since then, he has proved to be a half-fascinating, half-infuriating friend, although I always knew it would be really hard for most people to appreciate his varied talents. At his party Saturday night, after the art car parade, there was an overdressed couple there that had come from a law firm event at the Hyatt. They said they had sort of "crashed" the party. When I assured the woman that, yes, there really was not a bathroom in the warehouse, and then mentioned Mike's name, she said, "Oh my God, this is his warehouse? The guy that was on the cover
of the Houston Press?"
It would be difficult (nay, impossible) to thoroughly explain all the errors, disinformation and flawed analyses contained in Steve McVicker's article in the April 16 issue of the Houston Press entitled "Tales from the IRS." The effort, though, must be made.
Interestingly, I have great respect for Mr. McVicker's past writings. He's generally insightful and educational. This story, though, is a sad example of how even an intelligent neutral observer can be misled when he hears only one side of the story.
I'm gratified that Mr. McVicker chose not to regurgitate Jennifer Long's oft-quoted, entirely unprovable and patently false allegation that she knows of at least five folks who have committed suicide because of the IRS. Unfortunately, the interview as presented still paints a picture of an agency motivated by simple meanness. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For years, critics charged that the IRS wasn't "run like a business"; wasn't keeping an eye on the bottom line. Some years ago, the service attempted to address these concerns by devoting resources to audits that could produce more assessments more efficiently. One type of tax return with which this can be accomplished is the tax return of a non-filer. Non-filers are usually less affluent, don't bring a posse of high-priced help to the table and can be quickly and accurately audited with little danger of protracted appeals. The result is more tax assessed for less expenditure of resources. The will of the people, as has been expressed through direct congressional mandates to increase the bottom line, is satisfied.
Ms. Long's aversion to this type of work isn't unusual within the service. It does tend to look and feel like "picking on the little guy." But it seems Ms. Long views her job as, ideally, being some sort of crusader for financial justice, attacking the big-dollar, big-income tax cheats and letting the little people go. It's her right to feel that way, but it's not her job. Congress requires that the service report how much revenue is brought in, not how much justice is dispensed. If she can't accept that, she should seek employment elsewhere.
Ms. Long does, however, stumble on an important truth when she talks about racial discrimination within the service. One easy way for managers in the service to boost their job ratings and bonuses is to give a concrete demonstration of their commitment to "diversity." The easiest way to do that is to promote minorities, whether they are qualified or not. The deleterious effects of this situation on morale need not be presented here. Anyone who's kept their ears open during the affirmative action debates of recent years knows how divisive this issue can be. I congratulate Mr. McVicker for highlighting one of the few areas of concern where Ms. Long has hit the nail on the head. I suppose even a blind hog finds an occasional acorn.
As for the case of Mr. Johnson, the article missed the essential mechanism whereby the service failed to live up to its commitment to him. When Mr. Johnson was shown in a court of law to be a tax cheat, the service publicity mechanism went into play because that's normal procedure. It would have been nice if the Justice Department attorneys handling the case had made sure that their clients, the IRS, were fully briefed on the unusual nondisclosure deal that had been struck. That didn't happen. In other words, no matter how comforted it may make Mr. Johnson feel to believe that the IRS persecuted him, the simple fact is that the world found out he was a tax cheat because of a mistake, not because of any malicious intent on the part of the IRS.
In the case of Deputy Phillips, Mr. McVicker quotes an IRS spokesman as declining to comment on the odds that nine out of 38 witnesses in a federal trial would be randomly audited, as if random selection were the only method by which tax returns are selected for audit. Such is not the case. There are people within the service whose job is to decide if a return is audit-worthy. Returns land on their desks in a variety of ways. Some get there by random selection, some through sophisticated computer modeling and others through a variety of referrals from both inside and outside the service. (This last method is how returns get audited based on the information from informants, for example.) If, as was apparently believed at the time, Mr. Phillips had been involved in some sort of wrongdoing, it is only reasonable to expect that the returns of his associates might have been under scrutiny. In fact, I can imagine that if the service didn't pay attention to the associates of people under prosecution, it wouldn't be long before some writer penned a fine expose on the way the service "let slide a prime opportunity to investigate a suspected group of tax cheats," or some such nonsense.
Ah, well. I suppose IRS employees will just have to learn to live with the Catch-22. At the IRS, if you do your job, you're evil. If you don't, you're a lazy, no-good bureaucrat.
Name withheld by request
Resurrecting the Dead
I enjoyed your article about the privatization of welfare ["All in a Day's Work," by Brian Wallstin, April 2]. I'm an employee of TWC [Texas Workforce Commission] and a member of the Texas State Employees Union. It appears the state is resurrecting the dead. Almost 20 years ago, state workers and three nonprofit agencies were helping find work for welfare recipients. I saw a memo that said state employee placements cost half that of their nearest rival, VGS [Vocational Guidance Services], a very good agency. Urban League costs were about three times as much, and OIC [Occupational Industrial Conference], no longer in Houston, about four times.
