Pictures from my headphones

Monday, April 5th, 1999

It’s springtime in Atlanta, and the airwaves are filled with the smells of ballpark franks, Skip Caray’s aftershave, and, of course, all those turtles.
I’m walking down Highland Avenue, dodging smokers in the sunshine, NPR’s WABE in my ear in between innings of the Braves opener. Bruce Dortin reports: "Georgia has 134 miles of turtles. That is, 134 miles of coastline." Ah, we need radio of this caliber to make news operations like WSB radio’s actually seem sophisticated.
I thumbwheel my walkperson back to Newstalk 750, WSB, where you get traffic reports from a guy who has earned his psuedo-military rank under decidedly mysterious circumstances, and where reporters bellowing "depend on it" just make me nervous.
But it’s also where listening to Braves Baseball is about as close to the best of what commercial radio can be these days. Pictures actually form in one’s mind, and unlike most morning radio shows’ image-conjuring, they’re not the kind you slap your temples to eject from your skull. There are just those four familiar voices, and the aural aroma of the game. Pete’s encyclopedic perspective and Don and Joe’s insights are just gravy—I listen for Skip Caray’s distinctive cadence, laden with just how he’s feeling right now. He is, by turns, a 12-year-old kid in love with the ballpark life and a curmudgeonly old man who really doesn’t want to say it’s the Ikon Office Systems scoreboard, even if that’s what’s on the damn card.
Later the same evening, I stash the radio and force myself to stay up to watch The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn—just for…just for…just what is the point?
There, at 12:37 in the morning, when there really aren’t all that many people awake, we have Craig, the new boy. He’s wearing a Conan O’Brien pompadour, he’s sitting in a fine-veneer set that seems cobbled together from the old Greg Kinnear Later digs and where Charlie Rose sat for CBS News Nightwatch, circa 1988.
There’s a two-shot—it’s the Letterman shot, precisely. Craig waves goodbye a la Dave. Vaguely creepy music plays. I’m baffled. The overnight ratings say the timeslot’s audience hasn’t increased, but he has attracted—you guessed it younger viewers, who, I must conclude, lack the time-depth to detect the recycling of sets, hair, and ideas.
The lengths that CBS will go through to buy some young demographics seem, well, ruthlessly capitalistic. No sooner does CBS CEO Mel Karmazin again express his FCC-prohibited deep desire and longing to acquire NBC, then rumors pop up in Monday’s San Jose Mercury News that AOL would like to absorb that tasty morsel CBS.
CBS owns a heavy majority in about a zillion—okay, about 160 radio and TV stations (including Z-93, WAOK, and V-103 right here). They’ve got TNN and CMT (sewing up the country cable acronyms.) and now, in no April Fool’s joke, they shelled out something like $2.5 billion in stock last week to buy King World Productions, the syndicators of Oprah, Wheel, and Jeopardy. (How valuable will this pricy grab be after Ms. Winfrey leaves?)
And why should you care?
Visualize the classic eyeball logo. The announcer speaks: "This…is AOL."
Well, it makes me shudder.