Jim's Blog: Howdy, Neighbor

Here's a story we often tell ourselves. It's not a true story, although some days it feels like one:

Everybody on social media is a jerk. Some of our most popular TV shows and movies expect us to root for bad people. The way to get elected to political office is by being terrible, and promising to be more terrible once you're elected.

The world is mean.

It's easy to believe that story, but there's another reality, and it's the reality we live in every day. People are not all mean. They aren't all jerks or bad people. Not everybody is terrible and promising to be worse. Not in Madison, anyway. Exhibit A: in a recent survey, Madison was voted the most neighborly city in America.

Here's Neighbor.com, talking about how they selected their 25 Most Neighborly Cities of 2021, compared to how they did it last year:

We still looked at important factors like charitable giving and volunteering, but we also scoured the internet for new factors to consider, including which cities are the happiest. We also surveyed people across the nation and learned what it means to be a good neighbor:

    • 79% of people said they’ve done at least one favor for their neighbor in the past year.
    • 62% of people say they hang out with their neighbors at least a few times a year.
    • 66% of people say they have at least two neighbors they can depend on to do favors like watering their plants or picking up their mail.
    • And amid the coronavirus pandemic, 42% of people said they’re now more likely to start relationships with their neighbors, so they can take care of one another.

About Madison specifically, they say:

In Madison, many people spend free time volunteering, and many reports doing kind acts for their neighbors — two things we think make a community more neighborly. Madison also has a low rate of crime, making it a safe, happy city with a palpable community bond.

Congratulations, Madison. Keep taking care of one another.

Lanette's Lazy Mexican Lasagna

Jim Bartlett is in for Lanette this week. Here's a Lazy Recipe from his kitchen! 

Ann Bartlett’s Lazy Mexican Lasagna

You'll need...

One pound taco seasoned ground meat, cooked and drained. (You can buy pre-seasoned raw ground meat, or buy the packet of taco seasoning that you prefer and make your own.)
One can refried beans (fat-free works just fine)
Large flour tortillas (8 to 9" across)
Mexican shredded cheese (any Mexican cheese will work)

Put one tortilla in the bottom of a round cake pan. Top with a layer of meat and a layer of cheese. Put in another tortilla and press down all around. Spread a layer of beans on the tortilla and sprinkle more cheese, and then top with another tortilla. Again press down to compact each layer. Then add another layer of meat and another layer of cheese. Top with a final tortilla, and press down. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 25 or 30 min until the cheese is melty. You could put jalapeno slices in the layers too if you like. Or just about anything else. This whole recipe started as an experiment, so go nuts. Cut into four or six slices, like a pie. Serve with any of your favorite nacho toppings (salsa, sour cream, guac, etc.) There will be leftover meat and beans. We just make a second one a few days later. You can also make this in a 9-by-13 pan. Cut the tortillas in half and layer with the cut edge along the edges of the pan. This would probably use up all the meat and beans in one dish.

Ann Bartlett

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Jim's Blog: Thanks for Calling, Wherever You Are

I got an interesting phone call while I was on the air last weekend. A guy called me from Baltimore asking for the phone number of a certain radio station in Toronto. Really. He decided to call me, he said, because on the map, Wisconsin is farther north than Maryland, and maybe we can hear the station here, and maybe we know the phone number. My man could have googled the station himself (and he must have had Internet access, because how else did he get our phone number in Madison?), but for whatever reason, he did not. So I googled the number for him, and he went happily on his way.
Google isn't the perfect solution for everyone, however. Here's another phone call I got recently:

Me: “Hi, Magic 98.”
Lady with extremely strong Southern accent: “Can you tell me why you don't have the Georgia Bulldog football game on today?”
Me, after a pause: “I'm sorry, can you please say that again?”
Lady: “Georgia is playing football right now, but it's not on your station.”
Me, after another pause: “Ma'am, I'm in Madison, Wisconsin. I think you called the wrong radio station.”

