Thursday, November 12, 2009

12 NOV 09: No Habla Español

Only six months ago, Columbus had two Spanish-language radio stations. As of this week, it officially has none. The man who told me two years ago "everything in Columbus will be.... controlled by Mexicans" [17 Aug 07] might be ready to return from Montana now.

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: If you love WBOJ "The Truth" on FM radio, get ready for a big switch. An informed radio source tells your blog the Christian station is moving from 103.7 FM to the spot once held by "Tropical 88.5." In fact, a separate test broadcast already is on the air there - which should prove once and for all there can be several different versions of The Truth.

I'm told an official announcement about the "new Truth" should come today or Friday. But the Spanish-language version of WTMQ-FM quietly went off the air about six weeks ago. GPB Radio's WJSP-FM from Warm Springs suddenly became easier to hear - but I confess the opera arias in Italian are tougher for me to understand.

This blog was first to report on the start of "Tropical 88.5" [25 May 07]. The radio station lasted last than two years, and apparently succumbed to a lack of donations and.... well, it was supposed to be a non-commercial station. But it certainly sounded at times like there was advertising for markets and nightclubs. Did anyone spot another raid by federal agents in October?

A leading Hispanic business owner is sure of the reason why both Tropical 88.5 and "Viva 1460" went off the air. Lefty Incarnacion of Millie's Market blames a lack of money in a tough economy - especially "American" money. The declining exchange rate of the dollar for pesos even affects Columbus businesses....

No wait: Lefty Incarnacion means something else. The owner of Millie's Market told me Wednesday the flow of money in the Hispanic community is too one-sided. "American stores want our business. But when we ask them to help US out...." Suffice to say, bilingual signs inside Kmart aren't enough for him.

Lefty Incarnacion knew more about Tropical 88.5's situation than I expected - or at least he sounded that way. "It cost $6,000 a month just to run the antenna," he told me. Before you smart aleck conservatives get wrong ideas - no, I do NOT think day laborers were pedaling bicycles to keep it going.

But here's the thing: I don't recall local Hispanic leaders mounting a fund-raising campaign to save Tropical 88.5. If there was one, I certainly didn't hear about it -- unless they tried passing a hat during Sunday soccer matches at Baker Middle School.

Not even Hispanic advertisers seem interested in reaching the Hispanic community, through the few remaining local options. The latest issue of Eco Latino has only two advertisements in Spanish. But then again, it has only five pages - and the copy I picked up has one of them printed upside-down.

(We tried to contact Columbus Councilor and native Puerto Rican Mimi Woodson for a comment on this Wednesday, but our messages were not returned. Maybe she's waiting for March, to speak up again for Cesar Chavez Day.)

And to top things off, we asked a cashier at Brito's Market on South Lumpkin Road Wednesday if she ever listened to Tropical 88.5. She admitted she didn't. So that's another part of the problem - the "telenovelas" on Univision may be too dramatic and compelling.

By the way: Millie's Market often plays salsa and merengue music - the kind of music Tropical 88.5 often played. When I walked inside Wednesday, the radio was tuned to WCGQ. At least that's the station most likely to play Shakira songs.

You're invited to hear me sing this weekend, at a special "Pre-Thanksgiving" worship service and dinner! It starts Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET at the Woodmen of the World hall on Milgen Road -- between the post office and Lumber Liquidators.

BLOG UPDATE: Sure enough - there was no Veterans Day break at the federal trial of Mark Shelnutt. Five more witnesses took the stand. WRBL reports one was an Internal Revenue Service employee who came to Columbus from Detroit. Do you think she stopped at the Kia plant on the way home, to look for delinquent taxpayers?

WTVM reported one key prosecution witness Wednesday was a prison inmate, who walked into federal court in leg shackles. The story did NOT reveal whether those shackles had a hidden camera, to record video of sleeping jurors.

Shawn "Biscuit" Bunkley told the court he paid Mark Shelnutt $125,000 in legal fees, on behalf of a convicted drug dealer. Bunkley claimed the payment occurred in the parking lot of a Publix store on Schomberg Road. If you're going to deal with a man named "Biscuit," wouldn't a KFC parking lot be more appropriate?

Shawn Bunkley claims he made the payment for Torrence Hill, who had to sell a $50,000 race car. Wow - next time a driver speeds by me on Cusseta Road, I'll pay more attention to how that car is built.

Shawn Bunkley was one of the drug suspects at a February 2008 Harris County court hearing, where an attorney accused Mark Shelnutt of involvement in a conspiracy. Bunkley testified the suspects later went to Shelnutt's law office and were told to "keep their mouths closed." So? I thought speaking out of turn could lead to a contempt of court charge.

