Iowa City ranking in the tops of the midwest

Living for a number of years in Iowa City[wiki], it’s news like this that I am happy to share.

Prairie Lights Books, Kurt Vonnegut and Sugar Bottom Recreation Area have long been household names for Iowa City residents.

Now, as Outside Magazine’s top town in the Midwest, Iowa City’s treasures will be known by readers from New York to Seattle. […]

The magazine described Iowa City and the other towns as “smart, progressive burgs with gorgeous wilderness playgrounds — and, yes, realistic housing and job markets.”

Apart from mentioning James Alan McPherson and The Englert Theatre, the magazine highlights the statewide push for alternative fuels. The magazine also said unique recreational opportunities included Sugar Bottom’s bike trails, Lake Macbride and the Iowa River.

If that’s not enough of an endorsement, Outside’s editor Christopher Keyes gives his own shout-out to Iowa City in a “Between the lines” segment: “… move to Iowa City. Some of the happiest people in the world live in Iowa City.” [iowacitypresscitizen]

Out of the entire state, Iowa City is always a place that I would consider at the top of my list to go back and live. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Vancouver lifestyle. I often find myself feeling nostalgic by memories triggered by somewhere around the lower mainland. Of course, it takes a little bit more than a five to ten minute drive away from downtown to reach wide open spaces in Vancouver, but there are elements here that consistently remind me a little bit of Iowa City.

I often wonder what it will be like when I get back there next and how much it will have changed. A tornado struck the heart of downtown the summer after I left, so I expect that amount of change. The next will come with changed businesses and buildings, but the demographic seems to constantly be shifting in a very distributed way. Such is the way of a university town, and the rest of the state can be a vast departure from this.

Even that is reshaping as those who flee to the coasts are coming back home. There is something to be said about midwest hospitality. Of course, you have to be able to stand the wickedly hot summers and sometimes brutal winters, and it’s something you never get used to as much as come to expect.

Happy Fourth!

It would be rude of me to not bestow good wishes to those who are celebrating this American holiday. Living out of the country, it is curious to see how the rest of the world keeps going on while the party happens in the states. In fact, it’s more like waiting in line for a really cool concert. Everything outside is kinda lame and at a snails pace while the fun stuff is going on inside.

That’s not to say that things in Vancouver is or has been lame. Canada Day[wiki] has its excellent merits. Spending the day on the beach and following it up with dinner on a patio that overlooks English Bay with a pitcher of mojitos? Muy buen.

Field of Dreams (July, 2005) Being an American and not being in America can be hard on days like this. I have a wealth of memories of times past. In fact, we watched Field of Dreams last night for my unknown numberth of times, and it was nearly three years ago that my family spent the day there, playing catch, taking turns at bat, and wandering the corn fields. Makes you miss those times a lot.

When I think about being American, it’s those times that make me appreciate my roots. I could care very little about being called a nationalist for flying my flag, and you can stick it for calling me an ex-patriot. I know exactly what I am and where I have come from, and politics and foreign policy means little to me on a day like this. It’s also why I am not afraid to hide from the fact of where I grew up. The Midwest is my home. Born and raised, and there is nothing you can do to change that.

Riding the little league all-stars float, playing in the high school marching band, the tractor after tractor in the parade, the piles of treats left behind by the horses, stuffing yourself with meats from the grill, picking the corn out from between your teeth, and the flinching concussions from those fireworks that are shot into the sky with all the pretty ones only to have a little blip of a flash, followed by a rattling boom.

Happy Fourth of July!

The trenches of broadcast engineering

There are days that I miss being couped up in my window-less office, being a broadcast engineer, and working all the wires and parts to keep two radio stations in operation, every single day. When I read things like this, I have to say that I miss it even more.

KHKE Tower Collapses

The tower for 89.5, our classical service in Cedar Falls/Waterloo has collapsed – the victim of an inch-thick coating of ice and 30-40 mile per hour winds.

The latest from Wayne Jarvis, Iowa Public Radio’s Network Operations Director:

The tower and antenna are a total loss and the arc-over when the guy wires hit our power-feed connection may have damaged the transmitter and other equipment in the tower building. The building itself wasn’t damaged but there are other structural issues and we will want to replace it when the tower is rebuilt. I’m investigating to see how we might fund the rebuilding. [iowapublicradio]

This is a neighbor station to the north of where I used to be, but apparently this storm hit close to home as well.

AND THERE’S MORE: 91.7 in Iowa City/Cedar Rapids is at 50% power; the power is off at the transmitter site and we’ve been operating off of the generator since Saturday. IPTV over-the-air viewers on channel 12: we share the same tower and we’re working with IPTV’s engineers to get their service up at reduced power, too, as soon as possible.

UPDATE: IPTV-12 is back on the air with very low power, but enough to give many cable viewers access to the signal again.

