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Save WRAS!

I don’t often ask you guys for help, but today I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart: a radio station named WRAS. It’s the “student voice of Georgia State University”, which broadcasts “live from the concrete campus in downtown Atlanta”. It played a HUGE role in making me who I am today, and is one of the things that made Atlanta a great place to live.

See, WRAS isn’t just your average college radio station. It has a 100,000 watt transmitter, which made it the most powerful college radio station in the United States before Georgia Tech’s WREK upgraded their tower to 100,000 watts, too. WRAS can be heard over the entire metro Atlanta area. Founded in 1971 – the same year I was born – the station is known for being one of the most innovative college radio stations in the country:

  • WRAS was the first radio station in the world to play Arrested Development.
  • WRAS was the first radio station in the world to play OutKast.
  • WRAS was one of the first radio stations to ever play R.E.M. and was the first to put them in regular rotation.
  • WRAS was one of the first stations to ever play the Indigo Girls, and was the first to put them in regular rotation.
  • Bob Geldof was sitting in the studio at WRAS giving an interview when news of a school shooting came over the station’s teletype machine. The shooter was asked why she did it, and her reply was “I don’t like Mondays”, thus inspiring Geldof to write his most famous song.
  • The Replacements’ song “Left of the Dial” was inspired by WRAS’s slogan, “left on the dial, right on the music”:

But now, it’s all in danger. A couple weeks ago – on the next to last day of finals, when the campus was nearly empty – GSU announced a “partnership deal” with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) in which GPB will air talk radio from 5AM to 7PM. WRAS’s “regular” programming will air outside after those hours; during the day their music programming will be relegated to an HD subchannel and online streaming only.

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The Atlanta Pen

I used to drive past the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta – known as “USP, Atlanta”, ‘the Federal Pen” or just “the Pen” – on a fairly regular basis. But I never gave it much thought. Oh sure… I’d sometimes wonder what the prisoners were doing at that exact moment and sometimes I’d think about how nasty the 1987 riots were. The short version: in 1980, some 125,000 Cubans came to the US in something called the Mariel boatlift. Cuban authorities used it as an excuse to dump a bunch of criminals and mental health cases on the US. Many of those “undesirables” ended up in USP, Atlanta. In 1987 the US and Cuba agreed that the US could send those people back to Cuba. I guess the prisoners thought living in a US prison was better than whatever was going to happen to them in Cuba, ‘cos they seized the prison, took hostages and killed one person.

USP, Atlanta

(photo via Atlanta Time Machine)

Anyway, I was surfing around a few nights ago and found some interesting stuff about USP, Atlanta.

The prison was authorized by the “Three Prisons Act” of 1891, which also created prisons in McNeil Island, Washington and a rather famous one in Leavenworth, Kansas. Construction was approved by President William McKinley in 1899, and the facility was completed in 1902. At the time, it was the largest federal prison in the United States, with a capacity for 3,000 prisoners.

And what prisoners they were!

*     *     *

Ignazio Lupo was an organized crime figure who ran Manhattan’s Little Italy in the early 1900s. In 1903, Lupo married Giuseppe Morello’s half-sister (Morello ran similar gangs in East Harlem and the South Bronx). The gangs merged to form the “Morello family”, which became the basis of the Genovese family, considered by many to be the “gold standard of American crime families”. Although suspected of killing no less than 60 people, Lupo was actually convicted of running a counterfeiting ring, and spent a decade in USP, Atlanta from 1910 to 1920. Once freed, he petitioned the US government to travel to Italy, something prohibited by the terms of his parole. President Warren G. Harding approved Lupo’s request, with one amazing clause: Harding, and Harding alone, would judge whether Lupo was “law-abiding” and “not connected with any unlawful undertaking during the period of the sentence”.

Ignazio Lupo

Ignazio Lupo. Photo from lacndb.com

By the 1930s, the National Crime Syndicate (a loose coalition of organized crime families created by Johnny “The Fox” Torrio) decided that Lupo was too wild and attracting too much law-enforcement attention. So Lupo was stripped of all of his criminal enterprises. Lupo then started a protection racket amongst Italian bakers in NYC, and by 1936 he’d grown so violent and over the top that the governor of New York asked FDR to put Lupo back in prison for the remainder of his original term. So Lupo served an additional 10 years in Atlanta, from 1936 to 1946. He died, almost forgotten, in Brooklyn in 1947.

*     *     *

USP, Atlanta’s most famous resident was Al Capone.

As a young man, Johnny Torrio – the same Johnny Torrio who created the National Crime Syndicate which kicked out Ignazio Lupo – worked legitimate jobs as a bouncer and porter in Manhattan. He joined a street gang, became their leader, and managed their money so well that he was soon able to buy them a pool hall as a hang out. It didn’t take long for the hall to become a hotbed of gambling and loan sharking, all of which Torrio managed well. This attracted the attention of Paolo Vaccarelli (a.k.a. Paul Kelly), founder of the Five Points Gang. Kelly invited Torrio to join. Torrio quickly drew the attention (and admiration) of several younger members, including Capone. In time, Torrio would hire Capone to tend bar at The Harvard Inn, a Coney Island dive owned by Francesco Ioele (a.k.a. Frankie Yale).

