Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holiday Cheer!

Photo of Poster: by Michael Manning 

While browsing for holiday gift ideas, I encountered this poster (above). It would be fun for me to be able to brag that "I went to night school with this girl, and look where she ended up." Amusing, but truth be told, no such luck! Next, I spotted a box of Christmas cards with a decidedly Southwestern theme. How many of you can recall Christmas Seasons where forty or fifty holiday cards were mailed to your house by friends down the street, or relatives? I can. For ten years, I can remember spot-printing those infernal Christmas Letters and mailing out between 80 to 100. I'd receive 35 cards from friends who reciprocated during a good year. Today, with the price of stamps at 50 cents each, mailing anything is costly. 

I'd just like to say that while bad news continues to permeate the radio and television newscasts, the one question I sought out, for a sense of relief, was first asked by comedian David Letterman soon after the 9/11 attacks: "Is it okay to laugh again?" Those of you who may remember those comments may also recall how the tension in Letterman's studio audience--and I trust in viewers' homes was reduced a bit as well. In radio, I remember almost living to deliver a newscast that I had written. Those days are happily in my past. 

We do have a lot of sad news, and far too often. But there is a time for pause. There must be. And comedy--in this instance, deliberate silliness--makes me thankful that I can still feel the desire to make others feel a little more cheerful. In closing, I'd like to repeat a quote from one of my favorite comedians:

"Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on".
--Bob Newhart

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 23, 2015

Weekend Before Thanksgiving

All Photos for Better or Worse: Michael Manning
Last week, these images were displayed against the Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona as a tribute to Paris. The images were visible to all traffic on the North and Southbound Loop 101 Freeway. I took the exit and proceeded to try and get a closer (and safer) view from the parking lot of the resort.   

 Given the limits of my camera phone, these were the results. 

 This montage was brightly lit and quite inspiring! 

It was nice to see an act of compassion.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Passing of a Rock Legend: Singer Cory Wells

All Photos of LP from Author's Record Collection

With all of the harsh news of late, I missed acknowledging the passing of singer Cory Wells (center) of the Los Angeles-based band Three Dog Night. Music is ageless, and to all generations, this band is legendary. Beginning with "Try A Little Tenderness" (the band's tribute to the late Otis Redding) they had 21 hit singles, earned 12 consecutive gold records and sold over 90 million recordings. 

Foreground L-R: Lead Vocalists Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton and Cory Wells
Background: Michael Allsup, Guitars; Joe Schermie, Bass; Jimmy Greenspoon, Keyboards; 
Floyd Sneed (standing): Drums


Try A Little Tenderness
Easy To Be Hard
Eli's Coming
Mama Told Me (Not To Come)
Out In The Country
One Man Band
Joy To The World
Old Fashioned Love Song
Never Been To Spain
Family Of Man
Black And White
Pieces Of April
Let Me Serenade You
Show Must Go On
Sure As I'm Sitting Here
Play Something Sweet 
Til The World Ends

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How Do We Make Goodness Attractive?

One year ago, this week, my videographer and I assembled a fun project that had been in the planning stages for many months. We sought out several national newsworthy personalities, each with different talents and backgrounds to highlight in a short interview format. Those interviews are posted on my website Reel Page. After our guests left the studio, I chose to film a brief clip of a longer-term project (featured above) that attempted to answer a burning question first posed by the late Fred Rogers. It is contained below in an acceptance speech Fred gave for his induction into the Television Hall of Fame, and it remains relevant today: "How do we make goodness attractive?"  

While cable television's roots technically date back to 1975, I first took note of its unbridled potential in the 2004 broadcast year. That's when a fellow alum from a university I attended was at her peak on television during a three-year hosting run. She was everywhere. I'd disembark from a flight in an airport, and I'd see life-size cardboard cut out of her likeness promoting a product. She also appeared on several magazine covers. I was elated for her! She was blazing a unique path in the industry. Eventually, her life resumed off-camera. 

In the decade since, content for cable has evolved well beyond the DIY ("do it yourself") programming of chefs and home remodeling experts. Traditional cable news outlets have spawned entertainment-themed programs and documentary series' to capture additional revenues and viewers. Today, the choices in cable television have never been as varied. 

