Monday, September 28, 2015


One year ago today I began this blog. 255 posts later, I feel I am just getting started. It has taken me awhile to find my voice. I appreciate the advice and support of many people, most of all readers like you. Your feedback, and occasionally pushback, keeps me honest and helps me become a better journalist.

Moving forward, the core values of SPARK! stay the same:

• Noncommercial media matters in American society.  The digital revolution has made it easier to communicate. But the lines between public service and commercial profit have become have become increasingly blurred. As a lifetime capitalist and salesperson I know that competition generally makes things better.  I salute excellence in public service and decry self-service, particularly at the public trough. I seek to root out those individuals and organizations who put their own agendas ahead of the greater good.

• Broadcast radio will remain an important part of media mix if it gets more Radio Pride. Many people who work in radio have an inferiority complex. People have predicted the end of radio for decades but it keeps coming back in new forms. It is a fact that the use of radio continues to fall and will probably fall further. But usage will level out and rise again if radio keeps providing valuable content.  So, keep doing your best work.

• I am guided by the motto: Speak Truth to Power. SPARK! is a noncommercial service. I provide it free-of-charge to spark [pun intended] discussion without spin.  Sometimes I make examples of people in an over-the-top manner.  As I learned from reading David Carr’s reporting, people are the most important part of telling the story. I don’t do this out of anger or spite. If someone disagrees with me I will publish their side of the story, even their verbatim comments.

My biggest influence as a writer/reporter/blogger is David Carr. Today’s edition of SPARK! is about a new fellowship that has been established in Carr’s name.


 From the NYT press release:

The New York Times announced recently the creation of a two-year media reporting fellowship honoring David Carr, the former Media Equation columnist who died earlier this year of complications from lung cancer.

The fellowship will be awarded to a relatively new journalist who will spend two years in The Times newsroom covering the intersection of technology, media and culture…

Complete information and application material can be found here [link].  

I am applying.


I’ve always had a certain bond with Carr. I live less than three miles where he grew up in the affluent western suburbs of Minneapolis. For years I read his stuff in The Twin Cities Reader, the more literate of the then-two local weekly papers covering the music and culture.

I think I met Carr once at the Longhorn Bar watching The Suburbs. I was working in album rock radio at the time. The band’s record label arranged for me and a bunch of other media honchos to get toasted and hear the band play live. I believe Carr was in the same backroom where I was sampling the stoner buffet. Whether he was real or Memorex, I always remembered his name.

When my wife and I moved to the Twin Cities in 1992, David Carr was gone.  I wondered if he had died or thrown in jail. The rumor on the street was that he was in witness protection. In reality, he found treatment for his many addictions and resurfaced in the early 2000’s at the New York Times.

His weekly column in the Business Section – Media Equation – became a must-read for me.  Every Monday morning the NYT would plop on my doorstep and I would rush to read Carr’s latest reporting.

I admire and try to emulate Carr’s writing for several reasons. He is a master explainer, able to take complex devices and deals and boil them down to tell what really is happening. I love the “insider” vibe. Carr put a human face on the stories he covered.
One of the ways my writing is similar to Carr’s is the use of common expressions to make a point: No one slipped me a Mickey or My boss was a dwarf who took Dolly Parton’s breasts as his central religious icons... put a common sense sheen on his criticism.  This is what I am doing when I criticize Pacifica and its enablers by saying: They are radio survivalists who hunker in a bunker and drink Lorenzo Milam’s kool-aid.
My friend Jim McGuinn, Program Director of 89.3 The Current told me a story about a conversation he had with Carr that showed the way he gently put things in context.  McGuinn told Carr that he ran one of the greatest progressive rock radio station’s in the nation. Carr chided: So you are the biggest leprechaun on the block!
David Carr writes like a musician.  His stuff has lyrics, tempo and timing. Check out his short passage from his 2009 book The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own:
Where does a junkie’s time go? Mostly in 15-minute increments, like a bug-eyed Tarzan, swinging from hit to hit. For months on end in 1988, I sat inside a house in north Minneapolis, doing coke and listening to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and finding my own pathetic resonance in the lyrics. “Any place is better,” she sang. “Starting from zero, got nothing to lose.”
Could be me. See more about this must-read book at [link].
Night of the Gun is the must-read story of Carr’s fall into multiple addictions before saving his own life. It isn’t the standard approach to the topic. In many ways he reminds me of rocker/poets Patti Smith and Jim Carroll.
Years after Carr became sober he went back to the scenes of his crimes. He pieced together that period of life by interviewing the people he used to hang and items in public files such as arrest records.
I found a video of Carr appearing on a cable TV public affairs discussion program called The Facts As We Know Them. Thank you to Tom Ozman and The program was taped on September 28, 1984.  This is the David Carr I met years before at the Longhorn Bar at the top of his Minneapolis career and totally f*cked up:  [link to video]

Carr entered a treatment program in Minneapolis on November 25, 1988.

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