Tag Archives: Labor

Bad Day At Black Rock – The Axe Falls At CBS Flagship Radio Station WCBS 880 AM In New York City

…And we’re not referring to the 1955 John Sturges movie by the same name, starring Spencer Tracy.

We’ve written here recently that it seems to us that the vast majority of the advertising on radio stations lately is for products best described as snake oil, and services of questionable efficacy, almost always targeted at individuals in some sort of trouble. Advertising for legitimate, mainstream products and services seems to have all but disappeared. In our mind, this is direct evidence of the faltering economy in the United States, as well as a result of the impact the Internet has had on manufacturer’s and retailer’s advertising habits. We doubt that a radio station enjoys the same type of advertising revenue from a commercial for some brand of snake oil, as it would for an ad from an automobile manufacturer, airline, bank or any other “real” advertiser. And when you hear the same snake oil spot being broadcast every few minutes, day-in and day-out, we think it’s a good bet that they are buying the airtime dirt-cheap. Tough economic times always breed a bumper crop of hucksters, snake oil salesmen and get-rich-quick schemes. We guess P.T. Barnum was right.

It came as no surprise then, when we learned that there was a round of layoffs this week at CBS radio stations, including at WCBS-AM (880 kHz) in New York City. There are reports that nearly 200 CBS radio employees lost their jobs this week. According to this posting, it’s Crystal clear that the bloodletting included WCBS jettisoning their Program Director, Crys Quimby. You can still (at least at this writing) read about Crys on her page at WCBS880.com. She had been with CBS for more than 20 years! You know things are bad when people with that much service are shown the door. We guess that means there will be no gold watch.

The day after I blogged this story, this article appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger. A statement released by CBS Radio included the following explanation…

“With these actions, we continue to build on our strategy of deploying our assets to best grow our ratings and monetize the results”

Now, if that isn’t a piece of tortured doublespeak, penned by some corporate spinmaster, we don’t know what is. In fact, we’re not even sure it’s written in English. We parsed it using our Captain Midnight secret decoder ring. It translated into “The Internet has killed our audience. Between that and the failing economy, our advertising revenue has dried up like a lake bed in a drought. We’re running out of money”.

What’s next? Hooking WCBS 880’s traffic reporter Tom Kaminski up to a bunch of helium balloons instead of having him report from “Chopper 880”? Maybe they’ll have chopper pilot Christopher LaCasse manning the helium tank. We would love to have Tom take a few hits of helium just before he goes on the air. His traffic reports would sound like this (please don’t try this, since it could be dangerous, and there’s always the chance you could sound like one of the Munchkins permanently). The Wizard Of Oz has always been our favorite movie. As a child, we would cry every time we watched it, afraid that Dorothy and Toto wouldn’t get back to Kansas. By the way, here’s why helium does funny things to your voice.

…But we digress.

About the only advice we can offer to the employees at WCBS-AM and other CBS stations who are now unemployed, is to not bother applying for jobs at Macy’s. But WCBS could enter Tom Kaminski as the newest float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Macy’s, one of America’s oldest and best known retailers, just announced they are cutting 2,300 jobs (read about it here). No big surprise here either, since retailers are really hurting in this economy. But hey, Wal-Mart is still hiring. As we have previously written, don’t expect the $600 income tax rebate checks Americans will be getting thanks to the U.S. Economic Stimulus Plan to be much help. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if Macy’s ends their more than 80 year sponsorship of the annual Thanksgiving day parade in New York City. In that case, you could say that the axe fell on the turkey, too. The Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks show, which has dazzled New York City for over 30 years might also fizzle.

Of course, it’s not just CBS Radio or radio and TV broadcasters in general who are feeling the pinch. Newspapers are folding (pun intended) under the weight of a failing economy, coupled with the exodus of advertising dollars to the Internet, cellphones, and other electronic venues. Take The New York Times, one of America’s most venerable and respected newspapers, for example. The print edition of The New York Times is a shadow of it’s former self. Over the last year or so, entire sections of the Sunday New York Times have disappeared, while the newsstand price has climbed to $4.00. That alone, I am sure has contributed to much of the decrease in circulation that they have seen. For a long time, they didn’t even bother to renumber the remaining sections. For instance, when they killed section 10 (Help Wanted) and section 13 (Television), they simply sold the Sunday newspaper with those section numbers missing for about a year. I would imagine that prompted a lot of complaints from readers that their copy was missing some sections. Then recently, they decided to drop the section numbers altogether, simply using the remaining sections’ names only (Sports, Real Estate, etc.). I took this as an omnious sign that they expect to discontinue even more sections of their Sunday edition. We were particularly upset when the Technology section (formerly the Computers section) that appeared one (weekday) per week, shrunk and shrunk until all that remains today is one or two pages a week inside the Times’ Business section. Even the physical size of their pages has been reduced. We guess that means the Times is shrinking literally AND figuratively.