It turns out that there is a Magic 98 in metro Atlanta that broadcasts University of Georgia football. She had tried to tune in the game, didn't hear it, decided to call the station, googled “Magic 98,” and got us instead. I explained what had happened, and I might even have looked up the right number for her, although I don't remember. Before I dropped off I said, “Maybe Wisconsin will play Georgia in football someday.” She said, “That would have to be in the playoff.” She was clearly a serious football fan.
After I hung up I thought, “Boy, somebody at Magic 98 in Georgia is going to be in big trouble in a minute or two.”
Whenever you hear me on the radio, call up if you want. It may take a while for me to answer because things get busy behind the scenes now and then, but I'm always happy to talk to you. And in a pinch, I'll even google for you.

Read more of Jim Bartlett's blogs here.

Jim's Blog: A Thanksgiving Playlist

The year was 1981. I was on the air on Thanksgiving Day, finishing up my show, when the phone rang. On the other end of the call was a very irate lady who wanted to know why I hadn't played any Thanksgiving songs. I responded, “Ma'am, I'd be happy to play one if you can think of any.” It probably wasn't the most tactful response, but in my defense I was young, and also an idiot.

Halloween has produced its fair share of songs, and Christmas is responsible for thousands. But Thanksgiving isn't much of a muse for songwriters. The day’s iconography—turkeys, corn shocks, and Pilgrim hats—doesn't lend itself to imagery like the trappings of Christmas do. Watching football does not inspire songwriters like happy children’s faces do. The Macy’s parade lacks the thrill of Santa coming down the chimney. Nothing rhymes with “cornucopia.” 

I have some suggestions, however.

Even though I am no longer a religious person, I still know my way around the Methodist Hymnal. For Thanksgiving, you could choose “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” (“Come ye thankful people come / Raise the song of harvest home”) or “For the Beauty of the Earth” (“Lord of all, to thee we raise / This our hymn of grateful praise”) or even the Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”). I am guessing that's the kind of thing my long-ago caller was asking for, unless she wanted “Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go,” in which case she should have said so.

One song you hear on Magic 98 is “Thanksgiving” by George Winston. It's the opening track on Winston’s landmark album December, an instrumental that can paint numerous pictures: a quiet country road with harvest bounty in the adjoining fields, as seen in the fading light of a late November afternoon; the last mile of a long and wearying journey home; or the quiet contemplation of how fortunate you are to have what you have. (Listen to a new 2020 version of “Thanksgiving” here.)

If you want to stretch the boundaries, how about “Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin) by Sly and the Family Stone? Part of reaching our fullest potential as human beings involves being true to our true selves, whatever they are. Shouldn't we be grateful to those who permit us to achieve that potential?

There's “I Thank You,” recorded in the 60s by soul singers Sam and Dave and in the 70s by ZZ Top. Sometimes, we receive something from another person not because we’ve done anything to earn it, but out of the goodness of that person’s heart. (In a Christian context, it might be called “grace.”) You’d have to be thankful for that, wouldn’t you? As the song says, “You didn’t have to love me like you did, but you did, but you did, and I thank you.”

A lot of rock radio stations play Arlo Guthrie's “Alice's Restaurant” on Thanksgiving Day. It's only slightly related to the holiday, but it's become a tradition nevertheless.

Honorable mention Thanksgiving songs: Anything by the Grateful Dead.

It's an unusual Thanksgiving this year. A lot of us are separated from our families, some for the first time in many years, and we don't like it much. But if dealing with it in 2020 assures that we'll be able to be together in 2021, how can anybody say it isn't worth it?

Happy holiday to one and all . . . and let's be careful out there. 

Read more of Jim Bartlett's blogs here.

Jim's Blog: You and Your Absentee Ballot

Absentee ballots are going out from city and municipal clerks around the state this week. Lots of people are voting absentee for the first time in 2020. I have regularly voted absentee for years, so here's some information you might find helpful. 

You'll get a copy of the same ballot you get at the polling place, along with an envelope to return it in. Mark your choices as you normally would, then put it into the envelope that's provided for return. Easy enough so far. 

