Filed Under: Cartoons || By
Category: Cartoons || By
Category: Events, History, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
I wasn't able to attend this week's hearing on the city's proposal to demolish several buildings --- including the Penn-McKee Hotel and the old Eagles lodge --- but from talking to witnesses, it sounds like things were pretty contentious regarding the latter building.
My sources tell the Almanac that Henry Russell Jr. of MHI Inc., the listed owner of the Eagles since 1991, and city solicitor Jason Elash exchanged sharp words over the building's condition.
Maryann Huk of the McKeesport Preservation Society reportedly testified that she has nominated both structures for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, but no property owner testified on behalf of the Penn-McKee.
Meanwhile, someone recently accused me of being "unsympathetic" to preservation efforts in the city.
If you've been reading the Almanac for a while, you know that I am absolutely unsympathetic to anyone who wants to preserve McKeesport history. I also foreclose on orphanages and tie widows to train tracks while twirling the ends of my mustache and cackling.
No, gentle reader, I am not unsympathetic, but I'm also not an idiot. Everyone wants to preserve the Hitzrot house and the Penn-McKee, but none of the responsible parties have made any tangible moves.
City council still has to vote on whether to demolish these buildings, possibly at its meeting next Wednesday. Then the contracts will have to go to bid.
That means that the clock is running, but time hasn't run out.
If the people who want to save these structures are serious, they will immediately start raising money, hire engineering and legal help, and apply for the appropriate permits.
Or, they will turn the buildings over to someone who can afford to save them, and who is willing to jump through the proper legal hoops.
But if they fail to act, and the buildings fall down or are demolished, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
. . .
Meanwhile: The Italian millionaire who owns St. Stephen's Hungarian Church on Beacon Street is in jail.
As the Almanac reported last July, St. Stephen's and several other Catholic churches in the Diocese of Pittsburgh were sold to a company controlled by Raffaello Follieri, a playboy whose family has close ties to the Vatican.
Well, federal officials in New York arrested Follieri on Tuesday and charged him with fraud and money laundering.
In other words, another historic building in McKeesport is apparently owned by someone with no means of repairing or marketing it.
That's just swell.
How long before St. Stephen's falls into disrepair, and the city starts making plans to demolish it? I say two years.
. . .
To Do This Weekend: Amateur radio operators from around the world will participating in annual "Field Day" exercises, including members of the city's Two Rivers Amateur Radio Club. They'll be up along Carpenter Lane in White Oak Park, near the water tower.
McKees Point Marina, Water Street at Fifth Avenue, will host a free concert by the classic rock/country group Steeltown from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday. All ages are welcome; organizers recommend bringing a blanket or lawn chair. Call (412) 678-6979 for more information.
Chuck Blasko's Vogues will perform at the Renziehausen Park bandshell at 7 p.m. Sunday as part of the city's free summer concert series. Call (412) 675-5068.
Finally, Animal Friends hosts a rabies clinic for dogs and cats three months of age and older at city Fire Station No. 2, Eden Park Boulevard, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. Cost is $10; all dogs must be on leashes, and cats in carriers. Call (412) 847-7076.
Category: Pointless Digressions || By
Category: Local Businesses, News || By
A New York City couple making their first venture into commercial real estate has purchased one of the city's best-known landmarks.
Lin and Lily Lum of Brooklyn have purchased the former People's Union Bank Building, Downtown, from the mortgage company that foreclosed on the property earlier this year.
Terms of the sale were not disclosed, though the 102-year-old skyscraper now known as The People's Building was expected to sell for more than $400,000.
The Lums, who both hold engineering degrees from SUNY-Stony Brook, also own two brownstone townhouses in Brooklyn, according to New York City deed records.
But this is the couple's first foray into owning a commercial property, and their first purchase outside of New York.
Naturalized U.S. citizens, the Lums are natives of Guangdong (formerly Canton) province, China. Lily Lum works for New York City's Health & Hospitals Corporation, while Lin Lum is a computer programmer for a major investment bank.
Reached by phone at her New York office this week, Lily Lum told the Almanac she and her husband were looking for an investment opportunity when they saw the People's Building listed on the Internet.
"We didn't know anything about the building," she said. "It was a surprise. It had a wonderful history. We liked the history of it."
For most of its history, the building's upper floors were home to doctors, lawyers and other professionals. The Lums would like to attract the same kind of tenants; Lily Lum said she doesn't want to rent the building to just anyone.
The local property manager hired by the mortgage company has been retained and will stay on-site, Lum said.
It's not the first building Downtown to be sold to an East Coast investor. The building at 224 Fifth Ave. that once housed Byer's Children's Shop and Gala Jewelers was purchased several years ago by a Connecticut man.