Mark Shelnutt's attorney revealed Shawn Bunkley had to testify twice before a federal grand jury in Macon, because he lied to prosecutors. Yet Bunkley is a government witness - so the prosecution must think "Biscuit" isn't toast.

The defense also challenged the character of Derrick Wright, the attorney who used the word "conspiracy" about Mark Shelnutt in the February 2008 court hearing. It turns out Wright has lied to an investigative panel in the past. Wow - an attorney lying?! Is this why so many of them run for political office?

Another prosecution witness Wednesday was a girlfriend of Torrence Hill. She testified she once left $14,000 for Mark Shelnutt at his law office, in a gift- wrapped box. I suppose it beats those giant-sized checks they hand to lottery winners....

Prosecutors played wiretapped conversations between Mark Shelnutt and Columbus attorney Mark Casto. Casto's law firm has an ad on the back cover of the latest Yellowbook - but there's no picture there for Shelnutt supporters to add devil's horns.

Mark Casto told the court he once considered Mark Shelnutt a sure bet to become Muscogee County Superior Judge. That could happen, no matter what the verdict in this trial is. If Don Siegelman can run for Alabama Governor despite a federal indictment, anything is possible....

A blog reader directed us to a law-focused web site, which has detailed stories about the Mark Shelnutt trial from an Atlanta legal journal. A Wednesday report revealed Shelnutt's legal secretary is named Joanne Strickland. So the "J.S." mentioned in his indictment truly is NOT District Attorney Julia Slater - and Slater's apparently in the clear to coach Shelnutt during courtroom breaks.

-> Tuesday was a big day for us in online poker. Check what happened at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <--

BLOG SPECIAL EVENT: While you may have marked Veterans Day Wednesday, I marked an anniversary. It's been 25 years since I moved to Georgia from Oklahoma - a two-day trip which led to a one-bedroom duplex in College Park on this day in 1984. A quarter-century later, I've moved all the way up to a two-bedroom apartment. I "sleep" in one of them when I conk out while blogging.

CLASSIC BLOG/11-12 NOV 04: It was the 11th month, 11th day, 11th hour - not in 1918, but 1984. Twenty years ago today at about 11:00 a.m., I said farewell to Oklahoma and began a move to Georgia. It was a classic trade -- red dirt for rednecks.

Our story really begins in the summer of 1984. I'd spent more than two years doing radio news in Enid, Oklahoma, and the situation was going downhill quickly. When the management cuts costs by asking the on-air staff to clean bathrooms, that's not a good sign....

I found out CNN Headline News in Atlanta was looking for news writers, so I mailed a resume and some writing samples. For those of you younger than 25 -- this was before the Internet. Back then, "e-mail" could have meant an enormous package.

I was a bit surprised when CNN Headline News expressed an interest in my work, and asked me to travel to Atlanta for an interview. The network even paid for my airline ticket -- well, half of it. The assistant to the boss forgot to buy me a ticket back to Oklahoma My credit card saved me from potentially staying overnight at Ted Turner's house.

The one-day round-trip between Oklahoma City and Atlanta marked my first time in an airplane. It was such a new experience for me that for awhile, I couldn't figure out the right way out of the Hartsfield Airport transportation mall. Yes, you DO have to go up an escalator....

CNN covered my cab fare to midtown Atlanta from the Atlanta airport, for an interview and a writing test. This test was done on an electric typewriter - the ones with ribbons you can only find now at locally-owned office supply stores, before they go bankrupt.

Two months later in October 1984, the late CNN Headline News manager Paul Amos called and offered me a job. I didn't have to think about it long - because by this point, I had become THE radio news department. One person working long days and split shifts - sort of like some gift shops will do it for the next six weeks.

My new boss wanted me to start in Atlanta as soon as possible, but I had to give two weeks' notice at the radio station. I also had to prepare for the move - but I had some practice. The apartment complex required people to take dishes out of the kitchen cabinets every month, for bug spraying.

I still have a farewell pen-and-pencil set from KXLS-FM, given to me on my final Friday evening November 9, 1984. I also still have memories of a last trip to the newsroom the following night - and finding all the tape cartridges were removed. I never have called the Smithsonian, to check into that....

With a mover arranged and everything in some semblance of order, I left Enid for Georgia on that Veterans Day Sunday morning. As I drove east on U.S. 64, the AM radio had Christine McVie singing, "I've been down, I've been used/ Now I know that I just can't lose." The words seemed fitting for me -- even if they were incredibly out of context.

I stopped for exercise at Oklahoma State University, on the way to Atlanta. This was when Jimmy Johnson was coaching O.S.U. football and becoming a famous name - and long before a NASCAR driver named Jimmie Johnson made many sports fans forget him.

