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Filed Under: Events, General Nonsense || By

August 29, 2008 | Link to this story

Me 'n Lynn

Category: Events, General Nonsense || By

Speaking of Lynn Cullen and 1360: Toward the end of my mediocre career at the Tribune-Review, I had irritated the upper management sufficiently so that I wasn't bringing any green bananas to work.

One incident in particular made me a marked man. In the midst of doing a hatchet job on the newspaper's publisher, a now-defunct journalism magazine named me in connection with an unpleasant incident.

I warned the managing editor that it was about to hit the fan. He called me into his office the next day to tell me "your employment status is being evaluated."

Translation: "Better find a cardboard box and pack your desk, dummy."

That afternoon, I got a call from a friend. "Holy crap," he said, "Lynn Cullen is talking about you on her show."

"Why me?" I said. During my brief (like 15 minutes) stint as the Trib's radio-TV writer, I was a guest on her show, but I hadn't talked to Lynn for at least two years.

"She says you got in trouble because you're named in some magazine article, and it's really unfair, and now they want to fire you," he said.

Great. It wasn't bad enough to be the office outcast. Now, everyone listening to 1360 also knew I was a pain-in-the-neck. (Luckily, that wasn't many people.)

But a funny thing happened. They didn't fire me (unfortunately, because I could have used the unemployment).

I heard that the publisher's attorneys had talked him out of canning me, for fear of the bad publicity and possibility of a wrongful-termination suit. I eventually left under my own steam.

Fast-forward a few months. Cullen was a guest on a PCNC talk show and said of one of the Tribune-Review's editors, "I'd like to punch that guy in the nose."

The Trib, showing the sense of comedy for which it's duly famed, sent PCNC a letter demanding a copy of the videotape and threatening criminal or civil charges against Cullen.

I was in the car the next day when Cullen began talking about the cartooney threat from the Trib, so I pulled over and called the station during a commercial break. "If you need a character witness, I'm available," I said. She got a good laugh out of that.

Thanks, Lynn, for keeping me off the unemployment line, and while you don't need my recommendation for any other jobs, I'm still available as a character witness.

. . .

In Other Business: If you still haven't ordered those Terry Lee CDs, and you're a McKeesporter or a radio buff, well ... what are you waiting for?

They're full of choice morsels, like this jingle, which I haven't heard in 30 years, and thought I'd never hear again:

When I was a kid, Devie was still using this jingle, and we had a Chevie from Devie ... Deveraux Chevrolet on Eden Park Boulevard, also known as "Devy's Chevyland."

Deveraux moved all of its operations up to Freeport in the mid-1980s. The Eden Park dealership became Babe Charapp Ford, then Pro Bowl Ford, and then Tri-Star Ford. That dealership has moved up to the old Zayre Department Store in Olympia Shopping Center.

Someone has an application before the city Planning Commission to turn "Chevyland" into a self-storage warehouse. They probably won't have any singing radio commercials, unfortunately.

Singing radio commercials still work, by the way. If you remember that Devie jingle, you probably also remember that "happiest drivers in the world" don't say Olds (they say "Bendik Olds") and that "red coats save you greenbacks, the Eager Eger way."

And now all of those jingles are stuck in your head for the weekend. Bwa-ha-ha! You're welcome.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: The seventh-annual Renzie BBQ Cook Off will be held in Renziehausen Park this Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 2 to 10 p.m. Many vendors from around the tri-state area will be competing for the title of "Best 'Q in the 'Port."

Live entertainment will include on Saturday, the Mad Hatters at 2 p.m., Mahajibee Blues Band at 5 p.m., and Soft Winds at 8 p.m.; on Sunday, Mimes and Music from Rainbow Temple Church from 2 to 6 p.m. and the Marcels at 7 p.m.

A DJ will spin records from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday, while Lee Alverson will present his "Legends of Rock 'n Roll Tribute to Billy Joel and Elton John" at 7 p.m.

I don't know; the way Billy's career is going these days, we could have gotten the real thing. Fireworks go off at 9 p.m. Monday.

In addition to barbecue, french fries, shaved ice, ice cream and other desserts will be on sale.

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August 29, 2008 | Link to this story

Turn Out the Lights, 1360's Over

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary, Radio Geekery || By

One of McKeesport's two radio stations is sinking beneath the waves --- again --- leaving barely an oil slick or a bubble on the surface of the water.

The last local host left on WPTT (1360), Lynn Cullen, did her final show today. On Monday, the station switches to an "all-business" format as "WMNY."*

I'll leave you to decide whether it's appropriate to switch to an "all-business" format on Labor Day, but the likelihood of any radio station switching to an "all-labor" format is about as likely as John McCain french-kissing Rosie O'Donnell.

(Urp. I just threw up in my mouth a little.)

Fun fact: Chicago's WCFL was once owned by the Chicago Federation of Labor, and did program a lot of shows about labor, but that was about a million years ago.

. . .

Now, back to 1360, originally called WMCK and located in the Elks' Temple on Market Street, then known as WIXZ and located in the Wilson Baum building on Long Run Road, and later on Route 30 in East McKeesport. If ever there was a station in need of a reason for existence, it's been 1360 for the last 30 years.

I don't envy anyone trying to run a small business in McKeesport. First, you have to get people from Pittsburgh to not regard McKeesport as somewhere on the far side of the moon.

Then you have to get them past the idea that we're all shooting at each other as we smoke crack and lock 14-year-old girls in our basements and warm up Whizzinators in the microwave at GetGo.

I'm not saying we've got an image problem, but, well, you know.

. . .

But 1360 hasn't made any serious effort to serve McKeesport in many years. The studios moved to Green Tree more than a decade ago. The daytime transmitter moved to Pittsburgh; only the nighttime transmitter remains in Lincoln Borough, near Dead Man's Hollow.

There's only one teensy problem: You can't hear 1360 in Pittsburgh at night. You were never meant to. It was designed, back in 1947, as a radio station to serve McKeesport --- admittedly, McKeesport was a larger, wealthier community then.

Somewhere along the line, the ownership got stars in its eyes and decided it wanted to run with the big dogs in Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, there are about two dozen other radio stations serving Pittsburgh, and no one was clamoring for another static-filled signal on the AM band, especially one that sounds like a shortwave broadcast from Russia every time the sun goes down.

. . .

If that wasn't bad enough, 1360 never seemed capable of holding together a format for very long. It was country for a while. Then it was country during the day, talk in the afternoons, and oldies on the weekend. Then it was all-sports. Then it went all-talk.

Through all of the format changes, shows have come and gone with little or no promotion, and when hosts left, they were replaced with crap.

Elizabeth Township's Jerry Bowyer was the morning man for a while. He had an erudite, smart talk show that wasn't advertised at all. When he left, management plugged in an audio feed of WTAE-TV's morning news, and Laura Ingraham, who's at best, a third-rate syndicated host.

They didn't even run Ingraham's shows live. They were tape-delayed from the previous afternoon. Sorry to be so crude, but playing 18-hour-old political talk shows is like looking at porn after you have an orgasm. I might as well read last week's newspapers.

Not surprisingly, WPTT has habitually hovered near the bottom of the Pittsburgh ratings.

. . .

A few years ago, WPTT started running on-air announcements that it was going to change format, with a new slogan promising "A Revolution in Talk Radio."

