Rest In Peace, Tom

My heart sank after I read Tom Russo died over the weekend. If you lived in the Pine Belt in the mid 1990s, you likely remember he co-anchored the news at 5 and 10 on WDAM-TV. From time to time, he was also a guest of what was then WQIS Talk Radio 890.

Tom’s career took him to other stations in Mississippi and Alabama. His last job was assignment manager at WPMI-TV in Mobile, Alabama.

Based on my own recollection and other online accounts, when Tom took on a new professional assignment, he brought his keen sense of humor with him to the newsroom.

Thomas David Russo was truly one of the good guys of the news business — and left this life much too soon at the age of 56.

His obiturary:

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It’s gonna take a lotto luck

Long before I came to the Pine Belt, my family and I called Ohio home. When we arrived there in 1983, it was home to a state lottery. It still is.

If you ever wondered how a lottery helped school systems elsewhere — particularly my former neighborhoods in and near Dayton, Ohio — here’s your answer. Not much. In the eight years between our arrival and our departure for Mississippi, the schools in and near Dayton still put levies and bond issues up for votes.

About two years before we left, there was this admission from the Ohio Lottery’s then director…

…okay, it’s an episode from a short-lived revival of the classic word search quiz show “Now You See It”. At the 6:37 mark, you’ll see the start of a 30-second commercial for the Ohio Lottery from 1989. The leader clearly states the lottery doesn’t do a lot financially for the school systems of Ohio. If anyone ever tells you how a lottery would do wonders for Mississippi’s school systems, please take it all with a grain of salt.

Yes, in the here and now, it would be tough to see our friends and neighbors leave Mississippi and go on day trips, perhaps even mini-vacations, to states with lotteries when certain jackpots reach leviathan levels. But, considering the odds of winning any prize much less the jackpot, most of the money they’d take with them would most likely be added to fund prizes. And, yes, tourism out of state might see a slight bump thanks to our friends and neighbors dreaming of winning that leviathan jackpot. But the residual effects really wouldn’t extend much beyond that.

If a lottery bill comes up this legislative session, or any time after this year, my sincere hope is that the legislature will vote in the negative.

I lived in a lottery state. The lottery didn’t help the schools in Ohio. I can’t see how a lottery would help our schools here.

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May TV co-workers, old and new, avoid certain PR tactics

Hi. Remember me? Long story short, 2017 was quite a busy one. Much of my free time was spent seeking new work and, ultimately, changing TV jobs. You can see the basic details at if you’d like. The rest of the story is best saved for another blog entry or, perhaps better yet, my memoir that comes out in another two decades or so.

One thing I can go in-depth without much fear of retribution is this. Near the end of one year and/or the start of another, when I was a TV newscast producer, I would get showered with e-mails from certain representatives of certain products that would be on display at a certain Consumer Electronics Show in a certain Nevada city. Certainly, I’ve used “certain” more times that necessary.

These e-mails would invite stations (read: beg and plead) to book satellite interviews from Las Vegas as their products would be on display for stations’ viewers to see. If you’re a local newscast producer and you’ve already booked an SMT along these lines, bail out ASAP.

Broader picture: If you ever get a satellite interview request and the phrase “SMT sponsored by (insert company’s name here),” or something to that effect, is included therein, forward the e-mail to your news director and sales manager immediately. That company is looking to avoid buying up commercial time on your station and is taking a supposedly cheaper route (read: PR companies and representatives of products of company’s labors).

If the SMT request doesn’t have obvious commercialism, discuss the matter with your news director – who’s probably going to say no anyway. If the SMT is health-related, odds are good your boss will recommend a reporter speak with a doctor on the proposed matter at the local level.

Now — back to the Consumer Electronics Show. At my previous TV job, I had access from the feed services of two broadcast networks and CNN. History has shown correspondents from those feed services would be sent to Vegas to cover the CES – without endorsing specific products. I’m reasonably certain (there’s that word again) the 2018 CES will be no different in terms of news coverage.

As for said previous responsibility, my interest in satellite interviews was at an all-time low. The number of times I actually signed up for an SMT over a two-decade-plus-span I can count on one hand. About a year after I started producing a morning newscast, I would hear from several people on the phone wanting to book satellite interviews. Those calls would evolve into e-mail messages that would clog up my inbox.

