DGH On The Road

Mexico City

March 20, 2012

This is one of the most unique trips I have ever taken.   A routine visit to Mexico City Ended with my being an impromptu guest on KNX, the LA news station I used to run…

0320-hall-quake (click the blue to the left to listen)

Unfortunately the clip cuts off most of what I was saying about Mexico’s early warning system.  The alarms and whistles go off 55 second before a confirmed, big quake reaches the city.  That gives schools time to get children outdoors and all fire stations get their trucks out of their garages.  At the moment it happened I was doing a presentation to the afternoon talk show team.  Two of them, who were small children in the 1985 quake understandably ran out of the room in terror.  I sat their spending my 55 seconds marveling at the fact that we know it’s coming, which is just not something we have in California.   Coincidentally my long experience with Mexico City started as a young news reporter covering that huge quake in 1985.  And now I was there to feel it’s near twin.

All of that happened just three days after I ran into THIS at the American Embassy…

A huge protest outside the American Embassy. Over 1,000 Mexico City Police guarding The Stars And Stripes

Teachers from Southern Mexico, who had no beef with the US or the more than 1,000 riot police guarding our embassy, closed down Mexico City’s main boulevard with a 100,000 person protest.  They were in front of our embassy, where they started chanting anti US things, and then started throwing eggs, rocks, and soft drinks at the building and the police out front…

The Mexican government is confronting its educational system and demanding that teachers take aptitude and competency tests.  The teachers in the south are so upset at the thought that they drove 10 hours north to Mexico City and took it out on our embassy, I guess as a way to get international attention.  I’m sure our embassy can hold its own against eggs.   What makes me sad is the message these teachers are sending to their students that if you’re mad at this guy for making you take responsibility, you can exert violence against someone else who has nothing to do with you….

I have been going to Mexico City for 30 years now and after this crazy protest and then the earthquake, I was never more ready to get in a cab, get to a plane, and get home!  I love the place but this turned out to be kind of a twilight zone week!


Saarbrücken Germany/Forbach France

A one day visit to Esther

This is the Forbach Castle, from the 1360s, overlooking the French border with Germany. As I began to photograph the ruins through a window, a little girl walked into the picture with her dog and then ducked!


Esther, in Saarbrücken Germany in a McDonalds that is half normal McDonalds and half Scandinavian design coffee shop Mcdonalds

Had a lovely day off.  Left a cold and rainy Paris for a high speed train trip to the German border, where my sister Esther drove from her home to meet me.  We walked through the French town of Forbach, had lunch in the German town of Saarbrücken, bought delicious pastries and sat on the grounds below the 700 year old castle above to eat them.  We stumbled upon a wine tasting, and then spent the afternoon in a wonderfully designed McDonalds having coffee.   It always amazes me how capable people are of change. The McDonalds above straddles a border that for most of the twentieth century was hostile.   Now there’s just a road sign and the pavement changes as you enter the other country.

Your reporter, bored and playing with the iPhone at the end of a three week trip zipping across France at 200 miles per hour.  I look tired.  Home in just three days!


February 28-March 7

A lettuce vendor at the Avenue de President Wilson Farmers' Market

What the hell was I thinking??  All the times I’ve either considered Europe or have come here it’s always been about Spain or whatever country I was working in…Sweden, Portugal, Poland, UK, or Ireland.  Never bothered much with France or Germany (except that my sister Esther is in Germany but then I have visited her far too seldom).  But wow, what a place Paris is!!  I guess I am not the first American to declare that.  And I might not even be the first Hall.  Seems I’ve been preceded…

Les Halles Metro Station

There is a definite pattern to the work these days.  A new client and I spend the first several days in conference rooms.  At the end of each day I walk outside to go to the hotel and say “oh yeah, hah, I’m in Paris!!” but am too tired and have too much other client work to do anything about it.  Then I stay over a weekend and have a day to explore.  Today I set out to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Orsay museums, and to walk the Champ Élysée.  The lines at the museums were crazy, so I walked the Champ Élysée end to end, then walked up to the tower, and then kept on walking.   I went to a fantastic fresh food farmer’s market, stopped at maybe 10 brasseries for a coffee just because they were so inviting.  By the time I got back to the room and looked at a map I realized I had walked across just about half of  the city, and took the metro across the other half…

An exact replica of the Statue of Liberty Flame. This also happens to be where Princess Diana died (in the tunnel directly below)