Since WPTT's management didn't invest a nickel in billboards, TV commercials or bumper stickers, only radio junkies knew about it. We tuned in, expecting to hear some exciting new lineup.

It turned out that they were, um, just unveiling a new slogan.

It was enough to give you the distinct impression that no one at WPTT knew what the hell they were doing. (Neither do I, but I admit it.) Or at the very least, that they were too cheap to invest any real money.

Longtime Pittsburgh radio fixture Doug Hoerth lost his afternoon drive slot several months ago --- reportedly the victim of budget cuts --- and everyone assumed that Cullen would be the next to go.

. . .

A few people have speculated that because Cullen is a vocal, outspoken Democrat, WPTT's failure proves that people in Pittsburgh won't listen to liberal talk radio.

Maybe, but Hoerth is a moderate, small-L libertarian, and Laura Ingraham is to the right of Marie Antoinette. On the weekends, WPTT carries NASCAR and high-school football. WPTT wasn't "liberal talk radio."

However, WPTT's failure to score any ratings does prove that people won't listen to a radio station that they've never heard of, that they can't pick up at night, and that has a lineup full of idiotic programming choices.

Seriously, audio from Channel 4 was the best WPTT could do in morning drive? It sure was a thrill to listen to WTAE's anchors describe pictures you couldn't see ... because they were on the damned radio.

. . .

McKeesport's 1360 is not the only local radio station that's gone down the drain because of stupid decisions like this. Did you know Braddock has a radio station on 1550? Or that Carnegie has one on 1590, and Monroeville has one on 1510?

I didn't think so. They're "forgotten, but not gone," wasting electricity and bandwidth, turning their backs to the towns they're supposed to be serving, and broadcasting to no one.

The all-business format is only going to be worse. The daily 3 to 6 p.m. slot is going to be filled by a financial advice program that's paid for by the host. Here's a tip: Generally speaking (but not always) people pay for radio time if they're not good enough to get a show on their own merits. A few people who pay for their own radio time are entrepreneurs and have real radio talent, but a lot of others are done as vanity projects, and it shows.

. . .

Now, about WPTT being technically a "McKeesport" station. As I said, McKeesport has a perception problem, and it would be hard to sustain a radio station that only targeted the Mon Valley.

Yet there are towns in Pennsylvania that are smaller than McKeesport which sustain their own radio stations. You have to carve out a niche and program the station hyper-locally ... local news, local high-school sports, local talk shows, lost dog reports, parade coverage, and all of that other hokum.

Big, Important Radio Professionals sneer at stations that still program that kind of stuff. And yet those stations make money.

Could it be done in McKeesport? It would be a tough slog. You'd have to get people from McKeesport running 1360 --- just like back in the WMCK days. They'd have to get involved in the community, just like Bob Cox and Sam Vidnovic were.

And it'll never happen. After all, McKeesport's other radio station, WEDO, is for sale ... for $1.75 million. I guess that makes WPTT worth $5 million.

So, good luck with your all-business format, 1360 --- your slogan can be, "talk you don't need from a station you don't want."

. . .

Here's another thought: Radio listening across the country is declining. Advertising revenue is plummeting. FM radio is sick, and AM radio is practically at death's door.

If radio stations start dying, remember that they weren't murdered by the Internet and iPods. They committed suicide.

And when the autopsy reports are written, they'll look a lot like the history of 1360 in McKeesport over the last 20 years.


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Posted at 07:52 am by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
Filed Under: Rants a.k.a. Commentary, Radio Geekery | one comment | Link To This Entry | Add to Technorati Favorites

August 28, 2008 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: Wild World of Sports || By

At least Barack Obama had the good sense to delay his speech until after the Steelers game was over.

If only he can fix the Pirates, then by God, he's got my vote.

Nah, that's too much to ask anyone.

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August 27, 2008 | Link to this story

Up, Up and Away

Category: History || By

John Barna says he did it. Deane Mellander says he did it. It might even have been Derrick Brashear.

But one of them turned me onto the Penn Pilot website maintained by Penn State University, and I may never forgive them.

Penn Pilot ( is an archive of old aerial photos taken for the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, and the database is being maintained through support of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Right now, all of the aerial photos taken for the 1937 and 1967 surveys are available online; the 1946 and 1956 surveys haven't been digitized yet.

Obviously, these photos were originally taken to aid cartographers (guys who draw maps n'at), and putting them online now should aid urban planners, geologists, environmentalists and others who want to track changes to the landscape over the last century.

On the other hand, for amateur historians like me, they're more fun than feathers in my underpants.

That top photo shows Our Fair City and Port Vue as they looked on Oct. 2, 1938 --- almost 70 years ago.

If we zoom in, we can see things like the old Third Avenue Suspension Bridge (built in 1884 and demolished circa 1960), the First Ward (an ethnic neighborhood comprised mainly of Eastern European immigrants), and Cycler Park, home of the McKeesport Tubers minor-league baseball team, a one-time farm club for the Boston Red Sox.

Also visible is the brand-new Jerome Avenue Bridge.

Keep your eye on that building in the red circle.

Here's roughly the same view, in a photo from May 26, 1967. The First Ward had been demolished about seven years earlier to make way for an expansion of U.S. Steel's National Works. A new electric-resistance weld pipe mill was constructed (it's still open today as Camp-Hill Corp.) and the shipping yards were relocated.

By 1967, the Municipal Authority of McKeesport's sewage treatment plant had taken the place of Cycler Park. Until the Pirates moved to PNC Park, it was the only recorded instance of a baseball stadium being filled with sewage. (Rimshot.)

The building in the red circle is still visible --- it was a Duquesne Light Co. substation that was spared from demolition when other buildings in the First Ward were torn down.

At the bottom of the photo, just underneath the Jerome Avenue Bridge, you see a barge anchored. That's the old Surfside 4 floating nightclub.

My memory is pretty shaky, but I think the Surfside burned in the early '70s. The wreckage remained at the foot of Fifth Avenue for years.

Here's a present-day image, taken from Google Maps' database of satellite photos.

Ta-da! The building is the red circle is still there, and it's still owned by Duquesne Light Co. Along with a small brick house that's adjacent to the ERW, it's the last remaining vestige of First Ward, and it's currently assessed by Allegheny County at $116,100.

Technically, I think Third Avenue is still a public street, and you can access it by going under the Jerome Avenue Bridge. Practically speaking, that's all private property back there, and you're probably better off keeping out of there.

Besides, as you can see from the picture, it's no architectural prize.

Also clearly visible is the McKees Point Marina, which is a darn sight better than the burned-out remnants of Surfside 4.

Here's a pastoral farming community pictured in the 1937 aerial survey. Look at the lovely, rolling meadows down in the lower right, and the small orchards.

Perhaps this is North Huntingdon or Union Township.

Bzzt! Wrong. That building in the yellow circle is a clue.

I overlaid a street grid from Google Maps to help you South Allegheny graduates recognize this neighborhood.

It's Liberty Borough before the post-war building boom that turned a bucolic community into a suburban housing development.

That's why Liberty Borough has an "Orchard Drive." It used to have real orchards.

The building in the yellow circle is the old Liberty Borough School, which later became Wilson Christian Academy and is now Liberty Manor, a personal-care home.

Take a look at the current view on Google Maps if you want to make a comparison.

