Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I got a reminder of my former life as a TV news reporter yesterday. It came from an e-mail. I didn't know the sender but it didn't look like spam and it didn't have any attachments so I opened it. A woman had written to ask me if I could put her in contact with LC or Sharon Nolan. I didn't recognize the names. The sender was taking part in a quiet vigil in Covington, Kentucky - just over the Ohio River from Cincinnati - for a shooting victim named Betty Hamilton that she thought had died in a case of domestic violence. I'd never heard of her but it dawned on me that the sender thought I still worked at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

A Google search for LC Nolan showed the connection. The Nolans had lost their daughter when her husband beat her to death with a baseball bat in 2001. She was pregnant at the time. The Nolans have since become advocates for domestic violence victims and I interviewed them for a story in September of 2004.

I remembered this only because the first result in the Google search for LC Nolan was a journal entry I published on my web site about it, which would explain how the e-mail sender found me.

Then I remembered. I remembered how the Nolans clutched their daughter's memory probably more tightly than they held her when she was alive. I remembered how heartbroken they still were and always would be. I remember wishing I had met their daughter, who sounded like a loving, caring young lady who deserved a much better life than she lived. And I remembered the frustrations of trying to tell the story that I detailed in my journal entry that I won't regurgitate here.

I also remembered, sad as the circumstances were, how glad I was that I got to meet the Nolans and tell their story. The hardest people to approach are often the most rewarding to talk to.

I replied to the e-mailer that I had left Cincinnati three years ago and didn't take my Rolodex with me. The Google search yielded a couple of recent articles in the Cincinnati Enquirer that mentioned the Nolans. I passed the links on to her, explained that maybe the writers of the stories could help her and closed with an apology that I could not be more helpful.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guitar Trouble

The guitar is fine. I just liked the title, which I borrowed from a Tommy Conwell album. It's my fingers that aren't working so well. I stayed up until 1 a.m. trying to record a song. You'll notice there's no link to the results. That's because what I have so far is terrible. Granted, that's not much worse than anything else I've recorded but at least I like some of that.

This is a song I recorded years ago and am re-doing now that I have better instruments. The basic track of the bass and percussion with some synth fills still exists so all I needed to do was re-record the guitar parts -- one acoustic and one electric.

Before I could record them, I had to re-learn them. I don't read music (which might help explain why it's so hard for me to write) so recordings are the only way I can "write" the song parts down. Learning the parts of old songs works just like trying to learn any song by ear, except that having played it before gives me some confidence that I can learn it again.

The acoustic part is simple. There are only four chords. But simple doesn't mean easy, especially for underpracticed and overly sore fingertips. It hurt when I recorded the original version and it hurt again this time. The acoustic guitar serves as a rhythm instrument on this song so I have to play the chords very fast. Unfortunately I did not realize this until later.

In the meantime, I move to the electric guitar part. This took forever for a number of reasons. First, since this part consists of individual notes rather than just four chords, learning the sequence of the melody took time. Then once I knew all the notes, I had to practice playing them so that I could do it accurately enough to record it. While neither terribly complicated nor hard on the fingertips, the fingering is unusual and I ended up having to use my pinkie a lot. Finally, I had to find the right sound using the knobs on my guitar and the settings on my Guitar Port computer software. I don't know how long I spent going through different setting hoping to stumble across the right combination. I know I never quite found it. But I got close enough to record a demo.

And it stunk. The playing was poor and the sound didn't work. I thought I could use a slower strumming rhythm on the acoustic than I did on the original. I can't. So I'll have to re-do that. And I have to play the electric part much more precisely. The sound still bothers me. Maybe I'll have to pull the old Korg pedal I used on the orignal out of the closet and try that.

You deserve a reward for reading all of that for no reason. So thanks to a fan who built a tribute site, below is a track by Tommy Conwell. It's not from the Guitar Trouble album. Can't be. That would have worked and nothing else here has.

Here I Come

Monday, October 22, 2007

New Guitar

My left-hand fingertips are very sore. However, the item pictured below is not the primary culprit. It was my old guitar on which I had nearly blistered my fingers as I convinced myself that I would play a new one enough to justify its purchase.

That means that I did not drive straight home from the guitar store and play my fingertips off since they were pretty raw already. (I can feel them just typing this.) But since another of my rationalizations for laying out way too much money for a guitar was that I would use it to record, I had to try recording it.

The guitar has electronics that let you plug it in just like an electric. When I tried that, it sounded like most acoustic guitars sound when you hear someone play them in concerts. It wasn't horrible but it wasn't the rich, beautiful sound that you hear on recorded songs -- and that I could hear from the guitar. So I tried this:

That's an electronic newsgathering microphone I use with my video camera. And, as you can see, I didn't have a regular mic stand for it so I had to balance it on my right thigh as I played. It looks awkward but it works and the results are the kind of sound I was looking for.

Then in my trusty Sony Acid Music program, I duplicated the guitar track then staggered it so that they were about 1/10th of a second apart. Then I panned each track so that one played only in the left channel and the other in the right. This creates a good stereo sound and makes it sound like there were two guitars.

Yes, I know it's only two chords. I know the lead guitar is unfocused, meandering and imprecisely played. And I know that the drums are the same ones I used for Big Room Boom. I just wanted some sounds to fill in around the acoustic to hear how it sounds.

New Acoustic Test

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Project Cure Shoot

We shot another story for WEDU yesterday. As part of a project for her church, a woman who lives in Venice, FL named Judy Kraut thought she might be able to dig up an old stethescope. She started asking around for other medical supplies "and the whole thing just snowballed." Now hospitals around the world who use equipment donated from around the world can trace some of their supplies back to Venice, Florida.

