Sunday, May 31, 2009

Performance Rights v. Performance Tax?

A couple of groups representing performing artists - most notably "musicFIRST" have gained enough support to get HR 848...the Performance Rights get out of Committee and onto the House floor. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is the main sponsor. A similar bill in the Senate has support from Senator Patrick Leahy, Barbara Boxer and several others.

What's this all about? A group of artists is complaining that AM and FM radio (mostly FM, of course) play their music without compensating them. They claim that radio rakes in $19 billion a year by playing their music and they get bupkus.

The NAB - National Association of Broadcasters - and radio stations across America have responded with the Local Radio Freedom Act, designed to insure that local radio stations can continue to play music without an exorbitant Performance Rights Tax.

Who's telling the truth here?

The facts of the matter are these: Radio has, for decades, enjoyed an exemption from paying performance rights to artists because of the inherent benefit to the artist that radio airplay generates. Ask any artist if he or she would like to have a song hit #1 on the charts? 99% will say, "absolutely!" The benefit of a #1 song - or anything in the top 10 - is legendary.

How do you hit #1? The charts are based on radio airplay. The song that is played the most in a given week - or "gets the most spins" as the industry says - is #1. Simple as that. So if you don't get played on the radio, you never hit number one... or, for that matter, number anything.

Radio airplay makes stars out of artists. Even one-hit wonders. Ever hear of the Bellamy Brothers? They had a #1 song in 1976, "Let Your Love Flow" that is currently in use on a national TV spot for the Toyota Prius. That was the only hit they ever had, and it went to #1. What about Percy Sledge? He wrote and did the original version of "When a Man Loves a Woman" in 1966.

The reach of radio is astronomical. 94% of all households in America hear the radio every week. That's approximately three times as many as use Google in a week. Think about that for a second.

Is it true that radio pays nothing for the music? No. Radio pays annual public performance royalties in the millions to BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) and to ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Producers). I'm not talking millions for the whole industry, I'm talking about 3-4 million to both BMI and ASCAP for one major market station. Add another $60,000 or so for SESAC, a licensing company whose only Pop hit was CW McCall's "Convoy" in 1976.

So what's the problem? The problem is that the substantial fees that radio pays to BMI and ASCAP go to the songwriters and producers, not the artists. This is the way the labels set it up years ago.

How much of a tax are we talking? It's supposed to be .008 cents per performance. Doesn't sound like that much. But understand that a "performance" is any time anyone hears a song (or portion thereof) on the radio. Let's do the math for a moment. Take a major market music-based AC station that plays an average of 12 songs per hour. Multiply that times 24 hours, then by 7 days a week, times .008 cents. Then multiply that by the station's average weekly audience, which is 1.3 million people. The answer is staggering. And that's just for one station. And that's on top of the 6 or 7 million already paid to BMI and ASCAP.

What's more, this is in an economy where local advertising is off by over 20% and many stations have resorted to nationally syndicated programming. Other than top tier stations in major markets, it's a struggle, and many local radio stations won't be able to afford it.

What type of artists are waving the musicFIRST flag? Artists who aren't getting any airplay, that's who. Maybe they had a hit or two back in the day, but time has passed them by. Today there's a Town Hall-style meeting in Detroit where a couple of artists representing musicFIRST will debate the issue with local radio stations. The artists are Dionne Warwick and Martha Reeves of the Vandellas. Dionne's last hit was 25 years ago. Martha's was over 40 years ago. The other supporters of HR 848 are emerging acts that have yet to emerge. If radio has to pay a tax for every song played, getting airplay will be tougher, not easier. Program Directors will be loath to spend money playing a song that does not have a proven track record of audience appeal. Why take a chance? There's an old radio adage that goes, "What you don't play won't hurt you." Another one says, "Shut up and play the hits."