I thought you’d like to see this note from Engineer Jim Davies in Iowa City, describing what sounds like the near-failure of the IPTV/IPR tower in West Branch:

On Saturday the tower was loaded bad enough with ice that it was bending out of plumb quite a bit. The winds would hit and the top guy wire on the NW side would droop down below the next guy wire. A very good indication that failure would occur soon. We watched the tower dance for over an hour at the end of the lane in my Yukon. When it got dark we decided to get home. Nothing we could do would keep the tower upright if it decided to fail. [iowapublicradio]

It sounds a little strange, but folks who work in the broadcast engineering world, this is what fuels hours and hours of stories over meals or just standing around. It’s like war vets sharing their tales of what it was like. I think I learned more about what stupid things to not do from things like that.

Why do we live for stuff like this? Well, how often do you get to see tons of steel come crashing down? When those guy wires snap or pieces of tower come down vertically, your life can end in an instance. Morbid and fascinating, all at the same time. Oh yeah, and that tower is approximately 1,200 feet tall. Also, people don’t like it when something they expect to be there isn’t, especially when you provide a public service.

I have faith in those guys, especially Jim, to get it all sorted out. I expect pictures, so you can check back in the next few days in case I hear anything.

Update: There are a variety of pictures of the KHKE collapse here. Also heard word from Jim that the KSUI/IPTV tower in West Branch held, but there is another storm approaching today(Wednesday).

William Elliott Whitmore show review in Ohio

I’ve posted about William Elliot Whitmore before, and he made an appearance on the last Six Song on RadioZoom[rz#126]. When I pulled down my feeds this morning, Benjamin Cossel made a raving review on about a recent show of Whitmore’s in Ohio. I think he hit the nail on the head.

Bob Dylan, New York City 1961. Tom Waits, San Diego, early 1970s. What must it have been like to see these legendary performers when they were still unknowns? When the gathered crowd was small and you were so close to the artist that you could make a request in a conversational tone?

It struck me, as I watched and listened to William Elliot Whitmore, Feb 19 at The Basement in Columbus, Ohio on the kick-off date of a national tour, that this was what it must’ve been like; to see a performer at such an early point in their career who, in your heart of hearts, you know is destined for greatness with only 20 or so others are there to share the experience with you.

In many an article about him, Whitmore is compared to such legends as Waits and Johnny Cash. I’m sure it’s more to do with the deep gravelly voice and genre fusions than actual stylistic similarities – one thing that does run parallel with the Iowa born and raised Whitmore and those who transcend mere greatness is the honesty in their lyrics. [blogcritics]

Keep reading the rest of his review for sure, but oddly enough, it was one of his songs that was the last things I listened to as I drove out of Iowa to make my way to Vancouver. I think it might have been his song “Midnight”, but it’s hard to recall now. He was doing a live performance on the same radio station that I used to work at, WSUI.

It was the very same program that I had the chance of shaking the guy’s hand and running his sound for as well, nearly a year or so before my departure. That live remote could have been one of the first live programs that I ran by myself, calling the shots on the technical end and managing the part-time student help. I could be completely wrong because my time there is almost like a blur now, but it’s crazy how music can trigger your synapses like that.

Andy goes around the world

I got an email sometime ago from Andy Stoll. He’s a friend of my from my days at the University of Iowa. While I toiled away at KRUI, he did more constructive things, like be president of the student government or raise money for children with cancer. He even did a bunch of stuff for the school and Iowa City after he graduated. You can’t keep the guy down.

We also co-hosted, along with Chris Linn, a weekly community affairs talk show on KRUI for a little over a year. “It’s like Entertainment Tonight on a ten dollar budget” and “It’s like David Letterman, but not as funny” were our slogans. And boy did we live up to the hype. Odd thing was, there was this guy that I kept running into at various music shows in Iowa City that was the biggest fan of our program. He could recite those slogans by heart, and this was three years after the fact. Charming, but weird.

Back to Andy, and to exemplify the fact that you can’t keep this guy down, he’s on a round the world adventure. The reason? Just to see as much of it as he can.

You can check out No as he documents his venture. He left the Midwest in August and has spent most of the time at this point in China and Japan. We’ve emailed back and forth a little bit, and my hope is to get him on the podcast to talk about some of his experiences.

He’s been a little relaxed on posting updates, so hopefully this will inspire him to post more often. There has also been a challenge issued to me by Andy to make some comments about tips or things that I have learned about blogging. I’ll get to that soon, but here is a public challenge back to Andy to blog more about traveling around the world.

Podcast: The Exchange from IPR

Caught this via the official IPR blog.

“The Exchange” is now available as a podcast. You can download any episode of the show and listen whenever you like, or you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, or in feed readers like Google Reader and Bloglines. And, of course, iTunes is one way to transfer the show to your iPod so you can listen while you’re on the go.

Welcome to 2004, IPR. Ok, that is mean, but I tried really hard to get a podcast effort going at WSUI/KSUI during my time there. A lot of it came down to huge concerns over music rights, mainly music used in bumpers and bed music. After that, it was an uphill battle of trying to teach staff, with explicit radio frame of minds, what podcasting is.