We’re not the only ones thinking that The New York Times is in big trouble. Internet pioneer Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, has begun his “New York Times deathwatch” (see this CNN article).

So I guess we will be getting most of our news off of the Internet from now on. Too bad, because we were starting to find all those radio commercials for snake oil to be quite entertaining.

– RoutingByRumor

P.S. – Ever wonder why WCBS-AM, which used to go by the moniker “Newsradio 88” adopted the “880” identity? They’re still at the same spot on the AM dial, 880 kHz (or 0.880 mHz). When radios, especially car radios, had analog tuning dials, it was the norm to drop the last digit of frequencies below 1 megahertz. Hence, 530 kHz was shown as “53” or “53“, and 880 kHz was shown as “88” or “88” (to avoid clutter, only a few frequencies would usually be shown on the tuning dial. You would have to guesstimate the position of the other stations). Some listeners would scratch a mark into the face of the radio to mark the position of their favorite stations. We would put little dots of “white-out” on the face of the dial. With the move to digital displays on modern radios, 880 kHz is usually shown as “880”. WCBS, as well as other AM stations, simply wanted to keep things in sync, and have what you see displayed match their announced frequency.

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Filed under Business, CBS Radio, Employment, Jobs, Journalism, Labor, News, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Shrinking Products, Technology, The Economy, WCBS-AM

Need Proof That The U.S. Economy Is In Trouble?

ssa_gov-soup-kitchen-500x405.jpg
Great Depression era soup kitchen in Chicago

Call it what you will

Whether you want to call it an economic slump, a downturn, a correction or a recession, the American economy is in trouble. If you want proof that the economy is in trouble, just take off your rose-colored glasses, and turn on the radio or open your local newspaper.

Advertising

I’ve noticed this trend for the last few years… Very few of the advertisements on radio are for what I consider legitimate products or services. It seems that the vast majority of radio ads are aimed at people in some sort of trouble, be it financial, legal, criminal, medical or personal. Advertising for real, honest-to-goodness consumer products are few and far between.

Every type of snake oil imaginable is being hawked on the radio. Whatever medical condition you have, there’s some miracle pill or device being advertised, and they’re all free! FREE! FREE! FREE! …that is, if you don’t count the “shipping and handling charge”. Give me a break.

Are you in debt? No problem. There are radio advertisements offering a solution to every possible financial problem. Have you ruined your credit rating? Owe money to the IRS? Have to declare bankruptcy? Creditors calling and harrasing you? Owe child support? Can’t get a credit card? Home being foreclosed? Car being repossessed? Charged with DWI? Want to sue your doctor? Want to “name a star after someone“, and waste more than $50 on absolute nonsense? No problem. Just call the 800 number, and a friendly and curteous professional is there to help. 24 hours a day. Operators are standing by. No obligation …and it’s FREE !!! …but you have to call within the next 30 minutes. Quantities are limited. Only one per household. You need to call now! Oh… and have your credit card ready.

Have your credit card ready? I thought it was free.

Regardless of the particular brand of snake oil that these commercials are offering, here’s RoutingByRumor’s Rule Of Thumb #1… The more often they repeat their toll-free phone number during the commercial, the more of a scam, or more worthless of a product it is. Another telltale sign that you’d be better off turning the dial to a different station is what I like to refer to as the “speedtalker”. The announcer, usually at the end of the commercial, that reads the fine print at about 1,000 words per minute. Some of this fine print, especially the ones done electronically, are truly hysterical. You couldn’t comprehend most of what they are saying if your life depended on it. But that’s probably their intent. So RoutingByRumor’s Rule Of Thumb #2… If they have to resort to speed-talking to give you all the legal disclaimers and other crap, turn off the radio. A legitimate advertiser will never have to resort to this nonsense. The undecipherable gibberish they attach to these ads make their entire message suspect, at least in my mind. I find it hard to believe that any advertising agency would recommend this tactic to an advertiser.

