Radio, radio, radio

Randee Mia Berman presented one of her talents on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” yesterday. The segment is available on the NPR web site. It lasts five-and-a-half minutes.

She sang what one of the hosts characterized as sounding like the Estonian national anthem. Then the audio was played back in reverse, and what came out was a perfectly on-pitch rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Randee can talk and sing backwards (and forwards).

I heard the show on the main local NPR affiliate, WNYC. It used to be part of the city’s Municipal Broadcasting System, which once included a TV station, an FM station, an AM station, and cable channels.

When he assumed office, Mayor Giuliani went on a selling spree. He tried to sell off all of our hospitals and our water system (the reservoirs of which are now at 42% capacity instead of the normal 80%). He managed to sell off the broadcast stations.

WNYC-TV, which once carried training programs for firefighters, nurses, and police and foreign-language programming serving many of the city’s ethnic communities, was sold to Dow Jones, which tried to turn it into a business-news outlet. Then it carried old sports. Now it’s the New York PAX-TV outlet.

WNYC-AM and -FM were sold on the installment plan to a new foundation. The last payment was made earlier this month. No mayor will ever again be able to directly influence programming, from Fiorello LaGuardia’s reading the Sunday comics during a newspaper strike to Rudy Giuliani’s installing as a talk-show host the head of a local vigilante group.

Unfortunately, little of the new WNYC’s programming is New York City oriented. There’s a very good show called “New York & Co.,” but, except for a few ticket giveaways and a periodic segment with a funny pair of local contractors, it could come from anywhere in the English-speaking world with a literate host. “The Next Big Thing” begins each show with an old-time WNYC announcer proclaiming the station as New York City’s own, but it’s expanding to a national audience.

Being a New Yorker (and a friend of ours), Randee sang from a studio in Manhattan, but the rest of “All Things Considered” comes from Washington, as does “Morning Edition.” “Marketplace” comes from Santa Monica. “Car Talk” comes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

There are three other New York City-owned broadcast stations, WNYE-FM, -TV, and -DT (digital television). THEY carry local programming. They are controlled by the city’s Board of Education, which considered giving them away recently — the TVs to the main local PBS station, WNET, and the FM to WNYC. Fortunately, that plan fell through.

WNYE-DT was used to test emergency-information distribution after September 11. WNYE-TV helped provide New York-area viewers with local news after the crisis, first carrying the only off-air ABC programming and later shifting to WNET’s. WNYE-FM has been helping to distribute WNYC’s programming since September 11; at the end of this month, they’ll finally return to their usual programming schedule.

With the loss of much of its transmission facilities when the World Trade Center collapsed, WNYC has also been simulcasting AM and FM (once they got an FM transmitter going). So, this morning, listeners could have tuned in to “On the Line” on WNYC-AM, WNYC-FM, or WNYE-FM. “On the Line” is one of WNYC’s local shows.

One of this morning’s segments was called “Rudy, You’re Too NYSE.” It featured New York magazine political columnist Mike Tomasky discussing some of Mayor Giuliani’s last acts in office.

The segment title came from the fact that, despite advice, the former mayor agreed to give the New York Stock Exchange a $1.1 billion (yes, billion, with a “b”) subsidy to build a new trading floor. The theory was that otherwise they’d leave New York.

I’ve written previously about the $1.6 billion ballparks “deal.” Our new chief executive, Mayor Mike (Bloomberg), dropped that idea. But no one had told the new mayor that part of the old mayor’s deal allowed the New York Yankees to leave the city on 60 days notice if the new stadium isn’t built. It also allowed the Mets not to share some cable-TV ad revenues with the city.

In yet another last-minute move, Rudy Giuliani fired all of the city’s “workfare” employees, people who had been moved from welfare to jobs. The work is being moved from the city to private contractors.

The last item discussed on the radio show was how Giuliani, unique among New York politicians, said that New York couldn’t make use of all the money offered by the Federal government to help us out after September 11. His stance has been used by some lawmakers to explain why they’re not delivering the promised funds.

The radio show’s host, Brian Lehrer, said that surely the mayor must have had the city’s best interests at heart, even if none of us can figure out what he had in mind. The guest was silent. Then he responded that he thought the only reason the mayor had for turning down the funds was to get points from key Republicans.

Giuliani hasn’t mentioned any political plans, but he’s opened his consulting company, subject of a New York Times story earlier this week. He’s hired some of his former City Hall staff (Mayor Mike wouldn’t), and the story began with how those people are coping with having to use subways and buses instead of city cars and drivers — except for Giuliani. He still gets a city car and driver (and police protection detail), so he doesn’t have to deal with parking.