I hope you get as big of a kick out of Penn Pilot as I do. But if your productivity suddenly plummets, don't blame me. Blame one of those guys that tipped me in the first place. Talk about feeding my addiction!

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August 26, 2008 | Link to this story

Statement on McKeesport Documentary

Category: News || By

The following statement was released by Jim Hubbard of American Film Renaissance:

I have approached Mike Wilson with an offer to sell, at a sharply discounted rate, the footage he shot for the McKeesport documentary. If the offer is accepted, this will provide Mr. Wilson with the opportunity he publicly claims that he wants: To finish the McKeesport film in a manner in which he feels it "needed to be made." If Wilson agrees to a deal, our funders, the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, will incur a considerable loss on their investment.

We believe our offer is more than reasonable. This is especially true considering that Mike Wilson and his team have publicly stated that they are "in love with the story", have "amazing footage" of an "important story", and are "crushed" that their version of the McKeesport film will "never be seen." This need not be the case.

We are providing Mr. Wilson with a fantastic opportunity to take ownership of the film and finish it in any way that he chooses. The ball is now in Mr. Wilson's court. If his public comments are indeed sincere, then he should eagerly accept the opportunity we are providing to him.

Jim Hubbard

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August 25, 2008 | Link to this story

Not-So-Deep Thoughts

Category: Pointless Digressions, Politics, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

Editor's Note: Some days, I live by the precepts of Dorothy Parker, who said, "If you can't say anything nice, come sit next to me."

. . .

He Puts the 'Goober' into Gubernatorial: Gov. Ed Rendell, with all due respect, please stuff a cheesesteak into your gobhole before you say something else that's ridiculous.

Why did anyone think that he was such a skilled politician? After all, he can't seem to get anything through the Pennsylvania General Assembly, with the exception of casino legislation that's been of very dubious quality so far.

Apparently unsatisfied with confining his lackluster record to the confines of the Commonwealth, Rendell never misses an opportunity to say dumb things to national audiences.

Out at the Democratic National Convention, Rendell, who put all of his chips on Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries, just can't seem to accept the fact that she lost. Now he's running around, making backhanded remarks about the presumptive nominee, Barack Obama.

First, Rendell blamed the media for Clinton's failure to grab the nomination; at a forum hosted by the Sunday-morning talk shows, Rendell began railing at MSNBC until PBS's Judy Woodruff gently encouraged him to sit down.

Then he told NPR he's "disappointed" that Obama won more delegates than Clinton, because "Hillary Clinton would have been a spectacular president."

Way to sandbag your own candidate, governor. Of course, Rendell did the same thing to Bob Casey Jr. two years ago --- you may recall when he told reporters that "Rick Santorum has proven that he gets the job done ... When it comes to Pennsylvania, Santorum delivers." With friends like these, Democrats don't need enemies.

Maybe Rendell is secretly a Republican; he couldn't be a better advocate for the GOP. Frankly, I don't care if he's a Republican or a Democrat --- I just wish he were a better advocate for Pennsylvania.

We'd be better off if the governor spent just a little time trying to reform the state's antiquated 19th century government, and less time listening to himself talk.

. . .

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign: I like to watch for political signs and bumper stickers; I don't have any proof that their presence or absence can actually be correlated to support of some particular candidate, but I find it interesting.

I've already seen a John McCain sign in a front yard in Liberty Borough, and a McCain bumper sticker on a car in Port Vue.

Liberty has long been a safe place for Republicans in the Mon-Yough area, but Port Vue? Hmm. Interpret this information however you want. It might be meaningless.

Obama signs are so far conspicuous by their absence outside of the McKeesport city limits.

. . .

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign, Part II: Alert Reader Lane wants to know what the signs saying "Save the Police" mean. "Are we talking about Sting? Or just what is going on. Dare I entertain the notion of consolidating redundant services?"

The signs are being posted by Versailles residents who are panicking over the thought that McKeesport police might start patrolling the borough under contract.

Obviously, the 1,700 people who live within Versailles' 0.5 square miles justify the cost and expense of a separate police force, Lane. Bringing in the larger McKeesport police force, which has its own juvenile officer, K-9 team, detective bureau and other services, clearly wouldn't provide any benefits to the residents of Versailles.

It's not important for Versailles taxpayers --- who spend about $257,000 per year on police services out of an $893,480 annual budget --- to save more than $90,000 per year by going with the city.

It's more important for Versailles to retain the "civic pride" that comes from having a police car with "Versailles" painted on the door, because that's really going to keep people from moving away.

I'm glad I could clear up this confusion.

. . .

Home, Sweet Office: Finally, Alert Reader John wants to know if the former G.C. Murphy Co. "home office" might have anything worth preserving.

A few artifacts, like the grandfather clock from the lobby and the brass plaque from the Fifth Avenue entrance, are out at the McKeesport Heritage Center.

But we'll probably never know if anything else is inside. Several years ago, former Murphy PR man Ed Davis asked the current owners of the complex if he could visit the building where he spent much of his career; they cussed him out and hung up on him.

Ed, who does a lot of charity work around town and is one of the Mon Valley's all around "good guys," says he's "never been treated so rudely in my life."

The Murphy home office --- a mishmash of old 19th and early 20th century buildings --- was never much of an architectural treasure, but its current condition is pretty sorry to look at.

It's doubtful much was left behind anyway; most of the fixtures were auctioned off by the late Leo Jesion when Ames sold Murphy's to the McCrory Corp., and I'm told that boxes and boxes of photos and other items were tossed into trash bins.

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August 21, 2008 | Link to this story

Followups and Answers

Category: Another Viewpoint || By

First things first: I have received several emails from Jim Hubbard of American Film Renaissance disputing the accuracy of the story that appeared in Saturday's Almanac. He calls the allegations in the story "false, malicious, and despicable":

Any notion that we only plan to examine Unions and Democrats without also examining Corporations and Republicans is also inaccurate. Personally, I believe there is both good and bad in Unions, Corporations, Democrats, and Republicans. I see the McKeesport film as a non-partisan and non-ideological project which seeks to explore the roots causes for the town's economic decline --- a decline we all hope is temporary. This film is not an ideological hatchet job.

Personally, I believe our completed film will serve as the ultimate rebuttal to these allegations.

In a separate email, Hubbard says:
To show how much we want a balanced film, we even wanted to hire you, someone who probably does not share our political viewpoints, at least on some issues. Anyway, Art and I really liked you, and wanted you to be involved with the film.

I am sorry that you prejudged us and our motives for making this film. I would simply ask that you be fair and withhold judgment until we have a final product in place. Why would you attempt to malign us --- or this project --- before you have even had a chance to review the film?

For the record, I have offered Hubbard this space for a rebuttal. My policy has always been to print corrections with equal prominence as the original story.

I have recontacted two of my unnamed sources, and both have confirmed our conversations. Until I receive a correction on some specific point, I will stand by the story.

Also for the record, I don't believe I prejudged anyone. Frankly, I don't have a dog in this fight, except that I wanted to see this movie made. (Actually, last June I wrote that "approaching the Mon-Yough area's problems from a center-right or right-wing perspective is not a bad idea. The only people who have paid any attention to the Mon Valley's steel towns for the past 25 years have been liberal academics, professional protesters, and self-styled socialists and labor activists. They talk nice words, but don't ever deliver.")

