October 2013


 

Today was October 13. And here in Upstate New York, the temperature must have been in the upper 70s.

There was pro football on TV and a Sunday newspaper to glance through, but this touch of summer on an autumn day drew me to my bicycle. I admit that sometimes Sunday afternoon becomes a Sabbath break from my daily exercise, but not today. I decided a quick trip or two around the neighborhood would not only keep up some semblance of an aerobic routine, but I could savor the gift of a very mild October day. More than pleasant; this day was stunning!

So, I rode. And the streets were so quiet. I pedaled up some slight hills and coasted down. I enjoyed the newly paved blacktop of some parts of the neighborhood roads, thankful that the road construction that had caused a neighbor’s serious bike accident a couple of month ago was now complete, and the surfaces were smooth.

After the first circuit through our development, I realized that the streets were a little too quiet.

On this glorious fall day, with some leaves still holding onto limbs for dear life, and turning bright colors in the process, there was no one in sight. No one. All right, that’s an exaggeration. There was one guy running a leaf blower in his backyard. But that was it. One guy.

I started around again. I went as far as the gravel road that leads from our neighborhood to the bordering farm, and I counted three horses and saw some cows. (I rang my bell at the critters, noticing that the cows looked up, but the horses ignored me.) But I saw no human beings.

I rode back to the paved roads, passed by house after house, and encountered no children playing in yards or streets, and no adults outside enjoying the gorgeous afternoon. For the heck of it, I counted the homes in our area and got to 90…and finally saw a woman in her garden. Grand total of people in my neighborhood outside on this warm, lovely fall day? Two.

By the time I completed the six mile circuit, having thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and having gotten up a bit of a sweat, a third neighbor appeared to do some yard work.  But not one child. No one else on a bike, no one throwing a football, no one just sitting on a front step.

I put my bike back on the rack in the garage and lamented the apparent addiction that has captured not only the imaginations of my younger neighbors, but their bodies too. I doubt the neighborhood kids were all inside doing homework. Surely their parents and the older adults whose kids are grown and moved away — surely all my neighbors weren’t indoors reading, napping, or conversing around the table at 3 p.m. on this Sunday afternoon. No, I suspect something more sinister: ipods, ipads, electronic i-dols of various descriptions…computers…and those LCD flat screens… games that demanded no more than some finger touches or rapt attention between commercials — that would explain why I was almost alone, taking a bike ride on a warm autumn afternoon on a street too quiet.

Sad, the death of a neighborhood. So sorry for our loss. 

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At the invitation of some friends connected with the former North American Broadcast Section of the World Association for Christian Communication (NABS-WACC) , and in cooperation with the Presbyterian Media Mission (PMM) of Pittsburgh (don’t you love compound sentences?), I long ago produced a series of half-hour radio programs called “The Spirit of Jazz.”

And by “long ago,” I mean 1991 or so. PMM duplicated the master I had recorded in my Richmond studio, and syndicated the show to a handful of stations in fairly good-sized markets around the U.S. We did a run of maybe 30 programs, and then PMM reran the series before ending production. I was fine with that since I had many other programs in production, along with two half-time (right) “jobs.” PMM had sent me copies of each master, and I saved them as I did hundreds of other programs through the years.

When an internet radio station in Geneva, NY offered some “broadcast” time to our Presbytery, I cautioned our Presbytery staff to expect a tiny audience for this as-yet-unproven media outlet. Be honest now…here you are hip enough to be reading an internet blog, but have you ever tuned into a particular program via internet radio? A religious program? By choice or by accident? That’s what I thought.

So rather than spending many hours and maybe a few bucks on producing something new for several months, I offered to transfer those old “Spirit of Jazz” programs to MP3 format, send them to the station via email, and see who took the time to listen. I edited the old outros, added new credits, and invited listener response via the Presbytery of Geneva website. (While the programs were over 20 years old, the jazz was not too dated, since the artists are still well-known and active today, and most “good” jazz doesn’t age. What did age was my outro voice, but that’s another story.) By the way, the format was simple: choose a theme (grace, rain, story, vision, dreams, the road, healing, etc.), find jazz tunes to reflect the theme, and write five or six brief “meditations” on the theme, voice tracks that tie the music cuts together.

