A Moment from “Pledge Week”

A Moment from “Pledge Week”

Getting ready to start our Michigan Humane Society telethon, I looked upon the phone bank in our extra studio and thought back to my days at WFUM–not WFUM as it is today, a repeater for Central Michigan’s WCMU, but when it was a full-fledged operating PBS station for the University of Michigan. There had been some turmoil and debate about how to effectively run WFUM. It was branded “Michigan Television” to coincide with the successful statewide “Michigan Radio” network also run by the university.  The unfortunate thing for the station was that while it was run by U of M proper, it resided on the campus of UM-Flint, which was two counties north of Ann Arbor. The big problem then became, how does a PBS station run by an entity not in the market successfully run the station? Truth of the matter is, they don’t, but that’s another story for another day.

The operation was a rag-tag outlet, as I imagined most PBS stations tended to be. People worked various roles–it wasn’t uncommon for a manager to man a tape machine or audio board during productions. Graphic designers also designed and constructed sets and props. It was a great opportunity to come in as an intern and have a chance to work on a lot of things.

Another thing that was common at the station was finding new and exciting ways to generate money. With any PBS station, viewer dollars were important, and with the station on the decline, Ann Arbor didn’t want to cough up any money. One of the ideas that the powers-that-be had was to bring back the “live” pledges during programs. In most PBS programs, the phone banks you see in the background aren’t real. People pretend to answer phones, or at the very least they were pre-recorded from another time.

Our station decided we were going to have a real phone bank hooked up and take calls on the air. I found myself a witness to the experiment’s debut from behind a camera, during a Peter, Paul and Mary special on a weekday evening. To a 21 year old guy starting out, things didn’t seem much bigger than a live pledge event, being part of a live program at a PBS station in Flint, Michigan. Excitement was building, as we got through the first segment of the folk trio’s music. As each second to our live hit drew closer, you could feel the excitement build. Finally, it came to us.

Our host for the festivities, Jim Gaver legendary host in the Flint area bounced in front of the camera, making his appeal to the viewers as to why WFUM was worth supporting.  After a minute of pleading, aside from his pleas there was a deafening silence–none of the phones were ringing. People began thinking we’ve made a huge mistake, airing a live pledge break and the worst possible thing happened: no one was calling. It was an embarrassing time for the station and it’s people.

But then something remarkable happened. The ringing of one of the phones pierced through the studio. It was shortly followed by another, then another. Soon the phone bank was full and people were calling in with their support. As the break ended, everyone in the studio was energized and ready for round two. With every subsequent pledge break, calls seemed to come in more frequently. During a sound break, one of the volunteers at the phone bank called Gaver over to him with a wave. Gaver looked at him and said “We’re in the middle of a live piece” but the volunteer insisted. When he went to the phone bank and talked to the man, his face turned from concern to pure shock. He talked into the phone for a little while–a little too long for the producer and director’s liking, and came back to his spot in front of the cameras.

When that pledge break ended, everyone wanted to know what the deal was. Gaver then made the announcement: a donor gave $10,000, but also wished to remain anonymous. He didn’t even want a mention on TV. There was a gasp, followed by murmurs of astonishment.

Two years later, I left the station. Two years after that, it was taken over by WCMU and WFUM was now WCMZ. However, I still carry the lessons that that mystery donor taught me: compensate the things you think are worth paying for, don’t actively seek credit for good deeds and always let people know you appreciate what they do.

I’ve been away from WFUM for six years now, but I still carry the lessons I learned there with me every single day.


Looking For A Few Good Mustaches

Looking For A Few Good Mustaches

Want to try something new with your facial hair? Perhaps you’re looking for an excuse to try that Tom Selick look? Do you grow fur like a werewolf and want to use those powers for good?

Rather than a walking event or rally, every November, the good folks at Movember raise awareness for men’s heath issues by encouraging men to grow mustaches. These artistic works of facial hair become ice breakers in the discussion about issues men face–such as prostate cancer–and help raise donations for research.

Each mustache participant starts November 1st clean shaven. As the month goes on, they groom their facial hair to a style of mustache that they see fit, following the guidelines of the contest. They can chart their journey and share their progress (and their donation links) as the month goes on.

It’s not only limited to men. Women can show their support by joining teams. While they won’t grow a mustache, they can bring awareness to men’s health issues in whatever way they see fit–by showing their support for the mustache growers, promoting facial hair growth, etc.

Please, join me and the rest of team #Backchannel as we set out to chance the face of men’s health.

More about Movember

Join team #Backchannel here


You never know what might happen when you’re on the #backchannel Movember team. Last year, we got a group of members together for a shave off, and feature it on our news on WXYZ.


Minecraft Beta 1.8 Pre-Release Update #2

Minecraft Beta 1.8 Pre-Release Update #2

For those of you into Minecraft, you are able to play a pre-release version up the upcoming 1.8 released–called the “Adventure Update.” Developer Jens Bergensten was kind enough to link everyone to the necessary files via his Twitter page.  Simply put, grab the necessary .jar file and use it to replace the current one in your .minecraft folder.

Most Windows users can hit the start button, and type %appdata%/.minecraft/bin in the search bar, the the folder should pop up.

If that doesn’t work, you can get to it the long way at:
C:\Users\*username*\AppData\Roaming\.minecraft — Replacing *username* with your own username. Just keep in mind you may have to show yourself hidden files first.

You can grab the updated Minecraft 1.8 Beta Prelease .jar file here.

You can get the updated server .jar file here.


Some Favorite Photos

Some Favorite Photos

Testing EA’s Origin

Testing EA’s Origin

I’ll admit, I’m not too fond on change in my gaming world… I’m not among the first to get a new console and will very rarely get an anticipated game right at launch time. However, with the upcoming release of Battlefield 3–a game I WOULD be interested in getting at launch–I’ve accepted the fact that Electronic Arts is going to force us to use Origin one way or another.

I decided to exercise some caution and avoid origin for when concerns about privacy came up, but since EA changed the EULA, I was satisfied that I wasn’t welcoming an Orwellian nightmare onto my hard drive. I embarked on a quest to install Origin and see what it had to offer.

I ran into a few problems during the whole process, which I will readily admit has nothing to do with EA and everything to do with my own impatience. I somehow missed the big, shiny download button and downloaded the client in an odd, round about way. When I logged in for the first time, I somehow overlooked the menu that says “activate a product” and thought the only way to do it was through EA’s activation page. I was ready and willing to write a scathing account about having the close the program to add a game, but it’s my own fault I didn’t see it. I’m just too used to being babied by Steam.

After realizing my foolish, round about way of getting running with Origin, I’m only left with one gripe. I would really like to be able to add my entire library of EA titles. I’ve been an ardent Battlefield player since the days of 1942. I’d love to add all my Need For Speed titles. I’d probably play a TON of older Command and Conquer titles if I could only add them. But unfortunately the cut-off point seems to be from 2009. I mean, why would I want to throw down $20 on the complete Battlefield 2 series when I have the discs and their keys in the drawer next to me?

In the end, however, Origin doesn’t seem to be as bad as the internet bogey men in gaming circles would have you believe. It seems to be rough in some spots, but it’s nowhere near as rough as Steam was when it was forced onto players of Half-Life 2. I have to wonder just how successful Origin will be since Steam has a huge market share, a thriving community and a HUGE library of games. As free market economists would point out, competition can create benefits from consumers, so hopefully the big winner out of the debut of Origin will be us gamers.