Fail: The San Francisco Chronicle attempts relevance

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Oi, newspapers. Was reading the New York Times on the wife’s ipad wherein David Carr offered his advice to an ailing Newsweek about how to improve itself in the digital era. Later, while at a cafe, Carr’s observations were still percolating and I thought it quaint to purchase and read an actual, printed newspaper ? you know, for old times. Of the two available ? the Times and the San Francisco Chronicle ? I went for the latter, having once been a contributor (besides, I’d already read the Times).

The cover was well-teased: “A bold new digital world,” festooned with social media-style icons for Google, Apple and Facebook and summed with the drop-head “The many ways Silicon Valley’s Big Three companies are changing how we live, work and play.” Duly tantalized, I bought the $3 loaf of pulp and proceeded to read what amounted to brochure copy that could only have been more lightweight if it were drafted in helium. Moreover, the jump from the front page was wrong (I never did find the continuation of the story) and the Apple story had a massive typo. And we wonder why newspapers are dying. Its bantam-weight coverage aside, couldn’t the Chron at least address it’s mechanical issues? I mean, isn’t there an app for that?

Such inanity is driving me further up the pay-wall, which I will happily scale, cash in hand, to get my fix of pure, unadulterated, 100 percent content. I mean, who uses papers anymore?

F’queu: The Art of Waiting in Line in Sonoma

It used to be Napa and Marin — counties historically assailed for propagating cultures of entitlement, privilege and general snobbery — that bred expectations of social superiority among the chattering classes. Turns out, there’s a homemade breed which, to the awesome chagrin of a score of patrons at El Dorado Kitchenette one recent morning, made itself woefully apparent.

A middle-aged woman juggling a cell phone, a half-hearted conversation with some sister-in-arms and an order that could caffeinate an infantry, managed to not only change her order twice in mid-stream (swapping muffins for cinnamon rolls and back again due to the apparently offensive discovery of raisins), she single-handedly stalled the queue such that it swelled out the door as a beleaguered staff swarmed and tried vainly to accommodate her ever-changing whims.

Even the village weirdo rolled his eyes (you know who you are) as the woman continued her endless order. And the baristas! Those poor, bedraggled young people – heroes, really – who sallied-forth, smiles embroidered upon faces once aglow with youth and the possibilities of life, washed away by this upper-middleclass sea serpent having a slash from upstream the economic estuary.

The man behind me opened his balled fist to sweep away the sweat accruing on his brow as he muttered something about justifiable homicide. The parking police, who otherwise could have cleaned up while we waited past our two-hour allotments, eased their vigilance from empathy.

Clocks died.

A montage of calendar pages blown by the Winds of Time fell to the floor in heaps of temporal torpor. The estate of Jean Paul Sartre considered suing for what appeared an unauthorized staging of “No Exit.” Reflecting on the patience of Job was a momentary comfort until we realized he’d probably have renounced God and popped off to 7-11 for a flavored coffee an eon earlier.

And still, this awful Sonoman (yes, sadly, a Sonoman) would not quit.

Were she simply oblivious, we could at least marvel at her self-absorption – a perfect feed loop of reflection and exaltation at the exaltation of her reflection; the “mirror, mirror” on the wall slipped atop a photocopier, a video camera pointed at the TV. At some point, the snake eating its own tail must also eat its own crap, right? Theoretically, yes, but only after eating all the pastries at EDK.

Those of us (still) in line were shocked, having only witnessed such abhorrent, selfish behavior in comic portrayals of our neighbors to the east and south – and those, I realized were exaggerated. This woman’s attitude was neither Napanese nor Marinite – it was some vile hybrid, some hellish affliction likely born of Nazi science.

And this I learned: The customer is not always right. Sometimes the customer is so bloody wrong that the rest of us can only look on in dumbfounded fury, paralyzed by useless etiquette and the sinking feeling that our species has camouflaged its devolution with mobile phones and trips to the outlet mall. Survival of the specious.

