Tube City Online

Filed Under: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

February 28, 2008 | Link to this story

We Get Letters

Category: General Nonsense, History || By

It's been a while since I cleaned out the email box, and it's starting to get a little gamey ....

. . .

Alert Reader Kyle writes:

I would just like to thank you very much for your website about McKeesport. I am a college student currently attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania and I have often wondered so much about the history of the Mon Valley.

My hometown is Finleyville, Pa., but I have spent a great deal of time in Donora, Monongahela, Elrama and McKeesport throughout my life.

I have heard stories about the greatness that once was by parents and grandparents but I found it very difficult to find a decent source for information that isn't skewed by unwillingness to damage the names of the towns that once were. Most websites I visit only deal in cut and dry population statistics and refuse to address the gray, run down streets and check cashing centers next to liquor stores. ...

My mother is
(excised for privacy reasons -- ed.). I once asked her why there was a bronze statue of JFK in a tiny park and she told me that he had spoke there. I was genuinely awestruck, why would JFK visit a place like this? I was told that it had been at one time one of the largest cities in PA and that is what initially sparked my interest in McKeesport.

Sorry for such explanation. I just want to give you heartfelt thanks for preserving the memory of this once great town and it's untimely downfall by sprawl and Japanese steel.

Thanks for your letter, Kyle. Good luck this semester ... and go Indians! ... Er ... I mean ... Crimson Hawks!

. . .

Alert Reader Keith writes:

Just found your site last night and have forwarded it on to a couple other folks. I was raised in White Oak, graduated from McKeesport in 1994 and live in Chambersburg, Pa., now.

The history on this site is fascinating, especially for someone who remembers Weiner World at Eastland Mall, the drive-in up the road and passing some of the charred remains of the 1976 fire on the way to Century III Mall.

If I may make suggestions I'd recommend adding Rainbow Gardens, Paule's Lookout and Helmstadter's store Downtown. Then again, you've probably already thought of these and just haven't gotten around to them yet.

I actually interviewed one of the Helmstadters recently. They're a fascinating and important family in McKeesport history, and not just because of the store. Several were very involved in public service and politics.

I'm going to write something up "one of these days." I'll add it to the list of "under construction" features of this website. Some of them have been on that list since, oh, 1995 or so.

. . .

Alert Reader Tom asks:

Can you help an ailing mind? Where was Bettis airport in relationship to Allegheny County Airport?

Bettis Field, also known as the Pittsburgh-McKeesport Airport, was the present location of Bettis Laboratory on the border between Dravosburg and Mifflin Township (now West Mifflin).

It was named for pioneer pilot Cyrus Bettis, an Army lieutenant who won several awards for his flying ability before crashing in a heavy fog in 1926 near Bellefonte, Centre County. He died of his injuries.

After "County" opened in 1932 just a mile or so away, commercial air traffic shifted away from Bettis. It was in serious eclipse by World War II. The Curtiss-Wright aircraft company operated the field for a while, then sold it to the government for atomic power research.

The lab was overseen for decades by Westinghouse Electric but is now run by Bechtel Corp. Although the Bettis complex is a high-security facility, you can still see evidence of the field's heritage from Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard.

The security office near the main gate is the old airport control tower, and two of the yellow-brick garages along the highway are former airplane hangars. Look for the propellers cast into the cement on the columns.

. . .

Alert Reader Josh writes:

I'm an avid reader of the Tube City Almanac, and a former McKeesport resident. Your blog about Aaron Slafka made me want to write to you about him.

I've known Aaron since we were in 7th grade together. He's one of the coolest guys I've ever met ...

Aaron has been an inspiration to me. Although I didn't go through something as bad as he did, he's inspired me nonetheless.

Aaron not only coped with his challenges, but actually pushed himself to get better. Many people take for granted the power of the human spirit.

I want to thank you for giving Aaron Slafka the credit he deserves. Most blogs and news sources are too busy blabbing about Brittney's bald head or Paris' night-vision late night romps. What you have provided is REAL NEWS.

Thanks for your nice comments, Josh, but I didn't do anything. Aaron did it all; I just wrote about it.

. . .

Keep those cards 'n letters coming. I do respond ... er ... eventually. My first initial at my last name at gmail dot com. We also accept regular letters at P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134.

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Filed Under: General Nonsense, History | No comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

February 27, 2008 | Link to this story

Bye Now

Category: Wild World of Sports, Radio Geekery || By

Whatever else Myron Cope was, he was a gentleman.

A little more than five years ago, I interviewed him for my day job, and while I had him on the phone, I profiled him for Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online. His publicist promised me only 15 minutes. Cope gave me an hour.

A few weeks later, I got the attached note. He valued my opinion? Yoi.

I found out I wasn't alone; Cope wrote thank-you notes to nearly everyone. That's the kind of guy he was.

If you ever listened to his nightly talk show, you know how generous and gentlemanly he could be with callers. A certain talk show host on the station where Cope used to work liked to deride him. That guy's not fit to carry Cope's microphone.

Forgotten amidst all of Cope's catchphrases and the outlandish videos he made for WTAE-TV was the fact that he also was a graceful writer. All of his books (except his autobiography) are out of print, but they're worth seeking out at used bookstores or the library.

Carnegie Library in McKeesport doesn't seem to have any of them, but I'll bet they could request them.

(You'd better hurry. I just checked, and most of the copies have "holds" placed on them.)

This morning, I wrote an obituary of Cope for PBRTV, but all you really need to know is this: In a field filled with many frauds and phonies, he was real.

And in a business cluttered with imitators, he stood out as a true original.

Bye now, Myron.

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February 27, 2008 | Link to this story

I've Been Everywhere, Man

Category: Pointless Digressions || By

Do you ever wonder who reads the Tube City Almanac?

Well, indulge me for a minute in some behind-the-scenes minutiae.

You may not know this, but I'm spying on you. Er, sort of. I have Google Analytics running on the website; it tracks where visitors come from, how long they spend on the site, how often they visit, etc.

After nearly 9 months of gathering data, I can spot a few trends.

. . .

Literally Hundreds of Readers: We have about 3,500 visitors per month. Of those, about 1,200 people are regular, faithful readers who visit at least once per week, according to Google Analytics.

Geez, you people are starved for entertainment.

No, I'm very flattered and intimidated that more than one thousand people check in regularly. Thanks for reading.

Also, although some people come here via search engines, many of you come directly to the Almanac, which means you've set a bookmark. Again, thank you.

. . .

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!: The vast majority of Almanac readers are from the United States. (Duh.) But we have several regular readers in Canada, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands.

(To our Canadian visitors I say, "How's it goin', eh?" And to our reader in the Netherlands, I think I know who you are. Bring me back some tulips next time.)