While the stories of Braddock and Homestead have been told to national audiences, McKeesport's has never been told. This film was a chance to do it. Maybe it still is.

But I feel I have some responsibility to share what I, and other people, have learned about this project. If that makes me "malicious," so be it; I don't agree.

. . .

I also received email from Jamie Vincent, associate producer of the McKeesport documentary, and now the girlfriend of Mike Wilson, the director fired from the project by Hubbard. Here are a few excerpts from her email:
To say that Mike's footage was terrible is the worst possible thing he could have blamed it on, because first and foremost this is untrue; and second, how unprofessional can someone who has the role of bringing all parties together be?

I drove with Jim, ate with Jim, and heard nothing but positive aspects of Mike and why he had come to him on this project. The decision to take Mike off of this film was unfortunately made long before Jim ever looked at a lick of footage and even prior to the footage being sent back to him to a point where Art would have been able to see it ... It's very unfortunate that he has to take the lowest road possible in your discussion with him.

We are crushed by the fact that the heartbreakingly honest interviews the people of McKeesport gave us would never be seen. I won't speak for Mike Schaubach and Andy Halliwell but ... you would be hard pressed to find a different story from them.

I wish this was different. not only because we have some amazing footage on those tapes that now collect dust but because it is an important story for not only the citizens of McKeesport but for the rest of the country that McKeesport helped to build.

. . .

Meanwhile, a commenter on Saturday's story asked why Wilson can't release the film he shot, and why Hubbard can't make a separate film.

I am not a lawyer. But according to Wilson, the footage he shot was contractually owned by the producers. Presumably, the rights to that footage would have to be purchased.

. . .

Onto happier subjects: I received email from the wife of Terry Lee to report that he is alive and well:
I showed him your article in the Tube City Almanac. You are extremely perceptive and are right on about everything you said about the people and the rumors ... However, he was slightly taken aback by the following quote: "Terry Lee --- or someone who says he's Terry Lee." I guess when you are Terry Lee, you want everyone to believe it!

As I told her in a separate email, a lot of people have been selling "bootleg" CDs around Pittsburgh that they claim are endorsed by Porky Chedwick or the late Mad Mike Metro, and which neither Porky nor Mike had probably ever heard before.

I also caught a DJ at one of the local radio stations impersonating Terry Lee, and called him on it. He stopped --- and it was a pretty bad impersonation --- but that's why I was skeptical.

For what it's worth, I'm not even sure who I am on some mornings, or my name isn't Jason Pallan Togyer.

Terry and his family are building a website with airchecks, photos and stories at There's not much there yet, but they're working on it.

. . .

Finally, I want to thank "Stacey," who posted a wonderfully racist comment that encouraged Barack Obama and all of his supporters to "go back to Africa."

They're doing wonderful things with wi-fi access, Stacey, but I didn't realize that it had penetrated the mud underneath your rock.

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August 20, 2008 | Link to this story

Got Socks?

Category: History || By

Need a pair of unused but slightly musty 40-year-old dress socks? They were made sometime in the 1960s for G.C. Murphy Co., which sold its house-brand men's clothing under the name "Pelham."

To read the story behind those socks, click here.

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August 19, 2008 | Link to this story

International Village Opens Today

Category: Events || By

The crisis in Eastern Europe has hit home in Renziehausen Park, where the 49th annual International Village food and music festival opens today.

Reports indicate that last night, workers at the Polish booth asked the city if they can move further away from the Russian booth.

Apparently, the people at the Russian booth are claiming that they have the right to enter the Polish booth any time they want.

A spokeswoman for the Russian booth said the problem is that workers from the American booth have been meddling in the Polish booth, and previously meddled in the Slovak and Croatian booths.

In the event that fighting breaks out, the McKeesport Little Tigers will be dispatched to serve as peacekeepers, and additional humanitarian aid has been promised by the Glassport Sons of Italy.

I keed! I keed!

. . .
Pennsylvania's original and best ethnic food and music festival gets underway today and runs through Thursday. It's easy to get to from Route 48 or Route 30. Parking is free.

Gates open nightly at 3 p.m. and admission is $2. (Yeah, it used to be free, blah blah blah, gas also cost 25 cents a gallon and don't be such a tightwad.)

Today's entertainment lineup includes the Mikey Dee Polka Band, William Penn Magyar Dancers, Christ Temple AME choir, the Trafford Junior Tamburitzans, the Grecian Odyssey Dancers from East Pittsburgh, the Golden Triangle Junior Tamburitzans, Lebanese belly-dancer Sandy Roma, and The Barons, a German band.

Tomorrow's lineup includes Radost, a Hawaiian dancing demonstration, the Rankin Junior Tammies, the Lajkoniki Polish Dancers, the Otets Paissii Bulgarian dance group, and the Duquesne Junior Tammies.

More dancing follows on Thursday, with fireworks after 9 p.m.

Also, remember the advice of Tube City Online's medical expert, Dr. Pica Pole, who says you should always wait at least 30 minutes between eating a pound of halushki and trying to dance an oberek.

. . .

For more free advice (and worth every penny), click here for the Tube City Almanac ultimate guide to International Village.

For some historical coverage of International Village as it was in 1972, click here.

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August 18, 2008 | Link to this story

Book Country Plans Retail Store

Category: Local Businesses, News || By

Tube City Almanac photo

What owner Richard Roberts is semi-seriously billing as "the world's largest bookstore" is coming to Christy Park this fall.

Book Country Clearinghouse, which wholesales paperbacks to retailers across the United States, is adding a retail outlet to its warehouse on Walnut Street.

The store will open in mid-October, says Roberts, Book Country's CEO.

. . .

Under its previous ownership, Book Country had retail stores at the former Eastland Mall, the Brentwood-Whitehall Shopping Center, and elsewhere. All of them are now closed.

This is the first store to open since Roberts and his wife, Sandy, took over Book Country five years ago. The company, located in the former Potter-McCune Co. plant and warehouse, employs about 100 people.

"We've had so many people stopping by and asking if we're ever going to open a bookstore," Roberts says. "We've done a couple of warehouse sales, and they went phenomenally well."

. . .

The store will occupy several of the former truck bays on the Walnut Street side of the 375,000-square-foot warehouse, he says.

"The street is very high traffic, and we figured it would be a great way to give back to the community," Roberts says.

He's calling it the "world's largest bookstore" because Book Country at any given time stocks 8 million to 10 million books, representing about 35,000 different titles.

"We're going to display a number of the hottest selling titles in the bookstore, but the really cool thing is we're going to have a computer hardwired into the warehouse, and they can search for other titles," Roberts says. "If we have it in the warehouse, we'll go back and get it."

. . .

Tube City Online photoActually, if someone wants a certain title, there's a pretty good chance that Book Country will have it.

The company, which wholesales books to everyone from discounters to flea markets, currently represents most of the nation's big publishing imprints, including Harper Collins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Oxford University Press, and others.

Clients for Book Country include the Ollie's and Tuesday Morning chains.

. . .

Although the old Book Country store at Eastland had a reputation for carrying books long past their shelf-life, the "new" Book Country doesn't handle old or out-of-date titles, Roberts says.

All of the books are either perennials --- classics or reference works --- or "front-list" best-selling titles. They get shipped to Book Country because they're soiled or damaged, or because they're being returned as overstocks.