I usually would respond with something to this effect: “Unless you’re offering an interview with strong Mississippi ties or a strong connection to a program that airs on our station, and it has *zero* business involvement, no dice.” In one of those rare moments of interest, I still remember actually booking an interview with Jillian Michaels, one of the original trainers on “The Biggest Loser”.

Michaels had written a book full of tips on exercise, weight loss, nutrition, etc. As I saw it, it was a golden opportunity to promote a then-popular show. Worries of product placement were minimal at best.

Days before the interview, I had to cancel. Change of heart and/or head? No. Mandate from the bosses? No. Technical issues? No. I still remember writing the companies that set this up that it was with major regret we had to cancel the arrangements in late August of 2005. We had to bail out because Hurricane Katrina was on the way.

The organizers were totally understanding. As consolation, they sent a DVD of generic clips from Michaels on her book. We ran a few of them months after the new normal settled in after the storm.

Bottom line: Thanks to evolving technology and evolving resources at the local level, TV newscast producers really don’t need satellite interviews. Local experts, feed services and content from sister stations should adequately pick up where SMTs leave off. Best to leave those SMT organizers – dare I say it – hurtin’ for certain.

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As the old saying goes, the show must go on. My radio friends and I are working to make this a productive 2017 — as we will always mourn the passing of our friend Joe. He died December 12, 2016, after he was injured in a wreck in November.

Please click/tap here for a statement from Blakeney Communications, the parent company of Rock 104.

Please click/tap here for his obituary.

Joe’s family thanks everyone for their love, prayers and sincere generosity during this time. Many of you have expressed a need to help in some way. In lieu of flowers, a special account has been set up for Joe and Rachael’s children’s future education. Memorial contributions may be mailed to: Joe Stianche, 5 Neil Road, Ellisville, MS, 39437.

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You Bet Your Exorcism?

An appearance on a classic quiz show with a comedy element, apparently, helped William Peter Blatty further his writing career.

Blatty, who as you probably know by know passed away recently, was a contestant on the game show “You Bet Your Life”, hosted by comedy legend Groucho Marx. Early on, Blatty is introduced as an Arab prince — but the truth would come out.

Looking to connect a Marx brother to “The Exorcist”? Here you go.

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Make Elton John’s videos, compete for $10,000

Calling all filmmakers. Elton John and longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin are holding a contest for videos of John’s hits such as “Rocket Man”, “Tiny Dancer” and “Bennie and the Jets”.

John and Taupin request the “Rocket Man” video feature animation, “Tiny Dancer” feature live action and “Bennie and the Jets” feature choreography.

You have until January 23, 2017, to get your video together. Visit for more details.

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Another fab item up for bids

Got $26,000 or so to burn? That’s the expected selling price at an upcoming auction for a long-lost demo Paul McCartney recorded for Cilla Black.

Black turned the song “It’s For You”, written by McCartney and John Lennon, into a top ten hit in the U.K. in 1964. The demo was lost for more than half a century — until Black’s family found it after her passing last year.

The surviving relatives assumed it was just a copy of Black’s single and took it to a Beatles expert. Stephen Bailey, the aforementioned Beatles expert, says he was speechless and shaking with excitement when he realized it was McCartney singing on the demo and not Black.

The Beatles Liverpool Auction house will sell the demo August 27th.

Visit for more details and to hear a 20-second clip.

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Words of wisdom from a former “Deal or No Deal” model

Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way. In the following and recent tweet, Bonnie-Jill Laflin is easy on the eyes. But she also provides great advice.

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Road trip to a desert trip?

That Desert Trip concert we told you about Sunday on the broadcast del grande appears to be a twice-in-a-lifetime event. Organizers are adding a second weekend to the event with The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who.

Visit for more details and ticket information

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May we interest you in a good book?

Queen’s Brian May has released a book on, believe it or not, Victorian underskirts. May teamed up with Denis Pellerin in writing “Crinoline: Fashion’s Most Magnificent Disaster” — and it comes with May’s 3-D viewer. May and Pellerin say crinolines were all the rage back in the mid-19th century when stereoscopic photos were trendy. May says he has been interested in stereoscope images ever since he found 3-D cards in a cereal in the 1950s.

Visit for more details.

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