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A Cursor Exclusive:
Interview With the TV NewsCrasher
POSTED SEPTEMBER 14, 1999--Recently, Cursor sat down for a conversation with an ardent, some say fanatic supporter of this Web site, who has made quite a media splash recently by walking onto live broadcasts of Twin Cities television newscasts. He has brandished signs that show his support for Cursor, draw attention to his favorite Cursor contributor, Budd Rugg, and challenge the priorities of local television news coverage.
Cursor: Your first walk-on was in late July, at the John F. Kennedy Jr. memorial service at Sunset Memorial Park in St. Anthony. Since this was the first time that you had ever done anything like this, were you nervous?
Crasher: I was more excited than nervous. After all, like most people Ive probably watched thousands of live broadcasts. So I had a pretty good idea of what theyre about, the logistics and all. Of course, I dont really have a clue as to why they do them, but thats another issue. Anyway, when you watch as much news as I do four stations with two or three newscasts a day and a couple of live stories on each one, sometimes more if its Team Coverage, that can easily add up to 15 to 20 live remotes a day throughout the Twin Cities. Most people in the industry think theyre a royal pain-in-the-ass, and refer to it as Lives Disease. So for any aspiring OnWalkers reading this, I can say that just watching the news is pretty good training.
Cursor: OnWalker? Is that the preferred term for someone who performs this kind of activity?
Crasher: (laughs) Well, there really isnt an official job title, since its a pretty small slice of the economy. But when someone asks me what I do, Onwalker seems to describe it pretty well, although I believe that TV NewsCrasher is also used on the East coast.
Cursor: Are there many walk-on artists around the country?
Crasher: From what I can tell, Im the only one in this market. Big fish in a small pond, you know. Someone told me that they no longer have live remotes in New York City, because so many people walk on. So at one time I assume that there were quite a few people doing it there, although its not like we have a newsletter, or a convention or anything like that.
Cursor: What did you do to prepare for your first walk-on?
Crasher: Well, after making a sign at Kinkos, my next stop was Circuit City to pick up one of those little hand-held TVs. Theyre about as big as a transistor radio, cost less than a hundred bucks and next to the sign, its the most important element. Im a pretty low-tech guy, but I find that little TV to be absolutely essential.
Cursor: Why is that?
Crasher: Well, first, you have to know when theyre going to the live reporter so you can be ready to move. Timing is everythingthat may be the only area where TV news actually does reflect real life! Also, the TV is so small, that when you get into the picture, you can be holding your sign in one hand, your TV in another, and be watching the broadcast. That way you know where the sign has to go.
Cursor: In looking back on your first walk-on, what might you have done differently?
Crasher: Ha, just about everything! It was a very strange event. Not the kind of thing I would have attended. It was a memorial service, yet none of the people there had ever met the person being memorialized. It was also at the same place where they had the Princess Diana memorial service, they seem to specialize in that kind of thing. So, I was feeling weird about all of that, but also, it was mostly me and a bunch of elderly women, and Im sitting there watching the news on my new TV, with this big-ass sign that Im trying to cover up, sitting on the grass and putting one leg over the top of it.
Cursor: The reason I asked, is that the visuals from that broadcast look kind of fuzzy.
Crasher: Yeah, well I was trying not to disrupt the proceedings, so I walked-up right behind the reporter and of course, got way too close to her. And then the cameraman came in real tight on the shota smart move on his partand all I could do was kind of move the sign from side to side and it ended up looking pretty bizarre. Im sure the people at home thought they were watching a late-night horror movie, like The Blob or something.
Cursor: And then what happened?
Crasher: Well, I was just walking to my car and a reporter from another station came up and started giving me a hard time. And then after the shot was done, the cameraman charged towards me, screaming that if I wanted to buy ad space I should call their sales department. When I asked him if hed get a commission, he was not amused and I figured it was time to get out of there. Then some little guy with a VFW hat on, who seemed to work there, informed me that I was on private property and tried to pull the sign out of my hands.