The artists should focus their attention on ASCAP and BMI..and get them to split the songwriter proceeds with the singers. Don't try to make an adversary out of radio.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Kara and I took a one-day road trip to Minneapolis on Monday. It was the opener of the Red Sox final series at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. We flew on Midwest - an excellent airline - with a stop in Milwaukee. I'd been in Wisconsin before - went to Miller Park in 2006 and saw a Brewers-Giants game. This didn't count as a visited state for Kara, though, as we never left the airport. Airport-only visits don't count. We landed at he airport in St. Paul at 10:15. Plenty of time to noodle around and check things out. Would Kara like to see the biggest mall in the world? Yes, she would. The Mall of America is, as advertised, huge. Every chain is there. We have all of them in Boston, but not in the same building. The Nickelodeon rollercoaster in the middle - it spins you right round as you drop 100 feet - is a guaranteeed lunch-blower.

On to the Metrodome. Nothing special there. No special songs. About 28,000 showed up. The scoreboard is very rudimentary. The original completely crappy turf field was replaced with a slightly less crappy - but nonetheless crappy - new turf field in 2004. It still sucks. No infield except for base cutouts. The center field fence is a short baggy held in place by wobbly sticks like you'd put along your driveway as a guide for the plow guy. About the height and consistency of a Glad lawn & leaf bag. Toward right field it's a little taller. In right field they have football seats that collapse like the stands in a high school gym. A baggie is attached to the lower portion of the folded seats. If a ball hits the baggie it's in play. If it hits above the baggie in the area of the folded up seats it's a home run. A cheap one. The roof is white canvas, making it difficult to track a fly ball. The bubble roof is held up by air pressure, so the only way to exit the Metrodome is through revolving doors. Imagine how long that takes with 28,00 people filing out through four revolving doors.

An impressive number of Red Sox fans were there. Enough that you could easily hear the "Yooooouuuk" when Youkilis did something. The Sox wore red hats with a blue B that had stars embedded, no doubt because it was Memorial Day. The umpires also wore red hats. I chatted with several people from Minneapolis who readily admitted that the Metrodome is no Fenway Park. "Only 53 games left...then we move to the new open-air Target Field." People are midwest friendly. One complaint - when Hidecki Okajima came on to pitch the 7th they played "Born In the USA." Maybe it was an oversight. But I added the Metrodome as the 33rd notch in my major league ballpark tour. I also added Minnesota as the 39th state I've visited.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

She saved baseball

Sonya Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, is credited with saving baseball. The strike that ended the 1994 season early, canceled the 1994 playoffs and World Series, and delayed the start of the 1995 season finally ended when Judge Sotomayor ruled against the owners in favor of the players.

From the New York Times:

The owners were trying to subvert the labor system, she said, and the strike had “placed the entire concept of collective bargaining on trial.”

After play resumed, The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that by saving the season, Judge Sotomayor joined forever the ranks of Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams. The Chicago Sun-Times said she “delivered a wicked fastball” to baseball owners and emerged as one of the most inspiring figures in the history of the sport.

So Judge Sotomayor grew up in the South Bronx and saved baseball in 1995. The year the Yankees made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. She's gotta be a Yankee fan.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

He does need a dump button

A dump button is the radio and TV term for the way to bleep something out of a "live" broadcast that's actually on a slight delay of seven seconds or so. I didn't hear it live because I was at the game with my daughter Caitlin. Opening night of Interleague play, Mets at Red Sox. Johan Santana going for New York, Dike-K for Boston in his first start after coming off the DL. He had three good innings followed by a bad one where he gave up a ground-rule double, a walk, then four straight hits.

The next thing you know, it's 5-1 bad guys. On came Justin Masterson.
In my very first post I said that Eckersley is a good color guy...saying things that many color guys wouldn't come up with. Check the link below, sent to me courtesy of Mark Laurence.

Eck needs a dump button

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sox move into 1st place, but Papi's not back yet.

Big Papi finally homered last Wednesday night and got a rousing ovation. He said the monkey was off his back.

