Nine hundred eleven words.

The day started out horribly.  Two days beforehand, my wife’s grandfather, Samuel Ginsburg, passed away after a long and valiant battle against Alzheimer’s Disease.  That day, we were going to attend his funeral.

My wife Vicki was already mad at me; I had scheduled the week off so that I could attend the inductions of the newest class of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and was planning to leave Albany for an eight-hour drive to Sharon, Pennsylvania for the induction ceremonies immediately after the funeral.  I would be attending the funeral, going home, changing my clothes and jumping into the car for a long drive – all as part of an article for Goldmine magazine.

So as I’m trying to get ready for the funeral – and check my e-mail in my home office at the same time – Vicki comes running in to tell me, “Chuck, Chuck, oh my God, I just heard on the news!  Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center!”

A quick check of CNN’s website confirmed it; a big headline about planes crashing into the World Trade Center.

I ran into the living room, where the television was already broadcasting the horrible sight – one smoldering tower, where previously two mighty towers stood against the New York City skyline.  What happened to the other tower, I silently whispered as I watched the screen.

Five minutes later, the other tower fell to earth.

How we ever made it through Vicki’s grandfather’s funeral, nobody knows.  It was a mixture of grief at the loss of a World War II veteran and patriarch, and the total confusion as to what happened and what buildings were hit and the like.  Someone said the Capitol had been hit.  Another person said there were reports the Pentagon was destroyed by a falling plane.  Why were these planes falling out of the sky?

As the funeral procession transported Vicki’s grandfather to his final resting place in the cemetery across from Crossgates Mall, with our car just three vehicles behind the Hearse, I snapped on the car radio – a blatant violation of funereal protocol, but I think on a day like this God will make an exception – and heard more chilling, sorrowful news about what happened – and who might have been behind the attack on our people.

We arrived home after the funeral.  Nobody knew what to say, what to do.  My editor at Goldmine called me, said that all the planes were grounded and that the inductions at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame were being postponed until a later date.  I decided to run over to the Albany Red Cross to see if they wanted a blood donation.  Three hundred people were already in line, waiting to roll up their sleeves.

Almost immediately, anyone who owned an American flag of any kind or vintage hung them and flew them outside their houses.  We hung a flag outside our door.  A day later, someone stole it.  Finding another flag that week was nearly impossible, as any merchants with a flag for sale would be sold out of stock in moments.

We cried over the loss of not only the civilians in those planes and those in the towers, but of the loss of brave firefighters and police officers, who chose to go into sheer terror to save people, no matter what price – including the ultimate one – they would pay.

Today is the eighth anniversary of that terrible, horrible moment in human history.  It affects all of us.  Some of us knew a person who perished in the towers; or of a person who happened to fly on that day.  Some of us tattooed our body with 9-11-01 and the words “Never Forget.”  Some of us volunteered for military service.  Others volunteered for civilian service.

Over the years, we heard other stories of bravery and courage on that horrible day.  Stories about the dozens of boats that evacuated people from the shoreline around Ground Zero.  Stories about the ham radio operators who kept communications alive when cell phone coverage was clogged and useless.  Stories of doctors and physicians who ran to those in shock and in pain, and said, “I’m a doctor, what can I do to help?”  Stories of restaurants who threw open their doors and became shelters and care centers.  Stories from months afterward, about college students foregoing their Spring Break plans to spend Spring Break with charitable organizations at Ground Zero.

A friend of mine from New Zealand e-mailed me a day after 9/11 and asked if I was near the World Trade Center when it fell, not realizing that Albany is no closer to New York City than Christchurch is to Auckland.  She also worried about her brother, who was on one of those flights on his way back to New Zealand – only to contact me a couple of days later, happy that her brother had missed his connecting flight and avoided the tragedy – and half-angry because he didn’t think of calling his worried sister and letting her know he was all right.

The tragedy of September 11th still affects me to this day.  As a personal tribute to those who were called to Glory all too soon, I always wear a souvenir American Airlines “junior pilot” toy pin on the anniversary of that tragic moment.  It’s my way of remembering – and hopefully never forgetting – what happened to all of us.

These are the memories I have of September 11, 2001.  Nine hundred eleven words.