. . .

Wyoming? Why Not Oming?: We have no regular readers in Idaho or Wyoming. What did I do to tick them off?

Most of the readers are from Pennsylvania, naturally, followed by New York and California (tied for second), Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Texas, Connecticut, Georgia and Virginia.

I'm assuming the out-of-state readers are former McKeesporters. If you're from out of state and you've never commented, post something in the comments and let me know why you read.

. . .

Picksberg Proud: Google indicates that the top two cities sending visitors are Pittsburgh and Our Fair City, as you might have guessed.

In fact, the Almanac has almost 600 regular readers in McKeesport proper.

Other cities in the top 10 include Carnegie, McKees Rocks, Homestead, Bethel Park, Braddock, Wilmerding, Turtle Creek and Houtzdale, Clearfield County.

Google tracks cities based on where the users' Internet connections are based. I suspect a lot of the Carnegie, Bethel Park and McKees Rocks visitors are from Internet service providers based there --- Comcast has a big facility in McKees Rocks, and the former Adelphia Cable system has one in Bethel Park. If your Internet connection comes via cable, maybe that explains why those boroughs rank so high.

But the only thing in Houtzdale is the state prison.

Geez, I'm sorry, guys. Let me know if yinz need a cake with a file in it.

. . .

Most of You Read at Work: Readership is highest from Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday readership declines noticeably.

With that in mind ... get back to work!

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February 26, 2008 | Link to this story

Letters from the Editor

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Pointless Digressions || By

The letters you are about to read are true. Only the stamps have been removed to protect the Postal Service.

. . .

Marketing Manager
Century III Mall
West Mifflin, PA 15122

Dear Madam:

You recently wrote a letter to the editor to note that Century III Mall is "lively and well" and that rumors of the mall's demise were exaggerated and untrue.

A few weeks later, the county notified West Mifflin Borough and West Mifflin Area School District that the taxable value of your property had been lowered 41 percent.

If business is so good, why did Century III need to appeal its assessment?

And why do commercial real-estate brokers tell Ron DaParma of the Tribune-Review --- on the record and for attribution --- that Simon Property Group is still circulating marketing materials that offer the mall for sale?

Finally, just how dumb do you think we are?

On second thought, ignore that last one.

The Editor

. . .

A--- G----
----- News Agency
Clairton, PA 15025

Dear A----:

My apologies for not writing sooner. I just found out your name this week.

Since Thanksgiving, you have been delivering the morning paper to my house, Monday through Saturday. I never asked for delivery, and unfortunately, these papers are hitting the recycling bin instantly.

Then you started sending bills in the name of the person I bought my house from, three years ago. Your latest bill demands a "past due" balance of $25.98.

I called the Post-Gazette, but they didn't have a record of a subscription in my name.

A----, either someone is playing a joke on us, or someone is trying to commit fraud by charging me for a service I didn't request.

So, should I call the state Bureau of Consumer Protection? Or do you just want to tear up those bills and stop delivering the paper?

The Editor

. . .

----- Restaurant
West Mifflin, PA 15122

Dear Sir or Madam:

I ate in your new restaurant several times this month to write a review for my modest website, Tube City Online.

I am happy to report the food was good and the prices were reasonable.

But about the service: A few days ago, I stopped for breakfast with an old friend. The place was packed, which is always a good sign.

One voice could be heard above the din of the crowd. It was a particular waitress who apparently thinks it's "colorful" or "funny" to insult the customers, loudly.

At one point, she came over to tell my friend and I to "shut up."

"You're here to eat, not gab," she said. "Other people need this table. Finish up and get out. Ha! Just kidding."

Yeah, it was hysterical.

Also, I'm no prude, but I saw a number of families with kids there, and their parents were fairly horrified at the vulgar jokes the same waitress was loudly telling.

Anyway, are you sure this woman works for you? I'm worried that someone from Denny's or Eat'n Park is trying to get you closed, and sent a double agent over to sabotage the place.

The Editor

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February 24, 2008 | Link to this story

We Come to Play

Category: Cartoons, Wild World of Sports || By

Until Saturday, only 12 schools in the WPIAL had ever won football and basketball championships in the same year.

The Serra Catholic boys' varsity made it a "baker's dozen."

It's the first basketball title ever for the city's Catholic high school, and comes just three months after Serra won its first football title in a quarter century ... and Serra quarterback T.J. Heatherington led the charge for the basketball team, too, scoring 28 points on the way to the Eagles' 76-61 victory over Wilkinsburg.

It's a sweet victory for long-suffering Serra fans, but especially for Coach Bob "Skeeter" Rozanski, who twice before led the boys' team to the WPIAL title game (in 1982 and 1991) only to see victory snatched away.

Congratulations, fellas! (Gee whiz ... is it too much to ask for a hat trick?)

. . .

From the National Desk: Ralph Nader, find a Corvair and drive it over a cliff.

Seriously. No one cares that you want to run for president again.

On the other hand, you've done a marvelous job of making people forget any of the good things you did in the 1960s and '70s, Ralph.

If this is a cry for attention, you could have just gotten a talk show like everyone else.

. . .

He Said It: "President Bush says he hopes Castro's exit will lead to a truly free Cuba. John McCain is hoping for new economic opportunities. And Barack Obama is looking for a new mentor.

"Castro's brother Raul is now expected to become president, but Hillary Clinton is claiming she has the support of most of the Cuban superdelegates."

-- Jake Novak, "Radio NewYork International with Johnny Lightning," WBCQ

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February 21, 2008 | Link to this story

Live News at :55

Category: Pointless Digressions, Politics || By

Here's what's making news this hour in WIXZ-land:

  • Bill Clinton has come to John McCain's defense, while Joe Biden says that in his opinion, Barack Obama is not guilty of plagiarism.

  • Hillary Clinton is promising to restore democracy to the Democratic Party. She says convention delegates will greet her as a liberator.

  • Finally, reports from Arkansas indicate that after complaints from the '70s rock group Boston, Mike Huckabee has stopped using "More Than a Feeling" as his theme song.

    Huckabee will instead adopt Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" ... "Don't know much about history ... don't know much biology ..."

  • Meanwhile, requests for immigration papers made to Canadian and Australian authorities have gone up for three straight years.

    Immigration officials in both nations say they're eying the current U.S. presidential candidates warily.

  • A woman in Kitchener, Ontario, will be allowed to return home after public health officials removed more than 4,000 mice from the residence.

    Jinks the Cat could not be reached for comment.

Turning to local news:

  • Former McKeesport contractor Thomas Cousar pleaded guilty in federal court this week to defrauding the federal government out of $850,000.