Of course, none of this really matters (at least to me) unless we get to the bottom of the fundamental question Fred Rogers asked, and the answer he used to challenge the rest of us to follow. Namely, by putting positive initiatives into action--and specifically on television. 

For this reason, I believe there is room for more programs to answer this noble challenge. So did a crew of three cameramen, audio and lighting technicians, wardrobe, makeup and facilities professionals--less than 10 people around me in all--one year ago today. As long as this challenge exists, I believe we have an obligation to meet it head-on. Here is the text: 

The Speech

"Fame is a four-letter word. And like tape, or zoom, or face, or pain, or life, or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it. I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn't matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen day and night

"The conductor of the orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl grew up in a family that had little interest in music, but he often tells people he found his early inspiration from the fine musicians on television. Last month, a thirteen year-old boy abducted an eight year-old girl and when people asked him why, he said he learned about it on TV. 'Something different to try', he said. 'Life's cheap, what does it matter?' 

"Well, life isn't cheap. It's the greatest mystery of any millennium. And television needs to do all it can to broadcast that. To show and tell what the good in life is all about. But how do we make goodness attractive? By doing whatever we can to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own--by treating our neighbor at least as well as we treat ourselves--and allowing that to inform everything that we produce. 

"Who in your life has been such a servant to you? Who has helped you love the good that grows within you? Let's just take ten-seconds to think of some of those people who have loved us, and wanted what was best for us in life. Those who have encouraged us to become who we are tonight. Just ten-seconds of silence. I'll watch the time

(Pause: 10 seconds) 

"No matter where they are, either here or in Heaven, imagine how pleased those people must be to know that you thought of them right now. We all have only one life to live on earth. And through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways."  

Fred Rogers (1928 - 2003)

Monday, November 09, 2015

A Midwest Shadow...

Photo: Michael Manning

A shadow can speak positively of our past, but also of our future. 

Have a good week ahead!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Thoughts of Sahara Aldridge Today

Sahara "Hoops" Aldridge
1994 - 2007

Sahara with Rick Springfield
Today would be impossible for me not to write something down about a sweet young girl whom we lost eight years ago today in 2007: Sahara Aldridge. 

Sahara was indirectly brought to my attention (and no doubt, millions of others) through rock music legend Rick Springfield. During a late October night in 2006, I was watching CNN Headline News. Back then, the network employed a non-stop "ticker tape crawler" of headlines that moved slowly along the bottom of the television screen. It was here that I learned of a special fundraising concert that was planned by Rick, benefiting a 12 year-old girl with brain tumor cancer. I remember watching that ticker tape headline make at least five or six passes with a sense of shock. As a single guy, I must have been quite naive. The prospect of any child developing a cancerous brain tumor was just so overwhelming, that I never stopped to consider such a heartbreaking prospect. Of course, I know better now. Through a series of remarkable circumstances that began to gradually unfold the following morning, eventually, I managed to be introduced to Sahara at the concert event in December, about twenty minutes before show time.   

Sahara's parents, Shannon and Amy Aldridge became dear friends of mine (and again, to many others) through this event. It was largely through Rick's generous use of celebrity and clout that hundreds of thousands of us became introduced to Sahara. Many of my friends had seen her with her mother, Amy at various Rick Springfield concerts. Sahara was so much more mature than her years. On a personal note, I was stunned by her humility, tickled by her sense of humor, and moved by her generosity for others - always. Sahara died from complications of her brain tumor at age 13. 

In the summer of 2014, I created a five-part online blog series entitled, "A Special Girl and a Bus". I still have it archived for anyone who wishes to read it. The series is a lengthy "behind the scenes" look at a small grass roots project I undertook (in a piggy-back fashion) during my final months living in Ohio, aimed at increasing awareness of the concert. A number of us pulled together by using our websites and word of mouth to generate interest in the Cape Girardeau event. The show was spectacular for everyone. 