Judy and her husband Bill collect supplies by the van load, rent storage space for it until it can fill half a tractor-trailer load and truck it off to an organization called Project Cure, which then sends the stuff to needy hospitals in places across the globe.

Judy was particularly excited to note that the hospital beds she was helping load were hand-crank beds. "Many places," she said of the beds' potential destinations, "don't have electricity."

It wasn't a complicated shoot since all that was going on was people loading boxes onto a truck. Lucky for me, Bob Hansen, the photographer I mention in the previous post, would know how to make the most of the situation. I mentioned looking forward to working with him again. Though we had kept in touch since I left WFLA in 1999, it had been more than eight years since we had been on a shoot together. I worried that maybe I had idealized our work together and we wouldn't mesh as well now as I remembered we once had.

Not a problem. My job would consist mostly of helping to carry stuff and staying out of the way. The hard part comes for me now that the story is shot. I'll get copies of the tapes, including one provided by Project Cure showing some of the overseas hospitals it serves, and go through them to see what we have. The thing about television is that it doesn't matter what the story looked like when you saw it yourself. You can only tell the parts of it that you have recorded on tape.

Sometime next week I should get a package from WEDU with DVDs that will show me what I have. Then I'll try to take the two hours or so of footage we shot and plan how to distill it into four minutes of interesting television.

Monday, October 15, 2007

WEDU Story Airs

A mere four months after we began shooting it, the first story I produced for Tampa’s PBS affiliate aired. "Radio Controlled Chaos" was featured in the September edition of WEDU’s A Gulf Coast Journal. You can watch it on WEDU’s web site. It’s the last story in the show and I don’t know if the video player will let you scroll past the others so I forgive you in advance if you don't wait long enough to watch.

Because of my work schedule, I oversaw almost none of the story's editing. The show producer took a pretty heavy ax to it, cutting all the material we trekked to Englewood a second time to shoot. That did not shock me. The photographer warned me that we were shooting too much material. He promised that even though I was told to script a story between five-and-a-half and six minutes long it would wind up running no more than three-and-a-half. I'm glad I didn't bet him. Its final running time was 3:40.

But the show producer, the host and apparently even the bigwigs at the station were happy; I got mileage reimbursed and the check from WEDU came less than a week after I submitted an invoice so I can't complain about the result.

We shoot another piece tomorrow that will reunite me with an old colleague named Bob Hansen. He was the sports shooter at WFLA-TV when I worked there as the weekend sports anchor. While I was gallivanting through Kentucky, Ohio and back here to Florida, he managed to stay employed at the same place. He occasionally does some freelance on the side for WEDU and he recommended me to the show producer.

I get to pay him back for the reference by giving him some freelance work. And I also get to work with a guy whose unique skills produced some of the best stories of my career when I worked at WFLA.

Tis What Season?

With daytime temperatures still nearly reaching 90 degrees and nighttime lows barely dipping into the 60s, you'll forgive me if I fail to feel compelled not to pass Go, not collect $200 and go directly to CHRISTMAS!

At least two of my neighbors apparently disagree. I snapped these photos last night -- October 14th.

The Plumber File (con't)

I wish I kept track of how many people find my blog by searching for a plumbing company with which I had some unpleasant dealings over a year ago. Most now land directly on the page on which I detail my gripe with Chris's Plumbing Service in Riverview, FL. While I haven't totaled numbers from my stat counter, I do know that the number is large enough that if you Google the phrase "Chris's Plumbing Service" that his site doesn't come up as the top result.

Mine does.

Recently I got a a comment from a visitor indicating that customers weren't the only people dissatisfied with the company. That's the second time someone has commented that Chris's (spelled that way in the company name -- I realize that the second "s" may be redundant) employees don't like him any more than I do.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I'm a Moron

I went with some some co-workers to pick up lunch. Getting into the car I banged the door into the car next to it.


Monday, October 01, 2007


I did the traffic on WTSP this morning. It reminded me of a cold truth about TV news; someone else's tragedy can mean something good for me. Two people died in a crash on I-75 that involved a tractor-trailer and nine other cars. It happened in Sarasota County shortly after midnight and closed the northbound lanes of the Interstate for more than 7 hours.

That meant that in the 5-7 a.m. block of local news when traffic is usually light and I struggle to find things to talk about I had something compelling to talk about.

My performance wasn't brilliant but it didn't involve any more stammering, stumbling or general incoherence than usual so I was happy. I've explained that I rarely fill in so I've had to accept the fact that I'm never going to me totally smooth up there. I was smoother in one aspect, though. My pate. Not needing it for my regular job, I've taken to cutting most of my hair off. I used to let it grow out when I was going to work at the station but this time I didn't. No one ever hired me for my hair anyway but if anyone hires me again, he might have to hire me without it. It's disappearing anyway.

Self-portrait of balding substitute traffic guy

Deborah Norville made a special guest appearance. She's in town hawking a book she's written, here for a charity event and to plug the fact that her show "Inside Edition" now airs on WTSP. She did two interviews during our morning show. One with our morning reporter and the other one with the anchors on the set later. She had an assistant helping her navigate through the day and someone else to do her makeup. She seemed nice and she certainly knew her station relations, making sure to express how glad she was that her program now airs on "Tampa Bay's 10," even correctly using the branding.

I did not introduce myself. I didn't have anything thoughtful to say or to ask so I didn't waste her time or mine. The only reason I would have done it was to say that I had met Deborah Norville and to whom would I want to say it?

Someone found my blog doing an MSN search for "john mcquiston tampa bay's 10." Not being an employee of the station, I don't appear on its web site except for occasional brief mentions by the regular traffic anchor Meredyth Censullo in her station blog. I appear so infrequently that it must puzzle people to see me and I'm not surprised that someone might wonder, "who in the world is this guy?" Sometimes I wonder that myself.