• Otter Views: Comics and Radio

    Otter Views – Comics and Radio

    Tom Stevens for CST


    The New Year brought changes to two of my entertainment mainstays – the Monterey Herald comics page and the local broadcast radio spectrum. We’ll start with the comics.

    As an ever-rising sea of digitization swamps the print media, their owners have had to reconfigure and streamline flagship publications to keep them afloat. Many, like Newsweek Corp., simply scuttled their print editions and went to on-line subscriptions. Thousands of small independent newspapers sank without a ripple.

    Among the surviving papers are those that offer both print and on-line editions. With the print demographic aging and dwindling, the jury is still out on how long this hybrid product can remain profitable. To keep the presses running, publishers have cut costs by consolidating services, seeking economies of scale and jettisoning inessentials.

    Which brings us to the comics. Newspaper readership surveys show that the daily and Sunday “funnies” are still too popular to heave overboard. But like the deck chairs on the Titanic, they can be rearranged. Thus, every so often, old comics are rolled away and replaced by newcomers.

    The circumstances are many and varied. Some cartoons may be deemed too costly; some cartoonists too cantankerous. One syndicate may charge more or deliver less than another. And so on. The only constant is that changes to the comics pages always rile up the readers, who take it personally when favorite funnies disappear.

    As a Monterey Herald print subscriber, I enjoyed the initial spasm of outrage that greeted the recent comics page reshuffle. Then I realized “Jumble” and “Word Game” had been made to walk the plank. Outrageous! Those features have been such pillars of my daily well-being that I fear for my future sanity. Or is it already too late?

    Luckily, the Herald’s “Jumble” players raised enough ruckus to get that feature reinstated. Word Game’s adherents evidently lacked similar firepower, and it has vanished. Now I’ll never know how many words an average reader can make from the letters in “philatelist” or “primogeniture.” This could be intellectually crippling.

    As a lifelong funny page reader, I’ve managed to weather the recent changes there with more equanimity. Beautifully drawn strips like “Prince Valiant,” “Terry and the Pirates” and “Steve Canyon” shared the funny pages of my youth with the beatnik-era artistry of “Gordo” and the sharp political and social satires of “Pogo” and “L’il Abner.”

    They’re all long gone, as are subsequent favorites like Gary Larson and “Calvin and Hobbes,” but other perennials soldier gamely on. “Blondie” and “Beetle Bailey” are somehow still standing, although I was happy to see “Peanuts” depart the daily page. One more “Lucy snatches away the football” panel would have killed me.

    I’m also happy the Herald was able to keep Doonesbury and the ever-inventive “Bizarro,” but I am saddened to see “Squid Row” depart. How many papers of the Herald’s size could boast a local strip drawn so well, colored so vividly, and replete with so many familiar settings, situations and characters? Brigitte Spicer, we shall miss thee.

    While the comic page reshuffle pleased some readers and dismayed others, recent radio changes seemed likely to elicit universal approval, at least among classical and jazz devotees. In both instances, listeners long accustomed to superb programming from local stations fell into deep mourning when KBOQ and KRML, respectively, ceded to more profitable formats.

    Granted, classical and/or jazz listenership is a mere sliver of the overall radio pizza. As advertising lures, those formats badly trail sports talk, Spanish language, gangsta rap, adult contemporary, satin soul, death metal, classic rock, country-western, Rush Limbaugh, 80s oldies, Farsi, and several dozen Pentecostal options.

    However slight their listenership demographics, though, classical and jazz stations do lend their broadcast area a certain cachet. When one is driving into a major metropolitan area, for instance, the presence of classical and jazz (and NPR) among the choices on the dial suggests a certain level of urbanity and tolerance.

    And in the hinterlands, classical or jazz can add gravitas and surprise. Driving in the Sierra foothills a couple of summers ago, I caught a local college station’s broadcast of Rodrigo’s “Fantasia for a Gentleman.” The music made the sky bluer, the pines greener, the meadows more sublime.

    By the same token, communities lose an indefinable something when those stations go dark. As a pioneering music performance destination, the Monterey Peninsula suffered a double whammy when its longtime jazz and classical stations left the air in short succession. There was still plenty of radio to hear, but something definitive was lacking. It was as if the Presidio had lost its cannons.

    Now local radio listeners can hear classical and jazz broadcast once again on stations dedicated to those formats. KMozart is near 96 on the FM dial; jazz station KNRY at 106.7. Thanks!

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 24, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views


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