Lum said the couple's first tasks will be to repair the damaged sidewalk along Walnut Street, wash the exterior of the first and second floors, repair the hot and cold water systems inside, and improve air circulation in the mezzanine and old banking hall.
"We are also looking to see if the city can help us --- if there's any way we can cooperate" to find tenants, she said. "Some of the people have already come to talk to us."
Potential tenants interested in renting space in the People's Building should contact Lily Lum at (646) 296-5347, or email@example.com.
Category: Hardscrabble Mon Valley Watch, Mon Valley Miscellany, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
Category: Events, News || By
Category: Events, General Nonsense || By
Alert Reader Jeff wants to know why I haven't mentioned that tomorrow marks the 25th annual Greater Pittsburgh Soap Box Derby on Eden Park Boulevard.
Well, there's a very simple and logical explanation.
And just as soon as I think of it, I'll let you know.
The soap box derby gets underway at 9 a.m. tomorrow, and the finish line is near the "Voke." Expect traffic disruptions around Renzie Park for most of the morning.
As my former cow-orker and fellow Serra grad Brian Krasman noted a few years ago in the News, the city's soap box derby actually dates back to 1956, and it continued for the next 16 years under the sponsorship of Deveraux Chevrolet.
("Devie," incidentally, was originally located on Sixth Avenue Downtown, in the building currently used by Tube City Appliances, before it moved out to Eden Park Boulevard, in the showroom recently vacated by Tri-Star Ford.)
The derby is open to kids ages 8 to 17, and you can find a list of this year's contestants online.
. . .
Now, appropos of nothing, we bring you Joe Cocker singing "A Little Help From My Friends," with the lyrics helpfully annotated underneath. It might just be the highlight of your weekend.
(Tip o' the Tube City Hard Hat: Mark Evanier.)
And after you're done watching that, go watch this, and you will never be able to take Joe Cocker seriously, ever again.
Assuming you took him seriously in the first place, that is.
Category: General Nonsense, Pointless Digressions, Wild World of Sports, Radio Geekery || By
ABC Photo Lab just processed several rolls of film from my trip to Dayton last month (yes, I am a relic), which reminds me that while I was in Ohio, I got to see a baseball game at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park.
That's right: I have yet to set foot in PNC Park, but I have seen Cinci's. You may recall that I've also seen the Slippery Rock Sliders and I've seen the Washington Wild Things at least three times. Good Lord willing, I'll get to see the Altoona Curve this summer.
It's not that I don't like professional baseball. I love baseball. (Can't play it worth a darn. My lifetime batting average in the Liberty Borough Athletic Association was something like .002, and that's only because they don't assign negative numbers.)
But I'll be damned before I'll shell out $30, including parking and tickets, to watch the Pirates slide to the bottom of the standings every year. So I haven't seen a Pirates game in person since Three Rivers Stadium was torn down, and I haven't bought a single item of Pirates merchandise.
C'mon, they blew a six-run lead yesterday. They lost by double digits on Tuesday.
There's such a thing as rooting for your home team even when they're losing. After all, I'm a Serra High graduate. The whole concept of "winning games," let alone competing in playoffs, is still a novelty to most of our alumni.
Frankly, you should root for your home team when they're trying their best, but failing. But the Pirates aren't trying. Or, more specifically, the Pirates' ownership isn't trying.
You may wonder how the Nutting family sleeps at night. I say, "On a big pile of money."
They're pocketing money from the fans and the taxpayers, paying lip service to the idea of being competitive, and laughing all the way back to West Virginia, where they invest the profits in a chain of mediocre newspapers and contribute money to things like the "Oliver North for U.S. Senate Committee."
It's been 15 consecutive losing seasons, and they're working hard on No. 16, which would tie the all-time record by any professional sports team ... if you still consider what the Pirates are playing "professional" baseball.
The "P" on the caps doesn't stand for "Pittsburgh." It stands for "Painful," "Pitiful," or maybe just "Pathetic."
Give your money to the Nuttings. As for me, I'll drive to Altoona to see a baseball game, even with gas at four bucks a gallon.
Yeah, I'd almost rather see the sheiks of Saudi Arabia profit than the owners of the Pirates.
. . .
'This is Real ... This is 'Night Watch'': Last night, I was listening to a 1950s police detective interrogate a suspect caught with marijuana seeds and stems.
"How many roaches did you smoke?" he says. "Where do you usually go to get a blast?"
The dialogue could have come straight from Jack Webb and Dragnet, but this was a real detective in the Culver City, Calif., police department, who was recorded as part of a short-lived CBS Radio documentary series called "Night Watch."
The folks at First Generation Radio Archives have unearthed 20 rare episodes of the show and restored the audio.
