Nearly thirty percent of the world’s goods are manufactured in China. If you flipped veteran News/Talker Lars Larson over and checked his nether regions for a stamp, you’d find one that reads, Made in China.
“I was born in the good part of China. In Taiwan,” Larson explained. “This is the Democratic, self-determining China. It has its own leaders, stands up to mainland China, all that good stuff.” Larson still has a soft spot in his heart for Taiwan. His parents were both in the Navy, and they traveled quite a bit.
After both of Lars Larson’s parents left the Navy, his father went to school on the G.I. Bill and studied forestry. At one point, the family lived in Inglewood, California, when he was a kid. Larson said the area was then known for old ladies and sedate streets. “It’s not a place you want to drive through today,” he said. “I do remember playing in the yard, watching the Culligan man drive up.”
He’s only been what he calls racially profiled once in his life, and it was in Inglewood. Larson was visiting Los Angeles on business, doing some promotions for the Unicef Telethon with Lou Rawls, and rented a car. He thought it would be nice to take a drive and find his grandmother’s old house. He was a kid when he was last in that area and didn’t know the address. Instead, he was going to ‘feel’ his way around.
“It was the middle of the day, and I was searching for her house,” Larson said. “A cop lit me up and pulled me over. He drove alongside me, rolled down his window, and said, “What are you doing here?”
Larson innocently explained to the officer how he was looking for his grandmother’s house. “The cop looked at me like I was the dumbest person in the world,” Larson said.
“It’s really not safe for you to be driving around here,” a bewildered officer told Larson. Larson finally got the message and drove straight for the highway. What he lacked in street smarts was compensated by a strong survival instinct.
The family lived in Missoula, Montana, and Mount Rainier National Park. “It’s great to live there as an adult,” Larson said. “But when you’re a kid, you’re essentially bear-bait.”
(Thanks for the tip. *Don’t move to Mount Rainier with the kids.)
His father worked for the National Park Service had its upsides. The living conditions weren’t one of them.
“Do you remember the Quonset huts on the Gomer Pyle show?” Larson asked. “A tin shack with a door? That’s what we lived in. Very shaky housing, but then again, that was part of the deal. It was a wonderful experience.”
The family also lived in Northern California. “When you hear people talk about Northern California, you might think of San Francisco,” Larson said. “Well, we lived twenty miles from the Oregon border. That’s Northern California.”
Larson’s mother was killed in a car crash when he was young. His father kept on, as fathers with kids must. He got a job as a State Park ranger in Tillamook, Oregon, known mostly for its cheese production.
The 10-year-old Lars wanted to be a space scientist, an astronaut. “I really didn’t have the math skills,” he said. “I’m okay at math, just not good enough. I was good at speech and debate. I had four solid years of each in high school.”
His listeners today are probably glad the man had questionable ciphering skills. “I thought about law school, but I’m glad I didn’t go in that direction.”
In Tillamook, Larson met a man who took over the local radio station, KTIL. That man’s name was Larsen. “It wasn’t spelled like my name, not the way God intended it,” Larson jokes. “For the rest of my life, I had to explain I didn’t get my first radio job out of nepotism. That Larsen was no relation at all.”
The radio guy Larsen invited several high school students to intern at the station because they were good at speech; the young Larson was one of them. “When the internship was over, he let the other kids go but asked me to work with him. It was a 10 to midnight shift, and I was only 15-years-old.” Larson said. This was even before 8-track carts were around. Guglielmo Marconi was barely cold in his grave. “We used reel-to-reels,” Larson recalled. “It was awful.”
He was on the air for the last two hours of the day. “They shut down at midnight to save money,” Larson said. “These days, that’s rare. The only day I ever deliberately skipped school was to go and take the third-class license test to work at the station.”
Primarily not required today, people on the air back then needed to have the ability to take readings off the transmitter, and sign off on the transmitter log.
“I had to have that third-class license on the wall,” Larson said.