"We've got a ton of kids books, great reference books from Oxford University Press, home improvement books from Taunton Press, we've got pretty much everything," he says. "We've got complete encyclopedia sets, world atlases from Oxford, we've got books from Watson-Guptill --- they're one of the leaders in art books --- and also from the same publisher, film-making books."

. . .

Book Country's business continues to grow at a prodigious space. The basement of the Christy Park warehouse --- once used as a mushroom-growing facility by Pomco --- has been remodeled and is now used for breaking down shipments. Most of the roof has also been replaced.

According to published reports, Book Country is now the nation's third-largest distributor of remaindered books. "In a down economy, our business does very well," says Roberts, who is currently looking to expand his distribution overseas into Asia and Africa.

If the bookstore in the city takes off, Roberts hopes to add reading programs for kids and make connections to the local school systems.

"I doubt this would be the beginning of many stores," he says. "It would be tough to replicate this in another location ... but I think it will work out very well. We're very excited."

And it's worth noting that the Book Country warehouse is literally on the Youghiogheny River hiking-biking trail.

"We have lots of books on CDs," Roberts says, laughing. "Bring your bike and your Walkman."

The projected opening date is Oct. 15, he says.

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August 16, 2008 | Link to this story

Film About McKeesport Stalls as Accusations Fly

Category: News || By

Editor's Note: This story was edited after publication.

. . .

The trailer for a still-unseen documentary about McKeesport asks whether the city can "rise from the ashes."

Now the producer and director are embroiled in a nasty dispute, and it's not clear when the project itself will rise from the ashes.

Director Mike Wilson told the Almanac this week that producer Jim Hubbard seized control of the film, and pressured him to slant the movie to suit his own conservative ideology.

But Hubbard says the footage that Wilson shot last year was "terrible," and that's why he and Art Rupe, who's financing the film project, fired the director.

Rupe, a McKeesport High School graduate who now lives in Santa Monica, Calif., is a millionaire philanthropist and the founder of Specialty Records.

"Clearly if I felt we had a good film there, I wouldn't have fired him," Hubbard says. "At the end of the day, it's my film, not Mike's."

. . .

Wilson is the second director fired from the project. The first, Sarah Whalen, has since become a supervising producer on the History Channel television series "Ax Men."

"Art seemed to indicate to me that this was Jim's decision, and Jim indicated that it was Art's decision," Wilson says. He bristles at Hubbard's accusation that the footage shot in McKeesport was sub-par.

"It had nothing to do with the (quality) of stuff we were creating," Wilson says. "The cut that I turned in was the film that I felt needed to be made."

Wilson, a Missouri native who now lives in Minnesota, first came to prominence for the 2004 film Michael Moore Hates America.

Shot in the same cheeky, irreverent style that characterized Moore's controversial movies like Bowling for Columbine, it pointed out inaccuracies in Moore's films and asked whether he betrayed the principles of documentary filmmaking. The film received generally positive reviews from critics, including Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times and Robert Koehler of Variety.

Michael Moore Hates America was one of the featured selections in the first "American Film Renaissance" film festival, which was organized by Hubbard and his wife as a conservative alternative to what they viewed as left-wing bias in Hollywood feature films.

. . .

Although much of Rupe's philanthropy has been non-partisan, he has also supported organizations like the Young Americas Foundation, which calls itself "the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement," and the Media Research Center, which is an opponent of what it calls "strident liberal bias" in the media.

Wilson says "his gut" tells him that Hubbard and Rupe want to make a film that blames Democrats and trade unions for McKeesport's decline.

"Look, I'm a libertarian and a capitalist, but I tried to be fair," Wilson says. Throughout the film, he says, he juxtaposed stories about government programs with comments from people such as Jerry Bowyer, a conservative author and commentator from Elizabeth Township, who says local and federal officials have turned McKeesport into "a welfare state."

"Then I talked to (Mayor) Jim Brewster, who told me (the government) has to tear down (abandoned) houses, for instance, because who's going to want to invest money and move into a neighborhood with abandoned houses?" Wilson says.

"I was in love with the story, and I was in love with what I thought we were going to create," he says. "The worst part about this is to have it stripped away --- for really nefarious purposes ... I just hope people know that this isn't us, and it isn't right."

. . .

Allegations that political bias motivated Hubbard and Rupe to remove Wilson from the project are untrue, Hubbard says.*

"Clearly we had some creative differences with Mike," he says. "What we want to do with the film is pursue the truth ... We don't have an axe to grind here."

The film is solely motivated by Rupe's desire to find out why the Mon Valley's economy collapsed in the 1980s, Hubbard says.

"Art just wants to help the town he grew up in," he says. Rupe has donated tens of thousands of dollars to charities in the McKeesport area, including the Consortium for Public Education.

. . .

Yet privately, several people who met with Rupe and Hubbard last year to discuss the film have told the Almanac that they were concerned by remarks made by both men.

One person says he warned other prominent local residents to be careful when dealing with the film crew. This source says he was worried that the film was going to do a "hatchet job" on the city.

(In the interest of full disclosure: I met with Rupe and Hubbard last year, and declined to participate in the project because of similar concerns, which I wrote about on two occasions, here and here.)

Hubbard denies that he or Rupe pressured either Sarah Whalen or Mike Wilson to slant their work.

"Did the unions have some culpability?" Hubbard says. "Maybe they did. But it's so much more complicated than that."

. . .

Since his earliest discussions with McKeesporters about the project, Hubbard says, his opinions have changed and evolved.

"Look, there was a time in this country when most people were involved in agriculture," he says. "Economies change, and there are new competitors, new players.

"At the end of the day, we have to be fair with the film. If we're not, we're going to be shredded alive ... with our first two directors I just don't think there was the level of quality we wanted with this film, and that's the bottom line."

Wilson notes that Hubbard has no experience in the movie industry beyond organizing the film festival, and questions whether he's qualified to evaluate the footage.

. . .

Wilson also worries that Hubbard and Rupe might betray McKeesporters who have cooperated with the film crew so far.

"We'll do whatever we have to in order to preserve the integrity of what we did while we were in McKeesport, and make sure that the people we came to know and love there aren't damaged by any of this," Wilson says. "We had a really good relationship because they trusted us and he's violating this trust."

Hubbard says he has no intention of sabotaging the city for political gain --- he just wants to tell the city's story.

"Look, we did consult with documentarians in your area, quite frankly from all political persuasions," he says. "I'm not saying we want to go and softball things but we want an accurate portrayal and we want it to be artistically solid."

. . .

A search for a new director is underway, Hubbard says, and filming will probably resume next year. It's unlikely that any of Wilson's footage will be used, he says.

"I wish Mike the best, and I hope he has a successful career," Hubbard says. "It wasn't anything personal with Mike."

According to reports on various websites, Wilson is presently working on a documentary about boxing.

Though he declined to talk about his current project, Wilson hopes McKeesporters will understand why the film he shot in the city might never be seen.

"The people who know about this project know what we were trying to do and that's what we were contracted to do," Wilson says.


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August 14, 2008 | Link to this story

The Good News

Category: Pointless Digressions || By

Last week, I ranted and raved about the pure, unadulterated crapitude of Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority --- at least in the way they gave me and the G.C. Murphy Company Foundation the runaround regarding Murphy's old "Store No. 12" in Market Square.

