Friday, July 21, 2006

Where's Dr. Francis Davis? My TV News Gripe

Who? I know you don't remember him, and it's just as well. You probably don't remember Francis Davis because the job he did back in the early 70s was the weather on Channel 6 (WFIL, before the call letter change to WPVI) News (and I believe it was before the Action News format). But the thing is, when he and the guys on channels 3 and 10 did the weather, you saw them only twice - once at the start of the program saying hello, and again when the time for the forecast came up - and that was it!

I'm weighing in my two cents today on the subject of TV weather. Much has been written about it locally such as Tom Ferrick's recent column in the Inquirer, but now I get my turn. Why you ask, is it such a big deal? Because when you turn on the noon news and the first twelve minutes are dedicated to weather and the "big" storm, you've had enough. Cut the crap, it's sad that folks are without power and that some had been injured or suffered loss. But 12 minutes out of 30 geared toward weather? Let's be real folks, you're wasting our time. You're driving folks to the web to get their news, and maybe we're better off for it.

And do we really need weatherchics like Cecily Tynan and Cathy Orr? Francis Davis gave the weather in a plain old suit, no flash at all. Alright, maybe we do need Cecily or Cathy, only because I'd rather watch them than Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz over on NBC 10. Who names themself "Hurricane" anyhow, especially in a geographical area that doesn't see that many of those types of storm? Maybe Glenn "Thundershowers" Schwartz would fit better. Still, he's a step up. If you remember John Bolaris, he of the "Storm of the Century" forecast that wasn't, you know what I mean. Flashy John could forecast that Acme would sell out of milk and bread because of him setting the viewers in panic, but accuracy? We could expect dry days when those storms were forecast.

My challenge to the big three (NBC10, CBS3, and ABC6)...when your anchor weighs in for the start of the program, have him or her introduce the weather babe or dude, let the weather person say something as generic as "storms on the way in our five day forecast", and then get to the hard news. Let the meteorologist wait until midway, or even at the last ten minutes like Dr. Davis did to tell us that we're going to get dumped on, maybe. Hey, I have to wait for the last five minutes to find out if the Phils won or lost because your sports guy comes on before the commercial break and gets generic with me, telling me, "Phillies in New York playing the Mets tonight, will they break this latest losing streak? Stay tuned!" Yeah, keep me in suspense while I bypass and go to to check the scores and standings. Oh, hey, and yeah, to, I can get my weather and not have you tell me three times tonight the same thing you told me at the start of the broadcast. This Internet thing is useful more than you may have thought!
Come back to the airwaves, Dr. Francis Davis!

...The original Action News format with Larry Kane, Joe Pelligrino, and, oh yeah, Francis Davis. on channel 6. The late, great Jim O'Brien came along later to do the weather with more color, but at least not three times at 11.

...The authoritative voice of John Facenda on Channel 10, back when they were a CBS station. Mr. Facenda also was the voice of NFL Films and the light show at John Wanamakers in it's earlier years.

...Vince Leonard on KYW3 when they started Eyewitness News. That same program gave us the first view of talk show host Tom "fire up the colortini" Snyder, remembered for his interview on his late night talk show with Charles Manson. David Letterman later got Snyder's talk show spot.

...When news programs came on at 6 and 11 PM. No noon, no 4, 5, 5:30 shows. The older shows got right to the point, no crap like I saw tonight on 3 where they gave us a warning on how to open bubble packaging in the first ten minutes of the program. Hey, that used to be hard news time, now they use it to tell me to get my scissors out instead of using a knife to open my packages from Best Buys. Thanks, I'll consider myself well-informed now!

...When you knew the news was bad, because of what was once called a "Special Report". The newscasters would break into "regularly scheduled programming" to tell us about an assasination, plane crash, or other terrible event. Now, it's called "Breaking News", and the events are as serious as someone reporting a gas leak in their neighborhood. Break in when you hear the boom when the gas ignites, not when the neighbor smells it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Doctors Office Before HMOs

Some things never change. Then there are those things that change so drastically you really long for the good old days. The doctors office is one of those things.

Back in the pre-HMO days, a visit to see the doctor seemed just like that, a visit. Nothing at all like today. When comparing the two eras, you notice the difference from the second you walked in the door. Before things changed, when you walked in, you did one thing, and only one thing. You waited to see the doctor with a magazine in your hand. It may have been a few minutes or a couple of hours, but that's how plain an office visit was.

I remember three doctors my mom used to take us to when we were kids: Dr. Samuel Foreman, Dr. Mario Salamone, and Dr. Peter Cocco, with Dr. Foreman being our regular family doctor. All three have departed and are no longer with us. My mom told me on numerous visits while we sat waiting, "you should have seen it here in the old days. People would be lined up outside the door to see Dr. Foreman". It seems he was a generous soul, if you couldn't afford to pay him, it was okay, he'd see you anyhow, no questions, IOUs, bills, or anything else. He was just a benevolent neighborhood doctor who cared. It wasn't possible for him to keep track of billing anyhow. As I said, when you walked in, you sat and waited. There were no receptionists, and no one to keep record of your visit. It was only after Dr. Foreman had a heart attack did his wife come to work in the office as his receptionist. You paid the doctor or receptionist ten dollars ($10.00) cash back then, no receipt, no insurance, nothing to complicate the visit. Your health mattered, the other things were handled later.

Speaking of complicating things, you didn't find pharmaceutical reps in the office in those days, only patients. I don't even know if such reps existed at that time, I never saw them. Today, they line up to see some doctors. There they sit with their big smiles, promotional materials, and dinners or vacations to offer the doctors if they'll write prescriptuions for their brand of medications for everything from hemmoroid treatments to pills that will grow new hair on your bald head. I give my neurologist credit, he seems to have no time for them. I was in his office a couple months ago when a rep came in all beaming, asking the receptionist to see the doc. The receptionist told her she had little chance, and sure enough, the Dr. sternly told the rep he was seeing patients and their care came first, he had no time for her. Finally, the patient gets first priority! That's exactly what you want to see.