    Cousar's now-defunct construction company, Capco Inc., was hired to help in the reconstruction of the Pentagon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead, prosecutors say, Cousar diverted the supplies and building material to other projects.

    The Justice Department says that Cousar could face time in federal prison, if they can find one that's not missing several walls.

  • Despite assurances from Century III Mall that everything is "business as usual" and that the shopping center is not in trouble, West Mifflin officials have learned that the mall's owners asked for a 41 percent reduction on their property taxes.

    A Century III spokeswoman says that they had to appeal their property assessment; the mall is "so popular," she says, that "no one goes there any more."

    Members of the West Mifflin borough council say that the tax appeal "ain't over 'til it's over."

  • In other news, there are rumors that Yogi Berra's lawyers are considering a copyright infringement lawsuit against Century III Mall and the Borough of West Mifflin.

In sports: the Pirates yesterday opened their first full day of spring training in Bradenton, Fla.

They have now been officially eliminated from playoff contention in the NL East Central.

Here's your WIXZ-land weather: The county Health Department has advised residents to huddle over a witch's bosom to keep warm. It's winter in Western Pennsylvania. Deal with it.

This newscast was sponsored by the Peters Packing Co., conveniently located next to Brick Alley in McKeesport. Remember: Nobody beats Peters' meat!

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February 20, 2008 | Link to this story

The Mockingbird's Trill

Category: History, Mon Valley Miscellany, Radio Geekery || By

Do any of you Norwin Senior High School graduates remember the radio station that used to be next door?

Whuh? A radio station in North Huntingdon? Yeah, that got your attention.

Yep. It turns out there was a radio station on Mockingbird Hill in North Huntingdon Township from 1951 to 1983.

If'n yinz don't remember the swingin' sound of Wonderful WCM in North Huntingdon, grab a cookie and a juice box, and sit down while Grampa Jason tells a story.

. . .

Once upon a time, when I was a geeky, socially awkward teen-ager (unlike now, when I'm a geeky, socially awkward adult) a gang of us used to hang out in the basement of a buddy's house in Whitaker, telling jokes, listening to music, and screwing around with electronics projects.

That's because none of us had a steady girlfriend, mainly because we were always hanging out in the basement, telling jokes, listening to music, and screwing around with electronics projects.

Late one night --- it seems to me it was over a Christmas break --- we hooked up someone's 1970s-vintage shortwave radio to an old CB antenna to see what we could hear.

Now, many, many moons ago --- say, the 1940s through the '60s --- many foreign countries had at least one English language radio service aimed at North America, and it was relatively common for people to own a radio that could pick up overseas broadcasts.

By the time of my misspent youth in the late '80s and early '90s, satellite communications had obviated the need for, say, Norway to send shortwave radio broadcasts to the United States. Who wanted to fight their way through the static to listen to the BBC when they could watch the BBC on cable TV?

Practically all of these services have now moved to the Internet, and the shortwave band is mainly a wasteland both day and night of right-wing American preachers who rant about the apocalypse. (I am not making that up. I have no idea who listens to that stuff.)

. . .

Anyway, in the early '90s, there were still English-language shortwave services on the air from the Voice of Fondue Sets for Namibia or whatever, and when I tired of listening to those, I could eavesdrop on ham radio operators.

When that got boring (and it got boring quickly: "VE3WTF, this is K5FU, what kind of equipment you running there?" "Running a modified Yae-Wood 5900KLABC SSB into a Ten-Com amplifier with a 12-element Yagi beamed north-by-northwest, over, how do you read me?" "Five-by-five, WTF, what's the weather like?" etc.) I started dialing around to see what else I could hear.

Suddenly, through the static and birdies came the distinctive sound of a telephone ringing --- not the bell, but the so-called ringback signal you hear when you call someone else.

Hmm! I dialed back and fiddled with the reception until I could barely make out what sounded like a phone conversation.

Then an operator came on. Another connection, another telephone ringing, another conversation, barely audible.

I listened long enough to hear the station identify itself --- it turned out to be a ship-to-shore telephone relay operated by AT&T, and they gave an address in Manahawkin, N.J.

. . .

Well, I wrote, and got a very nice reply from the manager there, with a folder full of information about ship-to-shore radio.

For many years, if you were on a boat and needed to send a written message or place a call, your communications were handled by one of these stations, which for a fee could either send a Telex message or make a long-distance telephone connection.

This sort of operation was becoming an anachronism by 1991, of course. Although I don't think I knew anyone who had their own cell phone, I was seeing plenty of car phone antennas, even in the Mon Valley. Within a few years, satellite phones were available, and now you can place a call or send email right from a boat.

AT&T discontinued its old-fashioned ship-to-shore service in 1998, and while there may be a handful of these operations still around somewhere, I haven't heard one on the air for years.

. . .
Fast-forward to the present: An acquaintance of mine named Scott Fybush has carved out a niche reporting on TV and radio both for national trade papers and on his own website, NorthEast Radio Watch. For those who really want to get their geek on, he also reports on radio towers around the country.

Last week's tower entry reports on a site near Scott's home in western New York that was once used by one of these ship-to-shore radio stations communicating with boats on the Great Lakes.

He also linked to a website for something called the Inland Radio Marine History Archive, which includes a page on "River Stations," and that's where I found out about WCM in North Huntingdon.

Remember? This is a song about Alice?

Uh, I mean ... this is a story about a radio station in North Huntingdon?

. . .

According to a history at the IRMHA website, WCM was built in 1951 by the marine radio division of RCA. The 1,000-watt station on the shortwave band served boats traveling the Monongahela and Ohio rivers around Pittsburgh.

In 1967, RCA sold the station to an outside investor. By now, the cost of radio equipment had gone way down, and many towboat operators were running their own networks. WCM began losing money and was sold again to its biggest customer, Ohio River Company (ORCO). It also served other important river shipping clients, including Ashland Oil's depot in Floreffe.

An article from the Jeannette News-Dispatch describes operations: "For the most part, the radio operators at WCM provide 24-hour communications to and from the river vessels ...

"While most of the communications are with cargo tows, the radio operators at WCM have occasional contact with pleasure craft, or well known vessels such as the Delta Queen. WCM also completes telephone patches to any watercraft, in cooperation with the special marine operators.

"WCM will become involved in emergencies when the need arises. For instance, flooding conditions may result in barges breaking loose. Such situations require rescue by any boats available."

. . .

WCM upgraded its equipment to single-sideband operation in the 1960s, then began offering VHF-FM communications (the same way that modern police and fire radios operate), but demand for the station's services continued to decline.

In 1983, Ohio River Company's parent company transferred the remaining operations to its headquarters in Cincinnati and closed the North Huntingdon site.

By 1995, satellite and cellular service linked the towing company's boats with headquarters and each other, and WCM's license was canceled, the website reports.