Aside from his 10 to midnight shift at KTIL, the unofficial Mighty 1590, as they called it, Larson said he’d fill in for the news anchors when they were off. “We were full-service,” Larson said. “We had a morning news program, top of the hour news, bottom of the hour weather. There wasn’t much car traffic on the roads where we were, so that wasn’t much of an issue.”
The station carried high school football and basketball games, as well as Oregon State games. “If the Trail Blazers were on, we’d bump the other and then pick up the high school or college game in progress when it was over.”
He said he loved his time at KTIL. “I learned everything there. A lot of people at the station were young, in their 20s. They tried to make you laugh during your newscast, set your news copy on fire.”
Wow. Those really were the good old days of radio.
Larson said like many small radio stations did, they would read obituaries on the air. “There were forms that people filled out,” he said. “Basically, it was a form where you filled in information. It read something like, ‘Friends will be sad to learn the passing of ________ after a long battle with _________. People would just fill in the blanks, and we had a stack of them to read.”
Here are these young radio kids telling a community of 4,000 people who passed away. “It’s one thing to make somebody laugh during a newscast,” Larson said. “It’s quite another to try and make them laugh during an obituary. But they tried.” Boy, did they try.
“One night, I was reading an obituary,” Larson began, “and we had a very large Swiss community in Tillamook. So, I began, “Friends will be sorry to hear of the passing of Oscar Mayer. That’s when I lost it. You can lose your composure during the weather, but not there.”
Larson attended the University of Oregon in Eugene but quit after a year to work in radio and television.
“I took some more classes at Gonzaga,” Larson said. “I plugged away at it for a while, but it just wasn’t working for me. I got a job offer in Spokane at KXL in March of 1980. I was there for nearly four years when I got into television.”
Larson said he was out of radio for less than a year and learned there was more freedom working in radio.
“For one thing, technologically, television is overly complicated just by its nature,” Larson said. “I bet that idiot Brian Stelter at CNN has about 25 people behind him putting that show together. On the radio, it’s just you and maybe one other person.”
Have we touched a nerve with Stelter?
“He’s such a political partisan,” Larson explained. “Nothing he says is supported by facts. Having been an investigative reporter myself, I took it very seriously. What I’m doing now is largely entertainment, but I am also a journalist.”
Larson said when he was a television managing editor, it was his duty to make sure the news wasn’t slanted or unsubstantiated. “My job was to take opinions out of the stories,” he said. “If a reporter came to me with something that was not attributed, I let them know it was their opinion.”
As a former news anchor, there were people who questioned how he could deliver the news on television, and at the same time, give his opinionated views on the same topic on the radio.
Larson provided an informative illustration of this apparent conflict. “There’s an Irish cop,” he began, “and he’s sent to protect an abortion clinic. He may not agree with abortion, and it’s his job to hold people back who agrees with to facilitate the young women. It’s not his job as a cop to shut this place down. He’s supposed to do his job. There are people in that situation all over the world, working in a field they might not totally agree with.”
Larson says he recalls Walter Cronkite delivering a daily commentary throughout most of his career. This was aside from the news he’d just delivered to the nation. “I don’t think he was unbiased on the news, but he did a commentary,” Larson said. “You can trust someone to give the news without bias, but he still has a radio show to do.”
We’re all caught in the crosshairs of news and propaganda today from both sides of the issue.
“When you read an old-school magazine, you could identify when a piece was well-written,” Larson said. “You’re thinking, ‘Huh. I wonder who this guy is who wrote this?’ You could read their bio at the bottom of the piece and see they support the NRA or they’re with the Civil Liberties Union. You see where they’re coming from.”
He hosts his daily program from noon-3 p.m.with his Northwest show on 570 KVI, taking calls and talking about life in the Pacific Northwest. He has earned more than 70 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional journalists, and the National Press Club. Larson has also chalked up an Emmy and a Peabody for his reporting and documentaries.
I could almost hear Larson’s blood pressure rising through the telephone when he talked about the fledgling Disinformation Governance Board, designed to stop disinformation from spreading on the Internet.