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The Albany Patroons’ dance team: Emeralds that were hotter than sunshine

Tuesday night.  Before I head off for a night of competitive trivia at Pizzaria UNO in Crossgates Mall, I take a couple of minutes to check my Facebook account.  Among the various posts and updates and offers to sell me virtual candy bars, I found a note from one of my FB friends, a girl named Tiffinay.  Yes, that’s how her name is spelled, don’t make an issue of it.

Working at Quintessence from 6-12, come in and visit me 🙂

If you’re not familiar with Albany’s dining establishments, Quintessence is a former railroad diner car that was converted into one of the Capital District’s hottest restaurants of the 80’s and 90’s.  It was shut down for a time, and was recently re-opened, and Tiffinay was working behind the bar, and encouraging her friends on Facebook to stop in and say hi.

So after trivia, in which I completely missed the final question (“What Hollywood actress, born in 1971, has Timothy Leary as her godfather?”  I said Drew Barrymore, it was Winona Ryder), I decided to swing by Quintessence and see how Tiffinay was doing.

I walked in, she recognized me, and we chatted for a while.  What I should mention is that I knew Tiffinay from a few years prior – when she was a member of the Albany Patroons’ dance team, the Emeralds, and I was (among several other duties) the team photographer.

Albany Emeralds Dance Team, 2008.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Albany Emeralds Dance Team, 2008. Photo by Chuck Miller.

When the Albany Patroons returned to the CBA in 2005, I signed on as their game-day photographer, a position I held for three seasons.  At the first exhibition game in 2005, I chatted with the dance team coach about whether they might need some extra edited dance tracks for their routines.  Before long, I was trimming up 60-second versions of everything from U2’s “Vertigo” to OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again,” and a whole slew of tracks inbetween.

At the same time, I always made sure that there were Emeralds photos taken during the game – whether they were dancing, greeting the fans, goofing around with the Patroons’ mascot (a big chubby panda named Lido), or just doing what the Emeralds were always capable of doing – looking sweet and pretty and athletic.

Emeralds at Relay for Life, 2007.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Emeralds at Relay for Life, 2007. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I photographed the Emeralds on several different non-Patroons-related events, including two appearances at the Relay for Life fundraising event, a Light the Night walk, and a fashion show to promote the ME Fashion Boutique.  My photos of the Emeralds were part of their 2005-06 and 2007-08 dance team posters.

Funny thing about the team poster from 07-08.  We shot that poster in one of the conference rooms at the Armory, on one of the rainiest days that year.  The girls all had their hair and makeup done before they arrived at the Armory, and I took head and torso shots of each girl for the Patroons’ website.  Every Emerald had a smile on her face; every Emerald looked fit and spectacular.

And the girls all loved kids.  They would hand little pom poms to kids, who would dance on the sidelines with the Emeralds.  It was a fantastic way to interact with the paying customers.

Tiffinay and I reminisced about those days.  She told me that one of the Emeralds from the first season, Edwina, is now on the dance team for the Miami Heat.  Other dancers from the Emeralds are getting married, they’re going to college, they’re part of other dance teams, and for the most part, all of them are doing well.  We talked about which of the dancers we thought might go far on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and which ones arestill pursuing their dreams – whether it be dancing or medical school or child care or the like.

When she’s not bartending at Quintessence, Tiffinay is involved in a dance team, The Libertina Dance Co., and are planning a performance in New Orleans.  I wish her, and all the Emeralds who performed at the Armory whether the Patroons were winning or losing, all the success they deserve in the future.

Ode to a 1971 GE Wildcat record player

Over the span of my life, I’ve owned two types of record players. As an adult, my primary turntable (and the one I use to convert my 45’s to .mp3 so that I can listen to them in my car) is a Technics SL-1200 MK2 quartz-driven turntable. But that’s not the phonograph I’m blogging about today.

The one I’m talking about is more egalitarian – it’s part of the kitsch of the 1970’s, but was probably one of the most durable units for sound reproduction ever built.

And in 1973, my parents purchased what at the time was the best Christmas gift I could ever imagine – my first record player, a four-speed General Electric “Wildcat” V931 phonograph. It was a four-speed drop-changer phonograph with a belt-driven robotic tonearm, a record player that could fold up into a attache-shaped carrying case. Three control knobs on the side modulated the record’s volume, balance and tone, while two adjustable trigger-switches allowed the user to set the song’s speed (from 78 RPM all the way down to 16 RPM), or to reject the record in mid-play.