Tired of your job? Want to quit the rat race? Had it with your boss? Want to make “real” money? Only want to work part-time? Looking for financial freedom? Tired of the commute? No problem. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’ll make $10,000 in the first week. Then they give you the testimonials. Every one of these people are raking in the bucks. Some of them are only working a few hours a week. They can’t count all the money. They’re making money while they sleep. It’s insane how much cash you’ll make. All without investing a penny. All from the comfort of your home. While you’re in your pajamas! All without a college degree. As one of their success stories tells you, “I was skeptical, but I called the 800 number. Now, I’m earning a six-figure income”. The sky’s the limit. But you have to call now. Oh, did I mention… Operators are standing by. Then they repeat the 800 number another half-dozen times.

Just one small problem. They never actually tell you what it is they’re selling. Visit their website, and you still don’t have a clue. Call to request more info? They will send you a packet of material that doesn’t tell you what it is that will allow you to earn all that money. Chances are, these get-rich-quick offers are some form of multi-level-marketing (MLM) scam. Routing-By-Rumor’s Rule Of Thumb #3… If they don’t tell you what they’re selling, run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction.

Have an old car sitting in the driveway that you’re trying to get rid of? What’s that? It won’t start? No problemo. No keys? No title? No registration? No wheels? No engine? No problem. They will arrange a pick-up within the hour, and you’ll get a tax-deductible receipt for the full value of the vehicle. They’ll drag away that old heap regardless of the condition, running or not.

The full value of the vehicle? Exactly what does that mean? The IRS wants to know. They have been cracking down on these scams recently. Our guess is that few if any of the charities that stoop to this type of advertising are worth considering donating to. Many of the radio commercials or newspaper ads for these “charities” don’t actually tell you what type of work your “donation” will support. What we find amazing is that the word has only four letters, yet there seems to be an infinite number of ways to spell SCAM.

Now, we realize that ever since man has roamed the the planet, there have been hucksters, scammers, snake oil salesmen, crooks and get-rich-quick artists. What I’ve noticed in the last few years, particularly with radio advertising, is that ads for legitimate products and services has been largely replaced by ads for every conceivable scam and every type of snake oil imaginable. I guess broadcasters are desperate for ad revenue, so they aren’t too choosy about which ads they will accept. As long as the advertisers pay their bills, broadcasters will run the ads.

Yes, the Internet has a lot to do with it. Legitimate advertisers have many more places to spend their advertising bucks these days. However, I don’t think that accounts for most of whats going on. I think that the disappearance of what I consider legitimate advertising, as well as the proliferation of scams and snake oil, are good indicators of how much trouble the American economy is in. These types of ads, which appeal to desperate and gullible people, proliferate when the economy is in trouble. Guglielmo Marconi must be spinning in his grave.

A widening gap

We’re not economists at RoutingByRumor, but we will point out some of the indices we use when formulating our doom and gloom forecast. The gap between the wealthiest and poorest in America has never been greater (see NY Times article, MSNBC article, another NY Times article, yet another NY Times article). We doubt that the disparity between wage increases and cost-of-living increases has ever been greater. And we don’t trust the government’s unemployment figures as far as we could throw them. Spiraling energy prices are increasing the cost of goods and services across the board. If you’re lucky enough to be working, is your salary keeping pace with the cost of living? We doubt it.

Banks

The average bank savings account pays around 3.5% interest annually, interest-bearing checking accounts much, much less. Many credit card companies charge cardholders up to 36% interest on their outstanding balances, with fees that seem to continue rising without limit. Has the spread between the interest Americans earn on their bank accounts (or even Certificates of Deposit) and what they pay in credit card interest and fees ever been greater?

Investing

In RoutingByRumor’s opinion, Wall Street is a cesspool of insider trading, stock manipulation and corruption. It seems that jail time and public disgrace provide little deterrence. We think that few Americans still trust the stock market, yet Wall Street firms are earning record profits, and traders are earning record incomes. Corporations try to outdo one another when it comes to executive compensation. No compensation package, it seems, is too excessive. Even when salaries are capped, total compensation often reaches obscene levels.

