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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

New Balance Athletic Shoes – Made In USA? Yeah, Right!

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New Balance CM473KO

OK, I’ll admit it again… I’m a skeptic.

This is a continuation of my discussion about the disappearance of American manufacturing jobs, and the lengths that companies will go to in an effort to sugar-coat the fact that they have shipped their manufacturing overseas. See my previous post, Made In USA? Yeah, Right! Today, I’ll look at The New Balance Athletic Shoe Company, of Boston, Massachusetts. According to their Internet domain name registration, they are located at 61 North Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02134. Could someone explain where they came up with a name like “New Balance”? Is that a place (like “New Mexico”)?, a state of mind?, an allusion to better posture?, a reference to a new corporate reincarnation (as opposed to the (old) Balance Shoe Company? All of the above? None of the above?

Where does the name Nike come from? In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of victory. Where does the name Adidas come from? That one is a bit more obscure. Adidas is a contraction of “ADI (Adolph) DASsler“, that company’s founder’s name. Bet ya didn’t know that one! But remember, long before people were wearing Nike and Adidas, there were Keds! And although a bit off-topic, what do Adidas, Pepsi and the defunct chain of department stores called E.J. Korvette’s have in common? Find the answer here.

I’ve been wearing New Balance shoes since back when they really were making them in the USA. But today, it seems, most of their shoes say “Made In China”. The New Balance shoes that do say “Made In USA” say so on stickers affixed to the tags inside the shoes, but not on the shoes per se, and not on the box the shoes come in. I’m highly suspicious that their shoes labeled “Made In USA” are being made “lock, stock and barrel” in China, and that little manufacturing, other than perhaps inspecting them and placing a “Made in USA” sticker on them is actually being done in an American factory, by American workers.  According to this article in Fortune Magazine, 75% of New Balance shoes are made in China and Vietnam.  Perhaps an even more interesting aspect of the Fortune article are the shoes that many of those Asian factories produce on their “Third Shift” or “Ghost Shift”.   These shoes, produced in New Balance’s  foreign factories, aren’t exactly counterfeits, but they aren’t exactly genuine New Balance shoes either.  It’s an intriguing problem that companies such as New Balance face when moving their production offshore.  It also makes you wonder whether moving their production offshore might not be costing New Balance more than they are saving in labor costs.  Then there’s New Balance’s other problem, the  “Henkee”.

nb-1.jpgLet’s start with the box the shoes come in. It appears to be made in China. On the bottom of the box there is a logo and a few characters next to it, printed in (Mandarin?) Chinese. Well, let’s give New Balance the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps only the box is made in China.

Upon opening the box, I find a hang tag attached to one of the shoes that proclaims that New Balance is “Committed to American Workers”. Really? Almost hilariously, it also says “Solidaire des Travailleurs Americains”. I thought we speak English in America. Mon Dieu! (Je parle tres, tres peu Francais, mon ami.)

The back of the tag enigmatically states “New Balance has proven that high quality, width-sized athletic footwear can be made by Americans for discriminating consumers. We are proud of this fact“. Now, I know this is probably just paranoia on my part, but it only says that they’ve proven it. It doesn’t actually say that THIS pair of shoes was made by Americans. Perhaps I’m taking their wording too literally. I’m sure that a closer inspection will prove that I’m all wrong about this.

The inside of the hang tag has the following message in both English and French. I guess that’s because, as we all know, the official language of the United States is French…

These shoes have been produced by the New Balance team in one of our five U.S. factories. Unfortunately, we are not able to obtain all materials and components for these shoes in the U.S. either because they are not available, or because economic or quality considerations dictate foreign sourcing. The Federal Trade Commission has attempted to determine what it means to say a product is “made in” the U.S. We believe most consumers think “Made in U.S.A.” means that real manufacturing jobs were provided to U.S. workers in order to make the product. These shoes were made by U.S. workers using U.S. and imported materials. Where the domestic value is at least 70%, we have labeled the shoes “Made in U.S.A.”. Where it falls below 70%, we have qualified the label referencing domestic and imported materials. This determination is based in part on the FTC’s survey of consumers. The FTC’s analysis of the “Made in U.S.A.” issue can be found at FTC.gov or for a copy, write to New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc., 20 Guest Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02135. Attn.: Communications”

Since this pair of shoes does say “MADE IN USA OF IMPORTED MATERIALS”, I think we can safely say (based on New Balance’s own statements) that the domestic value is below 70%. How far below 70%? Could the “domestic value”, meaning the percentage of it’s value produced in the United States be .00001% ??? Could it mean that little was done in the United States other than attaching the tag I quoted from, above? Call me skeptical. Call me a disbeliever. Accuse me of being too logical. The fact is that New Balance doesn’t actually tell you how much of their product is made in America. Their explanation of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines are very educational, but I think that New Balance is trying to mince words. It’s probably just skeptical me. I’m sure once I take a look at the shoes themselves, I’ll be convinced they were “made by Americans”.

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The label affixed to the inside of the shoes has a lot of information printed on it. There’s the shoe’s size, width, model number, a barcode and some other numeric data, which probably indicates to New Balance where and when the shoes were manufactured. Interestingly, the label does not say where the shoes were made. That information is contained on a sticker, which is affixed to the label, which is affixed to the shoes. That sticker says…

“MADE IN USA OF IMPORTED MATERIALS

FABRIQUE AUX E.-U.