Cursor: Were you worried that they might call the cops?
Crasher: I hadnt thought of that, but when I started planning to do this, one of my motivations was that all of that public space behind the live broadcasts could be put to some constructive use. Sort of like, theres plenty of room here for both of us, share and share alike. Then it dawned on me that since I was on private property, they might be able to team up with the television stationwho I cant imagine thinks the same way I do about all that free airspace going to wasteand give me some legal hassles. So from that, I realized that public property might be the way to go the next time.
Cursor: And the next time was later that same evening?
Crasher: Yeah. When I got home, I talked to a couple of friends who had actually seen it and they thought it was hilarious. So, on the one hand, I was pretty pumped up, but I also realized that logistically, it was sort of a wash-out. Kind of like a boxer trying to take his opponent out by falling on him, rather than actually throwing a punch.
Cursor: So, you were anxious to put what you had learned into practice?
Crasher: Exactly. I figured, hey, this is pretty easy and kind of fun, and with a little fine tuning.... There I am on the news and my favorite Web site is getting some free publicity to boot. Being on a live broadcast sure beats watching one, was what I was thinking. Besides, with my little TV, I can be on the news and watch it at the same time!
Cursor: How did you decide on your next target?
Crasher: After watching all of the 6 p.m. newscasts, waiting for one of them to go live, I saw a story about Governor Ventura being stuck on the runway, unable to fly to Detroit for the Reform Party convention. I thought that they might be live at the airport at 10 p.m., so I turned on KMSP-9s news at 9 and lo and behold, there they were, live from the airport. But, I was only half-right. They were there waiting for Kathleen Soliah to arrive from San Francisco at 11:15. I was so excited. Not only were they at the airport, they were at the HHH charter terminal. From a logistical standpoint, a much easier walk-on than the main terminal.
Cursor: So, the KMSP-9 news does have a purpose?
Crasher: Yes, even besides Robyne Robinson. You can get a preview of where the 10 p.m. live action is going to be. As for walking on KMSP, the ratings are so low that its hardly worth the efforteven lower than KSTP, if you can believe that. But in this case, it saved the day, because I had somehow missed the Soliah story on the earlier newscasts.
Cursor: Even though Soliah wasnt arriving until after 11 p.m., you knew the other stations would be there live at 10 p.m.?
Crasher: I suspected as much. I knew they would be there at 11 to shoot footage, so I assumedcorrectly as it turned outthat they would be there at 10 to milk that for some live coverage as well, even though nothing was going on. But of course, thats not unusual.
Cursor: Which stations were there?
Crasher: KSTP, which I had walked-on earlier that evening, and KARE.
Cursor: How do you decide which stations newscast to walk onto?
Crasher: In this case it was pretty easy, KSTP was closer to the middle of the terminal and there wasnt much cover, whereas KARE was at the end and I could lose myself in the crowd milling around the gate. Besides, KARE usually has more than twice the audience of KSTP.
Cursor: And this walk-on went smoother than your first attempt?
Crasher: Yes, this one was all that I could have hoped for. They went to the live reporter, Marla Matthews, and I just sauntered into the picture, stood there for ten seconds or so with the sign and then made, what I thought at the time, was a clean getaway.
Cursor: That time your sign said BUDD RUGG, www. CURSOR .org. How did you get the idea to do a promotional turn for Budd Rugg, Cursors media parasite columnist?
Crasher: Budd Rugg is my favorite! Heres this pathetic but endearing guy who just wants to be loved by all of the media celebrities he idolizes, and you get the feeling that none of them even know who he is. And when they find out, they think hes some kind of creepy stalker or something. I knew that at 10 oclock on a Friday night, Budd Rugg would be watching the news and hed get the thrill of a lifetime. It made me feel really good. Besides, all of these TV stations have big billboards with pictures of their anchors on them, so I decided to make a little billboard, just for Budd.
Cursor: Have you heard from Budd Rugg?