Here is the tunnel where Princess Diana died


The Avenue de President Wilson Farmers' Market

The Avenue de President Wilson Farmers' Market


The base of the Eiffel Tower


Like the World Trade Center was and the Empire State Building is, the Eiffel Tower is also a radio broadcast tower.  The station I am working with here has 60 transmitters covering the whole country, and one of them is at the top!  This is the first radio station I have been involved with that does not broadcast from a red and white stick in the ground either on a mountain or in a swamp…


Here are Eric-Jean and Laurent (who to me looks and sounds like Billy Crystal).  They are two of three owners of a national radio network.  Laurent and I are both 47.  We both began our careers at about 12 by wiring the transmitter project in an 80-in-1 kit.  We both ran pirate radio stations in our youth.  But from there our paths diverged such that he now owns a national network in France that broadcasts from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and I work for him.  Hmmm…

And here is how I spent this week and will spend Monday and Tuesday of next week.  In a conference room all day, working out the strategy and the tactics for building their news/talk network.  (By the way this is a great conference room. It’s pre-wired for Mac computers with all the power and screen adaptors built in.  There are 6 Mac  laptops in this room, each one belong to one of us.

In the picture above, Matthew is the third owner and the guy next to me is an interpreter.   I am leading the discussion using the big screen so everyone can see the notes I am taking.

Finally, I have to show you my room in this crazy hotel I am in.  The lobby is painted floor, walls, and ceiling in chalkboard paint.  The restaurant is so popular that we had a 5pm reservation one night, an 11:30 reservation the next night, and could not get in the third night.  And check out the reading lights by the bed…

Hotel Mama Shelter, in east Paris

Madrid, Spain

February 19-28

Two buildings all dressed up and in deep conversation. Canalejas Square, Central Madrid

"Sweet Georgia Brown" at full volume; man dancing with cane

With nearly 30% unemployment, I have noticed that the homeless are different. Their shoes are newer. Their clothes nicer. And they don't have that weathered squinty look of longtime homeless. They have a look of utter terror. During The Depression, US unemployment peaked 7% lower than it is today in Spain.


There's gotta be one in every crowd...


The pictures above are from a wonderful Saturday afternoon off, walking through central Madrid.  The rest of the whole last week was spent in conference rooms and the office of the program director…

This is Javier, the young PD of an old radio network owned by the Catholic Church.  The trip this time is to do audience research, form a strategy to double the audience in a year and a half, and get the team of 400 at the station all focused on the new direction we’re setting.

Here are Peter and Björn, the research guys from Sweden.    We’re in the conference room walking through all the research data and forming a plan and recommendations to present to station management…


When we made the big recommendations we were in an ornate board room surrounded by pictures of and letters from Popes.  It was intense. Peter presented, I translated (interpreted, really, because it was in real time) and at the same time ‘read the room’ and added, explained, and gave examples of what Peter was presenting so that our story and recommendations were as clear as possible.   When we were done he was sweating and I was so exhausted I could have slept on the spot.


One nice thing about being here…tapas for lunch (although in Madrid they’re called Pinchos)…




Mexico City (and Sacramento CA)

February 3-10

My first trip to Mexico City this year.  It was a cold and rainy 4 days so there was not much to see.  In a post below I mention our afternoon host whose ratings rose dramatically all through 2011.  This time I did a brainstorming for his show to come up with great and cool ideas to boost those ratings even more.  I used a mix of post it notes, lists, and “thought starters” projected on a big screen to keep the ideas flowing.  I love doing these and the better I get, the more I will do for all my stations and shows.  They all need to keep the creativity flowing and it’s so easy to get stuck in one’s ways.


Before heading south I had another whirlwind trip north.  My son Daniel and I picked  up my Uncle Howard in Santa Barbara to go to Sacramento for my dad’s 80th birthday (afterword my uncle, now 85 and noted in a post below) commented several times how surprised he was at how well I drove.  Not sure where that came from, but I am happy he enjoyed our little three generation road trip.    Pop’s party was great.  And these days it’s always nice when extended family gathers for something other than a funeral!  Here’s Pop surrounded by his four kids…

Esther, who lives in Germany. Sarah the Rocket Scientist. Pop at 80. Danny the rock-n-roll drummer, and your reporter

Here’s a “road” story, which I seem to collect one or more of with every next year I travel.  At my hotel in Mexico City the walls were very thin.  The guy next door was vomiting all night.  First I thought he was sick and then realized he was drunk.  At about midnight his phone started ringing constantly and he never answered it.  It kept me up.  At about 2 someone started knocking on his door.  First it was quiet but constant, then turned to pounding. Then a young woman started to say “I know you’re in there”.  Then she started to scream it.  I called the front desk, it all quieted down, and then at about 4 it started up again.  When I left for the station at 7:30 she was seated outside his door, back to the door, waiting for him to come out.  Glad I was not there when he woke up hungover and opened the door!


