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The World from a Hospital Bed

Here I am with my temporary, dapper walking stick, a brand new Hoyas T-shirt courtesy of a co-worker, and sitting in front of a Chinese symbol for Serenity with my Faith, Hope, Love cancer bracelet...ready to take on BEAR.

Here I am with my temporary, dapper walking stick, a brand new Hoyas T-shirt courtesy of a co-worker, and sitting in front of a Chinese symbol for Serenity with my Faith, Hope, Love cancer bracelet on my left wrist…loaded for BEAR.

I last posted the night before major cancer surgery, expressing both confidence and alarm.  It’s now been about ten days and I am doing extraordinarily great, especially considering the circumstances.

Here’s kind of a blow-by-blow:

Pre-Op

Arrived at the Georgetown University Hospital Surgical Center Thursday, May 2nd at 6:30am.  Everyone and I mean everyone on Georgetown staff is so cheery and positive and kind.  Where do they find these people, I ask myself.  They are like cheerful mutants from a faraway galaxy where there is no such thing, for example, as road rage.

I pick up my bracelet with my name and birth date so from here on out, no one accidently removes wrong body parts or gives mistaken medications.  The bracelet also contains the bar code on which thousands of dollars of medications will be charged in the days ahead.

In the actual operating room I have a brief chat with the chief surgeon and crew.  The gentleman performing the operation is the Surgeon-in-Chief of the Lombardi Cancer Center, Dr. Waddah Al-Refaie.  I ask the doctor if he had a good night’s sleep and he confirms he is well rested and ready to rock and roll.  At this point the anesthesiologists  suggest that considering the length and complexity of an operation expected to result in the removal of 60% of my stomach, would I be up for an epidural?  Incredibly strong pain killing meds delivered right into the spine and nerves?   Yesireee, I would like that, gentlemen!

And that was the last thing I remembered.  They put a tube in me to do the breathing while I was gratefully and completely and totally out like a light for the next 7 hours, 6 of which were actual operating time.  Operations are like time travel.  Your loved ones get briefed once an hour on what’s happening but for those of us on the table there is only before and after.   There is no time in between.

Immediate Post-Op

I awake in post-op and my girlfriend, Millie is letting me know that while I was away, the surgeon did, indeed, take 60% of my stomach.  And, oh, an extra 10% of ye’ old liver.  Oh, and the gall bladder.  Gall bladder’s gone but they found nothing wrong with it and they put it back.   Still groggy, I make a mental note to revisit this analysis.  I would be correct.  Poor Millie had gotten lost in the fog of war.  They don’t put stuff back after they take it out.  But she was right that there was nothing wrong with it. They saw something they didn’t like that turned out to be benign.  Goodbye gall bladder.  Of questionable value as a mere bile creator to help the stomach handle fatty foods, I will not even miss the little guy.   “And so…” sums up Millie, “The operation was a great success!”

I smile to hear this; still slightly alarmed they took some liver.  But hey, it regenerates!

The next two days were mostly a sleepy haze.  The boys with the epidural did a masterful job.  Patients in hospitals are always being asked to gauge their pain on a 1 to 10 scale.  The first 48 hours after this big a surgery I had pain of 0 to 1.   That’s amazing.  For all the advances in medicine, the single most important has got to be anesthesia and the art of pain killing.

But, alas, Saturday came and they’d have to stop the epidural- can’t keep that going for long- off to the land of IV drugs!

I honestly didn’t even look at my sutures until day 3.   Nice job. Very handsomely done.  I counted about 36 staples from below the belly button to the solar plexus.  And they all hurt just a little bit!   Dilaudid into the veins helped.

All of this stuff, by the way, is measured in small hourly and daily victories.  The catheter comes out.  Yay!  Day 4, a day earlier than I thought, they pulled the NG tube.  This is a fiendish device that during surgery is put into your nose and way down into the stomach.  A kind of suctioning event is generated and bile and other bad things from the belly go into a vessel and the pressure also helps the stomach in some way no one adequately described to me.  The NG tube was an unwelcome addition to my head.  It also tethers you as much as an IV does.   It’s really fun when they pull it out too.  Oh, the laughs.