Beginning in 1954, the Culver City police allowed a sound technician to ride along with an unmarked squad car and record their cases for later broadcast. If that sounds a little bit like the 1950s equivalent of "Cops," you're right.
But consider the difficulty of doing a show like this in the 1950s. The smallest portable tape recorders were the size of a suitcase; the engineer on "Night Watch," "police recorder" Don Reed, hid the microphone inside a flashlight casing.
I've uploaded the July 31, 1954 episode, "Boy, Go Home." It's 4.5 MB, even as an 8KHz MP3. I hope FGRA will forgive me; I wanted you to hear this thing as an enticement to buy the CDs.
It's not slam-bang exciting, but it is compelling.
It's also a little bit depressing. The calls you hear will be familiar to anyone who's a police officer today. There's a child neglect case, a battered woman who refuses to press charges against her spouse, and another battered woman who sets fire to her home to punish her husband.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
In the interest of fairness, I want to point out that an Alert Reader identifying himself only as "a concerned citizen of McKeesport" has posted a link to what he calls "videos of the first steps in the illegal taking and destruction of the Historic Hitzrot House in McKeesport, Pa."
You can go read my entire response if you want to, but I'll summarize it: Bull.
The present owners of the Hitzrot House have owned it since 1991, according to the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds:
Category: Local Businesses, News || By
Category: Events || By
With gas prices above $4 a gallon in most of the Mon-Yough area, there's no better time to look for low-bucks entertainment that's not too far to drive.
So there's no better time for the annual McKeesport City Fair, which kicks off at 6 tonight at Helen Richey Field in Renziehausen Park along Eden Park Boulevard.
It's the seventh year for the five day celebration of the start of summer. Events continue nightly from 6 to 11 p.m. and wrap up Saturday, naturally, with fireworks (after all, we are in western Pennsylvania).
Admission and parking are free.
According to Patti Bosnak, vice president of the city Recreation Board, more than a dozen rides will be operated by LAM Enterprises, owned by Lloyd Serfas of Greenock, Elizabeth Township.
"They try to have something different every year," Bosnak says.
Ride-all-night price is $12 per person, per evening, she says. Games and souvenir stands will also be manned.
Food will include traditional treats such as funnel cake, cotton candy, french fries with toppings, corn dogs and fresh lemonade. In addition, local restaurants will also have booths at the fair; Mama Pepino's will be selling pizza and gyros, Farmer's Pride Poultry will have chicken-on-a-stick, halushki, hot dogs and hot sausage, and Dell's Dessert Hut will have ice cream.
The city Recreation Board has tried to fill some of the void left when the Mon-Yough Riverfront Entertainment Committee, or MYREC, disbanded several years ago.
Besides Bosnak, members include president Ron Melocchi, Jennifer Shields, Tammy Toth, Cheryl Cotter, Cyndi James and Chuck Jarrell.
Board members coordinate fair activities with city Parks and Recreation Director Jim Brown, Bosnak says.
. . .
Good Neighbor Day: The city fair isn't the only event underway in the city this week. The annual "Good Neighbor Day" celebration will be underway tomorrow on Fifth Avenue, Downtown, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Owners of local businesses and representatives from local non-profit agencies will be on hand with free giveaways and to answer questions.
. . .
Category: Events, History || By
Have you read enough about the old Eagles lodge on Market Street? Well, tough.
The city's best historian, John Barna, notes that the Fraternal Order of Eagles didn't buy the building until 1911, and that it was built as the home of Dr. Henry W. Hitzrot in 1892.
He also sent along this photo of Dr. Hitzrot and another picture showing the house "in its heyday."
"What the hell is a heyday any how?" John wants to know. "I can't remember if I ever had one!"
I don't know what a heyday is either, and I don't think I've ever had one. But if they need oil to make them, then I'm sure the price of heydays has gone up.
. . .
Speaking of inflation, John also dug up an article from the Nov. 7, 1892, issue of the Daily News, which calls the Hitzrot mansion "one of the finest homes in Pennsylvania" and says that construction cost $50,000 --- that's better than $1.1 million by current standards.
"The most pleasing feature of this splendid edifice is that nearly all the work was done by McKeesporters, and the majority of the materials are of home make, reflecting the highest credit on local builders," noted the unnamed writer, who went on to describe the interior in detail:
Passing through the wide, deep doorway, the visitor enters the reception hall; on the right is a large stone fireplace, extending to the ceiling, and built from an Egyptian design.
The staircase is wide, is of easy ascent and splendidly carved. A silver chandelier diffuses a subdued light, and the room is decorated with works of art, paintings and statuary, and the walls in this as in the other apartments, are covered with leather of exquisite design and of a different shade in each room.