“Tell me that’s not right out of 1984, The Ministry of Truth,” Larson said. The ministry is a fictional department in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
“This is all Orwellian stuff. It’s whitewashing, gaslighting in its highest order. This is being conducted under the auspices of Homeland Security, the people who are supposed to be catching terrorists and other dangerous people. Suddenly, their job has become monitoring American speech for disinformation.”
If you have not read 1984 as of yet, I get the feeling you might be picking it up soon.
The Cost of “Thoughts”
Jack Del Rio made a classic mistake of wondering aloud about topics that people in public positions aren’t allowed to think about on Twitter.
The first recorded use of the expression, “A penny for your thoughts,” was made by Sir Thomas Moore precisely 500 years ago (1522). But, no doubt, a penny went much further in the 16th century.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows that inflation continues to increase above expectations. The current annual rate of 8.6% is the highest since 1981. The cost of thoughts, or at least saying them aloud, well, saying certain things in a public forum, has gone up far more than the CPI.
Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator for the Washington Commanders (formerly known as the “Washington Football Team,” and before that, the Washington Redskins), made a classic mistake of wondering aloud about topics that people in public positions aren’t allowed to think about on Twitter. Specifically, his Tweets compared (what he called) “the summer of riots” to January 6th at the U.S. Capitol. As the late, great Alex Trebek would say, Del Rio’s comments were “in the form of a question.”
Faced with media scrutiny about his Tweets, rather than back down, Del Rio referred to January 6th as a “dust-up at the Capitol.”
Can I tell you a trade secret of press flacks? They all have a small can of lighter fluid and a pack of matches within reach behind a piece of glass with the words “break only in the case of emergency” scrawled on it. Certain phrases or words will cause a press person, at great personal danger and sacrifice, to break the glass, douse themselves with the accelerant, and strike a match before flinging their immolating body in front of the podium. Okay, not literally, but I guarantee the Commanders’ public relations director would think this alternative less painful than hearing those words come out of Del Rio’s mouth in front of the press gaggle.
The controversy that followed was swift and certain: as was the reaction from Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera. He promptly assessed a $100,000 fine on Del Rio for his comments.
Two points here: First, this is not a sports story. Talk Radio observers should be far more concerned with the consequences of this story than NFL or sports fans. Second, it doesn’t matter what you think happened on January 6th. You should still find the fine issued by Rivera chilling, whether you call it an insurrection or a dust-up.
I used to believe that comedian Bill Maher and I were about as far apart on the political spectrum as any two Americans could be. Maher and I, however, hold similar views on freedom of expression.
On his HBO show, “Real Time,” Maher defended Del Rio by saying: “In America, you have the right to be wrong. They fined him; the team fined him $100,000 for this opinion. Fining people for an opinion. I am not down with that.”
Because this is where we meet, I’d like to buy Bill Maher a drink and have a laugh over all the times he’s been wrong, or we can share that drink and a smile for understanding that freedom of expression IS the foundation of democracy – no matter who’s right or wrong. Freedom of expression is an issue where liberals and conservatives must find common ground.
The football team currently known as the Washington Commanders may need another name change. Perhaps the “Comrades” would reflect the team’s philosophy better? Levying such a hefty punishment for stating a political (and non-football) point of view because it is out of step with what is apparently official policy seems more reminiscent of the Politburo’s posture than a free society.
Del Rio’s words are understandably offensive to many. At the very least, they were ham-handed for someone who has been in the public spotlight for so long. But a $100,000 fine? Stifling political opinion is far more dangerous than anything Del Rio said.
Taking the Del Rio incident into context with the “Cancel Culture” of the past few years, Talk Radio hosts should look over their shoulders. Del Rio is also an excellent reminder to think twice before posting a politically unpopular opinion on social media.
Inflation has eaten away at the value of a penny and increased the cost of making politically incorrect statements, including on the air in recent years. What inhibits individuals from expressing their thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and emotions is a threat to Talk Radio and democracy.
Joe Pags’ Dream to Work In Media Started Early
Pags knew a career in media was for him ever since he was ten years old, even before his vocal chords did.