Your return envelope requires two signatures on the outside: yours and that of a witness. The purpose of the witness is to confirm that somebody saw you vote, fold, and seal your ballot. (Not who you voted for—just the fact that you voted.) You can sign for your spouse or children and one of them can sign for you, if that's easiest. A witness does not have to be a registered voter—the only requirement is that he or she be age 21 or over and a U.S. citizen. So that means your witness can be a roommate, a neighbor, your mail carrier, your doctor, anybody. 

Madison's city clerk has a list of dos and don'ts for absentee ballots to make sure yours isn't rejected. They apply in every jurisdiction. It's worth taking a look before you fill out your ballot and the envelope it goes in. 

The witness requirement remains in place despite COVID-19. If you're concerned about coming into contact with other people, the Wisconsin Elections Commission has some suggestions. Hand your ballot out the window to your witness, then have them sign it and hand it back to you. Wear gloves if you want. You can also use Skype or Facetime to minimize contact. 

In the city of  Madison, you can have your ballot witnessed and then drop it off outside the City/County Building on weekdays from 8 to 4:30 and at several other locations around the city through Election Day. The City of Madison will hold Democracy in the Park on Saturday, September 26, and again on Saturday, October 3, from 9AM til 3PM each day. On that day, trained election volunteers will be on hand in over 200 city parks to register voters, collect ballots, and witness absentee ballots if needed. The event will be socially distanced and safe as it is possible to be. (Rain dates for Democracy in the Park are Sunday, September 27, and Sunday, October 4.) You can also return your ballot to your local polling place during early voting, which begins on October 20. 

You can put your absentee ballot in the U.S. Mail, and in most places the return envelope will come already stamped. If you are concerned about whether your ballot will get there via the Postal Service, check to see if your community has drop boxes. You can also hand-deliver your ballot to your city or municipal clerk's office, or drop it at your polling place on Election Day. 

You can track the status of your ballot—whether it's been sent to you or received by your clerk—at myvote.wi.gov. After you submit an absentee ballot, you do not have to—and you should not—show up at the polling place on Election Day to verify your vote. That's what myvote.wi.gov is for. 

What if you got an absentee ballot but you decide to vote in person instead? The best thing to do is to bring your unmarked absentee ballot to your polling place when you vote and turn it in. You can do this during your community's early voting hours, or on Election Day itself. 

If you're worried about the health implications of voting in person on Election Day, you should know that each community will take precautions with masks, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing of polling places. When you're in line, keep socially distant and wear a mask. We've already had some run-throughs on this: during the June general election and August primary, there was no clear evidence that in-person voting led to a spike in COVID cases. Like anything else these days, there's a risk in being around other people, however. You'll have to weigh that risk against your desire to vote in your preferred fashion.

One last thing: I was curious about precisely when absentee ballots are counted. It can vary by jurisdiction, but where I live, in Middleton, the counting of absentee ballots begins when the polls open on Election Day. Ballots are delivered to the polling place where you'd vote if you were doing so in person, and they're counted there. 

Your city clerk, or your municipal clerk if you live in a rural area, is already hard at work managing the election, but if you have a question or need help, they'll be happy to provide it. If you have never visited your clerk's website, this is a good time to do it. You can also call with questions.

Read more of Jim's blogs here.

Jim's Blog: Tips for Working From Home

I have expertise in a lot of stuff very few people care about, so I'm not used to having expertise others might find useful. But I have worked mostly out of a home office since 2003, and my wife has worked at home since 2012. We have some tips that might help you deal with the new reality of working from home. 

Get dressed in the morning. You don't have to dress like you would if you were actually going to the office, but get out of your pajamas and shower. You'll feel more like your working self. 

Stick to a schedule. If your employer doesn't care when you work as long as you put the time in, that's great. You can vary your workday to accommodate a spouse, kids, or whatever's going on in your life. (Word of warning: once you get the the flexibility to set your own schedule, you'll have a hard time giving it up when things get back to normal) But try to get to your workspace at a designated time as much as possible. This is easy for Ann to do, as she is required to punch in by 7:30 every morning. I'm more flexible, but I generally try to be dressed and at my desk by 9AM. Take a lunch hour—away from your desk. Take a coffee/smoke/sanity break in the morning and afternoon. 