To the left is a parlor, furnished in white and gold, light shades predominate and the decorations are simple, yet elegant. Back of this is the drawing room.
The dining room is finished in hard wood, beautiful china closets, large plate glass mirrors; a rich chandelier adorns the centre, and appropriate works of art are found on the walls.
On the second floor are bedrooms and Mrs. Hitzrot's boudoir or sewing room. The bath room is simply elegant, tiled floor and walls, silver fittings, and decorated in a rich manner. The furnishings of the apartments on the second floor are in harmony with the luxury that is found on the first floor.
One is impressed with the large number of small closets, drawers in all parts of the house to store clothes, household utensils and food products, making even the kitchen and basement present a neat appearance.
The heating apparatus is most complete. Pure air is secured from the outside of the house, heated in the furnace and then distributed through the building. The ventilation for sanitary arrangements are very complete, and the pure air found in the house is very noticeable. All water passes through a large filter in the basement, which renders it quite pure.
Category: Mon Valley Miscellany, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
First things first. I was quoted last night in a Daily News editorial about WEDO (810). It's the second time I've been mentioned in the News in a week.
Both times, they used my middle initial, "P," which I've never used in my entire life.
I don't really mind, but I'm not sure why they're using it.
Personally, I've always thought it's a little silly to use your middle initial unless there's a chance you're going to be confused with someone else ("Joe L. Brown" vs. "Joe E. Brown").
And in case you're wondering, the "P" stands for "Pennypacker."
. . .
Category: News || By
Category: So-Called Radio Humor || By
Gee, things have been so serious around here lately, it seems like it's time to lighten things up with a little humor.
But instead, I'll pass along some content from my lousy radio show.
Incidentally, I unearthed the ad at right (from 1972) while getting ready to do the story a few days ago about the motorcycle blessing at St. Stephen's Church. Don't try looking for the Harley dealership; it's long gone.
I don't remember it at all, and my best guesstimate is that the dealership was located at the city side of the old 15th Avenue Bridge. I seem to recall a used car dealership there in the 1980s.
I also don't think this dealer was related to Heritage Harley-Davidson, which was on Lysle Boulevard (in the former Leonatti Bros. Honda dealership) before moving up to West Mifflin. Your clarifications are much appreciated.
And now, without further adieu:
Category: Local Businesses, News || By
If you've been Downtown on Walnut Street, you've probably noticed Voice of Vision Outreach Ministries' used furniture store in the building that previously housed Progressive Music Co. (and many years before that, Baehr Brothers Studebaker).
It's a bargain-hunter's paradise inside, with two floors of antique and not-so-antique furniture, including dressers, dining-room sets, coffee and end tables, chairs, sofas and beds.
Business is good enough that the Voice of Vision store is about to begin warehousing some of its overstock in a building near UPMC McKeesport hospital.
That sparked a debate at city council last week over whether the ministry, which is a registered tax-deductible charity, is abusing its status at the expense of for-profit businesses.
"There's no way they conform with zoning regulations," Councilman Darryl Segina alleged, asking whether the store's presence Downtown hurt R & J Furniture, which closed its store at Sixth and Market streets a few years ago.
"We should know if this business is registered in the city, we should know if their taxes are being paid," Segina said. "These are legitimate questions that should be answered."
. . .
At issue was Voice of Vision's request for a zoning variance to use a vacant two-story building at 1502 Lysle Blvd. to store excess furniture.
State and county records indicate that the building is owned by the same Elizabeth Township family that also owns the building where Barrier Protection Services and Cornerstone Day Care are located --- the former Schulhof Tire store at Lysle and Locust.
Council approved the variance by a 5-1 vote (with Segina dissenting and Councilwoman Loretta Diggs absent due to illness), but only after Council President Regis McLaughlin directed Solicitor Jason Elash to find out if Voice of Vision was complying with city fire codes and tax ordinances.
Sheryl Cross, an administrative assistant to Voice of Vision founder the Rev. Dr. Calvin Green, said after the meeting that she's been working with the ministry for about six months to straighten out bookkeeping problems and make sure the organization is complying with local, state and federal regulations.
"Rev. Green was reluctant to turn over some of the information at times," Cross said.
But she added that the pastor is not trying to evade any laws or hurt any for-profit businesses.
Cross said Green has been hurt in the past by volunteers who offered to "help" at the store, only to "help" themselves to money or merchandise. "He wants to be 'submissive to authority,'" she said, in line with Jesus' admonition that his followers "render unto Caesar" taxes and follow the law.
Segina was quick to add that "there is no question" about Green's character, and that his concerns only involved the store, which is operated under a separate corporate charter from the neighboring Voice of Vision Outreach church.