An aerial look via Google! Maps shows no obvious evidence of the station, but I may take a field trip later this week and snoop around myself.

There's a list of WCM employees online, too, at the IMRHA website, and I think I recognize a couple of names.

If anyone remembers this thing, or knows anyone who worked there, I'd be interested to talk with them.

Hey, we geeks have to stick together.

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February 18, 2008 | Link to this story

You Can't Get There From Here

Category: Pointless Digressions || By

Alert Reader Officer Jim writes:

I have a friend who works for EchoStar, so I brought up their website to get an address for the McKeesport call center:

For those of you who aren't from Our Fair City, that's in a residential neighborhood behind Propel McKeesport school ... only about a mile from the real EchoStar facility.

It gets better. If you manually type EchoStar's mailing address of "Industry Drive, McKeesport, Pa" into Google! Maps, the website sends you to Elizabeth Township.

This is hardly a new problem with online mapping programs. Three years ago, the Almanac noted that Yahoo! Maps was still sending people across McKeesport's Fifth Avenue bridge ... about 60 years after it was demolished and replaced by the Jerome Avenue Bridge.

. . .

Luckily, neither of these errors is likely to get anyone injured or killed. But those satellite navigation devices use the same data as maps generated by Google and Yahoo.

Last month, a California man was driving through the New York City suburbs, following the directions fed to him by the satellite navigation system in his rental car. Reports the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Journal, as 32-year-old Bo Bai was driving over a railroad crossing, the automated GPS voice told him to turn right, and the results were right out of the Keystone Kops:

Bai got stuck, tried unsuccessfully to reverse and finally abandoned the 2006 Ford Focus minutes before it was slammed by a northbound Metro-North Harlem Line train, MTA police said.

The car was pushed more than 100 feet during the fiery crash.

No one was injured but about 500 passengers were stranded for more than two hours and 250 feet of electrified third rail was damaged. Three trains out of Grand Central Terminal were canceled and 10 others delayed by up to 90 minutes. The damage was repaired by 2:30 a.m.

(One of the cops from the railroad's police department gave the newspaper what might be the quote of the year: "He tried to stop the train by waving his arms, which apparently was not totally effective in slowing the train." No, not so much.)

Bai is not being charged with any moving violations "but will be held liable for the damage to the train and track, as well as other costs and loss of revenue," the newspaper says.

. . .
It goes to show that when it comes to driving around an unfamiliar area, technology isn't everything. A paper map might be a cheaper, safer alternative.

On second thought, maybe we should all just stay home: A few years ago, an acquaintance was trying to find her way from one part of Pennsylvania to another using a Rand McNally road atlas.

I suggested some different routes before she said, "Why can't I take this road? It goes right there."

She pointed to a squiggly blue line.

Yeah, it was a river.

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February 17, 2008 | Link to this story

Sunday Sermonette

Category: default, Mon Valley Miscellany, Pointless Digressions, Wild World of Sports || By

This is one of those infrequent Sunday Almanac updates to let you know that I had the pleasure last week of interviewing Bill Scully Sr., drummer for The Arondies, a garage-rock trio from Clairton that had a monster local hit with "69" in the summer of 1965, then disbanded.

If you're within range of WRCT-FM's massive 1,750-watt blowtorch signal on 88.3 mHz, you can hear excerpts of the interview at 7:30 p.m. tonight. You'll even find out what an Arondie is ... well, sort of.

Yes, I should have mentioned this earlier, but I just finished editing the program at 3 o'clock this morning.

Depending on the wind and whether any puffy clouds or kites are in the way, WRCT's signal sometimes reaches as far east as the Homestead Grays (nee High-Level) Bridge, so if you're in the Mon Valley, your reception is likely to be poor. But you can listen online at

In other news, I'm hearing rumors that Terrelle Pryor has signed a letter of intent. He plans to attend Penn State Greater Allegheny.

I don't think they're credible rumors. In fact, I think they're the voices in my head. (It's the sleep deprivation talking.)

Along the same lines, Professor Pittsblog made a provocative point last week. Everyone keeps talking about where Pryor is playing football, he pointed out. No one has mentioned where he might get an education.

Silly professor. Everyone knows that the football gravy train runs forever. Just ask Mike Webster.

I understand that several pro athletes have been advising Pryor about his future. I kind of wish --- for his sake --- that one of them was retired Steelers defensive back The Honorable Dwayne Woodruff.

Woodruff and many other members of the "Super Steelers" of the 1970s have conclusively proved that there's life after football ... if you get an education.

During the high school football playoffs at Heinz Field last year, I was disturbed at how carefully and consciously the WPIAL and its member schools are emulating the trappings of professional sports, right down to the graphics on the scoreboards. To me, this rush to commercialize high school athletics is the biggest argument against holding the football championships at Heinz Field.

College athletics at the Division I level have been big business for decades. It wasn't inevitable that high school athletics had to follow.

Yes, sports pundits on cable TV and the Internet have turned Pryor's story into a three-ring national media circus. But they're just following the lead of the WPIAL and local school districts, who invest very little time emphasizing the "scholastic" part of "interscholastic athletic league."

Maybe Western Pennsylvania taxpayers need to remind our local school boards why we pay school taxes. It's to educate our kids, not to provide a farm system for the Big Ten Conference.

Yeah, I really do need a nap.

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February 14, 2008 | Link to this story

Counselor: Consumers Benefit from Mortgage Task Force

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

The new mortgage fraud task force created by U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is actually one of the best things to happen for consumers in a long time.

So says Mike Mauer, housing and financial counselor at the nonprofit Mon Valley Initiative, based in Homestead. He says snarky comments recently aimed at Buchanan by the Almanac were off-target.

"It used to be traditional in banking that if you wanted a home mortgage, you would go to a local mortgage banker," Mauer says. "He lived in the community and he would educate you about what you could afford, and then put you into a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.

"Now, mortgage brokers take no responsibility," he says.

. . .

Deregulation of the mortgage industry, combined with low interest rates, fueled a land-office business among mortgage brokers. Some of them were honest. Some of them weren't.

"Do you know what it takes to become a mortgage broker?" Mauer asks. "Seven-hundred dollars to the Pennsylvania Department of Banking, an office, and a phone number."

Much of his job is "pre-purchase" counseling. If someone wants to buy a house in the Mon Valley and hasn't owned a home before, or isn't sure how to qualify for a loan, Mauer can assess them for risk and recommend strategies.

"I pull out your credit report and go over it line by line," he says. "If you stink, I can work with you until you un-stink."

. . .

Click to download PDF flierLately, however, an increasing number of Mauer's clients are coming in after getting a mortgage through a broker that advertised on TV or radio. Some of those brokers have since disappeared.