Run for your Lives- It’s Cable News!

And now here was the part of the hospital visit that sucked the very most.  It wasn’t nurses and techs walking into your room at 4am to take your vitals or give you another blood-thinning injection.  No, it was no longer being groggy enough to sleep the day away and being awake and alert.  And ready to become the unsuspecting victim of CABLE TELEVISION.

This was the day Cleveland police officially arrested Ariel Castro and two of the three women the horrible little man tortured for a decade, returned to their homes.  This was the day America’s favorite villainess, Jodi Arias, was convicted in the gruesome stabbing death of her boyfriend.   This was the day of the Benghazi hearings.  In other words, this was the kind of day that was created for Cable News.  And, here I was, comfy in my hospital bed with my right trigger finger on the remote control.

Over on CNN, they covered everything in great detail, concentrating about 70% of their programming on the Cleveland House of Horrors.  Nice coverage- couldn’t complain about a thing.  They didn’t get any facts wrong.  They brought in solid contributors along with their own paid experts and personalities like Nancy Grace.  Over on Fox, no developing story of any magnitude could budge the network from its breathless coverage of the Benghazi hearings.   One guy at the witness table almost cried.  Another had triple the normal amount of emotion in his voice.  I didn’t see what else there was to it by way of red meat…or new facts.  And this is categorically not a political view on my part.  I was just a highly drugged-up guy in a hospital bed switching from cable channel to cable channel.

On one channel, live TV crews watching the Cleveland women arrive home, stunning police news conferences; bizarre, sick revelations about the nightmare decade for these poor women.  On the other channel, congressmen getting pissed or preening depending on their political persuasion and more white guys in suits at witness tables.  Every now and again, Fox News anchors went away from the hearings to Fox News reporters to explain to people the significance of something that just happened in case they couldn’t discern it for themselves.

And then….the Jodi Arias verdict!  This time, Headline News jumped into the fray, primed as they were positioning themselves as the Arias Verdict Network.  This hurt them early in the week as they went live to Phoenix repeatedly for two days before there was any verdict or news.   But now that the jury was back- Christmas for Headline News!

CNN adjusted and did a pretty darned good job covering both the Arias verdict and the House of Horrors.  Over to Fox; continued highlights and analysis of the Benghazi hearings.  By 6pm, even a Fox News anchor made reference to the fact there had been a lot of breaking news on this day but maybe tomorrow when it’s her birthday, they’ll let her cover all these other stories.

Then it was off to sports where I simultaneously monitored the Washington Nationals and Caps- the Nats on radio the Caps on the tube.   Nats won, Caps lost.  And they lost the next night too.  I came close, but would later dismiss notions of suing the Capitals for emotional distress.

I wrapped up my TV orgy day with the Science channel and three straight one-hour episodes of Stephan Hawking on space travel, space aliens and wonders of the cosmos.  It was an absolute pleasure to watch houses of horror, Benghazi hearings and murder verdicts shrink to their appropriate cosmological scale.

And I Thank You for Your Support!

Within two days I would be discharged.  And here we are, about four days at home.  I just got back from my first post-op consultation with the surgeon.  The tumor was larger and invaded a bit more territory than everyone first thought.  But no lymph node cancers.  And none to be found anywhere else in the body.  I am officially staged at stomach cancer 2b.  This gives me about a 65% chance of living through the next five years, odds I gladly accept.

I will likely get some chemotherapy this summer and fall but the all the cancer has been surgically removed.  We’re talking preventative measures.  Then after a few months of that loveliness it’s just a matter of monitoring until five years from now, we can all declare, “case closed.”

And I do not accept alternate outcomes.

To my friends:

I thank you for the books, the magazines, the musical play lists, the T-shirts, the kind sympathy cards, the wicked-funny cards, the thoughts, prayers, animal sacrifices and smudge ceremonies and as the three words on my blue left wristband say- for the love, the hope and the faith too.

We are beating this together.  Thank you for that.