If you’ve ever been required to interview someone for a segment or article, you know pretty quickly when it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Joe Pags was answering my initial questions as freely as Ebeneezer Scrooge hands out Krugerrands. Teeth have been pulled from the human head with greater ease. It just wasn’t happening.
After a few minutes, I think I grew on him.
I discovered we actually had a few things in common; both of us lived in Lake Worth, Florida, we knew a lot of the same places and faces, and we both understood that summer heat in Florida is like purgatory.
However, Pags and I will both have a fond devotion to The Noid. We will always share the memories of being a manager at Domino’s Pizza.
“I worked at Domino’s when pizzas were delivered to your door within 30-minutes, or it was free,” Pags said. “After a while they went to 30 minutes or three dollars off the price. Too many people were getting into accidents trying to beat the clock.”
What Pags did not mention was that even when you legitimately made it in less than 30 minutes, you had people questioning your delivery time. I guess that’s human nature.
Soon, pizzas were just for eating, not working; Pags started his radio career in 1989 in Palm Beach County, Florida.
After that, it was a stint as a television anchor from 1994-2005 in Saginaw, Michigan, and then Albany, New York. From there he was called back to radio and landed at the Clear Channel Talk Flagship, WOAI, in 2005. The Joe Pags Show has been a fan favorite since its debut in 2007.
For Pags, the media dream started early on.
“I grew up listening to talk radio at a very young age and was determined to make my living doing it one day,” Pags says. “I actually have a tape somewhere on which I erased the DJ’s voice and recorded mine over the songs.”
Pags is probably thrilled that the tape will never be released.
Years later, he found he could pay the bills doing something he loved. “I’m lucky enough to work with great people on both local, and national radio and television,” Pags explained.
“I also remember Steve Cain, Rick, and Suds on that station,” Pags said. “It was a lot of talk radio, but it was fun. It was entertainment. Rush Limbaugh was doing the politics stuff back then.”
Pags knew a career in media was for him ever since he was ten years old, even before his vocal chords did.
“When my voice changed at 13, I developed more of a bass tone; I knew I was on my way. I had a New York accent and had to shake that.”
Before he embarked on a career in radio, his music career was going well. Pags played French horn and saxophone; apparently, he was pretty good.
He played gigs at the prestigious Breakers Hotel, among many others. “I used to play at the Backstage lounge adjacent to the old Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater in Jupiter,” Pags said.
No word on whether Reynolds ever caught Pags live or not.
As a kid, he played baseball. Pags said he was pretty good. What took center stage for Pags was music. It was the French horn and saxophone that captured his heart.
“I played professionally on the Empress Dinner Cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway,” Pags said. “I also did gigs at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. We made some good money.”
Before Domino’s and radio and music, it all started with a strong desire to succeed. That often comes from your family’s belief in you. Sometimes it’s not there.
“I knew that if I worked hard enough, if I showed the love for the work I was doing, then I’d succeed,” Pags said.
His family lived in Lake Worth, Florida, from 1973-74, and Pags returned every so often. “I got back to Florida recently when I went to Mara Lago and watched 2,000 Mules.”
San Antonio has been home for the past 17 years for Pags and his family. “I’ve been here at WOAI. I’ve got my own studio in a great area.” His daughter Sam is his executive producer. I asked Pags if there was any nepotism when it came to hiring Sam.
“Darn right, there is nepotism,” he said. “This is Joe Pags media. I get to hire whoever I want,” he quipped. “Sam has always had a love of broadcasting. When I became syndicated in this business, I told her I trusted her more than anyone else I knew and asked her to produce my show.”
The other day I spoke with Will Cain for a piece. He told me if I visited Austin, I should also see Texas. So I asked Pags what Cain was trying to say. “He means Austin is a city like Portland; only it’s in Texas. There’s a lot of homelessness in Austin. A lot of crime. The University of Texas in Austin goes far to the Left.”
Where does Pags’ tough demeanor come from?
“My father was 100 percent Italian. We had some good pasta dishes around our house with my grandparents around,” Pags explained. “We didn’t have a good bakery in Lake Worth, so I remember my mother and aunts bringing great bread recipes over from the homeland.”