Some of Mauer's clients were sold mortgages far beyond their means.

Their brokers --- eager for higher commissions --- falsified or fudged income statements or lied about their applicants' credit.

They pushed prospective homeowners to take out mortgages they couldn't afford, or signed them to adjustable-rate mortgages without clearly explaining what would happen to their low initial payments once interest rates went up.

. . .

Then the brokers sold the mortgages to lenders, took their profits and went out of business, Mauer says: "They make their money, sell their loans, and they're done, and since their corporations are shells, you can't go after them personally."

"I take calls now from people who say, well, I'm getting delinquent on (my) home loan," he says. "I do a reverse assessment." If there's evidence that the mortgage broker falsified an application or misled a homeowner, Mauer calls the U.S. attorney's office.

Buchanan's task force is a consumer protection move, Mauer says, and will make it much easier to report fraudulent lenders.

. . .

There's a silver lining for the Mon Valley, he says. Real-estate prices are so depressed here that mortgage fraud and the resultant foreclosures are hardly as widespread as they are in the Sunbelt states.

And there's no shortage of good, 1950s through '70s vintage homes available for $60,000 or less.

"In housing, we're just like in our own little world," he says, laughing. "Here, if you make 32 grand, you can live like a potentate."

. . .

MVI serves Braddock, Charleroi, Clairton, Duquesne, East Pittsburgh, Homestead, Monessen, North Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale, Turtle Creek, West Newton and several neighboring communities.

But not McKeesport, 'cause if you know McKeesport, it always goes west if everyone else is going east. The city's development corporation is not a participating MVI agency.

For information about programs for new homebuyers in Our Fair City, contact the McKeesport Development Corp. or the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development.

. . .

Mon Valley Initiative and PNC Bank will host a workshop for first-time homebuyers from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at the Marriott Courtyard in The Waterfront, Homestead.

Counselors will advise residents how to know if they qualify for a loan, how to determine what home price they can afford, and what to do if they have poor credit. Bankers will explain closing costs, points, fees, and interest rates.

A free lunch buffet will be served, but seating is limited. Call (412) 464-4000, ext. 4008.

MVI homebuyer flyer (PDF document)

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February 13, 2008 | Link to this story

Speak for Yourself

Category: Pointless Digressions, Politics, So-Called Radio Humor || By

A few days ago, I mentioned CCAC South Campus' production of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues.

Well, the subject came up again on Saturday during my radio show:

WRCT-FM, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008 (1.79MB, MP3)

. . .

A Sprinkle of Politics: Check out what Barack Obama's got in each hand in this photo from Wednesday's Washington Post:

Click to visit

If he'd have been carrying a Starbucks cup, he'd have lost my vote right away. But two dozen Dunkin' Donuts?

Well, all I have to say is: Would you like a booth, Mr. President? Or are you sitting at the counter?

No wonder he creamed Hillary on Tuesday. She even had a glazed look in her eyes.

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February 12, 2008 | Link to this story

Winter Driving and Other Light Topics

Category: Pointless Digressions, Politics || By

My car has something called Traction Control®, which ... well, let's let the owner's manual describe it:

The Traction Control® system ... is a driver aid which makes your vehicle easier to handle primarily on snow and ice covered roads.

Wheel spin sensors allow excess rear wheel spin to be detected by the Traction Control® portion of the anti-lock braking system (ABS) computer. Any excessive wheel spin is controlled by automatically applying and releasing the rear brakes in conjunction with engine torque reduction. Engine torque reduction is realized via the fully electronic spark and fuel injection systems.

. . .

Translated into English: When you're driving along and hit an icy spot, the wheel on ice doesn't go spinning out of control. Instead, the computer pulses the wheel on and off. Even if you stomp down on the gas pedal, the wheel won't start spinning; instead, the car will automatically slow down and creep forward.

You've probably seen the TV commercials where a luxury car stops on an ice-skating rink, then pulls out without spinning its wheels. Well, it's the same system, and it does work just like it does on TV if you're stuck in an ice- or snow-covered parking lot.

It doesn't work that well when you're halfway up Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard near the old Bettis Lounge and one of the wheels detects a little bit of snow.

Then you stomp on the gas to get out of the snow, and the engine throttles down. So you feed a little more gas, and the engine throttles down some more. And you stop dead in the middle of the hill, in the snow. What say you, owner's manual?

If you should become stuck in snow or ice or on a very slippery road surface, try switching the Traction Control® system off.

Yeah. And they put that "off" switch in a really convenient place. In the glove box. Where it's really easy to get to in an emergency.

As for the guy behind me, I don't know exactly what you said, but I don't think you even know my mother.

. . .

From the National Politics Desk: Over on the right is a cartoon from the British magazine Private Eye.

Yeah, it's sick, and it's in bad taste.

But you know you laughed. Admit it. I laughed so hard that milk came out of my nose, and I wasn't drinking milk at the time.

Also, I have a lot of respect for John McCain, but this made me laugh, too. It's a parody of the Obama video.

And finally, Gov. Rendell, please be quiet. As I've said before, I don't how he got the reputation for being so glib. He seems to like the taste of his own feet.

. . .

Milk of Human Kindness Dept., Part I: Munhall's answer to Westbrook Pegler, columnist Earle Wittpenn of the Valley Mirror, asks in the current issue (not online) about the "thousands" of Russian immigrants who emigrated to the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"Some of them are quartered in the Homestead High-Rise (Apartments)," Wittpenn says. "How many of them applied for citizenship? Are they part of our work force? Or did we simply add them to our welfare rolls? Good questions!"

Yeah, Earle! It's a shame you doesn't know any newspaper writers --- or even former editors of the Homestead Daily Messenger and Valley Mirror --- who could do some research by calling and asking ... oh, wait a minute ... never mind.

. . .

Milk of Human Kindness Dept., Part II: A Canonsburg man writes to One of America's Great Newspapers:

I read about Gov. Ed Rendell's plan to spur the Pennsylvania economy, most notably his intention to provide low-income families with a $400 one-time rebate ("Rendell Budget Has Tax Rebate for Poorer Families," Feb. 5). His reasoning is that although these families are exempt from state income tax, they have been hit hardest by increases in fuel, medical care and food costs.

What he fails to mention is that under most circumstances, they are eligible for Medicaid, food stamps, including special allowances for clothing, car purchases and repairs, along with day-care subsidies, Low Income Home Energy Assistance grants and a federal earned income tax refund, which can be substantial depending on the number of dependents.

Yeah! And orphans don't have to send Mother's Day cards and Father's Day cards! And how about people who get their legs blown off by land mines --- they don't have to buy shoes! Those lucky duckies!

