Racing home to the Mexican National Anthem

While one can’t go home again, sometimes it’s nice to visit. My semi-annual return to Southern California this week was filled with great time with family, seeking out new experiences and reliving fond memories. Turning on the radio on my way home from the train station tonight sent me back to my college years, more than 14 years past.

I first tuned into KPBS, but after a minute of their evening classical programming, I spun the proverbial dial to 91X (XETRA 91.1). The last few minutes of their “Loudspeaker” program reminded me of San Diego’s local music scene, which I only was able to sample briefly after college before I moved away. I was a little surprised to hear what sounded like profanity during one of the songs, but I quickly reminded myself that 91X broadcasts from Tijuana into San Diego.

I was served another reminder of 91X’s cross-border origin when the disc jockey announced that regular programming would be interrupted for “The Mexican National Hour,” which typically airs on Sunday evenings.

I was surprised by what I heard. The Spanish-language “La Hora Nacional” sounded much better than it did 15 years ago. Back in the day, the show sounded like it was initially recorded in an empty gym and relayed to local station via shortwave before it was played back on 91X on a shoddy, beat-up tape. It sounded echo-y and awful, and I would quickly turn to another channel until the alternative music returned (or “Loveline,” but that was a different time).

Although I was only able to understand a portion of the show (show archive), the current “La Hora Nacional” sounded reasonably entertaining (for a 77-year-old government-produced program geared to promote national unity among other things). It featured an upbeat set of hosts discussing a variety of topics. It is something I may seek out and listen to later.

Hearing “La Hora Nacional” brought back other memories of listening to 91X in college. After studying late at the library, I would often be on the road home at midnight when the station was obligated to play the Mexican National Anthem (conveniently and simply named “Himno Nacional Mexicano”). I don’t why the station chose the version it did, but they would play an instrumental version of the song that lasted about four minutes. One of the TV stations broadcast a version that featured children singing, but the radio version was about four minutes of the anthem melody repeating over and over until you thought it was finished and then it would repeat a couple more times.

The song isn’t quite an earworm, but it was fascinating listening to it to see how many times the melody would repeat. It also became a bit of a challenge for me to see how far I could drive while the anthem played. I joked I could get home without speeding in the time it took for the song to play, but I never made it.

Since I moved away from San Diego, I would occasionally try to tune in for the Mexican National Anthem, but 91X only plays it over the air and not on their Internet streams. I was finally able to tune in for the nightly event about a year ago, but it was a bit different and shorter than in years past.

As someone who has loved radio for decades, I get a kick out of the tradition of U.S. stations playing a patriotic song as they signed off, or signed on, for the day. It is something that has definitely gone by the wayside (unless you’re Adult Swim and air an off-kilter sign-off).

While U.S. stations moved away from the sign-off tradition, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. still started and ended its broadcast day with “O Canada,” during the years I lived in Michigan. The CBC has since started broadcasting around the clock, so it too has ended this tradition.

The version of “O Canada” that I saw was an elaborate production with a bold orchestral arrangement of the song set against a wide array of images evoking the Great White North and its diverse population (YouTube video posted by eastest566). It’s something I still enjoy seeing and listening to years later — even the cheesy prelude segment about how essential the CBC is.

In the years since I’ve become a volunteer DJ, I taken to keeping the tradition alive in a small way. Since my weekly program ends at midnight, I nearly always end with a jazzy performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I certainly don’t do the specific jargon one uses when actually ending the broadcasting day (because I’m not), but I like to end with Duke Ellington’s take on the National Anthem although I sometimes switch to versions by Bonerama or Branford Marsalis and Bruce Hornsby.

Who knows? Maybe there’s someone in a car listening to my show trying to see how far they can get by the time the song’s over.

The airing of Vancouver Olympic grievances – a list

I’m generally enjoying the Vancouver Games as it enters the seventh day of competition, but some things are sticking in my mind. Please share your “grievances” in the comments.

The fence around the Olympic Flame: I think the organizers were caught flatfooted by the fact that people may want to be close to the beautiful outdoor Olympic Cauldron. At the very least, the image of a chainlink fence in front of a symbol of peaceful competition is disconcerting.

Kudos for the organizers for making changes and creating more viewing opportunities (according to this CBC News article). However, I didn’t necessarily care for one of the organizers’ excuses:

Organizers said the cauldron is far closer to the public than Olympic flames of past Games, where they’ve usually been located in or atop stadiums.

The cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Games was outside Centennial Olympic Stadium and it was generally accessible to the public (at the very least it wasn’t blocked by a massive fence). I remember having lunch and taking photos mere yards from that Olympic Flame along with many spectators and families.

The Lack of Curling on NBC: This is a minor gripe at most, but it is sad when FOX has more curling on a 30-minute episode of “The Simpsons” than NBC will have in two weeks on its main network. Yes, curling is available on cable channels (that I don’t have) and is streaming live online (which I don’t have access to because I don’t have the right cable package). In recent years, curling almost always gets praised as a pleasant surprise of the Games. Maybe it’s not a primetime event, but it’s lame that NBC couldn’t find time to at least air the gold metal match on broadcast (like in the afternoon).