Think about this for a moment.  If you wanted to hear six records in a row, you stacked them, one by one, on the turntable spindle.  Then you turned on the player.  The tonearm would wake up, and swing clear of the mechanism just as the first record dropped onto the rubber turntable mat.  The tonearm would then swing over to the first lip of the groove, and drop onto the record.  Once the tonearm reached the center of the record, it would rise up, swing away and a second record would be dropped from the stack.

That sound you hear is the collective gasp of hundreds of record collectors, cringing at the thought of stacking their vinyl treasures one by one and watching them drop onto a turntable.

I used that phonograph for years. At first, it was the perfect phonograph for my collection of Disney and Cricket and Peter Pan 45’s (which meant that my stepfather didn’t have to hear me play them on the family stereo). I played my first rock and roll 45 that was purchased with my own hard-earned money – “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen – on that Wildcat.  I played my 45’s at slow speeds, I played my LP’s at fast speeds, just to mess with the sound output (and yes, it is true, if you do play a Fleetwood Mac 45 at 33 1/3 rpm, Stevie Nicks DOES sound like the lead singer for the Atlanta Rhythm Section).

I think the last time I saw that Wildcat was in 1978 – I believe what happened was I moved from one house to another and the Wildcat didn’t.   Without the Wildcat, I had to make do with any number of junk turntables, many of which I suspect used pennyweight nails for tonearm styli.

We now speed forward to maybe 2000, when at a yard sale – staring at me like it was looking for a home – was a 1970’s-era General Electric “Wildcat” V931 phonograph, similar to one I owned as a child. $20 later, that Wildcat was mine.

A $20 GE Wildcat.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
A $20 GE Wildcat. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Unfortunately, the previous owner of that Wildcat did not take decent care of it – the tonearm and headshell were seriously out of alignment; the rubber mat had puckered and was loose; and the internal oils had dried to the consistency of caulk. Upon further review of the player, I discovered that the power cord had split and frayed near its connection with the player, certainly a fire hazard. I attempted to locate another Wildcat phonograph, but the good ones were selling online for $75 (brown ones) to $150 (olive green or black), definitely out of my price range.

Eventually I decided it was time to do something significant to this Wildcat. For me, that meant giving it a new look, a new style, so that this unit could truly sparkle and shine.

As you can see from the photo above, this player, although aesthetically appealing, looks extremely plain. The rubber turntable cover is warped, and the light brown shell has age marks on it. The 45 RPM spindle adapter has long disappeared from this unit. The flip-over stylus, one that has a smaller point (for 45’s and LP’s), which can be flipped to reveal a fat point (for 78’s), had worn down to nothingness on both sides. This machine is screaming for an overhaul, both cosmetically and mechanically.

The most important thing to remember, when working on restoring your Wildcat, is to make sure you know something about electronics and wiring. You’ll eventually have to solder some parts together, and this may also require some skill and patience. After a search for an electronics expert that specialized in vintage 1960’s and 1970’s phonographs, I found Scott Phillips at “For Your Listening Pleasure,” an electronics repair shop in Binghamton. Scott and I decided to split the machine restoration project into two sections. Disconnecting the turntable and motor apparatus from the case, Scott would clean the parts and bring the motor and turntable back to a dependable, safe function, while I took the high impact case and all the plastic and chrome parts back to Albany for some restoration work of my own.

After cleaning the case to remove any dirt and gunk, and removing any applied decals or trademarks with UN-du sticker removal solvent, I purchased two cans of Krylon’s “Fusion Safety Blue” spray paint, which could be applied to plastic without a primer. I carefully masked off the back of the speakers so that no paint would stain the inside, then gave each piece a light dusting of blue paint – then a heavier coat 20 minutes later – then a final coat after a 12-hour curing period. Make sure you’re wearing safety goggles and a dust mask when spraying paint. The end result – the cabinet shimmered with a deep blue hue.

Blue is a nice color for a phonograph, but I thought some flames up the sides of the speakers would look particularly swank. Cutting some painter’s tape into strips, wedges and curves, I taped up the sides of the speakers to create a flame stencil. I didn’t follow any pattern of how the flames should rise up on the speakers; I simply went with my gut and instinct. Originally the plan was to have the flames look similar to those on the side of a hot rod; eventually the flames looked more like those found in a stained glass window of a house of worship.