And remember what I said about waiting? Part of that was because the doctor took more time to listen to you explain your problems, or maybe just your bellyaching to him. When you got in to the examination room, you had the physician's ear. No rushing because two dozen others were lined up behind you - a dozen more than should have been booked for the day. You were there because you had problems, and the doctor was the solution.

Those days are gone. Now if you don't have insurance or the - what is it, $80 or more to see your family doctor - you'll be heading to see a doctor somewhere else instead, maybe a clinic or some other low-cost facility. You won't be handing the doctor a ten for the visit, you'll be giving the receptionist $20 or more for your co-pay. And even though you'll get to see the doctor, you probably won't get to spend too much time with him or her. I don't fully fault the doctor for that. With HMOs and other insurance, you'll find many more people lining the seats in the waiting room than ever before. Ah, the good old days!


...Hands-on relief. Dr. Cocco used to get you on the table and align you at the beginning of each visit. You felt every joint in your upper body snap and you felt immediate relief. I haven't had a Dr. do that to me since he died in the 1980s.

...Syringe squirt guns - We used to ask Dr. Foreman and Salamone for hypodermic syringes to use to squirt each other and they'd give them to us with no question or hesitation. They'd simply remove the needle first and rinse it out. You'd not dare ask for such things today, who knows what the person had who's arm/leg/butt that needle was inserted into.

...Drip pills - It used to be said that Dr. Cocco would give you drip pills for just about anything whether it be a hang nail or high fever. I remember on a few visits myself he gave me a small envelope filled with a dozen or so small white pills that he called "drip pills" for whatever reason. Did they work? Who knows.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cable TV Comes to South Philly

Blogger's Note: Circumstances haven't allowed me to write as much as I'd like to lately. Physical trials - my own and those of others in my family, have taken priority. For the few who read this blog, my thanks for your patience in waiting for the articles. I'll continue to write, just not as often as I had been lately.

Young people today will never remember a time when they didn’t have a multitude of channels with nothing to watch. Bruce Springsteen sung in the early 90s about having fifty-seven channels with nothing on. Today it’s over a hundred and still it seems that there's not much to watch. Murder has become entertainment (Jon Benet Ramsey, Natalee Holloway, etc. via hour long shows from Greta Van Sustern, Rita Cosby, et al). Half-hour informercials abound for things like colon cleansing (witness the guy on CN8 bragging ab0ut his child's massive bowel movement. I've never seen such a beaming smile, dad's very proud.) So we have a multitude of channels with programs about crap or that are just crappy.

Back in the mid-70’s, the area west of Broad Street and I believe above Oregon was the test area for cable TV. No one else had it, not Southwest, Northeast, not even parts of South Philly. We were the lucky ones. Woo-hoo!

What we had back then would probably be laughed off by today’s standards. There was no TNT, USA, MTV or CNN at the time. We basically had a few New York channels (WOR channel 9 and WPIX channel 11) and a few odd things in between. There was 24 hour news, but it was just text on screen provided by Reuters. If you were one of the homes having it at the time, you’ll remember your “remote” was a box as big as a cigar box, with 15 buttons for channels and a rocker switch to go from the top tier to the bottom. Plus it had a tuning wheel to fine tune your picture. It was really primitive, but it worked for us. Telesystems was the company running the show at the time. It gave way to Greater Media, which was swallowed up later by Comcast, but I think there was another company that was somewhere between the last two. So much for the four franchises the city was supposed to have. Comcast has just about everything wrapped up.

We got cable TV installed on the same day we got a color TV back in the mid-70’s. We were always outside doing something, but not that day. We stayed inside and stayed glued to the tube. It was a big event for us, although like everything else, we got bored of it and life returned to normal shortly afterward.

Not long after we got cable, HBO became available. It was there where we first heard obscenities coming off the tube, much to my mom’s chagrin. It was a movie called Law & Disorder with Carrol O’Connor and Ernest Borgnine on a Sunday evening. Mom was livid, threatening to get rid of HBO if that was what they were going to show. Dad didn’t care much about it, so he wanted to keep it. Dad won, or so some would say. My thoughts today is that there’s not a need for profanity in movies. That’s a political argument, this is a blog about memories so we’ll not go there.

Kids, if you ever find yourself bored with TV, think of this…my earliest memories of TV was an old black & white Admiral TV with a tuning knob (a what?) – no remote controls (well my dad had one. He told us to change the channel, and we did). And we had only three channels (KYW 3; WFIL 6 – now WPVI, and public television, channel 12). Our set didn’t even get CBS 10. It wasn’t until 1969 or 1970 that we got a Sears Silvertone console set that had – wonder of wonders – UHF channels! We finally had a selection of shows that we only heard of before.

That wouldn’t cut it for folks today, but it worked for us. Ah, simpler times!

... Doctor Shock’s horror movies on Saturday nights on channel 17. Who can forget his kid, Bubbles?
... Mr. Gagliardi, the English teacher from Neumann hosting Cable Bingo.
... The Flyers channel after they won their first Stanley Cup. Neighborhood guys found you could get it free instead of paying for it by simply pressing two buttons on the remote.
... When stations signed off for the night with the national anthem.
... Test patterns that occupied the screen from signoff until around 6 AM when the channels signed on again.
... When each station had an announcer that was as well known as the anchors on their news programs. Gene Crane was on 10, Paul Norton on 6 and Gary Geers on 3.