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New WKNO Series Coming in September

WKNO is getting ready to launch a week-long series of new local programming, which will bring viewers everything from sports talk to local news commentary.

That last bit, we’re helping with.

On Fridays, Daily News publisher Eric Barnes will host “Behind the Headlines,” a roundup of the week’s news that will also include a roundtable discussion with local journalists.

Commercial Appeal sports columnist Geoff Calkins will also be hosting a sports talk show.

More details here.

He Kept Swinging

It’s easy to find colorful and engrossing business success stories in a city with the entrepreneurial spirit of Memphis.

It’s harder to find one as inspiring as the one lived by Jay Myers, the founder of a local videoconferencing company who was spotlighted prominently in a Wall Street Journal article last week.

His cutting-edge company is riding particularly high during the recession, with employers cutting costs and doing more remotely. Doctors, too, are being squeezed for more efficiency amid the focus on health care reform and have need of the telemedicine services Myers’ company Interactive Solutions Inc. provides.

Today, it’s a $14 million business. A few years ago, Myers put his story to paper in the form of a book called “Keep Swinging.” It’s the perfect metaphor for the highs and lows that have gone hand-in-hand with the ISI story.

In 2002, according to the WSJ, Myers’ company hit a record high annual sales figure: $6 million. It had double-digit profit margins.

At one point, Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson called Myers while flying in his private jet. Wilson had just finished reading about Myers’ company and wanted to stop by Myers’ office for a chat.

He showed up later that afternoon and stayed for about an hour. Before Wilson arrived, Myers asked his secretary to go out and buy a camera.

One of the things Wilson told the young CEO before he left was, “You hang in here. You’re going to make some money in this business.”

And he did. He kept swinging.

Along the way, Myers was dealt a bad personal blow when his brother John died at age 50. He started taking occasional days off to deal with the grief.

That’s when the bookkeeper Myers hired a month before his brother’s death inadvertently was given more leeway to handle the company’s finances, with Myers distracted.

It was a mistake that nearly destroyed the company.

After reading an article in bed one night in 2003 about an episode of internal fraud at a small business in Illinois, Myers thought the same thing could easily happen to him.

He was right.

His bookkeeper bilked more than a quarter of a million dollars from ISI. Readers of “Keep Swinging” can feel the punch left in Myers’ gut from the episode when he writes of his shock, and how he says his jaw clenched so tight he could feel his molars buckle.

The bookkeeper was tried and sentenced to prison. The episode was such a shared trauma for ISI employees that someone prepared T-shirts that read: “I survived 4/29/03.” Myers’ employees stuck with him and didn’t bail out after the embezzlement became known.

They all kept swinging.

That’s also how Myers ends his book.

As a birthday present, he writes how his wife had given him an envelope containing an invitation to the next New York Yankees fantasy camp.

For as avid a baseball fan as Myers, it was a dream come true. The final image in his book is of Myers wearing a baseball hat, the pinstripe uniform, face set in determination, swinging hard.

His name was announced by legendary Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard, and a huge picture of Myers flashed on the outfield scoreboard.

He swung. Crack! He’d given it “a good poke to the left side of the infield.”

He’d been swinging for years. He didn’t let up now.

It was a solid base hit.

Myers high-tailed it to first.

Safe!

On Politics, Television & Socks

I did Council Call on WYPL, the library channel, Thursday evening with my friend and colleague Jackson Baker of The Memphis Flyer. Many thanks to City Council member Shea Flinn for inviting us during his turn to host the program. While we were live, I’m sure it will be repeated at least a few more times.

With that trio around a table, the topic was, as you might have guessed – politics. It was a good discussion and like the best discussions there was some disagreement. So if you tune in, you won’t have to worry about the choir singing all the same notes from the same page of the hymnbook.

Some in this line of work worry that there is too much commiseration particularly among political reporters. The result, the criticism goes, is a view of politics that is too uniform.

That can happen. I’m not discounting it. But one of the reasons political reporters tend to talk about what they cover so much is for a reality check.

We hear some pretty strange things during the course of a campaign from people wearing suits and ties, with college degrees on the wall and a decent amount of financial backing and public support.

Sometimes you have to look at the folks next to you on the press riser or in the back of the meeting room and ask, “Did you just hear what I just heard?”

Of course, you then ask the candidate if he or she said what they usually did say. In some cases the damage control begins at that point, before all of the crowd has left the room. Other times, we deal with political figures who will gladly make the controversial statement again – verbatim – and will say it again several days later for anyone who might not have caught it the first five times.

There is competition to be sure. That competition is a blend of showing up at the same events, finding time for one on one talks that fill in the background and knowing how to read the signs on indicators that probably no one who knows is going to talk about.

On another note, the last time I was on the program with Shea and Jackson, we didn’t have a table. That prompted my brother, John, to remark about my socks. Light gray athletic — or what we of Frayser used to call “sweat” socks — because I walk a lot. And they do show up remarkably well on television, I might add. It was a busy day so there I was at air time wearing the same shameful style of socks, but not to worry. The table covers a multitude of sins.

Highland Row

Poag & McEwen president and CEO Josh Poag said during a community forum Thursday night that his company, which is well known for the lifestyle centers like Saddle Creek it develops, is still committed to the $70 million mixed-use Highland Row project.

It’s just changed a little since it first went on the drawing board a few years ago. Barnes & Noble, for example, is no longer the company that will operate the University of Memphis bookstore that will be an anchor tenant of the development.

Poag also distinguished the project from a Saddle Creek expansion in Germantown the company had planned.

He said that one is at least 5 years away – “if a $70 million project is daunting, a $250 million project (like that one) is almost impossible” right now, was how he put it.

Efron or Timberlake?

Zac Efron and Justin Timberlake are both interested in playing the lead role of deejay Huey Calhoun in a film version of the Tony winning musical Memphis, according to media reports.

www.broadway.com/shows/memphis/buzz/153314/zac-efron-and-justin-timberlake-reportedly-eye-memphis-film-lead/

Dansette

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