I thought I should point out that Lucas Piatt of Millcraft Industries, which is renovating the store for commercial and residential use, has been nothing but supportive of our efforts to preserve what we could of the store.

Also, Millcraft's Chad Wheatley, who's the project manager of what's being called "Market Square Place," gave me an extensive tour of the store complex, repeatedly apologizing for the URA's shortsightedness in failing to save any of the photographs or other documents. It's obviously not Millcraft's fault, but his commiseration was much appreciated. (Little birdies have told the Almanac that representatives of the Senator John Heinz Regional History Center also toured the store after the URA gutted it, and they were equally unhappy.)

Today, Chad emailed to say that Millcraft is donating one of the glass entrance signs that used to adorn the Fifth Avenue side of the building --- as shown in the small picture at right.

Yours truly will have to do some cleanup and repair work, but this sign is tentatively slated to wind up as part of a permanent display at the McKeesport Heritage Center in Renzie Park.

In addition, a lot of the old features of the "Store No. 12" buildings --- like the railings that once lined the stairwells between the basement and first-floor --- are being reused in the renovations. Even the big plastic "G.C. MURPHY" letters from the Fifth Avenue marquee are to be reincorporated into a gameroom inside the building.

We spend too much time focusing on the bad, and not enough applauding the good. Thanks to Lucas, Chad and Millcraft for their help and kindness; and speaking as someone who's spent nearly five years researching the history of the G.C. Murphy Co., I can't think of a better use for the old downtown Pittsburgh store than what they plan to do with it.

Incidentally, click on this picture of the original, 1930 entrance of the store to see the ad that ran in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph on Oct. 14, 1930 --- two days before the store opened for business.

(Disclaimer: Opinions expressed at or in The Almanac are not necessarily those of the G.C. Murphy Company Foundation or any other organization.)

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August 13, 2008 | Link to this story

The TL Sound is Back

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

First things first: In case you missed the item in Pat Cloonan's Daily News column, Terry Lee --- or someone who says he's Terry Lee --- has come partially out of retirement.

Four CDs of Terry Lee's legendary radio shows for WMCK and WIXZ (1360) are for sale right now on eBay. The cost is $15.99 each, plus shipping.

The name doesn't mean much to anyone who didn't grow up in the Mon Valley in the 1960s and '70s, or who isn't interested in Pittsburgh radio. But for those of us who dig the oldies, saying "Terry Lee is selling his CDs on eBay" is like saying "J.D. Salinger is out in the alley, signing autographed pictures."

Porky Chedwick was the radio pied-piper of Pittsburgh teens in the 1950s, and arguably Clark Race of KDKA and Jim Quinn, then on KQV, served that role in the 1960s. Terry Lee, working on McKeesport's 1360, was the more hip, less corporate alternative.

And he must have been made of caffeine and 9-volt batteries. While simultaneously hosting his nightly radio show, Lee also was hosting a teen dance show on WIIC-TV (11), operating a night club off of Lovedale Road in Elizabeth Township called "T.L.'s Nite Train," and working as a concert promoter.

I also have some of the bootleg recordings that have floated around over the years. He was a helluva radio talent who didn't have to be working in McKeesport.

As music faded from AM radio in the late 1970s, Terry worked for a while at several Mon Valley stations, including the old WESA in Charleroi, but then he abruptly vanished.

Why? Who knows. A lot of rumors were spread by people who may have been jealous of his success, or maybe who had been legitimately grieved. I've heard all of the rumors; most of them fall into the category of "a friend of a friend told me."

For what it's worth, I've been interviewing a lot of people who worked at WMCK and WIXZ with Terry. Universally, they tell me that they occasionally had disagreements, but genuinely liked him.

I suspect the rumors are mostly baloney (I'm not going to repeat them here), and that he simply got tired of the aggravation and blew the scene. The fact is, no one knows for sure, because Terry's been mostly incognito for the last 20 years.

Using my elite reporter skills, I did get a home address for him a few months ago, but I haven't written to him. I did order the CDs, though, and I did send him an email. If he wants to talk, man, do I have questions.

. . .

In Other Business: A group of protesters yesterday staged a demonstration against the company that developed the Waterfront shopping center in Munhall and Homestead.

They claim that the Waterfront destroyed the business district on Eighth Avenue in Homestead, and that Pittsburgh officials should cancel the developer's deal to build a similar entertainment and commercial complex on the North Side.

To which I say: Oh, bullflop.

First, I'll agree that the Waterfront hasn't generated any development on the "other side of the tracks" in the Steel Valley. As John Dindak, Betty Esper and others pointed out when the Waterfront was being planned, the complex largely turns its back on the boroughs.

The developers didn't want people from the Steel Valley shopping there. They wanted people from Pittsburgh --- notably Squirrel Hill, Oakland and Shadyside --- shopping there. That's why the entrances from Homestead and Munhall are congested and small, while the entrances from the Homestead Greys Bridge are wide and commodious. That's why they didn't --- at first --- want Port Authority buses running through the Waterfront.

You can call it racism or classism, and you'd have a good argument. Certainly people on the "other side of the tracks" in Homestead, Munhall and West Homestead are poorer and include more minorities than those in Squirrel Hill, Oakland and Shadyside.

But the idea that the Waterfront was responsible for Eighth Avenue's decline is a joke. Like most downtown business districts, Eighth Avenue has been in serious decline for 30 years. When the Waterfront opened, only a handful of businesses were still hanging on --- Levine Brothers Hardware, Harry's Clothes, and a few others. Their owners were elderly, and they've retired or died.

Why haven't new businesses taken their places? Eighth Avenue is full of older buildings that would require expensive renovations, and most of them don't have parking. Small business owners are not going to take risks on dilapidated old storefronts in Homestead when they can rent brand-new spaces in shopping centers in Forest Hills or North Versailles.

I don't like it, but it's reality, and it's not the developers' fault.

A lot of people bemoaned the demolition of Chiodo's Tavern, but the Walgreen's that replaced it is the first new construction on the avenue in years. It's also attractive and respectful to the surrounding buildings.

As for the protesters --- I've met many of them over the years. They are sincere and passionate about the Steel Valley. But some of them are professional protesters who protest everything; a few of them are still fighting battles from the early 1980s, when the mills went down.

God bless 'em. We need 'em to occasionally remind everyone that everything's not sweetness and light, and to hold the feet of the Waterfront's developers --- and others --- to the fire.

But the Steel Valley would be better off if they spent less time chanting slogans, and more time trying to clean up Eighth Avenue and tear down abandoned commercial buildings.

Ah, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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August 12, 2008 | Link to this story

Leftovers, Again?

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

(Editor's Note: I wanted to get a comedy-variety show to fill this spot for the summer ... something hosted, maybe, by Wayne and Schuster or Pat Paulsen, and featuring the Ding-a-Ling SIsters. But as it turns out, 1.) I don't have any money to hire talent, 2.) I'm not actually on TV, and 3.) the people I wanted for the show are dead. So instead, we're stuck with another rerun, this one from May 7, 2003.)

. . .

Isn't it funny how the bodies of government that have the most impact on our daily lives --- our town councils and school boards --- get the least scrutiny from voters? Funny, as in, "depressing"?

In any event, a story from this evening's Daily News illustrates again why the Mon Valley will never get its own chapter of Mensa. It seems that the borough council in Glassport "discovered the U.S. flag on display there was missing something --- a couple of stars":

Councilman James Foster recalled the moment exactly. A month or so ago, he and other councilors were looking around chambers thinking of ways to improve its look.