Pags has always been interested in what takes place on the periphery, not just the core of matters. He’s done a lot of things throughout his life. That experience has helped shape his radio show. Pags said his show tends to be white-collar, but he grew up blue-collar all the way.
“I liked the Superman movies. I enjoyed Rocky,” Pags explained. “As a car-buff, I loved the Burt Reynolds films with Smokey and the Bandit. Stuff like that.”
Lake Worth, like a lot of other Floridia areas, has been known to be a little rough and tumble. Just watch Cops for a week if you don’t believe me.
Pags said other than a little shoving match at the bus stop, he didn’t encounter much rough stuff. “I was a musician, I wasn’t in that mix. Perhaps a scuffle in little league.”
When he was a teenager, he thought music would be it. “I’d played with some big-hitters at the time, like The Coasters,” Pags said.
“Music career opportunities really didn’t come along as I’d hoped. In some ways, people in the industry were full of it. I still did some freelance work on the saxophone.”
Pags said he was always willing to work for what he got. “I poured coffee and ran errands for $4 an hour,” Pags said. “I had my car repossessed, and got evicted from my apartment. I still kept at it. I never was deterred from what I wanted. I knew what I wanted, but never really expected things to happen the way they did.”
Pags said if some youngster asked how to be what Pags is today, his answer was succinct. “Pour coffee, run errands, whatever you have to do.”
I asked Pags what he does in his downtime? Let’s just say he’s not running to tee-off at 7:00 am with the guys at the club on his day off.
“I’m a domestic sports car guy,” he says with pride. “I’ve got three Corvettes, a Camaro Super Sport. My Camaro was a 1967, red with white stripes. I sold that car so we could afford to adopt our daughter. I got the better end of that deal.”
He doesn’t do any weekend racing on local tracks like other aging Indy wannabes. “I like to look at those cars in the garage,” Pags said. “My dad was a big car guy. My dad is probably why I’ve succeeded in my life and career. Not for the reasons you’d think.”
Pags’ relationship with his father had the typical ups and downs. Same as it is for most men.
“My father didn’t think I’d amount to anything and had no problem relating that to me,” Pags said. “Conversely, my Mom was always extremely supportive of my interests and goals. I knew if you were good at what you did, people would take notice.”
Pags said his father excelled at being a naysayer. A glass is a half-empty kind of guy.
“He was so negative. He thought I’d never succeed at anything,” Pags explained. “I was out of the house at 17, and I was determined to become something. To prove him wrong.”
Before his father passed away, Pags believes his father became aware of a lot of things.
“A light went on in his head, and he was just so surprised I could make a living doing what I did,” Pags explains. “When I became a big enough success, he recognized my drive and determination. I’m still not sure if he was hard on me because he thought it would help me in the end. Whatever his reasoning was, it gave me the drive and determination to see things through.”
Pags’ father became so proud of his son that he’d tell friends Joe was going to be on Fox News and how they should tune in.
“It was my mother, with her ultimate support, that really made me want to succeed. For her,” Pags explained.
“I learned that if someone disparages you or makes you feel small, you have choices. You can go into a shell and take it. Believe what people say. Or you can go out and knock down some doors. If you want me to do something, tell me I can’t do it. Soon I will be syndicated on 200 stations. All that came from believing in myself. I’ll prove it to iHeart. To other broadcasters.”
Pags said at some point; you’ve got to find some kind of edge.
“I knew I wasn’t going to agree with things my father believed and said, just to shut him up. I had to stand up for my own beliefs.”
I can relate to a guy like Pags. He’s got a tough exterior, not easy to crack. But like me, I know in the center is a soft, creamy nougat.
Where Is the Good Stuff?
By the “good stuff, I’m not even referring necessarily to the happy or “feel good” tales of human kindness, child wonderment, or cute puppies.
A couple of stories about bears actually brought me to this declamation of sorts.