You tell 'em, Canonsburg guy! I hope you wrote a similar letter to this bleeding heart hippie, too.

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February 11, 2008 | Link to this story

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Category: General Nonsense || By

Actually, several people have asked me. "Hey, doofus," they say, "when the hell is your damned book coming out?"

Fall, I keep telling them. The season when the Pirates are out of contention, and the Steelers are still generating false hope in the hearts of millions.

The last two weeks, I've been viewing the edits made by Penn State Press. They've been surprisingly gentle; in fact, almost all of the changes have either improved the flow or corrected some embarrassing mistakes. (I twice mixed up "complimentary" and "complementary," for instance. Ouch,)

You may remember that last May I posted a page of the book with my marked-up corrections to show how the revision process works ... at least for me.

Well, here's that same passage after being returned by Penn State's manuscript editor, and I'm still making revisions.

All of you aspiring writers of books, blogs and poems on the walls of Turnpike rest rooms: Revise, revise, revise. Never let your first draft be your only draft.

. . .

On a Related Note: The Daily News is running a lot of letters-to-the-editor lately submitted by out-of-town writers, and which focus on national issues. Most of those letters are being churned out indiscriminately to newspapers across the country by so-called "astroturf" PR campaigns.

The letters to the editor basket at any newspaper gets a wee bit thin at times, so I'm calling on all readers of the Almanac to do their part.

Take time today to write a letter to the editor of the Daily News on some local issue. The address is Letters to the Editor, The Daily News, Box 128, Our Fair City, Pa. 15134, or

Please, don't make Craig Galik of Duquesne, Ray Figola of Liberty, Eddie Stanko of North Versailles, and Oren M. Spiegler of Upper St. Clair do all the work.

Let's all strike a blow for more variety in letters-to-the-editor of the Daily News.

(The preceding was a public-service message paid for by the Philanthropic Council to Make Things Nicer.)

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February 08, 2008 | Link to this story

You Oughta Be In Pictures

Category: General Nonsense, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

A reliable source tells Tube City Almanac that the upcoming film The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron, will be shooting some scenes in Braddock at an abandoned car dealership.

The Road is based on Cormac McCarthy's best-selling novel of the same name and is set to begin filming around Pittsburgh later this month. (PittGirl has information for people who want to work as extras.)

According to Reuters, the film is being co-produced by Mt. Lebanon native and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

. . .

A review at describes The Road's setting as "a post-apocalyptic blight of gray skies that drizzle ash, a world in which all matter of wildlife is extinct, starvation is not only prevalent but nearly all-encompassing, and marauding bands of cannibals roam the environment with pieces of human flesh stuck between their teeth."

Naturally, after reading that description, the producers thought the perfect place to film was in the Mon Valley. (Rimshot.)

But you horndogs can put your tongues back in your mouth. I am told that Charlize probably won't be in Braddock (although ladies, listen up: apparently Viggo Mortensen might be).

Hmmpfh. What does Viggo Mortensen have that I don't have? (OK, don't answer that.)

. . .

Speaking of Braddock: Did you know that Lauren Tewes, who played "Julie," the cruise director on The Love Boat, is from Braddock?

Wow. There will be a slight pause while you say, "Who cares?"

. . .

In Other Turtle Creek Valley Film News: Kevin Smith is filming his new movie in Monroeville, including some scenes at Monroeville Mall, but as Zandy Dudiak points out in the Woodland Progress, not all of us were getting with the program:

While they may have some name recognition among mall rats and clerks --- at least younger ones --- Smith and the film's stars, Seth Rogen of "Knocked Up" fame and Elizabeth Banks of "Scrubs," still aren't well known among the older crowd.

(Editor's note: They would have recognized a real celebrity, like Ken Rice.)

"They're shooting a movie that's coming out next Christmas," Lunney says, unaware of the film's somewhat-irreverent title, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

It sounds like fine Christmas viewing to me. After all, how many times can you watch Miracle on 34th Street?

It's the second movie Smith has filmed in the Mon-Yough area; as you may remember, many scenes from Dogma were shot in and around Our Fair City.

Kevin, bubbeleh, if you need a balding, 30-something yinzer, just call me; we'll do lunch at Tillie's.

(More semi-official Kevin Smith news here.)

. . .

More Theater News: According to a story in last night's Daily News by Bonnijean Adams (no link online), CCAC South Campus is receiving complaints over its decision to stage The Vagina Monologues this weekend.

Easily offended Mon Valley residents are objecting; they don't like seeing "that word" on the CCAC marquee along Clairton Road.

You know which word. ("Monologues.")

No, no, that's not the word they're worried about. But it's worth noting that Wilson Christian Academy is almost next door to CCAC South, so I guess a lot of parents are driving past the sign.

Maybe CCAC could change the play's advertising based on callers' suggestions. They could bill it as "The Your Dirty, Sinful, Lady-Parts Monologues." (Rimshot.)

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Heritage Center celebrates Black History Month with a free presentation of York on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Join actor and scriptwriter Gregory Gibson Kenney of Educate Us Productions as he portrays York, the only African American on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Performed at the heritage center located in Renziehausen Park, the dramatic 30-minute monologue will be followed by a 15-minute question and answer period. The program is open to the public but space is limited so plan to come early. Light refreshments will be served.

Kenny, who trained with the Pittsburgh Playhouse in association with Point Park University, has appeared in numerous theatrical productions, commercials, and feature films. His company, Educate Us Productions, strives to educate each audience in history through theater while showcasing the lives of historical figures as they face trials, goals, triumphs and achievements. Call (412) 678-1832.

Meanwhile, CCAC South Theater, 1750 Clairton Road, West Mifflin, presents The Your Dirty, Sinful, Lady-Parts Monologues The Vagina Monologues today and tomorrow. Call (412) 469-6219 for tickets and showtimes.

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February 07, 2008 | Link to this story

Picture This

Category: General Nonsense, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

I finally replaced the photo on the Tube City Online homepage with something a bit more suitable to the season.

Since it's been kind of a mild winter, there haven't been too many opportunities to shoot local scenes in snow. All of these pictures are from last year.

Here's Our Fair City, shot from Port Vue.

(c) 2008 Jason Togyer / Tube City Online

The W.D. Mansfield Bridge, lower 10th Ward and Glassport, seen from Skyline Drive in West Mifflin.

By the way, I stood up there for 20 minutes last winter, holding a long, 300-mm lens and freezing my butt off as I watched this towboat.

And I'd like to thank the jerk who blew his horn as he drove past, trying to spoil the picture. I hope he hits a pothole while he's picking his nose.

(c) 2008 Jason Togyer / Tube City Online

Finally, here's Third Ward and the Youghiogheny River. That stuff floating on the water is ice, not sewage (no thanks to the Elizabeth Township Sanitary Authority).