"We were talking about how old some of the things were and I pulled the flag out," Foster recalled. "I immediately said 'Hey, this is a few stars short.'"

Two to be exact. The even row pattern of the flag tipped Foster off.

Stars aren't the only thing that seem to be in short supply these days.

What we have in Glassport, then, is a group of elected officials that hasn't noticed the wrong American flag in its very own council chambers for 44 years, ever since Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union.

A question for the good burghers of Glassport --- if your borough council doesn't notice when two entire states are missing from the giant flag to which they pledge allegiance at least once a month, do you think they'd notice if, say, thousands of dollars were missing from the budget?

That's the kind of question that residents should be asking on Election Day.

Let's give Glassport council the benefit of the doubt. Maybe past councils were just trying to be fiscally responsible. They didn't want to purchase a new flag until they determined whether Alaska and Hawaii were going to remain part of the union, which is still a subject of debate --- according to these websites --- among some residents of both states.

By the way, I understand that Glassport is buying a new American flag. They've already sent a telegram to President Eisenhower to see if they can get a photo of him to hang next to it.

Meanwhile, Dave Copeland had an item yesterday about UMass, which is considering dumping its Minuteman mascot for sensitivity reasons (apparently, some people don't like having a guy running around campus carrying a rifle). Mainly, the UMass braintrust seems to be concerned because souvenirs featuring the Minuteman don't sell well.

Dave: It could be worse. Like me, you could have graduated from a college whose mascot is a dog in a skirt.

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August 11, 2008 | Link to this story

Summer Reruns

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

(Editor's Note: Due to circumstances beyond my control, it's summer rerun time! Here's an Almanac that originally appeared on March 31, 2004. I'd call it "the best of," but that's like trying to decide which method of tooth-drilling you like "best.")

. . .

At a critical point in a serious meeting last night, I looked down and realized I was wearing two different color shoes. One brown, one black.

It's a long walk from the parking lot to the office, so on rainy, sloppy days, I wear my swamp boots to work, and then change into a pair of dress shoes. The problem is that this invariably means that either the boots or the shoes go home at the end of the day; not both. (Unless I wore shoes on my hands when I went home ... hmmm ....)

But yesterday, there was no need to wear my swamp boots to the office, so I wore a pair of dress shoes. At some point during the afternoon, I kicked off the shoes under my desk. And then, as I prepared to go home last night, I slipped my feet back into them.

One brown. One black. I looked like an escapee from the looney bin (the Dementia ward, if you will, or if you won't, for that matter).

It's just the thing when you're having a serious meeting with a couple of PhDs. Luckily they weren't psychiatrists.

In other business, Kennywood is giving the Old Mill a new look, according to the Post-Gazette:

The new ride will be called Garfield's Nightmare, featuring that chubby feline of comic strip fame. In the ride, Garfield, who is known for his healthy appetite, has a bit too much to eat and goes into a deep sleep, and falls into a nightmare where all the characters that he normally tortures, such as his owner, Jon, and Odie the dog, gain a bit of revenge. Riders will be given special glasses that will make the scenes appear in 3-D and the entire ride will undergo other changes, including a new queuing line, a refreshment stand and a place where riders can get their picture taken with the famous fat cat.

I'd like to take revenge on Garfield for Sunday's comic, which hit a new low in unfunniness even by the standards of "Garfield," which was last funny during the first Reagan administration.

It could be worse, I suppose. It could be called "The Family Circus' Nightmare." On that ride, the boats would trail dotted lines behind them, and dead grandparents would leap from the walls as the riders were pelted with "piz-getty" and meatballs. By the end, you'd be begging for the sweet release of death.

It's not the first time the Old Mill --- now the oldest amusement park water ride in the U.S. --- has been re-themed. Before being remodeled about 10 years ago, it was known as "Hard-Headed Harold's Horrendously Horrific Haunted Hideaway." I may be missing a few "H" words there ("Halitosis Haven, Hepatitis Heliport and Hollandaise Hokey-Pokey"), but it's been a long time, and I'm not about to go look it up in Charles Jacques' book. According to the P-G, at various times the Old Mill was known as the "Panama Canal" and the "Mill Chute."

In one of the earliest attempts at sponsorship of an amusement park ride, the Old Mill also had a short stint as the "Crane Plumbing Raw Sewage Flume," but after a dysentery outbreak, the contract was canceled.

Those of you who grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and early '80s will remember another Kennywood dark-ride called "Le Cachot" (which we Kennywood employees called something unprintable; it's a compound seven-letter word beginning with "cat"). Well, it apparently has some fans of its own, and its own Web page.

Meanwhile, dissolving the city of Pittsburgh and merging it into Allegheny County is a topic under serious consideration by the state's financial oversight board, according to Andrew Conte in the Trib. The suggestion could be interpreted as a big ol' "G.F.Y." to Mayor Smurphy, especially given that Jim Roddey is a member of the panel.

Frankly, it's a good idea, but don't stop there, oversight board; they should also merge all of the municipalities with fewer than 10,000 residents into the county government. In the Mon Valley, that would include just about everybody except for McKeesport, North Versailles Township, Munhall, Swissvale and West Mifflin.

We have a better chance of a "Raw Sewage Flume" moving to Kennywood, and for much the same reason.

But back to Murph the Smurf: A few weeks ago, John Kerry gave an interview to KDKA-TV in which he dropped Hizzoner da Mahr's name in an apparent attempt to curry favor with Pittsburghers.

Given the fact that Murphy's approval ratings in Pittsburgh are hovering somewhere between those of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, I'd have to recommend that Kerry smack around his advance team a little bit. If you're going to be a name-dropper, Senator, at least drop names that will score you some points.

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August 07, 2008 | Link to this story

Putting the 'URA' Into 'Bureaucracy'

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

Here's a little story about a boy from McKeesport, the G.C. Murphy Co., and Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority.

You've heard of the URA. That's where (according to some people) you can get a free electronic billboard with the purchase of a home-theater surround-sound system for the executive director and his wife.

Once upon a time, the McKeesport-based G.C. Murphy Co. had a giant store in Downtown Pittsburgh, a small village (and getting smaller every day) north of Our Fair City (which has shrinkage problems of its own, and not just while swimming).

Then some ogres from Rocky Hill, Conn., bought up all of G.C. Murphy Co.'s shares of stock and proceeded to fly everything into the side of a mountain. (Or maybe it was a Rocky Hill, now that I think of it.)

. . .

The store in Picksberg wound up in the clutches of the McCrory Corp., which was controlled by Meshulam Riklis (better known as Mr. Pia Zadora).

While Mr. Riklis amassed a fortune in rare antiques and oil paintings, McCrory Corp. went down the toilet.

You might say that Mr. Riklis got the paintings, and McCrory's investors got the brush.

The abandoned store was purchased by the URA. (Remember? This is a story about the URA.) Anyway, the boy from McKeesport was writing a history of the G.C. Murphy Co., and asked the URA if he could go into the store and take some photos.

Letters were exchanged. So were emails. So were phone calls.

. . .

First, the URA said "yes." Then "maybe." Then they told the boy that the store was "too dangerous" because of water leaks that damaged the floors and ceilings.