. . .
Besides direct sales to the public, Cross said the store donates used furniture or sells it at below-market rates to low-income families or people recovering from floods and fires.
Proceeds from the store support Voice of Vision Outreach and are used to fund programs administered by other community organizations and overseen by the state Department of Public Welfare, Allegheny County and other agencies, Cross said.
The store currently has two paid employees, and she said they are paying wage taxes, though according to city officials it is exempt from mercantile tax.
Mayor Jim Brewster defended Green. "He's a good man, and I think in the past some of the dotting of the 'I's' and crossing of the 'T's' hasn't happened," he said.
Category: News || By
On June 4, the Almanac noted --- as police and the media were reporting --- that a city man had been accused and charged in connection with a shooting at Nigro's Restaurant in North Versailles Township.
As an Almanac reader has correctly pointed out, four of the five victims of that shooting testified at a preliminary hearing that the man charged, Tyrone Watson, did not shoot them.
"One hundred percent -- Mr. Watson is not the person who shot me," former Steelers defensive back Russell Stuvaints testified, according to the Tribune-Review. "I feel bad he was framed."
"Why would someone who was shot come in and say (Watson) didn't do it?" Stuvaints asked, according to WPXI-TV.
As of the last published reports, the county had not dropped the charges, but in light of the testimony of the four victims, the Almanac sincerely apologizes for repeating any incorrect information. My intention was to talk about gun violence, not to spread rumors.
My policy is to correct any errors as soon as I'm told about them. The June 4 entry at the Almanac has been updated with the new information.
In the meantime, something is seriously wrong with that case. Justice needs to be done for both the people who were shot --- and the man who was accused.
Category: History, The Blacktop Jungle || By
Category: News || By
At right, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers welder Jim Connelly and maintenance worker Lee Barnhart remove concrete around one of the turnbuckles at the Braddock Locks and Dam.
The Corps temporarily closed the main lock chamber at the Braddock dam on May 30 after inspection crews discovered a crack in part of a hinge on the main gate.
A smaller lock remained open while repairs were made. The work was completed last Sunday.
Located 11 miles south of Pittsburgh, the Braddock Locks and Dam ensures year-round commercial shipping on the Monongahela River by maintaining the pool through McKeesport down to the locks and dam at Elizabeth.
The Braddock facility was constructed from 1902-06 and reconstructed in the 1950s. More than 6,200 boats, including 3,800 coal tugs and other commercial boats, pass through the lock each year. A replacement dam is currently being constructed.
. . .
Midtown Tunnel Coming Down: The final remnants of the Midtown Plaza tunnel over Fifth Avenue will be demolished this week.
City Public Works Director Nick Shermenti said Fifth Avenue between Locust and Sinclair streets will be closed until at least Friday --- and possibly until next week --- while several concrete arches are torn down.
The arches once supported a parking deck that crossed Fifth Avenue. Each arch will be cut into five pieces and lowered to the ground, Shermenti said.
The sections each weigh an average of 100 tons, he said.
Removal of the arches will enable the city to begin the long-awaited reconstruction of Fifth Avenue, which will include restoring Downtown's main commercial street to two-way traffic.
In an unrelated story, Shermenti told city council that a contractor this week will start replacing the roof on the former municipal building at 201 Lysle Blvd.
Though the city's administrative offices have moved to the old McKeesport National Bank at Fifth and Sinclair, the 201 Lysle building is still used by the police and fire departments.
City officials say that several organizations have expressed an interest in renting space at 201 Lysle, including the Twin Rivers Council of Governments and the Regional Chamber Alliance, but the poor condition of the roof has been a roadblock to leasing the structure.
. . .
News From Penn State: Two honor students at Penn State's campus in the city --- Erick Froede Jr., an engineering major from Budd Lake, N.J., and Anthony Palocaren Sr., an engineering major from West Mifflin --- are trying to determine how much energy is being lost through the windows of one of the classroom buildings.
Using a thermal camera, the students and engineering instructor Eric Lipsky are measuring heat loss at the Frable Building.
The students hope to provide the university with a cost-benefit analysis of replacing the windows versus continuing to pay the existing heating and cooling bills.
Details are available at Penn State's website.
In other news, the G.C. Murphy Co. Foundation has donated an additional $50,000 to a scholarship fund at the McKeesport-based Greater Allegheny Campus.
The scholarship assists Penn State students who are the descendants of G.C. Murphy Co. employees or who live in communities where the retailer once had stores.
"Thanks to this generous grant, the number of scholarship awards will increase in future," said Pat Quinn Winter, director of development, in a prepared statement. "We're very grateful to the foundation for recognizing the needs of our students."