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Advice for Bloggers

For some reason, I enjoy reading food blogs. It’s kind of inexplicable, because food blogs are the most likely to drive me insane. If you’re thinking about starting a blog – especially a food blog – please read this before you start:

HIRE A PROOFREADER – If you want to get payed for riting on you’re blog, yoo shuld hire to proofreeder, or at least have sumone reed you’re stuff before yoo post it up their. I mean, come on, folks… I’m the King of the Rambling Sentence, but I *do* have a firm grasp of grammar basics like “there\their\they’re” and “your\you’re”. It’s amazing to me that some people want to write, but can’t even get past minor stuff like this. There’s a snack blog out there where the author constantly uses the word “yea” (as in, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”) instead of “yeah” (as in, “yeah, these are good.”). I want to stab that guy in the eyeballs… repeatedly. To cope, I have to read all his posts in a mock English bishop voice: “Yea, though Frito Lay hath given unto man these Cheesy Garlic Bread chips, I enjoy them not. for thy flavors offend every living thing that creepeth.”

GET TO THE POINT – I’ll admit that I like writing stories where the first couple of paragraphs seem to have nothing to do with the title. For example, if I were to write an article about how Concorde, the supersonic jet, came to be, I might start with a scene in medieval France. I haven’t actually counted, but I’m certain that every History Blog article starts that way. But the other day I was at a site that reviews Trader Joe’s products. The average review seemed to be around 1,000 words, and often 100 to 500 of those words was about nothing to do with the product. If the review was about a frozen food item, then half the review might be about being stuck in traffic, and how traffic has gotten much worse since Barry Schoch took over as state DOT secretary, and why can’t our state have FastPass lanes on toll roads like other states, and how SiriusXM has gone to hell since the merger, and why Subaru can’t build a reliable transmission, and.. oh yeah, getting home late was why they were reviewing the frozen item… which was “just OK”, by the way.

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20 Things I Love About Charlotte

A Facebook friend recently posted a list of his top 5 favorite things about living in Charlotte, North Carolina. I decided to do my own list… but 5 became 10, 10 became 15, and 15 became 20. You know how it goes.

And so, without further ado… my 20 favorite things about Charlotte!

20) RICHARDS’ BP – OK, so a “good mechanic” isn’t just a Charlotte thing. But here in Belmont we’ve got this independent little garage that’s AWESOME. If there’s a problem with your car, and one possible fix costs $20 and the other $200, they’ll ALWAYS go the $20 route, unless there’s a good reason not to. They also trust us: “just drive it for a few days and see if the fix we tried works. If not, come back and we’ll try something else. If it does, stop by and pay us whenever”. I’ve been to dozens of repair shops in my life, and this truly is the only one I’ve ever trusted.

19) PRICE’S CHICKEN COOP (link) - No joke: it’s the best fried chicken in the whole world. There are a couple of downsides though. The main one is that it’s take-out only. If you want the hottest, freshest chicken goodness, you have to eat it in your car… especially if you like the potato rounds they give you as a side; they’re not very good after they cool off. Also, they’re cash-only, which is weird in 2014, especially since this place seems to be so big on feeding entire offices.

18) BRING BACK THE BUZZ (link) – The people of Charlotte loved the Hornets… but they really didn’t like the owner, George Shinn. So there were mixed emotions when Shinn moved the Hornets to New Orleans: happiness that the son-of-a-bitch Shinn was gone, but broken hearts that the Hornets were no more. But then Charlotte got a new NBA team, the Bobcats. But their owner, Bob Johnson, was kind of a jerk, too. Fans wanted the old team back… they wanted the Hornets. So a small but passionate group of fans began a campaign to bring back the name (and if you wonder why Charlotte loves the “Hornets” name so much, read this story on my History Blog). They Facebooked and Tweeted. They hassled the local media about it and made themselves hoarse by going to Bobcats games and chanting “CHAR-LOTTE HOR-NETS!” as loud as they could for as long as they could. And, in the end, they won.

17) MIDWOOD SMOKEHOUSE (link) – There’s this “thing” about barbecue places: fans are always looking for “authentic”, and in the case of barbecue that often means an 80 year-old lean-to located well away from a city, preferably run by an old black man named Gus who’s ornery as hell and only open two days a week. But if you want a normal barbecue restaurant, this is the place. The pork’s pretty good, but the brisket’s divine. The bacon wrapped smoked jalapenos might be the best appetizer I’ve ever eaten, and this is the one place where I always get dessert: warm pecan cobbler! They also have lots of local beers and not a lot of attitude: you don’t have to be “this cool” to eat there.

16) ACCENTS – Heel or Hill? Still or Steel? Pen or Pin? I lived here for two years before I found out that a city in the western part of the state is “Blowing Rock”, not “Boiling Rock”.

15) LOCAL BREWERIES – Truth be told, I’m growing weary of bars with beer menus the size of phone books, or beers that take longer for the waitress to describe than for me to actually drink. But a healthy local brewing scene is good for everybody. I really like NoDa Brewing and Birdsong… but in a lot of cases, I Just need a Guinness or a Natty Greene to be happy.

14) NODA (link) – Not the NoDa neighborhood itself. I mean, NoDa is cool and all, and it reminds me of a slightly rough around the edges Virginia Highland circa 1984. But what I really mean is “Sunday Funday in NoDa”: hanging out with my friends… eating tots at Solstice… playing games at The Blind Pig before all the douchebags show up. It’s a great day!

13) THE GERMAN BURGER AT SOLSTICE TAVERN - Truly the most underrated burger in the city. It’s Solstice’s standard beef patty, topped with bacon, sauerkraut and a homemade beer cheese sauce, and served on a pretzel bun. Now if you don’t like that sort of thing, you’re not going to like this. But if what I just described sounds delicious… yes, yes it is! Add some tots on the side and you’ve got a hell of a meal!

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