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The Death of Irrelevance

It may actually be good for us

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Don't you feel a bit silly watching Entertainment Tonight? Do you even care if the Emmys were cancelled again, or what J-Lo wore on her wedding day? Welcome to the slow death of irrelevance in what we see, read, and listen to in America. We may not be used to it just yet, but in the long run, like the veggies your mom made you eat, it may actually be good for us. As I write this, our country is engaging in attacks in Afghanistan. A man has died of anthrax, possibly contracted by a powder mailed in an envelope, and similar envelopes have popped up on Capitol Hill, ABC, NBC, the New York Times, and Microsoft in Nevada. Lord knows what else will have broken on the news front before you read these words. The nervous are looking for gas masks they squirreled away during Y2K, and even the funniest of comedians and morning radio jocks are re-learning simple good taste.

So as the corporate media machines in America crank on, ethics are being questioned and new ground is being broken, even as we watch the fuzzy green flares on CNN and become angry when we see bin Laden dissing us on TV.

Everyone in the news game is taking this step by step, because for the vast majority of the reporters and editors on the scene now, covering Gary and Chandra and the truth about liposuction has been more in their range of expertise. Not war, and not news that has to stick to our ribs, and information that may have to be disseminated swiftly and accurately in order to save lives or warn of us of impending danger.

I spoke recently with classes at Winthrop University, a school with a solid Mass Communications Department. We talked about their perceptions of coverage since September 11. I predicted (hopefully) that the news business would not return to the way it was, pandering to the People Magazine in all of us. I also hope we'll see networks ramp up what they ramped down, namely comprehensive foreign news coverage. Admit it. Till you saw a map, did you really know where Kabul was?

From the big networks to the smallest local market, it's time to remember the public service aspect of broadcasting and print journalism. As hard as it may be to remember, screw the consultants and the ratings sheets as best you can, and do what's right. Ad dollars are being lost, but the intimidating responsibility belongs to the media. They've "done good" so far, but have a long way to go. Here's hoping they go the distance. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

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We're also in a time when we're turning to music as comfort and escape. Since I grew up with grandparents who never missed the Arthur Smith Show on local TV here, a new show aiming to showcase homegrown talent sounds like a potential winner.

The talent search has already begun for Carolina Calling, a joint venture between UNC-TV, the NC Performing Arts Center, and Charlotte-based Smith Productions. What we're talking about is a weekly, hour-long musical variety show to be taped before audiences at either Spirit Square or the Booth Playhouse, beginning next month. And the host, complete with house orchestra and thick accent intact, is none other than Arthur Smith himself.

Carolina Calling will be produced by Clay Smith, Arthur's son, who runs Smith Productions. Thirteen episodes are the first order of business, and the musical performers will be found at a series of regional talent shows, open to anyone who grabs an entry form and sends producers a cassette or VHS of their musical talent. One talent show's already been held at Wingate University, and one in Hickory, but the next is in Chapel Hill on November 11. You can call (704) 366-9336 for info.

The rest of us can be in the audience, and the first taping is November 14 and 15 at Spirit Square, free to the public. Carolina Calling will begin airing next April on UNC-TV.

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Everyone has weighed in on this one, but hey, my deadline's later than most. The recent Humpy Wheeler vs. NBC Sports prizefight was quite a hoot, but definitely more smoke than fire. As background, Wheeler, the Lowe's Motor Speedway prez, threatened to cut satellite cables and tow away TV trucks when he caught wind that NBC broadcasters were not going to mention the track's name during the October 7 race. "Not in the contract," NBC said, and "Whatever NBC says," NASCAR said.

The smoked cleared with NBC calling the speedway by its sponsored name, Lowe's apparently shifting ads from NBC entertainment buys to the sports side, and Humpy getting lots of media time. Sports teams can certainly sell sponsoring rights to facility names, and NASCAR is the gaudiest sell-out of all big-time sports. I giggle when drivers go into sponsor overdrive when they're asked even the simplest question, like, "is your car ready for the race?"

"Well, our Preparation H sponsor has put together the Tucks car that's gonna run super good today, with help from the good folks at the Slim Jim race team" (all the while swigging a Mello Yello on camera).

I wonder though, since we're not being paid, why do regular folks have to call a facility anything? I like to say Independence Arena, Panthers Stadium, and the Music Shed on I-85. And Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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SO MUCH GOING ON, SO LITTLE SPACE In the coming and goings department, Shannon Bream is the new morning and noon anchor at WBTV. She comes to the QC from Tampa. . .and WFNZ'S Dave Jageler has taken a gig at "the Zone" sports station in Boston, where he'll work on Celtics' radio broadcasts. Jim Celania's taken his slot on the morning drive program. . .

Two hoops radio renewals for Hornets and 49er fans: WBT announced a two-year extension with the Hornets (will they be here in two years?), while WFNZ will have the UNCC hoops games for three more years. Matt Swierad takes over play-by-play, with Gary Williams doing color and the coach's show with Bobby Lutz. . .

Good stuff on local airwaves: WBT-AM's Spires and Krantz took their show on the road to Washington, DC and NYC the week of October 1. . .WCNC doing a special on children's fears and perceptions after September 11. . .

And an official "way to go" to all Charlotte's media outlets from print to web to radio to TV, that have held fundraising drives to benefit those affected by the attacks on September 11.

Stay tuned. . .

Shannon Reichley is the producer of 'Talk2DIY" on the DIY cable network, and former news manager at WBTV. Feedback or tips always welcome at Shannon.Reichley@ cln.com *

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