Finally: Penn State will hold "Kids' College" on the McKeesport campus from July 7 through 18 for local pupils in grades four through eight.
The one-week camps offer activities in areas like robotics, cooking, criminal justice, math, photography and music.
For more information, call (412) 675-9040 or download the brochure (PDF) from the campus' website.
Category: Local Businesses, News || By
The parent company of the Tribune-Review and a string of suburban papers could build a $75 million printing plant in the city.
Several informed sources have told the Almanac that executives from the Tribune-Review Publishing Co., which last year purchased the Daily News, have been scouting locations for a new printing facility.
Both the city and sites near Monroeville have reportedly been under consideration, those sources said.
The proposed plant would replace the presses at the McKeesport paper as well as those at the Valley Independent in Monessen and the Monroeville-based Gateway Newspapers, which include the Norwin Star and Woodland Area Progress.
According to reports, Mayor Jim Brewster also recently gave the Trib's publisher, businessman/philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife, a tour of the city.
Tim Schooley of the Pittsburgh Business Times has confirmed the rumors and put both the Trib and the city on the record.
Trib CEO Ralph Martin tells Schooley the company has maxed out its printing operations and has been forced to turn down commercial printing jobs.
Besides its own newspapers, the company also prints USA Today, the Pittsburgh Catholic, the New Pittsburgh Courier and other publications under contract.
The new facility would consolidate four older plants. No layoffs are expected, Schooley writes; instead, press workers would transfer to the new plant.
Bids from vendors are expected by July, according to the PBT.
Martin tells the Business Times that McKeesport is under consideration because it isn't obstructed by tunnels, and because space is available in the Regional Industrial Development Corp. business park on the former U.S. Steel National Works site.
The Trib's 10-year-old NewsWorks facility, which prints the Pittsburgh edition of the Tribune-Review as well as other publications, is already located in an RIDC industrial park in Marshall Township.
. . .
In Other News: One of the two radio stations licensed to McKeesport is for sale.
Tom Taylor of Radio-Info.com reported this week that WEDO (810) has been listed with a Chicago-based broker, Media Services Group, for $1.75 million.
The station was placed into an irrevocable trust several years ago by its owner, Judith Baron of Florida, who inherited the station from her late husband, Ralph.
Ralph Baron and other investors purchased WEDO in the 1970s from city businessman Ed Hirshberg.
WEDO, which has studios in White Oak and a transmitter in North Versailles Township, is a 1,000-watt daytime-only AM station. It broadcasts a mix of ethnic and religious programs, paid infomercials and nostalgia shows.
The asking price of $1.75 million may be overly optimistic; WEDO has never appeared in the ratings in recent memory.
And as Taylor notes, Baron's decision to sell WEDO comes as the market for radio stations has bottomed out.
With radio audiences declining and fewer than two out of 10 listeners currently using the AM band, the most likely scenario would be for WEDO to be sold to a national religious broadcaster or one of several low-budget "networks" that run schedules of nothing but paid programming.
Such was the fate of the former WLOA (1550), which is licensed to Braddock. After a community development group and two entrepreneurs were unable to make the station a success, it was sold to Greenwich, Conn., based Lifestyle Talk Radio. The network's schedule is heavy with paid programming.
Another station with local ties was sold to an all-Catholic religious broadcasting network; Carnegie-based WZUM (1590), which has a studio on Buttermilk Hollow Road in West Mifflin, experimented with talk and oldies before being taken over by Wisconsin-based Relevant Radio.
The other radio station licensed to McKeesport --- WPTT (1360) --- is owned by Pittsburgh's Renda Broadcasting Corp.
Although it still has a nighttime transmitter site in Lincoln Borough, WPTT's studio is located in Green Tree and the station has a pending application to change its city of license to Mt. Lebanon.
(Editor's Note: Portions of the WEDO story were originally published at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.)
Category: News || By
City officials are considering whether to become the lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the region's largest provider of health insurance.
At last night's council meeting, Mayor Jim Brewster said he also was lobbying state and federal elected officials to investigate whether Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield was guilty of building a surplus far in excess of what non-profit corporations are typically allowed to hold.
"I want to challenge their non-profit status," he said. "I think these gentlemen should be paying taxes to the communities they represent."
The moves come as the city is struggling to cope with a nearly 84 percent increase in health insurance premiums for 80 city hall, public works and administrative employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement with Teamsters Local 205 in White Oak.
The rate hike, first reported in May by the Daily News and the Almanac, would cost the city an additional $620,000 each year.
McKeesport, which currently spends about $2.2 million each year on health insurance for 160 employees, was not the only community whose premiums increased by double-digit percentages. According to a story last week in the Post-Gazette, Highmark increased Brentwood Borough's premiums by 70 percent, or $262,000, and Glassport's by 65 percent.