In terms of describing how meaningful that concert was for Sahara, words are not enough to describe the happiness so many of us saw in her face. As a result of that concert, thousands of lifetime friendships were made. Awareness of Pediatric Cancer and the need for funding a cure was achieved (and this effort continues). In the years since, we've all stuck closely to Shannon and Amy as they continue to honor the memory of their precious daughter through helping other families and children who are enduring similar circumstances. To call this young couple remarkable or inspiring would not be adequate. 

Photo: Southeast Missourian
Amy Aldridge with Missouri Representative Wayne Wallingford
Amy approached Missouri Representative Wayne Wallingford with Sahara's story, and after months of phenomenally hard work, "Sahara's Law" was passed by the Missouri House of Representatives. This initiative allows Missouri taxpayers to designate any portion of their tax return for pediatric cancer research--which is woefully underfunded in this country.  

Sahara's father, Shannon took up a mantle that has astonished my own mother--which is saying a lot. While in the hospital, Sahara received a gift of twenty dollars. She dispatched her father to go out and purchase crayons and school supplies for other "sick children", never once considering her own plight. In addition, she also urged Shannon to "keep running". Shannon had begun a healthy workout regimen, and today, he is an elite marathon runner. Shannon wears number 21--Sahara's jersey number from her school basketball team. Sahara was nicknamed "Hoops" for her love of the sport.

Photo: Southeast Missourian 
Rick Springfield with Amy and Shannon Aldridge at a "Hoops for Life" Event

Shannon and Amy co-founded a 501(c)3 non-profit organization easily found on Facebook called "Hoops for Life". This is an annual 5K Run and Power Walk that is held in Sahara's memory. The events proceeds are used to fund pediatric brain tumor research, and I participated last May along with more than 70,000 others. I met some of the kindest and most generous people in my life at the event. 

Photo: Amy Aldridge
Hoops for Life 2015: The Best Saturday Morning You Could Spend 
I'd like to close this brief blog with two thoughts. First, while having lunch with Shannon and Amy after this years "Hoops for Life" 5K in Missouri, I told them that they probably don't realize exactly how many children and parents have been the beneficiary of their generosity. It's a fact that many people silently benefit from The Aldridges tireless work. 

Photo: Michael Manning
The Love of a Community in Missouri for Sahara
Lastly, Shannon taught me a powerful lesson that day when he shared with me that: "Everybody is a somebody". It warms my heart to know that throughout the 11 months of the year when "Hoops for Life" isn't being assembled, Shannon and Amy are constantly evaluating new ideas to enhance the following years event. In addition, others approach the couple for feedback to organize their own cancer awareness initiatives. This type of giving and receiving is truly inspiring! 

But today, I'd like to invite you to have a look at Amy Aldridges Facebook page and become at least a bit more familiar with Sahara Aldridge, and the lasting legacy she has left for us all. Our world is a far better place because of this little girl, her mother and dad. I encourage you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers today... and always. 
Photo: Amy Aldridge
Sahara Aldridge

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

A Short Photo Blog: Midwestern Skies

All Photos: Michael Manning

Here are some sunset photos I took while visiting the Midwest recently. 
Halloween "Trick or Treat" night brought back some early childhood memories. During a walk beforehand, I remembered collecting leaves of many colors for grade school "Show and Tell", then sealing them between wax paper with a hot iron (usually commanded by one of my parents). 

These next few photographs reveal a sweeping vista of colors. 

I had to laugh at the tour bus someone hired to bring about 60 kids to my parent's neighborhood, just as I was running out of candy. That was remedied with a quick drive to a small grocery nearby. 

Comments from the kids in costumes were funny too. One kid who had to be all of 9 years-old wore a Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt. 
Me: "Good band". 
Kid: "Oh, yeah". 
Then to a friend as they were walking away: "Did you hear that guy?" 
(I was actually proud of that moment, if I might be immodest!)

Another kid wore a Black Top Hat. As he approached the front door for candy, he took off his hat to reveal that he was also wearing a lime green plastic glow circle: "Um, you could say that I'm a little light headed". I gave him two candies for that one! 

This is a heavily-traveled road that served as a fitting end of my short walk, before retrieving some hot cocoa.