Palm Springs

January 22-24

Flying home from Portugal over the Mojave Desert, to which I then drove 48 hours later.

What was supposed to be a January spent “in the office” turned into a crazy whirlwind trip from here to Kansas, Texas, Portugal, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs all in a matter of days.  This and the two entries immediately below are all essentially the same trip.   I gave up on worrying about the little things like time zones and jet lag.  And except for waking up today (Jan 25) and being completely surprised that it’s already Wednesday, it seemed to work!

Palm Springs is always a great trip.  It’s a tiny station that dares to run 10 hours a day of live, local programming, and it kicks butt.  The local shows even beat the big national shows like Rush and Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.  I love working with these guys because they understand good strategy and programming as though they’re in a far bigger city.

Here’s John the Program Director.  He has developed shows in Palm Springs that could easily hold their own in New York or LA.  He’s very impressive.  This is us going through ratings on Sunday afternoon, preparing a presentation we were to give to the sales team and the programming team…

Santa Barbara

January 21

The front of the Santa Barbara Mission

Ok, I arrived from Spain/Portugal Friday afternoon, and the very next day I was at my Uncle Howard’s 85th birthday at the Santa Barbara mission, where he works.  Or is retired…

Inside the Santa Barbara Mission

I don’t do a lot of family pix in this blog, but this one’s a rare gathering of the Hall men…

My son Daniel, my brother Dan, my uncle Howard, my Pop, and your reporter who seems to be saying "Grrr"

Lisbon, Portugal

January 17-20

A Golden Gate replica in Lisbon, Portugal

This was a whirlwind trip.  Flew overnight to Madrid.  After clearing customs, had a four hour meeting with my Spain client in a cafe at the Madrid airport.  Then flew to Lisbon for just two days of meetings, then flew home.  Lisbon seems great: lots of outdoor cafes, scooters, brick streets, crazy traffic, white and red buildings everywhere in Mediterranean sun…

The view from the room. Lisbon.

The coolest thing I saw (and I did not see much in two days with meetings from dark to dark each day) were the roads and sidewalks. They are all brick or tile, and street lanes are inlaid alternating colors, not painted.  Here is a sidewalk in the city center…

The Portuguese I met were great.  I expected them to be kind of arrogant like the Spanish since the two countries are so close and were competitors in the exploration and conquest age.  But it turns out even Portugal was once occupied by Spain and has an independence day from Spain.  Thankfully the Portuguese can understand Spanish, although as a Spanish speaker trying to understand Portuguese, I got lost a lot.

Amarillo, Texas

January 7-9, 2012

The Amarillo Texas scenery

And we’re off and running in 2012.  I had hoped to be home into February, so of course I ended up leaving as early in the year as possible for Kansas and Amarillo.  An interesting thing about Amarillo, way up north in the Texas Panhandle…it is closer to Santa Fe, Oklahoma City, and Denver than it is to its own state capitol, Austin.  And when I asked people in The Panhandle if they ever go to Dallas or Houston, they say “yeah a couple times a year I gotta fly to Texas”.  It looked like Texas to me, but apparently The Panhandle’s a whole other country.

A Sunday afternoon in Amarillo, TX

With all the places I go these days some people comment on how exciting it all must be.  But the truth is, the scene above, taken in the “free continental breakfast” area of the Ramada where I was staying, is normal.  It could be Spain or Peru or Sweden or Amarillo.  It’s just me, alone, on a Sunday afternoon, preparing a presentation, looking through ratings, and listening to talk shows.


Mexico City

December 3-9

Christmas Party & Picture Day

The view from the hotel. People lining up to see the Coca Cola Parade

I guess you could call this a "Coke Float"

Have been in Mexico all week, but all regular work and nothing really to “write home about”  other than a fun Coca Cola Parade that comes through town every Christmas season and the station’s annual Christmas Party, which they are nice enough to invite me to.   Actually there are two parades in Mexico that I seem to see each year. The Coca Cola one, which is every bit as commercial as it sounds but is much less commercial than the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York has become.  And a parade of pilgrimage to Saint Jude, which is a loud, firecracker saturated thing that goes all night and literally keeps me up.   I try to avoid that one.

