Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll TV

Expanded from the 2-6-2005 Daily Sparks Tribune
2-11-2005 Comstock Chronicle

     "Dear Andrew: You may remember me from my Cato days at UNR and involvement with the Libertarian Party. I miss you and Travus on the local radio. I do look forward to reading both of you in the Comstock Chronicle each week…I have always enjoyed your hard hitting style. But you seem close to being obsessed with the cable TV company, Surely this is important to the shut in segment; but in my book anyone stupid enough to PAY to watch television gets the shafting they deserve. At best this is a fringe issue for a very few."

Sorry, Cato, TV is not a fringe issue. For better or worse, television interlaces the entire fabric of society, both here and pretty much everywhere else. TV is even essential in places that have never had electricity. When people want to stop genocide in a Rwanda or Ethiopia, they know they have to get the story uplinked to the magic beeping space bird.

Our nation is arguably more fragmented today because of the proliferation of news sources. Fewer and fewer events like the Super Bowl unite us. For all the sterility of the times when there were only three major networks and just one big, fat, insensitive phone company, it was easier to generate a common frame of reference.

You could walk up to any five people and talk about the funniest joke Johnny Carson may have written for Red Skelton on that week's TV show. The odds were high that one or two would have seen it. Now, the democratizing of mass media has served to unite us with a larger world while further isolating each of us.

Try this: Go up to any five people and ask if they know the difference between Puff Daddy and P. Diddy. You might get slugged before you get a wink of recognition. (Warning: It's a trick question.)

TV today is just as ubiquitous as sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Nationally, the number of homes with TV sets surpassed those with telephones more than a decade ago. Charter Communications overcharges six of 10 households in this region, while only about one in six have satellite service.

Television is now one of the major glues holding society together, even as its abusers fragment the thinking of the susceptible. TV is so powerful that a short animation pattern in a Japanese children's cartoon sent several kids into convulsions a couple of years ago. George Orwell ("1984"), Anthony Burgess and Stanley Kubrick ("A Clockwork Orange") have been proven chillingly correct.

When Nevada cable and telephone companies stop being competitors and begin using their political clout to hurt consumers, it gets my attention because I know how high the stakes are.

Because of local, state and federal governments rolling over and playing dead, the telecommunications industry is now well on its way to becoming a carbon copy of the retail gasoline business. Clever predatory marketing by BigOil has eliminated most independent gasoline retailers. A strategy implemented over the past two decades has resulted in a prediction becoming reality. A decade ago, a beleaguered station owner told the Nevada Legislature that the day was not far off when all fuel would be sold by the big six oil companies.

"The only thing you can depend on is that when gas is $5.00 a gallon, ARCO will sell for $4.98," he testified. (See the longrunning Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive.)

Drive down any street. Major brands and the few remaining independents have all been selling at around $1.95 a gallon this past week.

The City of Reno rolled over and played dead for Charter. In exchange for 30 pieces of Nevada silver, the city council gave the recalcitrant TV retailer a lucrative new consumer-unfriendly franchise. Sparks' franchise is up for renewal soon. Carson City is starting the public hearing part of the process. Washoe County is both low key and past due.

The non-Renos should take a look at what's been happening in Valdosta, Georgia, Sault St. Marie, Michigan and even in Truckee, Calif. All three towns have fought the cable company and won substantial benefits for their citizens.

Anti-competitive legislation will rear its ugly head as the 2005 legislative petting zoo goes into session this week.

The City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, which I chair, will also go into session this Thursday evening at 6:30. It will be cablecast live on SNCAT/Charter Channel 13,
re-running Friday, Feb. 11, 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 12, at 12 noon. Check the website for the agenda.

How important is this issue to the City of Reno? City Manager Charles McNeely's staff has recommended that my committee be gutted. Certain council members are tired of reading columns like this.

MORE TV TURN-ONS. I'll be pontificating with the pundits this Wednesday on Sam Shad's statewide Nevada Newsmakers. Former Nevada Consumer Advocate Timothy Hay will be the opening guest. Here in the frozen north, the show airs at 12:30 p.m. on KRNV TV-4 and repeats the same day on Charter Channel 19 in Carson City and Douglas County. Audio re-airs from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. each Sunday on white-sheets KKKOH Radio. (Click here to access the complete statewide schedule.)

A FINAL NOTE ON BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER: TONY ARMSTRONG. Hizzoner's passing brought back into print two of the heaviest hitters ever to compose for these pages, former editors Randy Frisch and Angela Curtis. Their heartfelt tributes in Saturday's edition brought warm tears.

As Tony told a gathering of Tribunites at a Christmas part years ago, he fondly remembered Frisch's two greatest headlines: "We kicked ass!" (the day after the start of the 1991 Gulf War) and "Schouweiler weenies out" (breaking the news that an incumbent judge was too scared to run against then-D.A. Mills Lane).

Mr. Mayor, watch over us and if we weenie out, fail to kick ass or otherwise screw up Sparks, please…

Be well. Raise hell.



Power play over franchise fees at Nevada legislature

Nevada Consumer Links

How to fight the cable monopoly in your town

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How to fight Wal-Mart in your town

How to fight the gambling-industrial complex
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Copyright © 1982-2005 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of He chairs the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee.

Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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