Wages

Yet at the opposite end of the spectrum, many companies are paying little more to hourly workers today than they did 20 or 30 years ago, and many rely heavily on part-time workers who receive few, if any benefits. The current U.S. federal minimum wage of $5.85 an hour is a farce. The percentage gap between poverty-level income and minimum wage income is about four times greater today than it was in 1968 !!! (see statistics) Forty years ago, a single-income family of four, dependent on the minimum wage, was nearly at the poverty line. Today, that same family is nearly at half of poverty line income. Families at the low end of the economic ladder are in much worse shape today than ever. The gap between the poorest and wealthiest Americans has never been greater. The concentration of wealth has never been greater.

People are hurting

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Bread line, circa 1937

Read the newspapers. Food pantries and soup kitchens across America report a greater need than ever, even as the donations they need to operate are decreasing. At the same time, the demand for luxury goods by the wealthiest Americans has never been stronger.

Today, labor unions have little clout in America. Look no further than the American auto industry, once a bastion of labor unions. Look at how little we manufacture here anymore. Look at the trade deficit. Look at the illegal immigration problem. By the way, don’t believe them when they tell you that making it more difficult to get a driver’s license will solve the illegal immigration problem, or the terrorism threat. Don’t believe them when they tell you that making it harder to smuggle people or drugs, or anything else across the border will solve anything. Did it ever solve the drug problem in the United States? If you sent every single illegal Mexican home tomorrow, it would make little difference to our economy. Virtually everything sold in this country is being imported. That’s where all the jobs have gone. To China and every other low cost producer in the world. Not to Mexico. People feared NAFTA. I think it has had little impact on the American economy compared to the flood gates that have been opened to imports from Asia.

Wal-Mart advertised they were hiring workers for their new store Avondale Estates, Georgia. Walmart wages and benefits are widely considered among the worst in America, yet this week, 10,000 people showed up hoping to get one of the 400 jobs available at this Wal-Mart (see this Atlanta Journal-Constitution Article). Was it this bad during the great depression?

But don’t take our word for it

Think we’re all wrong about this stuff?

Just turn on the radio, and count the number of “real” products or services you hear commercials for.

Open the newspaper, and try to find a decent paying job (or any job at all).

Try to sell your home (or try buying a home). Good Luck !!!

Ask yourself if you’re in as good financial shape as you were a year, five years, or ten years ago.

Worried about being able to afford health care?

Worried that you’ll never be able to retire?

Worried about pulling into the gas station and saying “fill-er-up”?

Worried about the cost of heating the house this winter?

Worried about layoffs?

Worried about the war?

Still think the economy is doing well?

– RoutingByRumor

( 1/18/2008 update: See our related article, entitled “Dear President Bush…“)

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Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, China, Consumerism, Employment, Energy, Energy costs, Jobs, Labor, Life, Money, News, Politics, Scams, Shopping, Terrorism, The Economy, Uncategorized, War, Your Money

If You Think The Pay Is Low At Wal-mart…


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image from grokdotcom.com (click here)

If you needed any proof that RoutingByRumor has it’s finger on the pulse of America, here it is.

Two days ago, I posted a piece on this blog entitled “Made In USA? Yeah, Right”. In it, I discussed the fact that we are becoming dependent on China for everything from clothing to automobile parts. Last week, I posted a piece entitled “The Walmartization of America”, in which I discussed, among other things, cheap merchandise, imports from China, and the hard working Wal-mart employees that don’t earn a decent salary.

Well, today’s local newspaper (12/13/2007) carried a Reuters article with the headline “Senator Says Wal-Mart Sells Products From Sweatshops”. I don’t know about you, but I was shocked and taken aback upon reading that headline. Totally flabergasted. In fact, I’m still in denial. Wal-mart selling sweatshop merchandise? I’m sure that Kathy-Lee is as shocked as I am. The article reported that Senator Byron L. Dorgan, (D) – North Dakota, held a news conference yesterday, at which he released a report by the National Labor Comittee, a human rights organization.

The report highlighted conditions at a company in China that employees 8,000 workers and manufactures Christmas ornaments sold by U.S. retailers, including Wal-mart. It indicated that those workers earn as little as 26 cents an hour, half of the legal minimum wage in China. And you thought our minimum wage was low?