A PARTIR DE MATIERES IMPORTEES”

I wish I was more fluent in French. It would come in handy when reading the labels inside shoes that are “Made in USA”.

Now, what kind of an idiot do I look like? I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but there are at least a few neurons firing. Why would New Balance print a label that does not state the country of origin, only to add a sticker that says “Made in USA”? My guess (and probably yours) is that they can’t legally import a product into the United States that says “Made in USA”, even if they add the qualifier about imported materials. In my opinion, New Balance is taking advantage of the FTC’s ambiguous guidelines regarding what can be identified as being made in the United States. Call it fine print, mouse print, weasel words, or whatever you wish. This loophole is used by many companies, although some will actually break down which components of their product are foreign made, and which are produced in the USA. I wish New Balance went at least that far, stating, for example, “Uppers and insoles made in USA, all other components made in China”, but they do not break down which components are imported, leading me to believe that the shoes are pretty much manufactured entirely in China. Actually, they don’t even say where the components were imported from.

Are you wearing a pair of New Balance shoes that say “Made in USA” on the tags inside? Go ahead… Take off your shoes and closely inspect the tag. Go ahead. No, really… I’ll wait. Go ahead. (RoutingByRumor taps their feet and whistles a few notes while waiting for you.)

Nice socks. You must be a very religious person, considering those holey socks. ROFL. Now look closely at those tags in your shoes. Does the tag actually say “Made in USA”, or is there a sticker that says “Made in USA” that is stuck to the tag? See! Exactly as I suspected. Whew. Eeeeeeeeewwwwww. Better put those shoes back on now. Thanks.

Perhaps I have this all wrong. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions about where New Balance shoes are actually made. If New Balance wishes to provide specific details about exactly how much of their product is made in the United States, I’d love to add that information to this article. Are all the components sewed and glued into a finished product in the USA? I’d hope so, but I sincerely doubt it.

If my suspicions about New Balance’s labeling practices regarding their “Made in USA” products are correct, they would certainly qualify for induction into RoutingByRumor’s Hall of Shame.

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Filed under Adidas, China, Consumerism, E.J. Korvette, Employment, Greek Mythology, Keds, Labor, Life, Money, New Balance, News, Nike, Pepsi, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Retail, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Your Money

Made In USA ? Yeah, Right !

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We are in trouble. Deep trouble. Trouble with a capital T, right here in River City.

The United States has become almost totally dependent on other countries for everything. Clothing. Shoes. Computers and other electronics. Automobiles. Toys. Illegal immigrant workers. To a growing extent, even food. (I guess we should he happy that at least a large portion of the Japanese cars we buy are assembled in U.S. facilities, albeit by non-union workers.)

God help us if we ever go to war with China. They might have the largest army on the planet, but they wouldn’t have to fire a single shot. All China has to do is turn off the flow of goods they are flooding the United States with. We would starve to death. If you think the melamine flavored pet food or the lead-tainted toys from China are a problem, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It seems that even most of the products that still carry the “Made In USA” label contain at least some ingredients or components from China or other countries. I don’t mean to sound anti-China. I would be just as concerned if everything in America was coming from Russia, Argentina or Australia. I don’t think we would even be able to continue manufacturing the few things we still make in the USA if the supply of foreign components was cut off. We have very little manufacturing capacity left in the United States. Without our ability to manufacture things during World War II, America would have lost the war.

It looks like most automobile parts sold here are now coming from China. Silly me. I was worried that if they cut off the supply of auto parts, we would all be using bicycles to get around. Not to worry, since I think the bicycles are all made in China now also. Since the same holds true for our shoes, I guess we’ll be running around barefoot.  Read our related article about the questionable claims of “Made in USA” and how companies like the New Balance Shoe Company take advantage of the rules regarding what constitutes “Made In USA”.  We empathize with this fellow blogger after reading their post about the frustrating experience they had trying to buy a pair of New Balance shoes that were “Made In USA”.

Even without a war, could our military buy all the material it needs if a strict “buy American” rule was enforced? (And could someone please tell me why, when material is for military use, is it spelled materiel …or materiele, and pronounced “mah-tear-ree-elle”? Don’t they have a spell checker?) …but I digress.

I still seek out products that say MADE IN USA, but they are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Even things you assume are made or grown here often are not. I’m all for a law that would require product labels to identify the country of origin of every component in a product, and on every ingredient in food items sold in America.

I should have known trouble was brewing back in the early 1990’s. I bought a Dell computer that came in a carton that proudly proclaimed “MADE IN U.S.A”. I think it even had an American flag printed on the box. Michael Dell, shame on you. I’ve always admired people like Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and the other icons of the American computer industry, but I feel that Dell Computer lied to me. I love to take things apart, put them back together again, and void the warranty in the process. The first thing I did with that Dell computer was to open it up and take it apart. I couldn’t find anything inside that was made in the USA. It was assembled from parts made in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere. I couldn’t find a single component made in the USA. I think that carton should have said “ASSEMBLED in USA”, not “MADE in USA”. Of course, Dell is no different than any other computer company. Nobody makes computers in America. They once did, though; IBM, Univac, Burroughs, Control Data, Digital Equipment, and on and on. Most of them are gone, and those that survive are different companies now. No more American “big iron”.

Go visit the Home Depot, and check out the plumbing aisle. Nearly everything is labeled “Made In China”. We won’t even be able to flush our toilets if they cut off the flow of merchandise.

Wake up, America. It may be cheap, but you’re not getting a bargain.

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