On December 4, 2011, we began the series on Geneva Community Radio, in a decent Sunday night timeslot. The series is still running today. Or, I should say RE-running. The timeslot has changed, but those same old programs keep chugging on, holding a spot for us on this internet station, with the hope that IF that station is granted a low-power FM license in the future, we’ll have a place on the schedule. Apparently, the situation is OK with the station’s owner-operator, and it doesn’t take much time for me to cut new outros now and then to promote some Presbytery program or list some churches. But, alas, there is little audience. As I suspected.

Blame it on jazz, for one thing. We are not talking (or playing) mainstream music here. When “USA Today” prints its weekly list of best-selling music offerings ( we used to say “records”), it lists umpteen types of rock and country and urban and even “Christian” formats, and reports on music sales. But the newspaper dropped the jazz category years ago. I guess jazz sales were just a blip not worth noting. So, it’s no surprise that running these old jazz tapes isn’t creating much interest on the internet radio station. Strike one. Especially since our format is also “religious.” Strike two.

Those who seek out religious programming are looking for very, very traditional religious (conservative Christian) “messages,” albeit with more contemporary music expressions. The mediations I wrote for those “Spirit of Jazz” programs easily fall into the more moderate-to-liberal theological stream, and the music, while decidedly “contemporary” and even “secular” sounding, is… well, it’s jazz. Some mainstream, some so-called contemporary jazz, but jazz.

And here’s the third strike: we’re on an internet radio station, and while that may be a happenin’ place to be these days, broadcast radio being loaded into the hearse as I write, there are, like, millions and millions of choices when it comes to listening/watching/encountering/surfing internet sites for information/entertainment/inspiration. No wonder there are just fifteen listeners who happen on our program now and then. Tops.

But here’s the “update” part of this story: I’m still thinking about NEW programs! Even though there is hardly any audience, some theme or idea pops into my mind, I think about jazz that might carry that theme into a listener’s heart, and I start thinking about writing a script and gathering some music. And recording the program with my aging voice, here on the same computer on which I type this occasional blog.

I wrote and produced a half-hour on gratitude for last Thanksgiving. I’ve done new Christmas shows with Bill Carter’s Presbybop Jazz (www.Presbybop.com), and I wrote a show on “love,” since, as Stevie Wonder once sang, “Love’s in need of love today.” As I listened to a Harry Connick Jr. cut while exercising at the gym a couple of weeks ago, I got an idea to write a program on “ideas,” or imagination and creativity, using the Connick song “I’ve Got a Great Idea.” Finding the music to link my writings together is fun, and a matter of perusing my own collection of jazz records (uh-huh: vinyl), CDs, and downloads. And using Audacity to record and edit the programs is also a trip. (Music licensing is taken care of by the internet radio station, so I’m told. And since I don’t do the legal stuff myself, I don’t “release” those programs by blog, recordings, email, or other public media.)

Once the final shows are sent to the Presbytery office to be sent on to the radio station (as an old broadcaster, I have trouble using “radio” and “station” in the same sentence as “internet”), I learned at a meeting last week that the Presbytery office staff sometimes listens to the shows as they work. And I smile at that, because it takes me back to my very first radio work exactly 50 years ago. The parallel is amusing. When I first went “on the air,” it wasn’t really over the airwaves, any more than this new internet thing is. The college station was “carrier current,” that is, the signal went from the studio by wires to the women’s dorms, and then into their radios via the power cords that connected the radios to the outlets in their dorm rooms.

So, since most of the women at the school didn’t even know 1) that there was a way to hear the station, nor 2) how to find the station on the dial, in terms of audience, more people heard our programming by standing outside the open studio windows or in the hallway where the music vibrated through the door. In those early days, we only pretended to do radio, awaiting the time when we’d get that FM license and a transmitter. And here I am 50 years later, pretending, and hoping.

To find out what I’ve done between pretend gigs, go to my other blog www.celebrationrock.wordpress.com and see that I didn’t exactly sit on my hands all that time. Still, for now, in my so-called retirement, I enjoy pretending, just like any kid.