“New York & Company” on WNYC had a local story today. The first author interviewed was Calvin Trillin, whose new novel, “Tepper Isn’t Going Out,” is all about parking in New York City. Trillin, who eats regularly in my favorite restaurant, opined that it was the first parking novel (I previously enjoyed a novel set entirely in the Bryant Park comfort station).

Parking is a hot issue in New York. Trillin, a writer for The New Yorker and Time Magazine, used to publish a magazine devoted to the subject. There were, no doubt, plenty of stories.

In my neighborhood, there was a scandal a few years ago because some apartment buildings (including ours) painted the curbs outside their entrances yellow in an attempt to prevent people from parking in front of them. Today I noticed a sign for parking in Central Park — just $15.50 (plus lots of tax), but only if you arrive after 8 am and leave before 5 pm. At the southwest corner of the park, where only police may park, they practice perpendicular (rather than parallel) parking, to cram in the maximum number of cars.

One illicit parker I know made magnetic signs for his car doors so he could park in spaces reserved for commercial vehicles; he took them off before driving on our no-commercial-vehicle parkways. More heinous crimes committed by some New York parkers have included planting fake fire hydrants to reserve spaces or covering real ones with bottomless garbage cans. And parking is not our only problem with cars.

Yesterday, “On the Line” had Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s new Public Advocate (the number-two position in our government), as a guest. I wasn’t listening carefully, but it seemed to me the biggest issue raised by callers was car alarms.

There is already a local law specifying how long they can blare. Proposed legislation would ban them from the city altogether. They do no good here anyway. We’re all so accustomed to them going off due to subways, heavy trucks, or sidewalk leaners, that we ignore them as best we can.

One of the WNYC radio shows normally produced in St. Paul, “A Prairie Home Companion,” featured a “commercial” message for the Urban Patriot missile in one of its shows that originated in New York. Host and writer Garrison Keillor was a New Yorker for a time, so he knows what’s important to us. The Urban Patriot would zero in on car alarms and obliterate them. The audience cheered at the top of their lungs.

As car alarms are useless here, those few New Yorkers with cars use creative methods to prevent break-ins. New York thieves seem more interested in car radios than in the cars themselves; after all, they know about our parking problems, too.

“No Radio” signs led to “Radio Already Stolen” signs to complete inventory lists posted in car windows. One car with a “Nothing of Value Inside” sign supposedly later had a smashed window with an additional sign next to it: “Just Making Sure.” So, to save on glass replacement, some New York car signs proclaim “Doors Not Locked.”

For other cars, there is a tool that some thieves use. It’s a metal rod with tapered screw threads on one end, a wide flange on the other end, and a sliding weight in between. The screw end is inserted into a car’s door lock, and then the weight is slammed from the screw end to the flange end, popping out the lock. I think it’s called a slammer.

Offhand, I can’t think of anything one would do with that tool other than break into cars. When I served on a grand jury in New York, however, we were instructed that essentially ANYTHING could be considered a burglary tool — crowbar, screwdriver, credit card, etc. It just depends on the context. Consider, for example, aviation-frequency radios.

I used to work with a small company near the main Toronto airport. The owner, a pilot, kept an aviation-band radio in his office. When he heard my flight calling on the tower frequency, he’d head out to pick me up, never wasting any time due to air-traffic delays.

Many hobbyists listen to air-traffic radios. They’re sold in Radio Shack stores. And private pilots often take portable two-way aviation-band transceivers on their trips.

On August 27th, Abdallah Higazy, a former member of the Egyptian Air Corps, checked into the Millennium Hilton Hotel near the World Trade Center. The hotel had been selected for him by a student-aid group. He was going to start attending Polytechnic University (near WNYE in Brooklyn) in September as a graduate student in computer engineering. He was scheduled to check out on September 25, after he’d found other lodging. But, like everyone else in the hotel, he never returned to his room on the evening of September 11.

On December 17, after he was finally allowed back to the hotel to retrieve his possessions, he was arrested. Federal agents wanted to know why he had an air-band radio in his room. He said he didn’t. So they decided he was lying and charged him with obstructing justice.

Late yesterday, after spending a month in jail, he was released. The charges were dropped. Higazy’s room was on the hotel’s 51st floor. A private pilot staying on the 50th floor had come back to the hotel to reclaim what turned out to be HIS air-band radio.

“To be absolutely honest, I don’t blame the FBI for thinking it was mine,” said Higazy. He’s the son of a diplomat. He plans to continue his studies in New York. He even offered to take the two FBI agents who interrogated him to dinner to “bury the hatchet.”

I just hope no one decides to ask him where the hatchet is buried.

TTFN, Mark

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