Picture day.  Here’s Antonio, the owner of the stations here.  When I thank him for inviting me to this party every year he says “well you’re part of our family.  Of course you’re invited”.  That’s nice to hear as a consultant…

Here’s Alejando Villalvazo. He does the afternoon talk show here.  For the last several years the station has had the very common Talk Radio problem in which the morning show is by far the highest rated show on the station.  So at this time last year in my year end meeting with Antonio (above), I suggested that I hyper focus on Villalvazo in 2011 to get his ratings up so that the station will have two stars and not so many eggs in the morning show basket.  A year later his ratings are up 140%, raising the overall station’s ratings 60% year to year.  He is now just a couple of thousand listeners behind the morning show, where a year ago he was hundreds of thousands of listeners behind.  He’s a perfect case study of a host who takes direction, sets a strategy, has faith, and follows it.  I wish I could take him to Spain and Peru and other places I work and say “See, it  really can work”…

Alejandro Villalvazo. Star.

And here’s Tony Promos. Actually his name is Tony Beristain but he does the best production work I have ever heard.  Lucky for these guys he doesn’t speak English or he would today be KFI’s or KNX’s production and promo person!

Tony Promos

Finally, no self respecting Mexican company would have a Christmas party without one of these!  And the tequila necessary ahead of time to make grown men with ties on want to mount up…

Toro Mecanico


Home, Windy Home

November 30-December 4, 2011

97 MPH winds blow through!

Wednesday night, November 30 the wind started to blow…a sound I always love to hear in the trees outside the house.  But then it picked up, and picked up, and picked up.  Then the flashes started as transformers in the neighborhood started to blow, then our power went out.  After four days of no lights, no internet, no heat, no way to charge a cell phone other than driving around in the car, the power is finally back.  And the aftermath of the freak windstorm…

A house down the block from us on our street.

The same house, about half way "up" the fallen tree.

This is the scene directly in front of our house, Thursday morning after the wind stopped. Our first peek outside.

So we finally put “Earthquake Water” to good use, as we did our gas stove.  We learned that food in the fridge lasts a few hours, and food in the freezer lasts about a day.  We learned that because trees in Southern California are not native and are watered only by sprinklers, they have unnaturally shallow root systems that make them very susceptible to toppling over in high winds.  We learned that we are not on a grid in South Pasadena that gets the first attention in a power outage so we saw the other side of our street get power back about three days before we did (someone posted on a local blog that we’re on the “ghetto grid”).  And we count ourselves very lucky because our house was virtually untouched while others, as you saw, were less lucky.

Madrid, Spain

November 8, 2011

My sister Sarah’s Birthday!

Leaving Spain early tomorrow.  Except for a short trip to Mexico early in December, I expect to be in LA until February!  This has been an incredibly tough travel season, starting at the beginning of September and ending tomorrow.

It’s picture day today in Madrid.  Here are the two people I work with the most.  First, Esther, who  is my point person here and is a huge help in getting this staff moving in the right directions.  She also negotiated with her bosses for me to travel business class.  Apparently I am the only person in the whole company with that special dispensation….


And Javier is the program director.  He’s 32, he’s new, and he’s in the situation where he’s in charge of people who were working at this station the day he was born.  I have been there and so I think there is a lot I can offer him to get him to a place where these people trust and respect him.  We made a lot of progress this week.   I told him he looks more like an American politician than most American politicians.  He could be giving Romney a run for his money on looks alone…


As always, thank you for reading my little blog!

Madrid, Spain

November 6, 2011

Real Madrid celebrates a goal

Went to a Real Madrid soccer game today.  What an experience!  The crowd is so loud and responsive.  It couldn’t be more different than a baseball game!  Got to sit in the VIP section, which the station arranged.  The pic above celebrates this goooooooool below…

Surprised I caught this with a point/shoot camera with a 3 second shutter delay. It's like I knew it was going to happen!

90,000 screaming fans


Also this weekend I went to the Prado museum which was very inspirational.  It has a huge collection of Velásquez and Goya.  It’s always a quieting, amazing feeling to stand right in front of those famous works.   From there I went to Madrid’s Plaza Mayor to see other artists do their thing for the tourists…

Landscape of La Mancha in the Plaza Mayor, Madrid


One thing about Spain, the street performers are more creative than other places.  Here are three heads on a table, the middle of which first called me Gordo (fat), then realizing that probably  wasn’t going to get money in her jar, she called me Flaco (skinny).  That worked…

3 Cabezas en mesa. La Plaza Mayor


And it turns out Mini Mouse is from Peru…

Now it’s back to work for me this Sunday afternoon.  Getting ready for the final two days here and catching up for clients in three other countries and 3 US cities.  Heading out to a cafeteria with WiFi in wonderful evening rainbow light…