I then broke out the red, yellow and turquoise plastic spray paints. Starting at the base of the speakers, I sprayed a light dusting of turquoise, then a light strip of yellow in the middle, then a strip of red at the top. I layered the yellow and red so that they would blend smoothly as the flames rose up the speaker – then I left the project to sit for a couple of days. After removing all the wedges and curves and strips of painter’s tape, I was amazed at the striking results. I then re-applied the decals so that the unit would retain its General Electric identity.

As the last drop of paint dried on the project, Scott Phillips called me. My Wildcat motor was repaired, a new power strip was attached to bring the unit up to code, and he even installed a new flip-over stylus so that I could play LP’s, 45’s AND 78’s without any problem. He even acquired a new 45 RPM spindle for the unit. I drove back to Binghamton, and we put the phonograph back together.

And here’s the completed project, a work of art that doubles as a “rock and roll” phonograph, funkier than anything that ever came out of the General Electric laboratories.
And if it was going to stay like that, I would have been happy… but for some reason known only to me, I wanted lights. Flashing lights that pulsed to the beat of the music.

At one point, I thought I could install an LED-based VU meter in the upper bracing bar (where the metal “GE Wildcat” strip sits), but that would have involved drilling and other delicate work, and the last thing I needed was something with big gougy holes in it.

Eventually my search for light-emitting diodes brought me to CanaKit, a Vancouver-based electronics company. I purchased two pulsating light panels, then ran crocodile clips from the speakers in the cabinet, to the connecting nodes on the light panels. I attached the panels to the back of the Wildcat with velcro strips, so that the unit could be easily assembled and disassembled.

Okay… you want to see what it looks like now?

TA-DAA!!

Ain’t that a beauty? You can play anything on this phonograph now, from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, to a pulsating funk breakdown, and the lights will bounce like the indicators on an electrocardiogram machine. Fantastic!

Oh wait – you want to see the unit in action?

Well, in 2004 I demonstrated my souped-up GE Wildcat at the National Record Show at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Someone took a small video clip of the player in action as I’m explaining to someone how I got the whole project off the ground.  The visual quality ain’t that great, but you get a sense of the final product in action.

So where is the Wildcat today?

I stored it – lights, blue case, flames and all – in my closet.  It still needs some work, I have to align the stylus and a couple of other tweaks, and maybe someday I’ll bring it back and put it on display again.

Over time I restored two more Wildcats, with Scott Phillips taking care of the internal restoration and me taking care of the paint job.  One of them, a canary yellow Wildcat, was simply restored to its original colors, while another beige Wildcat was repainted aqua and flipped on eBay.  Again, I tried the “tribal flames” trick up the side of the speakers, but I didn’t add any lights.

Aqua repainted GE Wildcat phonograph.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Aqua repainted GE Wildcat phonograph. Photo by Chuck Miller.

But for now – I’m just glad I was able to not only recapture a piece of my youth – but I was also able to modify it with my own artistic attachment.

My next photography assignment – a significant basketball memorabilia auction

I enjoy collecting vintage game-worn sports jerseys.  I mostly collect basketball jerseys, but I’ve acquire a couple of hockey sweaters over the years.

Granted, my collection tends to gravitate toward minor league and international gear – for example, my wife’s sister, who lives in Israel, brought back a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball jersey for me the last time she visited.  And sometimes I’ve shown up at my local team trivia haunts wearing a Rochester Razorsharks or Vermont Frost Heaves game jersey.  Fun stuff. Especially when my trivia opponents ask me, “Chuck, what’s a Frost Heave?”

That being said, this  Saturday, I’m getting in the Pontiac and driving to Mohegan Sun Casino – not to donate my paycheck to the Mohegan Nation one dice roll at a time, but instead to photograph one of the most important sports memorabilia auctions of the year.  Grey Flannel Auctions, one of the country’s leading sports memorabilia auction houses, will hold their annual Hall of Fame Auction in conjunction with the Basketball Hall of Fame inductions.