CNNRadio Farewell

March 2, 2012 8 comments


I’ve written way too many eulogies over the past year. This one is to bid a fond farewell to an American radio network. On April 1st, CNN ends its terrestrial radio newscasts in the United States, no longer distributed by Dial Global, the entity that used to be known, pre-merger, as Westwood One.

I had the great honor of leading the people of CNNRadio from 1996 to 2004. We did big things. Won an Edward R. Murrow award for Overall Excellence in 2000. First rate journalists- anchors, correspondents, producers and editors- all of whom earned a total of five Murrow awards for outstanding achievement in the radio news industry from feature and investigative reporting to best newscast. It was the first U.S. network to offer audio to its affiliates via the web 10 years ago– which sounds quaint now, but was years ahead of its competitors.

I feel very badly for the folks, many of whom I worked with, who face an uncertain future. Trust me, dear friends, you are not alone- so many of us have fallen victim through no fault of our own, to the convulsions of this radically changing media environment. Easy as it is for me to say and hard as it is to imagine, there is life after this. I am living proof of that.

CNNRadio, itself, was the sad beneficiary of the demise of the venerable Mutual network about a decade ago. Almost all of Mutual’s affiliates were directed to us and turned CNN, by sheer number of affiliates- and overnight- into the 2nd largest radio network in the nation.

So, yes, a sad day, indeed. Sad for the folks in Atlanta. Sad for the radio industry. Sad for those who gave their all to the place, including those no longer here and whose passing left us staggered and numb: Former CNN Executive, Jon Petrovich, Anchor, Stan Case, Anchor/Reporter, Ed McCarthy, Anchor/Editor, Stan Nurenberger.

To all of you over the decades who covered the wars and elections, Presidents, Congress, the courts and government, 9/11, the shuttle launches and disasters, the hurricanes, the economic upheaval- the world in all its glory and heartache – a toast for a job well done and a public well served.

Remembering Stan Case

November 23, 2011 15 comments


Life can change in a split second. A horrendous car accident near Birmingham, Alabama, claimed the life of Stan Case last night. Stan was an anchor for the CNN Radio network in Atlanta and I had the honor of being his boss for nearly 8 years.

You couldn’t ask for a more reliable, dependable pro to be anchoring your national newscasts. And when he wasn’t anchoring flawless broadcasts, he was out getting a law degree. But there was so much more to this man than what he did professionally so well and so admirably for so many years.

He was an absolute, true gentleman. Kind, gracious, with a wonderfully wicked sense of humor; a 1st class prankster. One of the nicest, sweetest, warmest weddings I ever attended was the ceremony that united Stan with his CNN colleague, Angela Stiepel Case- Angi. Took her on a date to an Atlanta Braves baseball game once and they never looked back.

Angi is hospitalized today, a passenger in the car Stan was driving on a stormy Tuesday night as they made their way to see Stan’s family in Oklahoma for Thanksgiving. There are no words to describe the loss she is feeling today. There are just some couples you know are just perfect for each other. That was Stan and Angi.

People- it’s Thanksgiving. A time for appreciation. Hug your kids. Make a call to an old friend you haven’t reached out to in awhile. I’d lost touch with Stan over the years though I often thought of him and missed him. I really, really regret not having taken one damn minute to pick up a phone and hear his voice again.

I will remember and miss him forever.

When a Good Friend Passes

February 11, 2011 1 comment

That’s Jon Petrovich pictured above. My good, dear friend, my mentor- the man who took a chance on me 15 years ago and gave me a radio network to run. I owe this man everything. He died last night and I seriously need a drink right now.

Jon was so many things in his long and varied career but all too-short life. But, boy, did he live those 63 years. He was a Senior Executive and one of the early pioneers at CNN, an executive at Sony and the Associated Press; an academician, a visionary, a questionable golfer, the most loyal friend a man could have and a guy whose passionate love for his wife Karen and his kids and his grand kid knew no bounds.

When I first met Jon, he was a fellow member of the board of directors of the Radio Television News Directors Association. We became fast friends. In fact, it is with Jon that I had the single, most expensive dinner of my life. Windsor Court Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1993. Jon, then with CNN; Bernie Gershon, then with ABC; and me, then with CBS, invited three colleagues and we had the Chef’s dinner. This is where they set up a table for you in the kitchen, while the chef cooks and describes all ten courses and the alcoholic beverages that accompany each and every one of those ten courses.