Crasher: No I havent, but Im hoping that he might mention me in his column, although Ill certainly understand if he doesnt. Hes trying to curry favor with the media people and Im not exactly their favorite person. But, if hed like to go out with me sometime when I walk-on, maybe we could ride together in his Gremlin. That would be fun.
Cursor: You said that you thought you had made a clean getaway. Then what happened?
Crasher: Well, I was standing in front of the terminal, congratulating myself on a perfect 10, thinking about how surprised and happy Budd must be in his basement apartment, when someone walked up and asked for my business cardlike this is a business or something! So, I showed him the sign and said that was all I had to offer.
Cursor: Was he familiar with Cursor?
Crasher: No, but he sure is now! He said that his cell phone was ringing off the hook with questions from people at the station, wanting to know what the hell was going on out there at the airport and who the hell Budd Rugg was. Just what I was hoping for.
Cursor: What did you tell him?
Crasher: Well, I told him that I was trying to get some free publicity for Cursor, because you guys dont have the kind of money the TV stations have to do billboards and stuff, so I told him that they should all visit your Web site.
Crasher: Like I said, theres all that unused space behind the reporters on the live shots and it certainly can be put to good use. In this case it was used to help out the little guy.
Cursor: Were you still at the airport when Kathleen Soliah finally arrived?
Crasher: Yes I was. But she pulled a fast one on the reporters and slipped into a car before getting to the terminal. Lots of long faces among the TV folks. I was standing in the background and a couple of the cameramen started glaring at me. And then, Marla Matthews, whose live report I had walked onto, saw me and headed in my direction. When she got there, I apologized and told her that it was nothing personal. She was really nice about it and just made me promise to Never walk-on a Marla Matthews live broadcast again. I was going to ask her for an autograph, for one of the scrapbooks that Budd always writes about, but decided not to press my luck.
Cursor: Your next walk-on was at SummerSlam, the wrestling extravaganza at the Target Center. What kinds of problems did that present?
Crasher: Plenty. Initially I had planned to walk onto WCCOs live newscast, since I had made a special sign for them, but they had a couple of security guards on either side of the reporter, Tony Berlin. Both WCCO and KSTP (who did their live report from the top of a truck) seemed to be on high security alert that night, probably because of all the hooligans roaming the streets. KARE looked to be the most vulnerable, located in the block E parking lot, right about where the back door of Mobys used to be. So I started with them, but there was a big crowd standing right behind the reporter, and as soon as the lights went on they kind of bum-rushed him, and of course, they had their own signs. For once I was not alone!
Cursor: What did you do then?
Crasher: Well, after flailing around in the crowd with my sign for awhile, I ran back to the WCCO set-up and managed to get about five seconds on the air, without any interference from the security they had posted. It happened so fast that Im not even sure they saw me. I think they were just trying to protect the reporter from the deranged wrestling fans. And after seeing KAREs experience, that was probably a good idea. As a result, I had the WCCO broadcast all to myself.
Cursor: The sign you were holding that night represented a departure for you, a new direction. Rather than just trying to drum up some free publicity for Cursor, you seemed to be mocking one of the TV stations. Tell us about that.
Crasher: Are you asking if Im becoming politicized? Ill have to be careful here so I dont blow my chances of getting a grant. (laughs) I did start thinking that I could make some kind of statement about local TV news coverage, and help out Cursor at the same time. That sign was kind of a joke at the expense of WCCO whose slogan is Clear, Accurate, Coverage. And as you saw, my sign said Clearer, More Accurate, www.CURSOR.org. It surprised me that they were able to come up with a slogan thats even dumber than The Hometown Team.
Cursor: Recently you walked onto WCCOs newscast from Champlin Park High School. Are you setting your sights on them more than the other stations?
Crasher: Well, they have a pretty storied history, but now they seem to make a point of leading their news with the most sensational stories, and whenever they have an excuse to start out with a sports story, or one about Governor Ventura, they take advantage of that. But of course, all of the stations, KARE less than the others, seem to be going down that road.
Cursor: And the Champlin Park walk-on combined both of those elements, sports and Jesse?