Michael Jordan rookie Chicago Bulls jersey
Michael Jordan rookie Chicago Bulls jersey

Last year, I attended and photographed the Hall of Fame auction, which featured some absolutely stunning and rare lots for bid.  Think about this for a second – I was staring, clear as day, at Bill Russell’s game-worn, autographed Boston Celtics jersey.  Not a store-bought jersey – not a fantasy replica – but an actual, eleven-championship-ring-earning #6 white home jersey.  And I saw it sell for $78,000.  Wow.

This year’s auction includes some absolutely breathtaking gear, including Michael Jordan’s rookie Chicago Bulls jersey from 1985; a “Player of the Decade” trophy awarded to Boston Celtic legend Bob Cousy; the 1962 game program issued when Wilt Chamberlain scored an NBA-record 100 points in a single contest; and the backboard against which Michael Jordan scored his final points as a member of the Chicago Bulls.

Fly Williams Spirits of St. Louis jersey
Fly Williams Spirits of St. Louis jersey

Being the Continental Basketball Association stat geek that I am, the one lot that absolutely intrigues me is the Fly Williams Spirits of St. Louis jersey.  James Williams was a legend of the Harlem Rucker League, where he once scored 100 points in an all-star game – 45 for one team, then 55 as a member of the opposing team.  While playing at Austin Peay University, Fly Williams was one of the top scorers in college ball, and inspired one of the greatest all-time college hoops chants by the fans of Austin Peay: “The Fly is Open! Let’s Go Peay!  The Fly Is Open!! Let’s Go Peay!!” After his college and ABA career, Fly played for several teams in the CBA, including the Hazleton (Pa.) Bullets.  It was during that stint that the coach of Hazleton offered to trade Fly Williams to a team in Long Island for $25.  The Long Island coach told his players he would take the deal, and the players said, “Coach, we’ll give you $25 each if you DON’T take Fly Williams.”

The auction will coincide with a special banquet Thursday night at the Basketball Hall of Fame, in which the Hall of Famers – past and present – will have a chance to dine and relax before their induction ceremonies later that week.

So from Thursday to Sunday, my little Nikon D700 and I will be photographing everything from arriving inductees to winning bidders.  You can also visit greyflannelauctions.com to find out more about the auction – and if you want to place a bid on one or more of the items there.

Unfortunately, there’s no Albany Patroons gear there, or I’d max out my credit card to get something.  Come on, try to outbid me for a T.J. Thompson #5 home jersey… just try!

Congratulations to Chuck Miller, Lawn Mower Racing Champion and no relation to me

I can understand that “Chuck Miller” is a generic name – according to The U.S. Census in 2000, Miller was the sixth most popular surname (only trailing Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown and Jones), while “Charles” or “Chuck” is the eighth most popular given name in America (behind James, John, Robert, Michael, William, David and Richard).

I tell this statistic to lead into another story.

Around maybe 2000 or 2001, I’m flipping up and down the cable channels and I come across the Speed Channel.  I’ll watch Speed for about 15 seconds – just to see if they’re showing some NASCAR coverage or maybe an episode of Pinks (the show where two street rods compete, with the loser surrendering his car’s pink slip – the title papers – to the winner).

The Speed Channel was showing what appeared to be a competition involving lawn mower racing.  Oh great, I thought, this is what the 500-channel universe has brought to us.  Guys racing on riding mowers.  I started to change the channel, until I heard the announcer say:

“And Chuck Miller has just taken the lead with 10 laps to go!”

Hold on – who just took the lead?

Chuck Miller, lawn mower racer. Not related to me.

Sure enough, one of the lawn mower racers – a fellow named Chuck Miller – was tearing up the track like Kyle Busch at Bristol.  Forget changing channels.  I wanted to see how this played out.

So for the next few minutes, I watched as “Chuck Miller” led the final ten laps of the lawn mower race, and took home the victory – and a championship trophy to go with it.

Nice.

At the time, I did some research on lawn mower racing. Apparently the sport has its own sanctioning body (the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association) and a touring series (the STA-BIL National Lawn Mower Racing Series).  The riding mowers (which have their mowing blades removed before racing) are modified to reach speeds of up to 85 miles per hour, and riders are required to wear neck supports and outfit their riding mowers with a killswitch, which stops the motor in case the driver falls off.  There’s even a lawn mowing video game, produced in 2007 for the XBOX and PC platforms.  I kid you not.