When you've made your work schedule, do your best to stick to it. This can be really difficult. You'll be tempted to take 10 minutes in the middle of the morning to load and fold some laundry, and before you know it, you've spent an hour doing chores. (This is me, all the time, even after 16 years of working from home.) 

Respect work time and workspace. At our house, Ann works downstairs and I work upstairs. But not everybody does. The daughter of a friend of mine has a 452-square-foot apartment in New York City that she shares with her fiance. They've hung up signs labeling their their bedroom as “Conference Room 1” and the kitchen as “Human Resources” just to create a sense of normalcy. If only one of you is working but you're both at home, the one who isn't working has a responsibility to respect the other's time and space. If you wouldn't call your spouse at the office to ask where she put those new socks you bought last weekend, don't stomp into her home workspace to ask.  

Related to this: if you're using your home computer for work and you receive regular alerts from Facebook or other social media, you might want to turn those alerts off. There's software that blocks social media entirely or limits your access to it, if that helps.

Prepare to adjust to isolation. If you are used to a busy office, working alone or nearly alone in your house will be distracting at first. Listening to the radio (we're still here and are always going to be) can be helpful. Some people turn the TV on just for the sound, and Ann listens to books on Audible, but those might not work for everyone. If you have colleagues who are working in their homes and you need to stay in touch, don't just text or e-mail back and forth. Call them, webchat, or Skype with them from time to time. You, and they, will welcome that kind of contact. 

Schedule time away from your spouse and family. Somebody observed on Twitter the other day that your drive home from work is decompression time, which allows your brain to transition from work life to home life. His advice was to schedule a walk after work, or some other thing that helps you draw a line between the parts of your day. But beyond that: no matter how close you are to your spouse, or how close you are as a family, 24/7 togetherness will get old, and probably pretty soon. So schedule some time apart. Give the other person some space. If you have a dog, you don't have to walk it together. If you have a TV in the basement, it's OK for one of you to spend the evening down there—or even sleep down there now and then. 

All of this advice comes with a caveat: Ann and I don't have children, and having kids at home will certainly make some of this stuff more difficult. If you have some tips for working at home, let me know. My e-mail is jim.bartlett@magic98.com. I'd be happy to share some of your ideas in a future post.


Jim's Blog: Another Big Leap

Statistics say that about 200,000 Americans and 4.1 million people worldwide are Leap Year babies, born on February 29, the day that comes only once every four years. I am one of them. People ask if it’s weird only having a birthday every four years. But celebrating on the 28th, the not-quite-date, is normal for me, so it’s the 29ths that are weird. 

I can’t remember not understanding how weird this is. When I was little, I used to get my picture in the local paper on February 29th. In more recent times, a friend who was working for South Dakota Public Radio interviewed me for a story. (This year, Jackson and Steph from our sister station Today’s Q106 had me on their show for a couple of minutes to talk about it—that conversation is here.) Most of the time, however, my birthday is just a birthday, and it feels the same to me as yours does to you.

(Once my nephews figured out they’d had more birthdays than I’d had, they thought it was hilarious.)

This birthday also has a round number attached, one I’m not entirely thrilled about. But I try to approach every birthday, not just the ones on February 29th, with the rough grace of baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, whose own age was a mystery even to him. He supposedly said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” 

Read more of Jim Bartlett’s blogs here.

Jim’s Blog: Postcard from Indiana

For most of the last three weeks, I have been in the Indianapolis area working another job I have, so I haven’t been on your radio (and thank you for noticing, if you did). I have not been here the whole time—I drove home for the Badger football game against Michigan, a 700-mile weekend round trip that was totally worth it. But I’m back now until September turns to October. And since I promised to send you a postcard from here, this is it.

