Friday, March 20, 2009

Bitter ending to a hard winter

Today is the first official day of Spring in A.D. 2009. Here in Nashville we've actually already had Spring-like weather for a week or so. So in speaking of a bitter end to a hard winter I'm not being meteorological.

In the past week two very tragic news items have assailed me. On Wednesday I was on-line searching for information about firms at which I had worked in the past. I needed such info as telephone numbers and addresses, in order to fill out an application for jobs with the state of Tennessee. One of my former employers was Municipal Code Corporation in Tallahassee. My boss there, Paxton Briley, was one of the two or three best bosses of the many bosses in the many jobs I've held. Paxton, a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, later flew for Eastern Airlines. When that airline went defunct, Paxton ended up being director of the Minutes Indexing Department of MCC. I greatly enjoyed him as my supervisor, as a fellow veteran and as one who like me greatly enjoyed going off into the "wild blue yonder".

Well, I got curious as to whether Paxton was on the Internet, so I googled his full name. Great was my distress when my Web search resulted in learning that he had passed away several years ago! He even preceded his dad in death. But -- and this was SO Paxton Briley -- he left his collection of books by the author of the Uncle Remus stories to his alma mater, Florida State University.

This distressing news followed hard on other gut-churning tidings. It wasn't about the death of a beloved friend or ex-boss; still it was tragic. For several years I've listened to deejay Keith Bilbrey on WSM-AM 650. Back in the 1980s when I taught at Father Ryan High School here, I took to watching the "Ralph Emery Show" early weekday mornings on WSMV-TV. Keith was the show's weatherman, so he was the go-to man for school snow-day closings. Keith sometimes wore a necktie on TV that resembled one I had. One day I wore mine and went to WSM's offices to compare it with his. Well, it turned out that his tie was different in a way that didn't show up on the tube. But it was fun to speak with him face-to-face that day. And ever afterward I enjoyed speaking with Keith by phone or e-mailing him. Upon returning to Nashville last summer I contacted him by e-mail and mentioned the "infamous" necktie -- and he remember the tie!

Well, this great deejay and personal friend has been fired by Gaylord, the huge corporation headquartered in Dallas that owns radio station WSM-AM 650. While listening to the Grand Ole Opry show last Saturday, during the portion that Keith was emcee, a couple of the Opry cast on that portion made mention of him as tho' he were leaving the show. I had read on WSM's own Website of how Keith's working as deejay for the station and emcee for the show was his "life's dream", so I was very puzzled. I couldn't imagine him leaving his life's dream for another job or career and he wasn't old en'uf to retire.

So Monday I phoned the radio station and asked the woman who answered my call about Keith. She informed me that, yes, he'd been fired. At my expression of shock and disappointment she responded that they at WSM were distressed, too. It's pretty clear that "bean-counters" at Gaylord's out-of-state headquarters, in dealing with on-going losses of the company were reacting as they had just over a decade ago. Rather than adjust things in some other way, back then they killed Opryland themepark, and now they were getting rid of the live deejay of the mid-day show, the "least productive" shift on-air.

No matter that said deejay had worked for the station for 34 years -- oh, yeah, by firing a veteran they took care of ever having to pay pension as well as being able to cut salary. No matter that said deejay was also emcee on the world's oldest continuously-broadcast live radio show. No matter that we regular listeners to WSM loved said deejay. Gotta bow down to and worship the Bottom Line!

That's the 21st-century American way with huge, multi-state, multi-national corporations.

Does yours truly seem bitter? I sure hope I do! Keith was my personal friend. If by falling on my sword I could get him back into his life's dream job, I'd do it in a heartbeat!

I don't stand alone in my anger at out-of-state Gaylord Corp. and what they're doing to Nashville, its legendary radio station and its
music industry that makes it "Music City"! A petition has been set up requesting WSM's CEO to reconsider and reinstate Keith Bilbrey. When I learned of this thru and on-line version of a column from the Tennessean newspaper, I clicked on the link at once and signed the petition. At time of this writing there are almost 4000 signatures. And you should read some of comments added by signers. Does myw riting seem bitter? You ain't read nothin' yet!

Hre is the link, if you, dear reader, wish to join in the effort:

Finally, I've developed a list of the Five Worst Things to ever happen to Nashville. It's in chronological order, not necessarily in order of how deleterious:

1. The War Between the States and all its battles in and around Nashville.

2. The hostile takeover of locally-headquartered National Life by Houston's American General.

3. American General's sale of the radio station and the Opryland entities, not to a local individual, family or firm but rather to Oklahomans who liked the Opry but whose business experience 'til then was in newspapers and a couple of radio and TV stations. (No experience in hotels, theme parks or the general hospitality-tourism industry.)

4. Gaylord administration's murder of Opryland Park.

5. The deaths of Mr. & Mrs. Gaylord, who at least were fans of a traditional-style Grand Ole Opry. Doubtless whoever runs the huge corporation, wherever it's headquartered (Dallas?), hates traditional country music and is more into the hotel aspect of the firm anyway.

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