Is the old Ortiz indeed back? Let's see what he's done since then.
On Wednesday he took a called 3rd on the next at bat, then doubled in the 9th. On Thursday he grounded to 2nd, grounded to the pitcher, singled to right and lined to second. On Friday he struck out three times (two swinging, one called) and grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. On Saturday he struck out twice, walked and grounded to second. On Sunday he struck out twice, flied to left twice and lined to 1st. That's that's 2 for 18 with a walk and 1 RBI since the homer. From Thursday on he's 1 for 16. Over the weekend he went 0 for 13 with 16 runners left on base. Not by the David. And these are all home games. His average has dropped from a lofty .211 on Wednesday to .195. On Sunday the Sox had 16 hits and scored 12 times. Everyone in the lineup except Big Papi had at least one hit and one run scored.

I don't believe the roid rumors. I do suspect that Ortiz might need lasik. I also suspect that we might see Lars Anderson come up as a DH at some point this season.

Meanwhile, the shortstop problem continues. Nick Green leads the majors in errors, and he's only played in 24 games. Lugo has another 4. Both have made game-blowing errors in the last week. Combine the Green and Lugo errors and you have 12 in only a quarter of the season. That's a pace for 48, way worse than Edgar Rent-a-wreck in 2005. And that number doesn't allow for all those "singles" that were really bobbles or bad throws or balls that Lugo didn't get to. Compare that to Jed Lowrie, who played short in 49 games last year with zero errors. He's due back in July.

Mets fans at Fenway are louder than Yankee fans. At least this weekend they were. During the clapping portion of the "Let's go Red Sox" chant the Mets fans would chime in with an almost equally loud "Let's go Mets." But The Sox had the last laugh with a sold win on Sunday, and they moved into 1st place.

I'm off to Minneapolis in the morning with my daughter, Kara. It's the Red
Sox final series at the Homer Dome and we're taking in the Memorial Day afternoon game.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Timing is everything

Last night, Tuesday, I was at Fenway with Kara and had my HD video camera rolling for every pitch that David Ortiz faced. It wasn't worth saving, as he walked, grounded to second and struck out twice. Before I left work to head to Fenway our afternoon guy, Dan Justin, asked me if I thought that Oritz would homer tonight. I said no. We discussed the idea that Lasik might help him. He doesn't seem to be "seeing the ball real good."

Tonight I was at home flipping back and forth between American Idol and the Red Sox game. The Sox were ahead 2-0 when I flipped over to Idol. When I flipped back at the next break it was 8-0! Papi had gone yard to straightaway center...and I missed it. There were three Jason jacks in the game as well. Two by Varitek and one off the bat of Bay. The season is less than a quarter gone and Varitek is pacing for 28 homers. Bay is pacing for 52 (more than Manny has ever hit in a season).

I saw Kris Allen upset Adam Lambert in Idol. I'm not surprised, because the judges were gushing all over Adam so much, week after week, that I suspected a setup. At the last minute (actually about five minutes late) Kris is announced as the winner. Keeps things interesting until the last second.

But I missed the Papi home run. Reruns on TV are not the same. In the postgame interview he said he really appreciated the fans sticking by him. Oritz is a good guy and I'm glad he got the monkey of his back.

An upgrade idea for Tom Werner - and it's free!

A Legend gripe

I enjoy it when they welcome Red Sox Legends back to Fenway. Between innings they show video highlights of great at-bats and defensive plays by Dwight Evans or Jim Rice or or Dennis Eckersley or Carlton Fisk or Wade Boggs or Jim Lonborg or Mike Andrews or Luis Tiant or someone like that. They even did Pumpsie Green one time.

It's a great idea, and here's my gripe about it. The video rolls between innings, then they have a graphic that says "Red Sox Legends..sponsored by... (I don't remember who). Then, "Tonight we welcome back Red Sox Legend Dwight Evans" and the camera zooms to the skybox next to the 406 Club on the 1st base side. There he is, the Legend du Jour, waving to the crowd. A few fans applaud.

What's wrong with that?