Brewster, who has adamantly been against seeking assistance for the city under the state's Act 47, warned council that if the $620,000 premium increase is allowed to stand, it could be a "segue" into distressed status.
"You do not have the money to pay this," the mayor said. "You do not have the means to get the money. This is a major problem."
Highmark, which is planning to merge with Philadelphia's Independence Blue Cross, earlier this year reported that its surplus has reached an all-time record high of $3.5 billion.
"We have a non-profit organization that pays no taxes raising your premiums by 83 percent," Brewster said. "I want to challenge their non-profit status."
If the city has too many employees seeking expensive medical treatment, he said, it is open to negotiating with Highmark. "If we have utilization issues, then we deserve to have our premiums increased," Brewster said, "but usually those increases are in the range of five to 10 percent."
As of last night, the mayor claimed, the insurance carrier has refused to speak directly with city officials, choosing instead to deal only with a broker hired by Local 205.
The city has solicited proposals from competing health insurance providers, Brewster said, "but it's real tough to compete when those organizations already know what your bids are."
The mayor was interviewed Monday about the rate increase on KDKA (1020) radio by talk-show host Marty Griffin. A Highmark spokesman interviewed later by Griffin reportedly said that the problem was the result of fees charged by Local 205's insurance broker.
Employees in Brentwood and Glassport are also represented by Local 205.
Brewster disputed Highmark's argument. "There are non-205 communities that got the same kinds of increases," he said.
City officials want to have a less-expensive health care plan in place before they negotiate five other labor agreements that will soon be expiring, Brewster said.
Category: News || By
Tuesday night's shooting on Evans Avenue is not a sign that the city is suffering an epidemic of gun violence, Mayor Jim Brewster said Wednesday.
According to published and broadcast reports, Leroy Hughes, 29, was shot as he attempted to break up a fight between his dog and one owned by a neighbor.
Police have obtained a warrant for the accused shooter, Thomas Davis Jr., 31, who witnesses said fired up to a dozen shots into Hughes.
Brewster called the homicide "tragic" but cautioned residents against assuming that a wave of gun violence, similar to the one that swept the city in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is underway.
There is no evidence to link Hughes' death to drugs or gang activity, the mayor said; it appears to be the result of a neighborhood argument gone terribly wrong.
"We had a tragic homicide last night," Brewster said. "It was the first of 2008. We had one in 2007. We had one in 2006. We had 10 in 2004.
"Despite last night's events, I think the prognosis is good," he said. "I think we've come a long way with the help of the McKeesport Ministerium and the various task forces, I think people realize their need for involvement as parents, and I think our detectives should be given a lot of credit because they have developed a rapport with our young people, and I can see the difference."
Brewster said that the investigation of the Hughes shooting proceeded swiftly as a result of "excellent cooperation from witnesses in the neighborhood, which has really helped."
The mayor says he personally patrols the neighborhood, which is near UPMC McKeesport hospital and the Carnegie Library of McKeesport, "every single night" to keep an eye out for suspicious activity and talk to parents about bringing their children in after the city's 10 p.m. curfew for juveniles.
Brewster declined comment on a lawsuit filed this week by the mother of Tanya Kach, the now 26-year-old woman who was held captive by a former school security guard for 10 years.
The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on behalf of Sherri Koehnke claims that former city Police Chief Tom Carter and Officer Michael Elias were negligent in their investigation of Kach's 1996 disappearance.
Kach is also suing the city and McKeesport Area School District.
However, the mayor said that the city will try to recover damages from people who file frivolous lawsuits, and that he's wearied of listening to commentators and attorneys attack McKeesport.
"I have directed our council that any more slanderous comments about my city, your city, and our police department will be met with a swift response," Brewster said.
Category: Cartoons, Wild World of Sports || By
Category: Politics, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
According to pop culture, honorable men have used guns to settle disputes and right wrongs for many years.
Former Vice President Aaron Burr famously gunned down former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
In the "Old West," legend has it that cowboys shot rustlers and scoundrels like mad dogs in the streets.
And just a few years ago, Bernie Goetz became a folk hero for shooting several toughs in a New York subway.
Yet there was nothing honorable about the two shootings this week in the Mon-Yough area. (I almost wrote "the two shootings so far this week," but I'll try not to be that pessimistic.)
. . .
In fact, it's not honorable that our culture refuses to ask any hard questions about gun ownership ... even questions as simple as, "How many guns are too many?"
The United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, making us the most heavily armed nation in the world. In second place is Yemen, where terrorists and warlords prowl the streets.
That's pretty embarrassing company to keep.