Madrid, Spain

November 4, 2011

Winding up a long week.  It’s been cold and rainy most of the week and I have been working generally from about 9am to 9:30pm so my sightseeing has been limited to the few blocks between the hotel and the station and a couple of cool restaurants.  Here’s a favorite.   It’s a very typical Spanish cafeteria…they do cafe con leche with a roll in the morning, soda and tortillas (which is actually an open face omelette) and jamón serrano in the afternoon, and booze at night.  The long list on the black menu against the wall are the Tapas.   I went to these places 30 years ago and they have not changed one bit.  Even then they felt old and cozy.   I come here for coffee every morning before entering the station…

Restaurante Andujar

Cafe con Leche


While the traditional Spanish Siesta is long gone in the big cities, lunch is a three hour affair and is the heavy meal of the day.  Here’s lunch this week…

I did not order this, but ended up trying it. It tastes better than it looks.

"Wet rice" with lobster (not paella)


And here’s the morning show on the air.   These guys are a little arrogant, partly due to generations of great success and partly due to a culture that is not used to taking suggestions from anyone.  It dawned on me this week that Spain does not have an independence day and there are a dozen places on earth that fought bloody wars to have independence from these guys.  Overall it’s a good team and both the programming team and the church are eager to win and investing in success…

"Asi son las mañanas". Ernesto Buruaga is the big star, on the left. He looks just like NBC's Brian Williams.

Going to a Real Madrid soccer game this weekend and hopefully the Prado museum.  I work Monday, give my big presentation to the management Tuesday, and go home on Wednesday.

Madrid, Spain

November 1, 2011

The view from my room. Parque Retiro

Here for 8 days.  Working with Spain’s #2 broadcaster, which is the Catholic Church.   It’s a national station that has been falling in ratings recently and is one of those where they’ve never really done audience research, they do things “because that’s the way they’ve always been done” and they have been particularly gloomy about Spain’s economic crisis.  I have dealt with all those things before except The Church part.  This is going to be a very interesting challenge and I haven’t been this excited about a project in a long time.  Also, being here is completing a circle for me that began in 1979 when I came to Spain as an exchange student and to learn the language. I fell in love with the place and the people.   My Spanish has long since been Latin Americanized but we can certainly understand each other.   To be able to give back to this great country and help this station put on programming that informs and entertains her people will be particularly special to me.

It was a 13 hour flight today followed by a “oh you’re here, let’s meet!” meeting for several hours this evening.   Off to bed.


Lima, Perú

October 17, 2011

One.  More.  Day!

So here’s how it works when I am on these trips.  I have meetings with whole departments and I have meetings with individual shows or show teams (host, producer, screener, editor, etc).  And there is always a recap meeting with the owners where I sum it all up and hopefully do it brilliantly enough to be invited to work for another year.    If there is more than one station like here, Mexico, and Sweden, I end up juggling all the meetings.  So it might be a big powerpoint presentation for the marketing and promotions department of one station, then running to a meeting with the all important morning host of the other station, who maybe is upset that I enter late, and that I am Gringo.  Then from there back to a powerpoint presentation for all the production people on the first station, with completely different challenges  and a completely different target audience.  So during the day I am usually juggling at least two full and completely different powerpoint presentations with that “lean forward, make eye contact, tell them where they need to improve but in a way that makes them thank you and want more criticism and do it all while not throwing the PD under the bus even thought it’s actually her  job to have done this” thing in the individual show meetings.    That’s a lot of “on” time, where I am laser focused and it’s exhausting.   Then I get to the hotel room and I have to prepare everything but the powerpoints for the next day, which is usually between 3 and 5 hours.   Then it all starts again.  You can see how the Amazon was calling my name and the manatees, which do need the rescuing, were just not an option.

On Sunday, with two days of work left, the sun came out.  That’s always a big deal in Lima.  I packed up the Mac and headed to a Special Best Place I have here, overlooking the ocean.  I ordered a cocktail, some ceviche, and went to work.   Here’s the view…

After an hour, the place became flooded with very excited 10 year old girls that were so noisy I couldn’t think.  So I packed up, left, and ran right into this…

By the way that’s a man of about my age holding the poster.  He and a whole bunch of other men were there as fans, not related to any of the girls.  Unfortunately this guy would not let me photograph his face.  It was more than a little weird to see so many grown men as Justin Bieber fans.

Anyway, here’s the Bieb himself pulling out of the hotel…

And Wednesday morning as I head for a nice layover in El Salvador on my way home, this will undoubtedly be my view from The Window Seat.  It looks more like Bagdad than how I would picture a major South American capital.   With this I thank you so much for reading my little blog.  The fact that you do kee