Here's what's wrong. You have these legitimate legends coming back to a game, you have a produced highlight video of them, you zoom in on them waving and everything...and three-quarters of the people are not paying attention. They're hailing the peanut tosser, they're saying their "excuse me's" on the way to the restroom or the beer line, they're texting a friend, posing for a picture, looking someone up in the scorebook, checking the Yankees score on the left-field wall, chatting with the cute girl in the pink hat in the row in front or telling the kids that there's absolutely no nutritional value in cotton candy. They're not paying attention that point. They don't know that the legends are being shown on the Jumbotron, or that the legend is actually in the house...and don't know where to look when it's time to give them a well-deserved cheer.

So, Tom and John and about running audio as well as video? How about having Carl Beane announce the legend of the night...with a quick recap of what they accomplished? Of the 38,000 in attendance there must be about 20-25,000 who were not around or even born back in 1967 when Gentleman Jim Lonborg was mowing hitters down. Jim leaves his dentist office in Scituate early, fights the traffic on the Expressway to come up and be a legend in the skybox and a ton of people don't even know he's there. Announce him. Shine a spotlight on the skybox while he waves. You announce the names of Star Spangled Banner singers we've never heard of and the names of Little Star kids who introduce the first three batters on Sunday. Why not the Legends? Picture Dad sitting there pointing and telling his kids that when we has their age #24 was Dwight Evans and he made all these incredible catches in right field and he'd hit homers into a screen that used to be on top of the Green Monster.

A free upgrade.

Isn't the history the reason that Fenway is "America's Most Beloved Ballpark?" Let Dad know that Dewey is up there waving back. Carl Beane is already there and has a microphone. It would be a free upgrade and make the Fenway experience that much nicer.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The real goat in 1986 - it was in the 8th

It got me thinking.

I'm only bringing this up now because I saw an episode on The Best Damn Sports Show counting down the 50 Greatest Plays in Baseball. Keith Foukle underhanding the ball to Doug Mientkiewicz was #50.

You're not going to list all 50, are you?

No, no. We get into the top ten and there is, predictably, a lot of Yankee stuff. Don Larsen's perfect game, Bucky Bleeping Dent and Aaron Boone ruining seasons for long-suffering Red Sox fans, etc. #4 is Carlton Fiske's most famous moment. Then we get to #3. Bill Buckner's error. That same clip showed up on another episode where they had the 50 Most Famous Bloopers in Sports. That show included things like a Portguese Water Dog pooping right in front of the judges at the Westminster Dog Show. Buckner made #2 on that countdown.

Where does the buck really stop?

Bill, of course, was often unjustly blamed for the Red Sox losing that 1986 World Series.
Sure, he made an error, but had he fielded that Mookie Wilson grounder cleanly the game would have simply gone to the 11th inning, tied 5-5. It was an elimination game for New York, but not for Boston.

It was also not Bob Stanley's fault. The "wild pitch" to Mookie that allowed the tying run to score was actually a passed ball. Mookie did a little acting that made it look more inside than it really was. Catcher Rich Gedman missed it. Stanley's job was to throw a sinker and get a ground ball, which is exactly what he did.

The other guy who got a lot of the blame was Manager John McNamara. Many blamed Mac for not replacing the hobbling Buckner at 1st base with Dave Stapleton in the 10th inning for defensive purposes. Mac wanted his buddy Bill Buckner to be in the "finally we won" shot that didn't actually happen for another 18 years.

On that night back in 1986 I was in Syracuse, NY. I was Program Director of Y94FM and had a living room full of people who were Red Sox fans - or willing to pretend they were for the night. I had rented a big-screen TV and was taping the game on my VCR for posterity.

Fast forward to June 2006.

The Mets come to Boston for Interleague play. Pedro Martinez, returning to Fenway for the first time as an enemy pitcher, is so overcome with emotion he leaves after two very ineffective innings. Not surprisingly, there were many Mets fans in the stands, and a few were wearing Mets shirts with "Buckner...6" on the back. Obnoxious. (Billy Bucks wore #22 with the Dodgers, Cubs and in his second stint with the Red Sox in 1990, but in 1986 he was wearing the now-retired #6.)

Fast forward a little more.