The food was terrific, the company was divine, the drinks went down smooth and I want to personally thank CBS, CNN and ABC, who picked up the enourmous tab.  What can I say? It was a different time.

Jon hit the longest drive I’ve ever seen on a golf course. Unusual for him, because his tee-shots usually averaged about 150 yards. But on this day, that damn golf ball hit the cart path in the air and bounced again and again and again until it finally stopped, some 350 yards down the fairway. I’m pretty sure he missed the putt.

So he hired me to run the CNN Radio network in 1996. You know, there are about four people at any given time in this country who actually run radio networks. They don’t write manuals on how to do this stuff. But Jon trusted me. Maybe saw things in me that I didn’t even know I had. And God bless’ em- we kicked ass. We turned that thing from a 300-station lame-o-network and ended up with 1,700 affiliates and went from breaking even to making millions and turned it into the 2nd largest radio news network in America.

And when I was down on my luck, just laid off, sitting in a Manhattan bar on a grey winter day a couple of years ago and wondering how the hell I was going to get my life together again, there was Jon, having a drink with me, giving me tips and urging me on and being a friend. Not feeling the least bit sorry for me, mind you. Son of a bitch didn’t even pick up the tab. But he was there. Fifteen years after he’d hired me and had put his own damn reputation on the line because he believed in me- there he was again, reaching out and making me laugh.

Jon was a big man. Great dresser. Classy. Funny as hell. Brilliant businessman. Wise friend. I loved this man. My God– I am going to miss him.

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A more official accounting of Jon’s professional life from  247newsroom.com:

Jon was one of the executives who helped propel CNN into a world class news gathering operations. He was a guy who was part of a special group of characters who could dazzle you with their courage to experiment and make change – who could make you laugh for hours – and most of all, ‘Petro’ was one of the toughest businessman and news guys that I’ve had the honor to know and call my friend. Petrovich spent 15 years at CNN, including his time developing CNN interactive as well as responsibilities as the leader of Headline News and it’s airport network. He also served a stint as executive VP, international networks, for Sony Pictures Television, and president of the Turner Broadcasting System in Latin America. His list of career credits in broadcast news just go on and on. While many know Jon from his CNN days, he also spent a lot of time at local stations from Louisville, Detroit and Baltimore, where he was a News Director and to St. Louis as a GM.

Keith Olbermann: The Changing Face of Cable News?

January 25, 2011 1 comment

Keith Olbermann, who signed off abruptly last week

It was 7 am at CNN headquarters in Atlanta the week of July 15th, 1996. The weekly manager’s meeting had suddenly become daily, the gathering time moved up by some three hours. We all sat rather bleary-eyed around the room as, in somewhat of a controlled panic, we discussed the implications of the launch of MSNBC.

Fox News would launch its cable news network two months later and it had already been written about, but no one at CNN thought much of that effort; it was MSNBC everyone was worried about. While we all talked about MSNBC’s graphics and pacing and stylistics, we totally missed the real import of what was about to happen to American media.

As the head of CNN’s Radio division at the time, I was as clueless as everyone else. If I’d had one forward-thinking cell in my brain at the time, I would have foreseen that the secret to cable TV success was to emulate talk radio. Anger attracts listening and, as it turns out, TV talk programs focused on political anger, attract viewers. Plus they’re long shows which means audiences stay glued to their TV’s for extended periods- hence, better ratings.

Which brings us to Keith Olbermann. As it turned out, Fox News was the real competitive giant and it was soon beating CNN handily in the ratings. MSNBC eventually figured out that whole talk-radio thing and embraced itself, as Howard Kurtz puts it, as the “anti-Fox.” Keith Olbermann and angry liberal talk would soon overtake CNN as well and MSNBC had righted its ship and if not beating Fox, had at least become competitive and profitable.