(c) 2008 Jason Togyer / Tube City Online

. . .

Business News: Several people emailed to ask about a real-estate listing in the papers two weeks ago, listing a $2 million transaction on Seventh Avenue, Downtown. (Some of them thought you could buy Downtown for $2 million, which is just mean.)

A little detective work reveals it's the state Department of Public Welfare office on Sixth Avenue. The front entrance of that building, and the parking lot, are both on Sixth, across from the parking garage, but it's all part of a larger parcel that goes through to Seventh Avenue, according to the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds, and that's how they've listed the property.

The seller was local businessman David Sunstein, president and CEO of city-based Pennsylvania Coach Lines, while the buyer was a New Jersey-based real estate partnership called "220 South 6th Street LP." Sale price was $2.2 million.

State agencies in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware have no listing for a limited partnership called "220 South 6th Street," and the address that the county lists for tax bills is that of a mortgage broker in Howell, N.J., which doesn't tell me much.

. . .

Radio Killed the Website Star: On a local message board, an alert reader suggests that Tube City Online should take over WPTT (1360), at least at night, to talk about McKeesport.

First, thanks for the nice words, reader, but make sure you spell my name right. This is a toyger. It has more hair than I do. It's also cleaner. Those are the main differences.

Second, I'm part of a group that wants to create a local, Mon Valley-oriented public radio station. If someone from WPTT wanted to talk to us, we'd sure talk to them. But I don't think they'd realistically be interested.

In the past, we approached two commercial radio station owners about buying or leasing their stations; the amounts of money they wanted for even struggling AM stations would blow your mind (think high six figures) and weren't realistic.

That's why we'd like to go the LPFM route. Now, since Penn State Greater Allegheny also would like an LPFM, we've asked them twice over the past year if we can help them in any way, by raising money, organizing volunteers, etc.

So far, Penn State has not responded, but we're still open to a partnership. (If someone from PSGA wants to get in touch with me, my email is j togyer at g mail dot com.)

Anyway, I appreciate the mention, but I think there's a better chance of Terry Lee coming back to do overnights on 1360 than me.

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February 06, 2008 | Link to this story

It's in the Bag

Category: General Nonsense, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Alert Reader Tim sends along this link to a classified ad on Craig's List. It's a genuine matched set of what older McKeesporters know as "hunky suitcases":

"And this guy has NINE of them," Tim says. "And he's lookin' to turn a profit. Crazy like a ... ?"

Well, nine bucks is a bit much. But I'd pay $5 for a Balsamo's bag. Heck, I bought an Immel's bag recently at an antiques store (I think I paid $3).

Over the past three years, I've bought Lord-knows-how-much G.C. Murphy Co. "private label" stuff at flea markets and thrift stores and over eBay --- for research purposes, but still.

By the way, does anyone need yarn? I've bought more than a dozen never-used skeins of "Murphy's Mart"-branded Wintuk yarn. There must be miles of that stuff left in Western Pennsylvania; you'd have thought Murphy's was a yarn store.

Come to think of it, is yarn tax-deductible as a business expense? I bought it because I was writing the book, after all. Do we have any lawyers out there?

. . .

Speaking of Balsamo's: The Daily News is running a trivia contest. Every week they're going to print a different archival photo in the paper; readers have to guess the location and return the coupon by Friday to be entered in a prize drawing.

The first photo ran last night on page 14. I didn't want to be a party-pooper, but I can't resist showing off, so I'm going to give you the answer. If you want to be a big cheater, hold up a mirror to this image, and you'll get the answer:

. . .

Also in the News:

  • Versailles officials are asking Allegheny County to reassess homes because of the methane problems in the borough, according to Michael Divittorio. This might be the first time in Pennsylvania history that a borough has asked the county to lower the taxable value of properties; I'm sure half the McKeesport Area School Board fainted when they read that.

  • Pat Cloonan reports that the West-to-West Coalition is calling for small, vacant parcels along Braddock Avenue in Braddock to be merged into larger parcels so that they're easier to market to developers. That's such an obviously good idea that I sprained my wrist slapping my forehead.

  • And Raymond Pefferman writes that one of the members of the North Huntingdon planning commission is calling for better mass transit in Westmoreland County to alleviate traffic problems on Route 30. Maybe Westmoreland County can institute a liquor tax to pay for it.

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February 05, 2008 | Link to this story

Sleep Easy, Western Pennsylvania

Category: Good Government On The March, General Nonsense, Mon Valley Miscellany, Pointless Digressions || By

Cluttered items from an empty mind:

. . .

Law & Order, Part I: U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has created a task force to investigate people who lie on their mortgage applications, according to the Tribune-Review and Post-Gazette.

Buchanan's task-force, composed of agents from the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, state Attorney General's Office, and the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office, is targeting people who claim more income than they actually have; some of them borrow money to make temporary increases to their bank account balances before completing their mortgage applications.

Those scoundrels!

"This is a very serious criminal activity we're facing here in Western Pennsylvania," Buchanan said at a press conference. "Unfortunately, we know that this is just the beginning of many of the cases that we're looking at very closely."

In a region where rival drug dealers are gunning down 12-year-old girls, it's nice to know that Buchanan has finally zeroed in on "very serious criminal activity" --- namely, big, mean borrowers beating up on poor, defenseless banks.

. . .

In a Related Story: You may recall that Buchanan's diligence also got that notorious hardened fugitive, Tommy Chong, locked up for selling marijuana paraphernalia.

(Note: The federal government couldn't foresee the collapse of Enron or Worldcom, can't seem to rein the deficit back, can't fix the problems in the VA Medical Centers and can't find Osama Bin Laden, but by golly, if you're a washed-up '70s comedian peddling bongs, you're going to jail.)

Unfortunately, due (no doubt) to liberal judges and prosecutors, Chong is out of prison, and according to The Onion's "AV Club" he's written a new book.

He's written a book?! Is there no end to this fiend's diabolical schemes?

. . .

Law & Order, Part II: Not to be outdone by Buchanan, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. has formed his own task force to crack down on illegal video poker, blackjack and slot machines in local bars and taverns.

According to the P-G, the new effort will be funded by a $500,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

In a city where a councilwoman can defraud the government of $44,000 right under the noses of her colleagues and the region's highest-ranking law enforcement officials, it's nice to see Zappala going after real criminals --- namely, little old ladies playing video poker at the neighborhood beer garden.

. . .

Incidentally: The state Gaming Control Board is the same entity that licenses those giant slot-machine parlors.

But it's funding efforts to crack down on other slot-machine parlors.

Remember that old bumper sticker that said, "Don't steal --- the government hates competition"?