Miller, seen in the above picture with his lawn mower “Boogie Woogie,” has competed in every race of the STA-BIL National Lawn Mower Racing Series since the organization’s inception in 1992.  He’s won several championships in different levels of the sport, and even has his own successful lawn mower and home garden center in Marion, Ohio, about an hour north of Columbus.

In fact, his home and garden center will become the permanent location of the newly-created United States Lawn Mower Racing Association’s Hall of Fame, of which Miller was elected into its Class of 2009.  The induction took place over Labor Day Weekend, as part of the 17th annual STA-BIL Keeps Gas Fresh Finals, the Daytona 500 of lawn mower racing.

So congratulations to Chuck Miller, lawn mower racer, on your induction into the Lawn Mower Racing Association Hall of Fame.  As for Chuck Miller the Albany-based blogger… I’ll just get my Briggs & Stratton electric push mower out of the garage and take care of my front lawn the old-fashioned way.

Although I might paint a little “28” on the side of my mower and start calling it “Boogie Woogie” – maybe…

Photo Essay: Testing out my Kenko 180

Kenko Fisheye lens.  Image from dpanswers.com.
Kenko Fisheye lens. Image from dpanswers.com.

Among my arsenal of camera lenses that I’ve acquired over the years is this Kenko 180° screw-on fisheye lens.  From the looks of it, I should be able to shine a red light through it and pretend it’s the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Delaware and Hudson Building, Albany, N.Y.  Photo taken by Chuck Miller.
Delaware and Hudson Building, Albany, N.Y. Photo taken by Chuck Miller.

Although I already have a dedicated fisheye lens (my Kiev Mir-21H), I originally purchased this Kenko 180° a year or two before, and it screws onto the front of my 50mm lenses.  This allows me to get great pictures like the one you see here, which I took of the Delaware and Hudson building from atop the Hudson and Green parking garage structure in late 2008.  My original hope was that the Kenko would give me a perfect circular photograph,  but unfortunately I was working at the time with a Nikon D70, which had a photographic imaging sensor known as “DX” (24 x 36), essentially cropping the top and bottom of the circle.

By the way, one can see from this photo that when the lens says 180 degrees, it MEANS 180 degrees.  So if you don’t frame things properly, you get unintended images in your photo – such as the parking garage guardrails.  That’s one thing, but how about accidentally photographing your feet – your shadow – or your camera tripod legs, which inadvertently get in the picture whether you want them to or not??

After a few tries with the D70, I put the Kenko lens away and stopped using it.

Then I got my new Nikon D700.  The Nikon D700 has a full-frame “FX” imaging sensor, which provides a larger image than that achieved on the D70.  Now I could get that perfect photographic circle.

So on September 5, 2009, I went out for a day of photography in the Capital Region.

Bees pollenating plants in Washington Park.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Bees pollenating plants in Washington Park. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I hooked my Kenko fisheye to the front of my Kiev Helios 81H 50mm f/2 manual focus lens.  Yes, I’m talking photogeekspeak, so just bear with me a sec.  The Kenko lens has a screw-on mount, and is designed to interface with other lenses, rather than the camera body itself.  My Helios 81H was essentially gathering dust on a shelf, and without my need for a 50mm lens at the time, it would have only been used had my Nikon F/1.8 50mm lens stopped working.

So I screwed the two lenses together, creating Sino-Soviet photographic detente.  Hee.

I stopped off first at Washington Park.  Attaching the camera to a tripod, and using my Quantaray cable shutter release to prevent camera shake, I pushed the camera lens as close to the petals of flowers as I possibly could.  At a flower bed near the statue of Moses, I photographed several bumblebees doing their morning chores, pollenating the plants.

Happily, I was able to get that photographic circle that I wanted.  I shot each photo in .TIF format, which provided me with a 16mg photo per shot, and 300 DPI in a lossless format.

Smile for the camera, Hazel!  Photo by Chuck MIller.
Smile for the camera, Hazel! Photo by Chuck MIller.

After I spent about 30 minutes photographing flowers, I saw a young lady who was tossing a tennis ball to her dog in Washington Park.  I asked if she would like to bring her dog over for a photo.  She obliged, and brought her dog Hazel over to a grassy, shady area of the park.  She and Hazel posed for a few seconds.  The photo you see here was taken five seconds before Hazel stuck her nose right into my camera lens, giving it a lick.