September 2007. The NAB Radio Show convention was in Charlotte, NC and there was a guy from Cedar Rapids named Mike McNamara who won a Marconi Award for Best Talk Show. In his acceptance speech Mike said, "Anyone here from Boston?" Greater Media had a couple of tables right up front and those of us from Boston chimed in with a "Yeah!" Mike McNamara then looked at us and said, "You can all go to hell!" WTF?? Turns out that he's the son of John McNamara and still bitter about his father getting the blame for the 1986 Sox choke.

And again.

December 2007. Time Magazine listed the top 25 inventions of the year, with the iPhone coming in at #1. Arbitron's PPM was also on the list, as was the Panasonic DMR-EZ4TV that will digitize your old VHS tapes so you can convert them to DVD format. Kathy gave me one for Christmas, and I began digitizing like crazy. After I finished doing a zillion family videos I moved on to other old VHS tapes, and eventually ran across my unwatched tape of Game 6 in 1986.

CSI Shea.

Let's do some forensics and examine what really happened. Much has been written about the 10th inning collapse, and the shot of the ball going through Buckner's legs and Vin Scully yelling, "...Knight scores and the Mets win!" has been way overplayed. So I'm here to say that the real goat was neither McNamara nor Buckner nor Bob Stanley. It was Calvin Shiraldi. And not for giving up three straight hits in the 10th.

It was the 8th, stupid.

Nobody ever talks about the 8th. Roger Clemens had a 3-2 lead after 7 when he got a blister or something and either asked out or was taken out. Whatever. Calvin Schiraldi, a former Met who already had one save and one blown save and a loss in the ALCS, and wound up with a blown save and two losses in the World Series, came on to pitch the 8th.

Maybe Schiraldi was less effective against lefties. The inning began with four consecutive lefties. Lee Mazzilli leads off with a single to right on a 1-2 count. Lenny Dykstra bunts on the first pitch. The bunt goes right back to Schiraldi, who could easily throw to first for the out, but decides to try for the lead runner. Bad decision. His throw to 2nd gets there on time, but it's a bad throw that pulls Marty Barrett well off the base. Safe all around, Mazzilli on 2nd, Dykstra on 1st. Next up, Wally Backman. On a 3-1 pitch. he also bunts. This time, Schiraldi throws to 1st to get the out. One down, runners on 2nd and 3rd. Keith Hernandez gets an intentional walk to load the bases. Gary Carter, the first righty batter of the inning, gets the green light on 3-0 (10 of the last 11 pitches have been balls) and Schiraldi grooves one right down the middle of the plate. It's a fly ball to left field, caught by Jim Rice for the second out, but Mazzilli tags up and scores the tying run. It's 3-3. Darryl Strawberry flies to center to end the the 8th, but the damage is done.

And then...

Nothing across for Boston in th 9th. Dewey reaches on an error, but is erased on a Gedman 4-6-3 double-play. Schiraldi is equally scary in the bottom of the 9th, with with a lead-off walk followed by a bunt single. Winning run for the Mets in scoring position, nobody out. They could have bunted and had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out, but didn't. Schiraldi gets out of it with a K and two F-7's. On to the awful 10th.

In the top of the 10th Boston came up with two runs on a Dave Henderson homer, a Wade Boggs double and a Marty Barrett RBI single. Two K's later, Buckner was hit by a pitch. In the leg. Did that slow him down just a skosh in the bottom of the 10th?

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury...

In summation, it was Schiraldi in the 8th who blew the game. If everything happened exactly the same way, and Schiraldi had thrown to 1st on the Dystra bunt, Mazzilli still would have been at 2nd, but with one out. Backman's bunt would have gotten Mazzilli to 3rd, but with two outs instead of one. (Okay, Backman probably wouldn't have bunted in that situation, but anything short of a Backman extra-base hit would have produced the same result.) The Carter fly to left would have been the 3rd out, we would have gone to the 9th with a 3-2 Red Sox lead, and 68 years of misery would have ended that night when Dykstra flied to Jim Rice to end the 9th. That 10th inning would never have happened and we would never have seen that old lady Met fan sitting behind the plate rolling her hands and throwing toilet paper on the field.