(The boy was too polite to point out that the water was leaking through all of the windows the URA had left open.)

In the meantime, an architecture student contacted the boy to tell him that she was allowed to tour the building. The boy called the URA to say, "What the fudge?"

"Let us get back to you," the URA said. They didn't. Probably they were distracted by all of the smoke from the free cigars. Or maybe they were busy running other stuff besides the URA, like the planning commission.

. . .

Then a movie was filmed using the old G.C. Murphy Co. store as a set. A member of the movie crew emailed the boy. "There's all kinds of historic stuff upstairs," he said. "Pictures of all of the employees, signs, stuff like that. How come you haven't preserved this?"

The boy contacted the URA. "Go talk to the developer," they said this time. But the developer didn't have a key to the building yet --- because the URA was still the owner.

And then, the URA went through the building with shovels, saws and pickaxes, tearing down everything it could. "Asbestos abatement," they said.

No one could explain how photos and signs were made from asbestos, or why those had to be thrown away, too. But out it all went, into trash bins and off to landfills.

. . .

All the URA left behind were some historic mouse droppings, vintage 2008 cups from Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, and an antique Playboy centerfold on the wall.

The boy thought about writing a nasty letter to the URA, but was frankly told not to bother, because it was too late to correct the problem, and they wouldn't care anyway.

Besides, it usually doesn't help to tell someone they're a blockhead. You might as well tell as a skunk that it smells.

The boy also wondered, in retrospect, if maybe he should have tried greasing someone's palm. Unfortunately, he's a boy from McKeesport, and he couldn't afford fancy cigars and home-theater systems.

All he had were some skeins of G.C. Murphy Co.-brand yarn, but he didn't think anyone at the URA would want that anyway, except maybe to knit some caps to warm the heads of the URA's director and his wife, the mayor's ex-press secretary.

. . .

Sadly, this story doesn't have a moral. But the boy from McKeesport has noticed that both the URA director and his wife are follically challenged.

The boy from McKeesport has some experience in that area. He has more scalp than hair, and he recommends wearing a hat in the summertime.

Getting one's bare scalp sunburned is no fun.

Right now, the boy from McKeesport is burned, all right, but on his other end.

And as far as he's concerned, the URA is welcome to kiss that part.

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Posted at 11:50 pm by | Click here and put your ad on Tube City Almanac!
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August 06, 2008 | Link to this story

Research Grows from Penn State's 'Ag' Office

Category: News || By

A new research program is about to raise Penn State University's profile in Western Pennsylvania and will likely pay dividends for students at the campus in McKeesport.

"One of the big areas we're working in right now is alternative energy --- particularly biofuels," says Deno De Ciantis, who's tentatively being billed as "director of the Greater Pittsburgh Metro Initiative." (One of the many things yet to be determined, De Ciantis says wryly, is his title.)

Currently being housed at Allegheny County's agricultural extension office, the proposed Pittsburgh research center is a joint effort of Penn State's Cooperative Extension, College of Agricultural Sciences, and Office of University Outreach.

Eventually, it will also include Penn State's colleges of Engineering and Arts and Architecture.

The direct impact on McKeesport and vicinity is hard to estimate. Unfortunately, the research center will probably not be located at the Greater Allegheny Campus in McKeesport; De Ciantis says Penn State is looking for office space closer to Downtown Pittsburgh.

But there will be opportunities for students at the Greater Allegheny Campus and Penn State's other campuses to get involved in research throughout the region, he says.

"There are tremendous opportunities around for students who want real-world experience, but sometimes it's difficult for them to get into the metro (Pittsburgh) area if they don't know who to approach," says De Ciantis, a Pittsburgh native who has worked for Penn State for 15 years and previously served as county extension director.

The university's intent is to better match needs in local communities with research being done at the University Park campus and the "regional" (Penn State calls them "Commonwealth") campuses.

Although Penn State has $140 million in assets in Allegheny County, De Ciantis says, people tend to think of the university as "that entity way out there" in State College.

(Even the mention of the "county extension office" is likely to mystify city dwellers, but as De Ciantis points out, the extension office's programs go far beyond answering agricultural questions. Through the Allegheny County extension office, residents have access to training in child care, economic development, and environmental health and safety.)

"We're trying to figure out how to better position ourselves," he says.

Besides the obvious, ongoing relationship between the Mon-Yough area and the Greater Allegheny Campus, which currently serves about 800 students, Penn State is already partnering with nearby community organizations.

Two years ago, Penn State helped Allegheny East MH/MR Center Inc. (now called Milestone) develop a hydroponic greenhouse in Elizabeth Township, near the Yough River bike trail.

The 3,840-square-foot greenhouse at "Yough River Trail Gardens" provides job training and vocational therapy for adults with mental health issues or disabilities. It's also growing produce year-round that's sold through two major food distributors.

And just yesterday, Penn State helped launch a new electricity co-generation plant. Exhaust from the propane heater used to keep the greenhouse warm will now generate electricity as well; any surplus electricity will be sold back to the power grid.

The 4.7-kW co-generation plant was funded through a $29,000 grant from the state's Energy Harvest program.

Other research projects are trying to identify uses for brownfields and vacant urban commercial and residential lots. In September, De Ciantis says, a group of students in Penn State's renowned landscape architecture program will begin a semester-long project with Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority to develop low-cost, sustainable ways to improve blighted neighborhoods in the city.

There are also efforts underway to examine the role that urban farming might play in Allegheny County --- converting vacant city land to produce food, and employing local residents.

"We're trying to identify needs and find resources with Penn State that can help address those challenges," De Ciantis says. "There's a whole bunch of stuff happening."

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August 03, 2008 | Link to this story

Rally Organizers Hope to Unite, Inspire Young People

Category: Events || By

Organizers are firming up plans for Saturday's second-annual "Rally in the Valley" to end violence.

Events start at 12 noon at Stephen Barry Field in Renziehausen Park and run until 6 p.m.

The rally will combine entertainment, inspirational speakers, crafts and food "in a Christian atmosphere," says Alease Paige, one of the leaders of Mon Valley Concerned Citizens.

Scheduled speakers include Doug McCracken, pastor of McKeesport Alliance Church; Rev. Hazel Garland of Zion Apostolic Assembly; Dr. Rani Kumar, emergency medical physician at UPMC McKeesport; and youth organizers from across the Mon-Yough area.

The speakers will be trying to encourage teens and young adults to stay away from drugs and crime, and focus on educational opportunities and jobs.

In addition to Paige, other organizers of the rally include the Rev. Earlene Coleman, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church; Luethel Nesbit of the OIC; Gerald "Puddin" Grayson, teacher and basketball coach at McKeesport Area High School; Pete Giacalone, pastor of Rainbow Temple Assembly of God; and Bobby Walker.

Mayor Jim Brewster, Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey, and Bob Hammond of The Daily News have also pledged their support, Paige says. The mayor's office has been "a staunch supporter," she says.

For younger children, clowns and costumed characters will be working the crowd; for their parents or older siblings, UPMC will present information about HIV testing and anti-smoking help, volunteers will be registering new voters, and homemade craft items will be on sale.

McKeesport Weed and Seed also will be on hand with a child ID program, Paige says.

Food vendors on hand will be selling barbecue, fish, hot dogs, hot sausage, funnel cakes, lemonade, French fries and desserts, and other items, she says.

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