Crasher: Yes it did. They actually led their newscast with a report about Governor Ventura returning to his two-hour-a-week job as football conditioning coach at Champlin High, with footage of him standing on the sidelines for their first game of the year.
Cursor: Did that surprise you?
Crasher: Yes and no. Like I said, WCCO seems to be gravitating to stories that have a kind of lowest common denominator appeal, but without much news valuestories that are more about buzz than real news. But even so, I couldnt imagine that such a meaningless item would be the first story on their newscast.
Cursor: It looked like you had anticipated what they were going to be doing that night. Your sign said, Cant This Wait Until the SPORTS news?
Crasher: Yes, that is a trend that Ive noticed, sports as news you know. And then when I saw that KMSP was at Champlin Park, live at 9 p.m., I was pretty sure that some of the other stations would be there live at 10, even though the game would be over by then.
Cursor: Were you caught off guard when it was the first story?
Crasher: Somewhat. I had just parked my car, and if you watch the tape of the broadcast you can see me coming across the empty football field, running towards the camera. The game had long since ended and the reporter and cameraman were standing there all alone, beyond the end zone. It was very surreal. Like, wheres the story here anyway?
Cursor: From looking at the tape, it appears that something happened that night that hadnt occurred before.
Crasher: Yes, I guess you could say that there was considerably more action than at any of my previous walk-ons. I was standing right behind the reporter, Randi Kaye, with my sign on the air for a good eight to ten seconds, when all of a sudden the cameraman put his camera on auto-pilot and came at me from down below, pushing me out of the way.
Cursor: But you managed to stay on your feet?
Crasher: Yes. Like a good running back, I didnt let him take me down! I know that the people at the TV stations arent too thrilled about me utilizing the public space behind their live reports, but this was the first time someone had tried to physically take me out while they were still on the air. I am sure it was quite a treat for anyone watching at home. High Drama at Champlin High!
Cursor: And then what happened?
Crasher: Well, I knew my work for that evening was done. KSTP was also there live, but after that there wasnt much chance of making a discreet entrance onto their broadcast.
Cursor: But that was just the beginning of your weekend. It looks like you were hard at work again on Labor Day.
Crasher: Yes, I was at the Mill City Music Festival with a sign that was a commentary on entertainment as news, specifically tailored to that evening's Prince-related coverage, of which there was an obscene amount. The sign read, "The program formerly known as The News." Predictably, three of the four stations led their newscasts with live reports from the concert. As usual, real news taking a back seat to entertainment.
Cursor: This was your first appearance on KMSP-9. Was that by design?
Crasher: No it wasn't. But like the stations themselves, I'm a slave to ratings, and at 10 p.m., KMSP is battling it out with public access for market share. But that evening, because of the crowds, both KSTP and WCCO did their live remotes from the top of a van, so that would have involved a walk-up instead of just a walk-on, something I have yet to master.
Cursor: Besides the run-in you had at the JFK Jr. event and the WCCO cameraman who physically assaulted you at Champlin Park, have you had to endure much abuse from station employees?
Crasher: Well, when I was leaving the Champlin Park walk-on, a guy poked his head out of the KSTP truck and started yelling Cursor go home. Cursor go home. Im hoping that it was all in good fun. In spite of their low ratings, I look forward to working with KSTP again in the near future.
Cursor: But of course, theyre not looking forward to working with you.
Crasher: I dont suppose they are. But given their single-digit ratings, and having just lost Colleen Needles, they should be looking for anything that might add some interest to their newscasts. A lot of people who dont usually watch the news are tuning in just to see where Ill walk-on next. And I think thats good for news in general. Theyre getting back some alienated viewers, and if they want to keep them, theyre going to have to give them more than just Jesse Ventura and the Vikings.
Cursor: Amen. Well, thank you so much for your time. This was very interesting.
Crasher: Yes it was. Thank you too. And good luck patrolling the Twin Cities airwaves.
Cursor: Good luck to you too!