Your witness....

It doesn't matter anymore, but just for the record, the bleating was by Calvin Schiraldi, not Buckner or Stanley or MacNamara.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Just a ballgame on Cape Cod

On Mother's Day we went to our Cape Cod house, and while my wife and sisters-in-law were yapping I opened a drawer in the sideboard and noticed a roster and stat sheet that I'd gotten at a Cape Cod Baseball League game back in 2003. It was the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox hosting the Wareham Gatemen at Red Wilson field at D-Y high school.

Looking at the sheet I noticed some familiar names. On the Yarmouth-Dennis squad there was Justin Verlander, now the ace of the Detroit Tigers pitching rotation. He won 17 games in 06 and 18 in 07, and is the current major league leader in strikeouts. And Huston Street, closer for the Oakland A's (37 saves), who was traded to the Rockies for slugger Matt Holliday. And Chris Carter, who's now an outfielder/1st baseman for the Boston Red Sox. And Rob Johnson, now a catcher for the Seattle Mariners. And Nick Hundley, now a catcher for the San Diego Padres. Nick hit a walkoff homer in the 16th inning at Petco Park on Saturday night. And Curtis Thigpen, now a 1st baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Flip the page and look at the Wareham roster. Jeremy Sowers, now a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. He was on the mound on May 9th of this year when Boston scored 12 runs in one inning against Cleveland. Also JP Howell, a late-inning reliever/closer for the defending AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays. And Andy LaRoche, 3rd baseman for the LA Dodgers who was traded to Pittsburgh last July 31st as part of the 3-team trade that sent Manny Ramirez from Boston to LA and Jason Bay from Pittsburgh to Boston.

And this was just a quiet little Cape Cod Baseball League game at a high school field in Yarmouth, MA on July 3rd, 2003. There were excellent fireworks the next night at West Dennis beach.

Well, I feel like a shit

In my first post I said that Dennis Eckersley was doing a good job as color guy on NESN. I like Rem-Dawg okay, but Eck is good.

That post was only a day (maybe two) before the story came out about Remy's cancer surgery and subsequent complications, and that was just bad timing on my part. I've enjoyed Jerry Remy on NESN for years. I hope he has a speedy recovery and returns to the airwaves soon.

I do, however, stand by my kudos for Eck. He has a good voice, a dry sense of humor, and comes up with insightful and often funny comments of the type that you rarely hear on either local or network games.

When I lived in Baltimore in the 80's one of my neighbors was John Lowenstein, former Orioles outfielder and color commentator on WMAR-TV Channel 2. He had a sense of humor similar to that of Eckersley. The Orioles in those days relied heavily on the 3-run homer and rarely - if ever - bunted or stole a base. In one game against Texas the O's had a 6-run lead and Eddie Murray stole second. Lowensein said, "Well, that was a well-timed move. You want to have that nice 6-run lead before you start taking a risk by stealing."

Back to Eck. He was the most vocal person on Extra Innings when it came to telling it like it was at the time about Manny. After Manny fell down and rolled over the ball in left field, then got up and started laughing about it while Angels were circling the bases (cut to a shot of Theo in the stands with steam coming out of his ears), Eck said the way Manny treats the game is "bothersome." Of course, he wanted to say " bullshit" but we all got the point.

Did you know that Dennis Eckersley coined the term walkoff? It didn't refer to the guy who hit the home run, though. It was about him. When interviewed after Kirk Gibson hit that 9th inning game-winning pinch hit home run off him to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series he said, "It was a walkoff situation." Meaning there was nothing for him to do but walk off the mound. Like Tim Wakefield had to in the 11th inning of Game ACLS Game 7 in 2003.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dennis Eckersley is a great color guy

Dennis Eckersley is filling in for Jerry Remy on the NESN broadcasts from the new Yankee Stadium. He's very good. Says insightful and funny things that you usually don't hear play-by-play or color guys say. I like Remy and all, but Eck is more entertaining.