Later, the state awarded the contract to a for-profit agency, Maximus. After making a big mess, they pulled out of Houston. It was given back to state employees, where it has remained till now.
I noticed Maximus is back doing the same thing in other parts of Texas. Our state leaders appear to think greed will solve all our social ills. Keep up the good work.
This letter is in response to the recent article titled "Poop Happens" [by Margaret Downing, April 16]. Complex manager Linda Harris was never told by an investigator from the Houston SPCA to "kill all the sparrows," and it is beyond belief that she would seek to tarnish the reputation of Houston's premiere animal-welfare organization by making such derogatory comments. Her attempt to deflect criticism and somehow place the blame on an organization dedicated to preventing suffering and exploitation of all animals is unconscionable.
The Houston SPCA, founded in 1924, provides the area's only 24-hour injured-animal rescue and cruelty-investigation program. This organization receives no funding from the government, United Way or national animal-protection groups. Every penny used to help Houston's animals in need comes from kind, caring individuals. Untrue statements like those attributed to Ms. Harris in the article directly affect our life-saving mission.
The Houston SPCA advised Ms. Harris to remove the nets. She was also told that she is responsible by law for providing food, water and shelter for any animals confined in the courtyards. The Houston SPCA asked a field investigator from Texas Parks and Wildlife to investigate the situation.
Thank you for letting us set the record straight!
Patricia E. Mercer
Executive Director, Houston SPCA
Birds? The people at Allen House should spend a week in my bedroom. If only it were a flock of birds! What we get is a flock of weed-blowers that crank up at exactly 8 a.m. every morning. I can see why birds might want to hang out together, but it beats the heck outta me how 20 weed-blowers can find enough to blow around for two full hours. (I did look out my window once, and saw three of the weed-blower operators playing the all-time favorite weed-blower game: "Let's move one tiny leaf 55 feet.") Rain or shine, these guys fly in on big diesel trucks and start their "songs" with great gusto. We can't hear birds sing because the weed-blowers scare them away. In fact, the sound of thousands of chirping birds after those guys leave is like a free pass out of jail.
Hey, I have a great idea. Come take our weed-blower dudes and have them come to the Allen House every morning at 8 a.m. In fact, I'm willing to bet they'd be glad to get there at 6 a.m. Have them crank up those little blowers and go at it. No more birds in the morning, trust me. No dead birds, no injured birds. No birds, period. You give us the fishing line to string up on the curb to keep away the weed-blowers.
I'll bet Cecil Hopper ["The Dead Zoo," by Randall Patterson, March 5] could fix that pest problem in no time.
Where Exactly Is the Poop?
Lord knows, my expectations of the Houston Press are more diminished than most. The time it took me to accumulate somewhere around 300 bylines in the ol' fish wrap gave me a lifetime dose of the harsh, hypocritical reality behind the Press's mask of smug, holier-than-thou self-righteousness. Recent "changes" at the Press did not offer much hope for improvement; I recall a time in the late '80s when my cause-of-the-moment came to the attention of the Houston Post, and I was left with a definite impression that Post managing editor Margaret Downing was deeply enamored of sensationalism and not at all concerned with accuracy or objectivity.
Even so, Ms. Downing's "Poop Happens" contained an error so glaring I cannot refrain from comment. When I read that Allen House is located in downtown Houston, my first thought was that this was an urban-affairs article written by someone incapable of finding the intersection of Westheimer and Montrose without a Key Map.
Resonating with Attitude
I was searching your web site for that marvelous piece that Patterson wrote a few weeks back about the big-game hunter ["The Dead Zoo," March 5]. I want to refer someone out-of-town to this web site to read it. It must be one of the classiest slams I have ever read! No one could ever pull a coherent quote from it to complain that Patterson was disapproving, but every sentence resonated with attitude. Beautiful prose.
A Duddlesten Defender
We read your Wayne Duddlesten piece ["Hotel Whitewash," by Tim Fleck, April 23]. Wayne offered to accept minority investors. That meant he would take their money, not give them something for free. You suggested that the price was unreasonable. It didn't seem to be unreasonable for Crescent. There is also the possibility that Wayne was taken in by the FBI when he suggested that he had investors lined up. What would you have had him do, under the circumstances? A good case can be made that Wayne acted in good faith -- that he worked hard to obtain minority investors and was unsuccessful. At the very least, there is sufficient evidence that he acted honorably to give one pause before trashing him.