As we fast forward to recent times, it turns out the old talk-radio formula is just possibly beginning to wear thin- on cable, anyway. The case is made here by John Avlon in an interesting piece in the Daily Beast. He makes the case that Keith Olbermann’s ratings, for all the success he helped bring to MSNBC, had been dropping. Avlon points out that Glenn Beck’s ratings are dropping at Fox too. He concludes it may be that the public is finally tiring of anger from both sides of the political spectrum.

Perhaps my own viewing habits have been representative of this trend. I watched all the cable news outlets like a madman in the months leading up to the 2008 Presidential election. By the week after the election, I had grown weary- exhausted, actually. The heated rhetoric just wore me down until I couldn’t take it anymore. Keith’s intensity and anger started grating on my basically moderate views. Sean Hannity had become so predictable.

And CNN seemed, as usual, obsessed with trying to be cool. I was amused when they introduced the super-duper high-tech maps that John King would manipulate with his touch-screen finger exercises. But they lost me when they introduced holographic representations of reporters, seemingly beaming up like Star Trek next to Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room.

To this day, I’ll take a hockey or a baseball game over political talk on cable TV, any time.

And as for Keith, we won’t immediately know the full story about the behind-the-scenes drama as both sides seem to have a contractual agreement to avoid specifics over the next few months. Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz presents a good take on the likely happenings here

When I was head of news coverage at ABC News Radio, my office contained quite a few files on Keith Olbermann, who had worked for the network under my predecessor. It wouldn’t be prudent to reveal their contents. But I will say this.

The last year of the old Shea stadium, some colleagues and I went to see the Cubs take on the Mets. Our passes allowed on-field access prior to the contest and I was standing near 3rd base when I spotted Keith Olbermann hanging out near the Cubs dugout. He had taken the night off from Countdown to revel in the baseball.

I walked up to him and introduced myself. I told him where I worked and that I had seen some of his files and joked that he was “quite the troublemaker.” He smiled a Cheshire-cat grin and said, “Well, somebody’s got to be.”

Yup. He’s been a handful everywhere he’s worked.  But he’s an enormously talented man and I wish him well in his next incarnation. Good night and good luck, Keith.

The Political Dog Days of Summer

Wow.  I haven’t watched MSNBC or FOX or CNN for awhile and I haven’t really visited the Andrew Sullivan or Real Politics web sites much since the last election so I was stunned to see the swill that passes for political discourse here in the large news void that is July and August.

So conservative activist Andrew Breitbart posts an edited video tape of a black Agriculture department official saying something allegedly racist about a white farmer who then goes on CNN to say that, actually, she saved his farm and she’s really great and then the whole video tape gets released and the same Obama administration that fired her last week now wants to rehire her because it turns out her remarks were taken out of context and meanwhile conservative icon Glen Beck sides with the allegedly reverse-racist USDA official and comes down on the White House for firing her in the first place, while the NAACP, which called for her resignation a few days ago, now also wants her back.

Did you follow that?

And then there’s the Journolist flap in which it appears left-wing journalists using an e-mail listserv conspired to alter news coverage and counter conservative attacks based on race during the Presidential election cycle and some of the reporters involved in the effort get fired and then all the e-mails come out and it turns out most of the journalists on the listserv didn’t even participate in the discussions but independent-thinking blogger Andrew Sullivan joins forces with Sarah Palin to denounce the apparent liberal conspiracy.

Did you get that?

Meantime, everybody’s favorite affable broadcast news Uncle, Bob Schieffer, gets blasted by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly for failing to ask the Attorney General of the United States on CBS’ Face the Nation why the Justice department dropped a case of alleged voter intimidation against the New Black Panthers that was apparently a huge story on Fox and poor Bob Scheiffer goes on CNN to say he would have asked about it except he was on vacation the week before and hadn’t even heard of this latest political brushfire which the Fox News lady says he purposely ignored because either he didn’t think the story was important or Eric Holder demanded he not be asked about it.

Did you follow that?

And a major Tea Party organizer gets disowned by fellow Tea Partiers for blogging an offensive post he claims was just a joke in which he allegedly “satirically” recreated a conversation between a black person and Abraham Lincoln saying they want to be slaves again because they’re not up to being responsible American citizens and all this comes the day after the NAACP criticized racist elements of the Tea Party which the fired USDA lady says is the real reason why they called for her resignation in the first place to sort of even things up and show they’re fair and balanced.