I allowed two days for the drive from Enid to Atlanta, since a good deal of the trip would involve no interstate highway. My Sunday night stop for rest was a Holiday Inn in West Memphis, Arkansas. This was back when Holiday Inn's headquarters was in Memphis, not Atlanta - and WAY back, when it was considered a discount motel.

(With no dream of an Interstate 22....) The direct route by car from Memphis to Atlanta in November 1984 meant a two-lane drive on a winding U.S. 78 through northern Mississippi. It also meant an introduction to "Academies" in small towns - opened as alternatives to desegregated public schools. How many of these are run by Southern Baptists, anyway?

The road to Georgia bypassed Tupelo, Mississippi. I decided I didn't have time to stop and tour Elvis Presley's hometown. Years later I stopped there on vacation one evening and jogged downtown - and by comparison, downtown Columbus could be a marathon course.

I stopped for lunch in northwest Alabama, and received a rude culture shock. I should have known I was in trouble at a barbecue restaurant when all the menu items were listed on decorative wooden pigs -- with not a steer in sight.

The barbecue sandwich I ordered tasted strange to me -- because growing up in Kansas City and living for years in Oklahoma, barbecue meant beef. Once I discovered this sandwich was pork, I felt like half the town was in the restaurant. And they were all watching me dump that sandwich in the trash.

(In the next town down the road, I didn't repeat that mistake - getting a safe chili cheeseburger.)

A large table lamp was lodged between the seats of my car on that Monday in November 1984. When I reached Birmingham, one of the ramps leading to Interstate 20 surprised me - and the lampshade ripped. When I moved to Columbus 13 years later, I settled for clothing and suitcases.

In late 1984 I-20 was NOT completely built across Alabama. That meant a detour of several miles between Birmingham and Anniston. It took several more years for me to realize a large number of Alabamians actually don't mind living behind the times....

The moving trip finally reached the Georgia line in late afternoon. And for the first time, I began to live on Eastern Time instead of Central. I still dare to say Central is the time zone God prefers - since the late news comes on at 10:00 p.m.

I stopped for fuel in Douglas County around sundown - and began to understand the busyness of Atlanta traffic. A long line of cars extended down a two-lane road from the I-20 exit. This was so long ago, I'm not sure this exit even had a Waffle House.

As part of my preparation for the move to Georgia, I contacted an Atlanta church pastor in the denomination I used to attend. He announced at church I needed a roommate for awhile -- and a single man offered to take me in. The fact that I was hired by CNN made me trustworthy, I guess. But remember, this was before Fox News Channel....

I followed the pastor's directions and a map, I found the duplex in College Park which would be my first Georgia home. But as I rolled into the driveway, the next-door neighbor on my left was handling a fierce-sounding dog -- and I couldn't tell in the darkness if it was leashed or not. I'd driven hundreds of miles, and now couldn't be sure of the last 20 yards.

After waiting a couple of minutes in uncertainty, I developed a strategy: drive up the road to a Church's chicken stand for dinner, then return to the duplex and BACK my way up the driveway. The dog would have to run around the car. And if all else failed, I could throw bones at it.

It turned out the scary-sounding dog WAS on a leash - and I was able to get out of the car, find the man's hidden key and get inside the duplex in one piece. I guess that animal was designed to get me used to Atlanta's southside. The duplex was close to Hartsfield Airport, and in the flight path of all sorts of planes.

The first Monday night watching Georgia television in 1984 was memorable as well. Forrest Sawyer and Pam Martin co-anchored the news on WAGA -- and the big 11:00 p.m. story was how the homeless would cope with the coldest night of the fall. I saw that and gained the false impression Atlanta was only slightly chillier in winter than Miami.

Over the last 20 years in Georgia, I've learned many things -- yet I remain puzzled by many things:

+ I'm now familiar with most of the NASCAR drivers. But when I hear "a round of wedge," I wonder why they're carrying golf clubs in the cars.

+ I've learned Georgia tea comes both sweetened and unsweetened. But I still don't know how restaurants sweeten the tea in advance -- especially without opening all sorts of sugar packets.

+ I'm more careful making right turns after stopping at street corners - because many drivers feel like they HAVE to turn left into a right-hand lane.

+ I've discovered if you answer a phone and the first thing a caller says is "Lookee here," you're probably in trouble. But I still can't grasp why people say "hey" instead of "hello."

+ I now know college football games in the South are not games. They are mini-wars -- or "us versus them." Thanks, Larry Munson.

+ I've learned you don't step on a gas pedal -- you "mash" it. But no one has offered me "corn meal mash" yet.

COMING SOON: Why a national group is demanding a local judge give up his seat.... or at least his flag....

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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