Shoddy online coverage: There’s a huge difference between the online coverage of the 2008 Beijing Games and in Vancouver. Just two years ago, many non-marquee events were streamed live and in their entirety. Now, it’s mostly hockey and curling aired live (with other events posted after NBC has aired them in primetime). Hockey and curling are both fine sports, but the offerings are like night and day.

Tape Delay: It’s a gripe as old as NBC’s coverage of the Games. It is certainly frustrating that NBC insists on starting its primetime program right at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) even though there are live events taking place at 5 p.m. Vancouver time. And, of course, Vancouver time is the same time as Chico and the entire West Coast which just compounds the silliness.

NBC didn’t have to do this. It could have emulated a model from Canada that I thought could work fairly well here. In previous games, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would air its primetime program live nationwide. After the end of that broadcast, the CBC would offer a special West Coast-only highlight package to help round out the night. I don’t know what the current Canadian broadcaster, CTV, is doing.

Media coverage of “the glitches”: I’m sure some of the criticism of the Vancouver organizing committee’s operation of the Games is justified, but the howling has seemed ferocious at times. The situation has drawn many comparisons to the Atlanta Games in 1996 when the media lambasted ACOG’s miscues, particularly regarding transportation (as this 1996 New York Times article details).

The disconcerting thing about the Atlanta criticism and the Vancouver gripes is that these woes somehow become part of the “legacy” of the Games. I was in Atlanta for the Games, and the woes weren’t my “highlight” of those Olympics. Yes, it wasn’t pleasant at times — I had to brave the crushing crowds on MARTA and I once had to give directions and a map to a bus driver so we could get to our destination. However, it pales in comparison to witnessing the opening ceremonies, watching track stars break world records and enjoying some of the finest art and music in my life.

Bruce Arthur of the National Post offers a nice perspective on the criticism. While acknowledging that Vancouver has been far from perfect, Arthur points out how there are at least three different views of the Games:

There is the Olympics that we in the media experience, the one the athletes experiences, and the one the public experiences. But only one of us write the verdict on the Olympics in question.

For another take on the Olympics’ legacy on host cities, The Independent looked at how cities capitalized on the infrastructure changes made for the Games. Atlanta seemed to fare much better on that score and I hope Vancouver does too.

Since I’m a roll…

I wanted to link to comedian Rick Mercer’s blog. He’s definitely a pretty funny guy. I can get behind his trips to foriegn nations to support Canadian forces in war zones. Speaking of Mercer, I’m watching The National from CBC News. Of course, there’s no option for TV shows on the “Tell us” section. That’s a shame. What’s not a shame is the fact that I can watch the news program again after the legnthy lockout.


Carrying a torch …

My excitement is building as the Olympic torch is just a few hours away from returning to its ancestral home. I look forward to seeing all the intense competition during the next two weeks. Regardless of how the Games are covered, it’s always a treat to see the finest in the world compete in the field of sport.

Apparently, this is a great time to be an couch Olympian, especially after reading NBC’s press kit for its Games coverage. The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius (meaning “Swifter, Higher, Stronger”). NBC is definitely going for more in this year’s coverage. It’s even trying to set the world record for continuous TV watching in a publicity stunt.

From the looks of it, it’s pretty impressive — over 1,210 hours of coverage on seven television networks. The networks are as varied as broadcast parent NBC to Spanish-language Telemundo. And it’s not all going to be gymnastics and track-and-field, either. NBC is promising some coverage of all the Olympic sports.

That said, NBC’s not getting its unprecedented coverage off to an auspicious start. Apparently not willing to preempt sudsy Passions, Friday’s opening ceremonies will air taped in primetime Friday night.

By comparison, Canada’s CBC not only manages to air the opening and closing ceremonies live (Starting at 1 p.m. EDT Friday), but they re-air the opening ceremonies in prime-time.

It’s true that the CBC’s coverage won’t be as comprehensive as the juggernaut that NBC is assembling (294.5 on its main network, 115 on CBC Newsworld and 150 on non-CBC network TSN). But, of all the NBC-Universal networks, I only get one — NBC. All the live sports that might air on Bravo! or USA are pretty meaningless to me. Just like I’m not too concerned about Radio-Canada‘s and RDS‘s Olympics coverage in French.

It’s no secret that I love the CBC’s comprehensive coverage of events — live whenever possible. Still, according to a Globe and Mail story, it seems the time difference is going to force the network to tape delay some coverage. I guess the fact that it would be 1 a.m. in Greece when the East Coast hits prime time is a pretty good reason.

While the CBC is resorting to airing a highlights programme each prime time, that doesn’t mean that its not airing the events earlier in the day live. I wonder if NBC would be nice enough to give us the same option?