Did you catch all that?

Excuse me, but I’m going back to watching baseball and America’s Funniest Videos because I’m having trouble understanding the nuances of the new American political landscape.  I get the distinct sense people are really angry about one thing or another and they’re all giving me a royal headache.

Farewell, Larry King!


Announcing his retirement via twitter by saying he was going to “hang up his suspenders” this fall, the end of an era is finally at hand. Though it wasn’t pretty at the end as over 40% of his audience pretty much disappeared (actually, they died), he leaves a considerable legacy and a tremendous body of work.

I blogged a piece back in April entitled “Who exactly is watching Larry King?” in which using government morbidity statistics, I found the following uncanny correlation:

Could it be – and I swear to you I am not exaggerating here- that his audience is dying? Literally keeling over? I mean 2.4 million Americans die every year. In his key 65-74 demographic, about 400,000 people can be expected to lose their lives on an annual basis. Since last year, King has lost about 570,000 viewers.

But all that doesn’t really have as much to do with Larry himself as it does with the folks at CNN who stubbornly refused to put his show to rest. I suppose it would be hard to blame them considering Larry held that cable network up for decades, raking in hundreds of millions in revenues.

The “debate” he moderated via his show between Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot in January of 1993 remains the single most watched program in cable history. The list of celebs, politicians, luminaries and victims of scandal who have graced his set reads like a who’s who list of the 20th century.

Larry, the TV guy

My own connection with Larry dates back to the mid 1990’s when I came to CNN to run their radio network. Westwood One’s radio simulcast of Larry’s TV show hit my revenue line and the graph of his radio revenues was an upside down hockey stick; not good. Working with my buddies at Westwood we tried and tried in vain to get Larry to remember that his contract still included this radio simulcast and that maybe he could cut down on the visual references.

The big highlight in that regard was the night during the OJ Simpson murder trial when Larry had a polygraph expert on to determine the veracity of the testimony of Detective Mark Fuhrman. It was an entire hour of looking at spikes and valleys on polygraph charts featuring such scintillating phrases as, “Wow, look at the spike there, you think that means he was lying?” This made for tremendously underwhelming radio, to say the least. The Westwood folks did their best to replace those shows with more radio-friendly evergreens but it was ultimately a losing battle. It was almost as if Larry was purposely leaving the radio part of his life behind with every “watch this clip,” he uttered on his TV show.

I remember this very issue escalated into a knock-down-drag-out between me and Wendy Walker Whitworth, Larry’s long-time Executive Producer. The venerable, then Senior CNN Vice President, Gail Evans, intervened to bring peace to the family. The issue was quickly resolved. Larry got his way and I gave up getting him to acknowledge he still had a radio audience.

Larry, the Radio guy

He did great radio. That’s how he got the TV gig, remember? It helps explain the large radio microphone on his desk. Larry’s overnight show on the Mutual Radio network was really good. I’ll always remember the night John Lennon was shot. I was doing morning-drive newscasts then for a local Washington radio station so I always listened to Larry’s radio show on the way in to work. The program that morning was complete and poignant and totally did justice to the importance of that moment in our lives- I’ll never forget it.

As a TV talk show host, Larry was often ridiculed for throwing softball questions at his guests. I always thought that criticism was unfair. He never pretended to be Edward R. Murrow (Murrow actually did his share of soft celebrity interviews in his time). Larry asked the questions your average folks sitting on the couch watching the show would ask. I would argue that was his appeal in the first place. He was the “everyman” of interviewers.

Thank you Larry

There will be many tributes to Larry King in the weeks ahead and he richly deserves all the kudos he gets for becoming an American icon and mastering his particular style of interviewing. He became a part of our national consciousness. We should be grateful to CNN and to Larry for finally figuring out that his exit was necessary and inevitable. And we should be grateful to Larry for gracing our living rooms for so many years- back when people still watched live TV in their living rooms.