The Reuters article went on to quote a Wal-mart spokesperson as saying that they have a “rigorous ethical standards program”, and were investigating NLC’s claim. If the National Labor Committee’s report is true, I guess Wal-mart might have to add some rigor to their already rigorous ethical standards program. And if the NLC’s report is true, then “Always Low Prices. Always.” (Wal-mart’s former advertising slogan, which has been replaced with “Save Money. Live Better.”) might as well have been “Always Low Pay. Always.”, not only for Wal-mart’s employees, but also for their supplier’s employees.

I had an Uncle who was a CPA, and who was the family’s source of wisdom and advice on all things financial. One day, many years ago (long before I became a cynical blogger), I was bragging to him about some bargain I had gotten on something, the specifics of which I’ve long forgotten. My Uncle sat me down, and said “RoutingByRumor, you get what you pay for“. (OK, I just made up the RoutingByRumor part, but the rest is historically accurate.) Of course, he was right. So, don’t expect to buy anything, at Wal-mart or anywhere else, at an incredibly low price, without there being a catch. Maybe the catch is that the workers that made it earn 26 cents an hour.

I came across this fascinating article from Fast Company about Wal-Mart. Although it’s from four years ago, it is very interesting reading. It puts a lot of the criticism of Wal-mart into perspective.

Here’s some other websites dedicated to Wal-mart issues…

WalmartWatch

WakeUpWalmart

(e-mail me if you would like your Walmart-centric website added to this list)

Never one to underestimate the lowest common denominator among my fellow human beings, or ignore the value of Google, I did a Google search on “walmart sucks”. Google returned the expected stuff, like this, and this. But the real surprise came when I did a whois search at networksolutions.com for the domain name “walmartsucks.com”.

Here’s the domain registration data that Networksolutions returned…

Registrant:
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
(DOM-1582466)
702 S.W. 8th Street
Bentonville
AR
72716-0520
US

Domain Name: walmartsucks.com

Registrar Name: Markmonitor.com
Registrar Whois: whois.markmonitor.com
Registrar Homepage: http://www.markmonitor.com

Administrative Contact:
Domain Administrator
(NIC-14300985)
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
702 S.W. 8th Street
Bentonville
AR
72716-0520
US
domains@wal-mart.com
+1.4792734000
Fax- +1.4792775991
Technical Contact, Zone Contact:
DNS Management, Wal-Mart
(NIC-14570620)
DNS Management, Wal-Mart
805 Moberly Ln., M31
Bentonville
AR
72716-0560
US
dns@wal-mart.com
+1.4792734000
Fax- +1.4792775991

Created on…………..: 2003-Nov-18.
Expires on…………..: 2011-Nov-18.
Record last updated on..: 2007-Dec-10 16:01:47.

Domain servers in listed order:

L4.NSTLD.COM
A4.NSTLD.COM
F4.NSTLD.COM
G4.NSTLD.COM

I guess that gets filed under “damage control”. I don’t know if Wal-mart did this pre-emptively, or if they bought the domain from someone who registered it first.  Unfortunately, there are so many TLDs (top level domains) like .com, .org, .net, .us, etc., and so many ways to spell “I hate you”, that this really is an exercise in futility. It’s like trying to stop the tide from coming in by using a bucket to empty the ocean. But I commend Wal-mart for trying.

It appears that Walmart would not have been able to sue someone who registered the walmartsucks.com domain name, either to collect damages, or to gain control of the domain name. I found the following passage on a FAQ for bloggers about trademark issues, published by the Electronic FrontierFoundation (EFF)

I want to complain about a company. Can I use their name and logo?

Yes. While trademark law prevents you from using someone else’s trademark to sell your competing products (you can’t make and sell your own “Rolex” watches or name your blog “Newsweek”), it doesn’t stop you from using the trademark to refer to the trademark owner or its products (offering repair services for Rolex watches or criticizing Newsweek’s editorial decisions). That kind of use, known as “nominative fair use,” is permitted if using the trademark is necessary to identify the products, services, or company you’re talking about, and you don’t use the mark to suggest the company endorses you. In general, this means you can use the company name in your review so people know which company or product you’re complaining about. You can even use the trademark in a domain name (like walmartsucks.com), so long as it’s clear that you’re not claiming to be or speak for the company.


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Filed under China, Consumerism, Employment, Home, Journalism, Labor, Life, Money, News, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Politics, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, Walmart