If you look in the lower portion of the photo, you can see a small metal stick.  That’s actually one of my tripod legs.  Remember what I said about making sure extemporaneous things like tripod legs and sneakers all need to stay carefully away from the depth of field perimeter of the fisheye lens?  Yeah – I didn’t notice it either, until I got home to post-process the photo.  My bad.

Later in the afternoon, I was able to get fisheyed shots of such iconic buildings as the New York State Capitol, the old State Education Building, and the Palace Theater. I took a few shots of the Washington Avenue Armory in fisheye, but I only stayed for a couple of minutes – there was what appeared to be a hostile argument brewing between a couple of men at the bus stop, and I didn’t want to be part of the action in case they wanted to take their frustration out on me.

I photographed the State Education Building and its brilliant white columns, and as I was walking across the Capitol lawn to get a shot of the Capitol from the Empire State Plaza concourse, I could hear what I thought was the sound of ball bearings and scraping metal. That could mean only one thing.

Skateboarders.

Skateboarder on Justice Building walkway.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Skateboarder on Justice Building walkway. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Sure enough, there were several skateboarders along the steps of the Justice Building, practicing their kick-flips and skills by using the Justice Building portico as an improvised skate park.

I set my camera up at the lower portion of the stairs, and let the team – who identified themselves as Hatchet Wound, a skateboard team out of Hartford, Connecticut – do their thing.

The shot you see here is actually three exposures, stitched together as one solid picture. I used to take this kind of “stitch-together” shot when I was the team photographer for the Albany Patroons – you know, snagging that photo of Jamario Moon as he’s running to the hoop, and you see every single frame of him going up and slamming it down… oh those were fun days…

All in all, I think the Kenko did a much better job for me on the D700 than it ever did on my previous camera. It’s still a very tricky lens to use, and I found a lot of photos that included my camera tripod, my shoes – or in one case, my shadow – that I could not use for this photo essay.

Other than shooting skateboarders, I’m not likely to use this lens in a sports situation, just because of the difficulty in getting the lens focused correctly and the distinct possibility of chromatic aberrations ruining my photo.

So here’s a slideshow of the photos I took on September 5, 2009 using my Kenko 180 lens. Hope you enjoy them!

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

Remembering 3WD, Schenectady’s Top 40 Radio Station

I received a note from a girl named Deborah, who contacted me from my earlier blog.

Hi, Chuck … if you worked at 3WD in the 80’s you may have known “Dave Michaels” aka, David Brady, one of the original owners. He passed away in July 2009.

I am truly saddened by the passing of Mr. Brady – or as I knew him, Dave Michaels.  He was a fantastic person to work with at 3WD – I always enjoyed chatting with him as we changed shifts (he had the afternoon shift, I worked from 6pm until midnight).

Yes, at one time I was actually a disc jockey.  Well, make that two times – I spent four years as an on-air talent at Hamilton College’s radio station, WHCL (88.7 FM), but my time at 3WD was as a professional radio DJ.

And therein lies a tale.

bumper sticker for radio station 3WD
bumper sticker for radio station 3WD

Growing up in Albany in the 1970’s, I had my choice of many pop/rock radio stations on the radio dial. If I wanted Top 40 radio, I could listen to 1540 WPTR or 980 WTRY on  AM, and when I got my first FM radio I could enjoy the crystal clear sounds of 92.3 WFLY and 106.5 WPYX, as well as “Rock 99” WGFM, which we all know today as The River.

But one Sunday morning, around maybe 1977 or so, I was spinning the radio dial trying to get from one AM station to the other (American Top 40 was on in a few minutes) – and lo and behold, I came across a station I never previously knew existed.

It was a small AM station from Schenectady, New York.  The station originally began in 1924 as station WSNY, and was the home radio outlet for the Schenectady Blue Jays baseball team in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  By 1968, the station tried its hand at Top 40 radio, broadcasting in that format until 1974.  Two years later, the station returned to the airwaves with the call letters WWWD (or “3WD”, as they were more popularly branded). They played an eclectic mix of Top 40 hits, oldies and “soon-to-be” hits. They spent an entire month proving – and disproving – and reproving – and re-disproving the similarities between Klaatu and the Beatles. They played records right out of the box, even if it took months for America to decide that song was a hit. As an example, 3WD wore out Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” – months before the song hit the Top 40 nationally.