There was a short run of a weekend program that I was able to get setup, but I was instructed to shut it down due to said licensing concerns. Yes, there was a legit reason to follow the rules and not distribute material that we lacked the rights to do so for. Being the only person trying to push the new medium on top of the impending IPR consolidation, there was no room for the project on the agenda. It was in the early portion of 2005 that the plug was pulled.

That single weekend program pushed out about five episodes, and the response was immediate. There was hardly any promotion for it, but people were either Googling or pinging their way to the feed. The comments were coming from around the world. This was a whole new audience we were taping into, and they didn’t care if the content pertained to Iowa related topics. It was quality programming, plain and simple.

I think what IPR wants to do is become a stronger force in the world of public radio, much like what Minnesota Public Radio or Chicago Public Radio has become. This new program, The Exchange, is the first big push to get into the ring for IPR. However, quality programming has always been there. That little weekend program was a glimpse of that. If someone would have made a bigger effort to secure podcasting and the licensing worries, they would have seen that.

Climbing ice silos in Iowa

Photo credit: khockett on Flickr

I am hardly an authority on the topic of climbing, especially when it comes to doing it on ice. All I know is that you’d need metal, spiky things and some rope, not to mention a lacking fear of heights. And actually, heights and me don’t get along all too well, but I’m working on getting better at that as I get older.

When Rebecca’s cousin came back from a recent trip to Las Vegas, he brought me back a copy of the L.A. Times with an interesting article on the front of it. Turns out, some dude in Iowa has a real knack for ice climbing. Snow and ice is very common this time of year, but mountains and cliffs are not as abundant, all year round. So what does he do? Staring at an abandoned grain silo one day, he has the idea to cover it in ice and climb it.

When I read the first few lines, I knew that this had to be the idea of some college professor looking for a quick fix for a lack of good places to climb in the prairies that make up most of the state, and my hunch was spot on. Don’t ask me why, but I spent enough time around like minded folks to just make an educated guess. Combine the expertise in DIY engineering that only comes from the minds of farmers from the midwest, and this is what happens. Granted that he is a physical education instructor at UNI, but this sense of “craziness” has the ability to rub off on you.

Weekend America did a piece on the story, and you can check out the rest of these pictures that I found on Flickr. Not sure that I’d try to do this, but the site would be neat to see. I’d also like to be there when all the ice melted and came crashing to the ground.

Maybe I had a little part in it

I caught this story on, and the main thing that I find incredible is the second city on the tour date list. Iowa City! And if you listen to the interview that RadioZoom did with Jim Ward, lead singer of Sparta, in November[rz118], you might recall that I lobbied for the band to consider swinging through Iowa City if they were ever in the area.

Toss this one up to the power of new media? Maybe. It would be really interesting if Jim had any part in putting IC on the list. It’s a U.S. tour only, so check out their site for details on any changes or additions.

Take that, Ames!

(Cross posted from RadioZoom)

Sausage and gravy or a tuna melt

Hamburg Inn Exterior
Photo credit: peterme on Flickr

I’m not sure why, but after my run this morning, I’ve had a craving for something from the Hamburg Inn[wiki]. I think I’ve sat in every single section, including all presidential booths. Rebecca made a pretty sweet breakfast this morning, but we both know how good that place is. It’s all about charm.

The slow moving, giant sloth that is Iowa Public Radio

Flickr: Public Radio daysWhen I joined the world of public radio in 2003, the general manager for the group of stations that were controlled and funded by Iowa State University issued a white paper calling for the creation of a statewide network for public radio within the state. What he wanted to do was to bring all stations from the three major university’s into a single network, the other two school’s being the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa.

It was was in the first few days that this news came out of left field and made the whole place freak out. I was fresh to the whole public radio sphere at WSUI/KSUI, and it was within the first month of coming on board that people were telling me that I should consider applying for the full time position as assistant engineer. The thing is, no one knew if their jobs were going to be there if and when this consolidation took effect.

One thing that my time in college radio taught me was that bureaucracies work at an incredibly slow, painful, and sometimes ignorant pace. A motion like this would be a matter decided by a select group of people at the top of the institute of higher education food chain, the board of regents. It was no secret to anyone inside the stations that the guy who put out this white paper was licking his lips to be the one at the top of the organizational chart. Long story short, the process out-processed him. Not only did he not make it through the motions to be considered a finalist for the job, but he eventually left altogether.

Enter the era of the executive director of Iowa Public Radio, Cindy Browne. No matter how much everyone tried to put us at ease with the situation, there was never a worse feeling that treating this woman with ill manner would cost you your career. We were told that this wasn’t an era of consolidation, but an attempt at better cooperation. There would be an examining of how running all the stations under one network could save money, but anyone familiar with the way any media organization goes about such a venture knows what that means. The less people you have, the more money you can save. Continue reading “The slow moving, giant sloth that is Iowa Public Radio”