. . .

In a Similar Vein: I was telling a cow-orker the other day about the old days of the state store system.

I can remember visiting the state store on Washington Boulevard in Port Vue, for instance, when all of the liquor was behind the counter, with one bottle of each variety arrayed on a shelf behind the clerk. Mom and dad picked what they wanted from a printed price list, and the clerk went back and fetched it.

"Sure, grandpa," my friends said, "tell us another story."

And then along came Steve Twedt's magnum opus in the Post-Gazette unraveling the byzantine glories of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board --- and right in the first story, bam!:

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, formed after Prohibition under temperance-minded Gov. Gifford Pinchot, marks its 75th anniversary in 2008.

State stores once were user-unfriendly places where a clerk behind a counter fetched wines for customers who had to make their selections off a list.

I don't actually mind shopping in the state store. I have found the clerks helpful and the selection reasonably broad, and yes, I have visited liquor stores in other states, so I do have a basis for comparison.

But then again, I'm not a restaurant owner who has to jump through hoops every time I deal with the PLCB, nor am I a wine buff frustrated by the stale, limited inventory.

I can't think of one good reason why the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is in the retail liquor business. Can you?

. . .

WIXZ-Land Weather: If it rains as much today as the National Weather Service says it's going to, I predict the intersection of Walnut Street and Eden Park Boulevard will flood.

I also predict there will be standing water on Route 48 between Walnut Street and Ripple Road.

Walnut Street, of course, is a state highway (Route 148 ... you can look it up).

Maybe instead of the 18 percent "Johnstown Flood Tax" that the Liquor Control Board has levied on bottles of hooch since 1936, the state could institute a "McKeesport Flood Tax" and improve the damned drainage on two of our main arteries. I'm just sayin'.

. . .

And Finally: Speaking of highways, the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat describes the Mon-Fayette Expressway (aka "The Mo-Fo Excessway") as a massive, taxpayer-funded bowel movement. As long as you're not easily offended, make sure you read it.

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February 04, 2008 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: History, Politics || By

Today's the birthday of one of the Mon Valley's most famous natives.

Ninety years ago today, Mr. and Mrs. Chedwick of Homestead, Pa., celebrated the birth of a baby boy they named George Jacob Chedwick.

But his mom called him "Porky."

You can read Ed Weigle's 2001 tribute at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online, and make sure to view Dave Crawley's story from KDKA-TV.

. . .

In Other Business: Jack Bogut of WJAS (1320) notes that tomorrow is Mardi Gras and "Super Tuesday." "Let's all get drunk and choose the next president!" he says.

Has he looked at the candidates? If that doesn't drive you to drink, nothing will.

. . .

Speaking of Politics: Ken Ruffing has announced that he's going to challenge state Sen. Jay Costa Jr. in the Democratic primary.

You'll remember Ruffing as the former state representative from West Mifflin who lost his re-election bid to current state Rep. Bill Kortz.

Ruffing was one of the legislators who voted for the controversial state legislative pay raise, later overturned. But Ruffing refused to give back his raise, saying he had "donated it to charity."

The charity turned out to be his son's school, and the donation turned out to be his son's tuition.

After the primary defeat, Ruffing was accused of backing into a parked car at a church festival and driving away. When Munhall police caught up with him, they accused him of driving with a blood-alcohol level four times the state's limit for intoxication. Ruffing was charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident.

I'm no big fan of Costa, who also voted for the pay raise (you might remember the sarcastic letter I sent him, and his response) but unlike Ruffing, at least he had the courage to admit he'd made a mistake by voting for the pay raise, and he apologized. (It's between him and his conscience to determine if the apology was sincere.)

We're still waiting to see some contrition from Ruffing, who last week told Pat Cloonan and Michael Divittorio of the Daily News that he's running for Costa's seat because he wants to see change in Harrisburg.

We all want to see change in Harrisburg, but Ruffing's record makes unlikely that he's the one who can deliver that change.

Maybe this is the year that Mon Valley Republicans put up a viable candidate for Costa's seat --- and one who's not an ultraconservative religious whack-job in the Peg Luksik/Pat Toomey mold.

Otherwise, I don't know if I want to vote for Costa, but Ruffing doesn't offer much of an alternative.

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February 02, 2008 | Link to this story

Groundhog Day

Category: So-Called Radio Humor || By

It's funny, but whether I'm on AM at 620 or FM at 88.3, I'm always at the low end of the dial.

I'm in the shallow end of the gene pool, too.

Here's a clip from today. "Enjoy."

Groundhog Day interview, WRCT, Feb. 2, 2008 (MP3, 3.9 MB)

. . .

By the Way: That's a close-up of the dial on my circa 1967 Scott Stereomaster 382-8, which is my workaday stereo at home. I've got a Panasonic DVD player and some other gear connected, and it will do whatever I want, including play MP3s.

Here's a consumer tip for you: If you're looking for a really sweet-sounding stereo set-up at a low price, bypass the overpriced, plastic "home theater" stuff at Best Buy and Circuit City, and scour the thrift stores and flea-market for vintage gear. I bought a nice 1960s H.H. Scott tuner-amplifier years ago at Eastland Mall's flea market, and it turned me onto the bargains available in vintage audio iron.

I'm not talking about the real "high end" vacuum tube powered stuff for which golden-ears audiophiles pay hundreds of dollars. I'm talking solid-state, American-, German- and Japanese-made hi-fi equipment that you can usually get for $20 or less.

Buying mid-1960s and early 1970s Scott, Fisher, Marantz, Rotel and Pioneer hi-fi equipment (in working order) will give you a high-quality, easy-to-use sounding stereo system for not a lot of bucks. Some of the early '60s Magnavox stuff is nice, too. (Avoid 1960s and '70s consumer-grade hi-fi equipment, like RCA, Zenith, Westinghouse, GE, Emerson, etc.)

Of course, by buying vintage stuff, you lose out on features like remote control and digital tuning. But you gain AM and FM tuners that sound better than most modern stereos, along with extremely simple controls.

Plus, most of the brands that were considered "high end" in their day will support things like multiple sets of speakers and inputs, just like the expensive new stuff, so you can easily connect CD or DVD players or a TV with audio output.

If you can repair minor electrical problems, you're in excellent shape, because these beasties rarely need more than a thorough cleaning and maybe the replacement of a capacitor or a solder joint. Otherwise, there are plenty of people on the Internet who work on vintage stereo equipment; some better TV-radio repair shops will even take a shot at it. It's not terribly complicated to repair (though admittedly, some parts are becoming difficult to find, especially certain transistors).

Wow, was that geeky enough for you? I think I better quit while I'm ahead.

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Filed Under: So-Called Radio Humor | four comments | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites


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