I'm not a gun-control freak. I think every adult member of my family (even the women) owns at least one gun --- a pistol, a rifle, a shotgun.
But no reasonable person should think that the current situation is healthy. There is something seriously wrong in our country when someone can reportedly get into an argument at Nigro's in North Versailles, and think it's a perfectly reasonable reaction to go out to his car, grab his pistol, return to the restaurant and start blasting away, putting five people into the hospital.
. . .
And now, last night, a man on Evans Avenue in the city shot his neighbor multiple times because their dogs were fighting. Witnesses are telling police and reporters that the man charged in connection with the shooting, Thomas Davis Jr., fired at least eight shots into Leroy Hughes, 29, as he tried to pull the dogs apart.
He's accused of executing his neighbor on a city street because their dogs were fighting.
. . .
We can parse the language of the Second Amendment all we want: Does it forbid government from placing any restrictions on gun ownership? Or does it just enable each state to create a "well-regulated militia"?
Having philosophical discussions about the Bill of Rights doesn't change the fact that if the shooter at Nigro's didn't have a gun on Sunday morning, the worst thing that would have happened was a fistfight.
And if the shooter on Evans Avenue didn't have a gun, he probably wouldn't be facing homicide charges, and Hughes would probably just have a shiner and a bloody nose.
. . .
There are people, especially in McKeesport's suburbs, who think they're immune to gun violence because they're white, or upper-middle class.
Ah, but it was a white college professor, Edward Constant, who shot two police officers in Mount Lebanon a few years ago during a domestic dispute.
It was a white law-school graduate, Richard Baumhammers, who went on a shooting rampage in the South Hills.
And it was the well-to-do son of two small business owners, Seung-Hui Cho, who shot 57 people on the rural campus of Virginia Tech (which is 72 percent white).
. . .
Gun violence is not a "black issue" or an "urban problem." It's an American problem.
By Pittsburgh standards, Nigro's is a painfully typical suburban restaurant. Until Sunday morning, it was best known for its weekly oldies car cruises. The loudest arguments concerned whether Ford's 302 small-block was as good as a Chevy 350.
Instead of facing this American problem, the United States has allowed itself to be held hostage by a small, but very vocal and well-funded, gun lobby. Barack Obama was attacked for pointing out something that should be obvious --- guns and religion have been used as wedge issues in American politics for far too long.
The gun lobby argues that Americans need guns for "protection."
Protection from what? Other people with guns, presumably. There's a nicely self-fulfilling prophesy --- protect yourself from the problem of too many guns by buying more guns.
. . .
Yes, you can buy a gun for protection. Or you can buy one to keep handy for when you're pissed off at your neighbor and want to pump eight shots into him in the middle of Evans Avenue.
Did you know that the NRA opposes programs where citizens voluntarily surrender old handguns in exchange for gift certificates or other inducements?
That's not defending the Second Amendment. That's having a gun fetish that borders on paranoia.
. . .
No, there's nothing honorable about the gun lobby, there's nothing honorable about American politicians who quake in fear at the initials "NRA," and there's nothing honorable in our own refusal as citizens to honestly question the role of guns in American society.
We need to decide whether we're going to be a nation of civilized people, or a nation of vigilantes and animals who only respect the survival of the fittest.
It's well past time for us to open the discussion, even if it's too late for the people at Nigro's on Sunday morning, or the people on Evans Avenue last night.
And it's the honorable thing to do.
Category: Cartoons, Wild World of Sports || By
Category: General Nonsense, History, Mon Valley Miscellany || By
For pure, unbridled Kennedy-era, "New Frontier" enthusiasm, it's hard to beat the 1963 book "This is Pittsburgh: We Live Here ... We Like It!" by the late Josie Carey and Marty Wolfson.
Long out of print, you can still get a copy at the Carnegie Free Library of McKeesport and on finer used-book websites everywhere.
I took a look at "This is Pittsburgh" for this week's installment of "Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix" at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online.
Incidentally, "This is Pittsburgh" reports that all of Allegheny County's traffic problems will have disappeared by 1970 because of the fabulous new "expressways" being built, namely the Crosstown (I-279), the West Virginia-Erie Expressway (I-79), the Extension Expressway (Route 28) and the Penn-Lincoln Parkway (I-376).
(Or, the authors suggest, you can take "the Rapid Transit to Brentwood, the helicopter to the airport, or a train to anyplace you want to go!")
Since all of our traffic woes were solved by new highways in 1970, I guess I'm not sure why the Mon-Fayette Expressway is needed.
Ah, a cheap shot, I know, but I'm not sure that prognosticating --- particularly when we're talking about the improvements that highways will bring --- has improved that much in 45 years.