My friends used to joke about the station’s quirky call letters, calling the station “Three-didildy-dee,” or “three-wheel-drive,” and continually professed their allegiance to either WTRY or WPTR or FLY 92 or Rock 99.  But for me, I enjoyed listening to a station that was willing to program by the seat of their pants. Call in a request on 3WD, they’d have it on the turntable in 10 minutes or less. You didn’t get that “I’ll see if I can find it” excuse, which basically meant, “We know you want to hear this song, and as soon as it comes up in the rotation – whether it’s in ten minutes or three hours – then you’ll hear it.”

I was home from college for a weekend in 1983. Because my train had a long layover in Schenectady, I had a couple of hours to kill. I walked down State Street, looking for the usual diversions – record stores, sporting goods stores, the like – and then I saw the sign in the window.

3WD – 1240 AM – SCHENECTADY

Holy crap. It was the home offices of 3WD. I couldn’t believe it.

I visited the 3WD station and spoke with two of the disc jockeys I remembered from my youth, and half-jokingly suggested that once I got out of college, I might join them in the multi-million dollar world of broadcast radio.

Four years later, in September 1987, I took a chance and filled out a demo tape, and sent it to 3WD’s general manager, Glen Von Calio.  A couple of days later, he told me I had the job if I wanted it – evenings, 6pm to midnight Monday through Friday, 6pm to 1am on Saturday.

So in September of 1987, I joined 3WD as an evening disc jockey. One of those same disc jockeys I listened to in my youth, Dave Michaels, introduced me on the radio.  I took my seat, and spent the next six hours in heaven.

Unfortunately, heaven lasted about two days. Then reality set in.

Low-power AM rock stations like 3WD were changing their formats to all-talk or all-sports or all-weather or all-farm reports, as people who wanted to hear the top hits wanted them in FM stereo. 3WD was also in the process of changing ownership, so there was virtually no effort to promote the station. My 6-hour shift coincided with 3WD’s other programming – which included New York Mets broadcasts, Syracuse University football and basketball games, and horse race results from Off-Track Betting. My thoughts of making “millions” in radio changed when I found out they take taxes out of minimum wage. And a snowstorm in October 1987 knocked half the radio stations off the air – guess which one was still on – and expected me to be at the studio on time for my shift? You got it.  Good ol’ 3WD.

And for all of you who’ve seen Play Misty For Me – trust me, when you’re on a low-power radio station, the women that call the request line would rather know the results from the fifth race at Aqueduct.

And that was another bugaboo with 3WD – no matter what was on the air at the time, whether it was a baseball game, a college football game, or the Emergency Broadcast System – the race results came first.  Reports from Aqueduct and Belmont and Yonkers and Saratoga Harness, along with the calls and the race results, took priority over anything else.  This practice continued for years, throughout the time when OTB owned the station.

Still, I stayed with the station for several months, building up a small audience with a 1950’s oldies program (when it wasn’t pre-empted for the Syracuse football team, which at that time was actually a college football powerhouse). On March 17, 1988, my radio show was the last program aired under the 3WD call letters – the station was finally sold, was rebranded as WVKZ, and 3WD became the first station in the Capital Region whose entire broadcast day was delivered via satellite from another state.

I left 3WD with a lot of memories – some good, some not-so-good – and a sense that I had accomplished one of my dreams, being a professional radio disc jockey. Okay, the only similarity between me and Wolfman Jack is we both howled (my howls came from viewing my paycheck).

What was once 3WD is now WVKZ, and went through several different formats.  I turned it on one time and heard country music and NASCAR; the next time I listened, it was talk radio from Mike Gallagher (or as I like to call his show, noise pollution).  Today, WVKZ provides a satellite-based “true oldies” format, and the station has improved from those “seat of your pants” broadcast days of the 80’s and 90’s.

And while 3WD might have been just another series of call letters in the spectrum of amplified modulation radio, to me it will always have a warm spot in my heart. In the one life we live, how rare it is that we get to fulfill our dreams and fantasies. And I did.

As far as I was concerned, they weren’t three-wheel drive to me.

Rest in peace, Dave Michaels… and thanks for being a great on-air radio personality and a trusted co-worker and broadcast partner.