In Wisconsin, many place-names are derived from Native American languages, but that is not how they roll in central Indiana. Many place names come from the Bible, like Lebanon, Hebron and Zionsville, or have something to do with colors: Brownsburg, Whitestown, Whiteland (and its next-door neighbor, New Whiteland), Greenfield, Greenwood, Greencastle, Greensburg. (I was down here four days before I realized that Greenfield and Greenwood were two different places, and that I had to travel to both of them.)

Indiana honors many of its natives by naming roads after them, and I’ve driven on a few, including the Highway of Vice Presidents, dedicated to the six Indiana men who have had America’s #2 job. They include current VP Mike Pence and Dan Quayle, who served under George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993. Among the others is Thomas Marshall, in office from 1913 to 1921. He was probably the funniest man ever to hold the job. Just before he left to be sworn in, he told an audience about a man who had two sons: one was lost at sea and the other became vice president, “and neither was ever heard from again.”
Here is some other stuff I noticed along the way from Madison to Indianapolis…

In the south suburbs of Chicago and northwest Indiana there’s a chain of oil-change shops called The Duke of Oil. You might have to be old enough to remember the early rock ‘n’ roll classic “Duke of Earl” to think that’s funny, but I am, and I do.

No self-respecting lawyer goes without a billboard down here. Lawyer billboards are everywhere. At least two lawyers call themselves “the Hammer,” which means there’s the theoretical possibility that the two could square off in court mano-a-mano, which would, of course, be Hammer Time.
Shortly after you cross into rural Indiana on I-65, there’s a giant black-and-white sign with letters 10 feet high that says “Hell is real.” While I strongly defend the right of people to express their religious opinions, maybe they’d wanna move that one a little farther away from the state line.
I have to stay here for a while yet, but not permanently. The current plan is for me to back on Magic 98 on Monday, October 7. Can’t wait.
Read more of Jim Bartlett’s blogs here.

Jim’s Blog: A Temporary Adios

I do not have anything remotely like a normal job. I do radio things for the stations of Mid-West Family Broadcasting some of the time. I work as a freelance writer some of the time. And I work as a teacher some of the time. (It has been many years since I sat in some office cubicle for eight hours every day, and I kind of like it that way.) The great thing about this life is that I get to chose what to do and, to a certain degree, when to do it. Magic 98 has been kind enough to schedule around my life for these many years. Nobody ever says to me, “You have to work this weekend or you’re fired,” which is a tremendous luxury, and I’m grateful for it.

On that subject: after today (Friday 9/6), you will not be hearing me on Magic for a while. Starting next week I’ll be doing the teaching part of my job, which will keep me occupied and off your radio until the middle of October.
I will be spending the rest of September in Indiana, in Indianapolis and its suburbs. The main thing I can say about Indiana is that it makes me appreciate Wisconsin, but I will take up the challenge of finding interesting things to see and do during my downtime. As where I’ll be in October, your guess is as good as mine.

I appreciate the e-mails and phone calls I get from listeners who tell me they enjoy hearing me goof off on the radio whenever I get the chance to do it. I enjoy goofing off myself, and I look forward to getting back to it when my other work is done.

I promise to send a postcard if and when I see anything interesting along the road, but for now, it’s adios from me.

Jim’s Blog: A Little Radio Secret

In 1983, I applied for a job at a new radio station in Madison called Magic 98. I didn’t get the gig—not until 2008, anyway—but one guy who joined up that year was Pat O’Neill. Since then, he’s become a Madison radio institution, as you know. What you may not know is that as Magic’s program director, he’s built one of the best stations of its kind in the country, often imitated, never duplicated.

Here’s a little secret about the radio biz: doing good radio is not all that hard, if you have the talent and commitment. What is hard, even if you have the talent and commitment, is consistency. At Pat’s direction, Magic does what you expect, and is what you want it to be, day-to-day and year-to-year. If a baseball player displays that type of consistency across his entire career, he ends up in the Hall of Fame. In radio terms—as a programmer, a DJ, and captain of the ship—Pat is surely that. I’m fortunate to have been in his lineup. Or on his boat. Or wherever we’ve been these last 10 years.
Thank you sir, best of luck, and may all good things come your way.
Read more of Jim Bartlett’s blogs here.