What you’ll see (or read, actually) is nothing new and certainly not any type of original complaint or assessment, but as I spend my days digging, crafting, and stacking stories on double homicides, house fires, high gas prices, and low voter turnout, it’s becoming that much more difficult to balance out a newscast with the good stuff.
By the “good stuff, I’m not even referring necessarily to the happy or “feel good” tales of human kindness, child wonderment, or cute puppies. I’m really just talking about the low end of the meter things; an innocuous bill passing, a road-widening project, or maybe even an upgrade in consumer technology somewhere.
We all realize if a show rattles off an unending laundry list of death, destruction, corruption, and high pollen counts, the only winners are therapists, pharmacies, and liquor stores. But it’s no longer as easy as it once was; I mean, I may be overstating for dramatic effect, but at the end of the day, it really does seem like not only are there fewer accounts to raise the serotonin levels, but those we do find cannot sufficiently dilute those newscasts from their continual tales of woe.
To expand my point, I return to the bears.
Over the years, I have come to count on bears, and for a good reason. Most bear content consists of the giant creatures, often with their youngsters in tow, doing things we find cute, intriguing, thought-provoking, and/or hilarious.
If you have never seen a giant black bear rumbling around inside an SUV they’ve just illegally entered or busting into someone’s kitchen and raiding the pantry or the garbage shed, can you even say you have truly lived?
Well, the short answer is you probably can, but I’m the one on the keyboard at the moment, so roll with it for now.
True, those stories often come at the expense of some weary camper, homeowner, or utility worker, but for the audience, it’s generally rejuvenating, even medicinal. A simple Google or social media search will lead you to an overflow of the best of bears in news content. Therefore, as you will see…they trend.
But here’s what has happened of late to turn those stories in a downward direction. Here, in this part of New England, our news stories about bears recently have revolved around them being killed. They destroy some crops or a garden and move on towards somebody’s house, and they get shot. They break into a shed and don’t run off; they get shot. They are euthanized; their cubs get tranquilized for relocation and then don’t wake up. It’s certainly a shift.
Suddenly, we are back to where we started with our content. What was once a sure thing is now added to the dark category of story selection. Still, it is often viable content because it’s a pro and con topic; it has angles and follow-up potential.
Now know this; I am not proposing a referendum involving bears, but rather just offering a long-winded metaphor of sorts.
We do not know when the time-tested default stories are going to turn on us. I do think it will usually happen when our backs are turned. That probably means the digging we do has gone even more profound than before. We cannot always count for all those elements in a story to be out in the open.
Like most of us, I read or at least do a hard scan of a lot of reports, releases, summaries, and everyone else’s take on what’s happening. Fortunately, I can sometimes find fundamental components dropped down further than they ought to be or not allotted enough attention due to time or space constraints.
In police work, these obscure details would often lead to another suspect, another criminal charge, or even an exoneration or a new investigation.
I find little difference in this present position:
A hi-rise building fire is brought under control when the alarm’s sprinkler system douses much of the flames just as fire crews arrive. Now, that’s great, but there’s a bit more upon looking a little deeper.
The sprinklers knocked out the elevators, and firefighters carried a disabled burn victim down 14 flights of stairs.
Part of their job?
Sure, but worth peeling the layers off that onion.
Drivers going the wrong way is another big thing around here. On the interstates, the highways, the local roadways, it’s happening a lot and often, as you might guess, with tragic results. So a driver is taken into custody after going the opposite way on not one but two different thoroughfares within like fifteen minutes.
Good story, good arrest, good write-up.
How did they catch the wrong-way driver?
The trooper turned directly into the driver’s path and took the crash impact to stop him.
Where did we that aspect of the incident?
Paragraph four or three-quarters through the stand-up.
Now, of course, all coverage and treatment of stories is subjective, and the intent here is merely for me to find a way to say I’m not seeing enough or finding enough “good stuff” to balance out my newscast, so I am going to loot and gut everything I can when necessary.
And that’s just on the local side. Do not get me started on the national beat.
I hope it’s not that people are starting to slip on their quota of good deeds, but it has forced me to think and work just a little harder.
It’s disappointing when I cannot even count on the bears anymore.