I suppose moments like this are like watching zoo animals mate in captivity. It’s simultaneously comic and alarming when beasts enact the will of nature, which, naturally, highlights our own clumsy attempts to distinguish ourselves as something other than selfish animals. Of course, we can’t all be bonobos, though that would certainly make the coffee line at EDK more interesting and, in some cases, faster. We can only stand erect (that’s “upright” you filthy buggers), groping up the food chain toward the civil transaction of brown water from one primate to another. That is, if there is any left.

Changes at KSRO beg the question: who killed the radio star?

Radio is for the ruthless. At least that’s how it seems when rewatching Empire of the Air, a documentary by Ken Burns (who else?), currently being reprised on PBS stations on the eve of its 20th anniversary.

The film recounts the bitter patent battle between radio pioneers Edwin Armstrong, inventor of frequency modulation (better known as FM) and David Sarnoff, who envisioned a “radio music box scheme” and would later helm RCA and its network spawn NBC and ABC.

A merciless crusader for AM, Sarnoff effectively shut Armstrong’s rival invention out of the market for decades, eventually driving him to suicide. Now, it seems Armstrong’s ghost continues to exact its revenge on AM?in this case, the 73-year-old landmark on the local dial, KSRO 1350-AM.

The most conspicuous casualty is 37-year radio veteran Steve Jaxon, who until last week hosted the afternoon show The Drive for the Santa Rosa?based station. Just shy of his second year as the station’s resident raconteur, Jaxon leveraged extensive relationships in the arts and politics to create a regional drive-time show that rivaled, at least in scope, that of his nationally broadcast colleagues. Jaxon’s show was also the habitu? of many local media professionals, including several Bohemian contributors, including this one.

“Radio has lost its cachet in a lot of different ways lately. It’s the old story that there are ‘so many options,’ from internet radio to whatever,” said a circumspect Jaxon shortly after his dismissal by KSRO station manager Kent Bjugstad, who reportedly broke the news to Jaxon and two other staffers on May 24.

It’s likely the decision to cut Jaxon, however, was not made by local management but by their masters on the eastern seaboard, Maverick Media Holdings, a Westport, Conn.-based venture that owns KSRO and dozens of sister stations throughout the nation. Maverick Media could not be reached for comment, nor is it even possible to access its website, maverick-media.ws, which remains perpetually “under construction.”

It’s ironic that a company 3,000 miles away and a couple blocks down Main Street from the Westport Williams-Sonoma could silence a voice that defined Sonoma County. Such is the nature of the modern media landscape, where “local” media is seldom locally owned. That said, a trend is emerging that is both counterintuitive and testament to the changing sound of radio, as independent voices are frequently pulled into the fray by large organizations that once shunned them.

Broadcast behemoth Clear Channel Communications, for example, has been frequently assailed for the iron grip it keeps on its stations’ play lists. Critics claim the micromanagement of the local airwaves has led to a homogeny in broadcast music. Others even describe this as corporate censorship.

However, Clear Channel is also the operator of iHeartRadio.com, an online radio premise with over 750 niche stations that, according to Ad Age, reaches 22 million unique listeners a month, had an estimated $175 million in “digital revenue” in 2009, and regularly platforms new acts (albeit, sometimes in cahoots with record labels?is it true they can’t hear you scream “Payola!” in cyberspace?). Likewise, artist-empowering businesses like CD Baby help musicians and would-be chat hosts and pundits mainline their product directly into the iTunes store, which boasts some 6 billion served.

Though KSRO produced podcasts of The Drive and leveraged social media and other forms of online connectivity, Maverick Media as a whole doesn’t seem to motivate a culture of innovation in the distribution and monetization of its product. Instead, it’s held to a traditional broadcast model and has had to resort to old-school tactics to stay afloat?like cutting its staff.

“For AM in a market this size, it’s amazing that they stayed on the air for 73 years in some ways. The radio business is screwed right now,” says Jaxon, who is currently fielding offers from other stations. “It’s just consultants and owners that have to be cheaper everyday.”

Cheaper, of course, has its price. Consider Sarnoff’s Law, named for the aforementioned corporate radio raider, who observed that the value of a broadcast entity is only proportional to the number of people tuning in. If your listeners number zero, your station is worthless. On KSRO, at least, they were listening to Steve Jaxon.

Editor’s Note: Jaxon was re-launched The Drive on KSRO?three weeks after publication.