Friday, December 31, 2010

DeltaTalk -- Happy New Year!

Click here for a podcast of this show.

Hard to believe 2010 has come and gone! So much has happened: The Haiti Earthquake, The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Vancouver Olympics, the 8.8 earthquake in Chili, Spain's victory in World Cup soccer, the Wikileaks story (which will no doubt continue to unfold in a very public way in 2011), the miraculous survival of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for an incredible 69 days, and the ongoing political reversal of fortune triggered by Republican victories on November 2.

It was also a year when we said good-bye to some of our favorite celebrities: Tony Curtis, Dennis Hopper, Robert Culp, John Forsythe, Lena Horne, Lynn Redgrave, Gary Coleman, Rue McClanahan, Patricia Neal, Gloria Stuart, Leslie Nielsen, Teena Marie, Teddy Pendergrass, Alexander "I'm-in-Charge" Haig, and Peter Graves.

In sports, the San Francisco Giants won their first World Series since moving to San Francisco in 1954, the New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl ever, Alabama won the BCS championship, Reggie Bush forfeited his 2005 Heisman trophy, two perfect games were pitched in the same season for the first time ever in Major League Baseball, and Jimmy Johnson won his 5th consecutive NASCAR championship, something no other racedriver has ever accomplished.

In entertainment, we saw Avatar become the top grossing film in American cinema history (nearly $3 billion worldwide) after its 3D premiere at the end of 2009. Toy Story 3, Alice and Wonderland, and Shrek 3D wow'd us, too. At the Academy Awards, Avatar and The Hurt Locker were nominated for 9 Oscars each; the latter took Best Picture. Its director -- Katheryn Bigelow -- became the first woman ever to win Best Director. We also saw Conan depart, then come back in again (in a big way). And finally, the i-Pad debuted in April of 2010; within the first 80 days, more than 3 million of the popular tablet computers were sold to Apple fans who stood in line to gobble them up.

Yep, overall, it was an eventful year -- maybe a set-up for the next couple of years, but certainly an eventful year in its own right.

And now we look forward to what comes in 2011. Bring it on!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't Tell Meredith Farris There's No Santa!

(Click here for a podcast of the interview)

I NEVER STOPPED BELIEVING IN SANTA CLAUS. Even as I grew older (and, according to all actuarial evidence, more likely to believe in the power of pensions, IRA's, and web-based investing than the Jolly Man in the Red Suit), I still maintained a love of the Christmas season -- especially the mystique of St. Nick. So when I heard about Meredith Farris's childhood Christmas story, I jumped at the chance to interview her about it.

Meredith, you see, came from an extremely poor family in the Northeast corner of Arkansas. In fact, things were so tight one Christmas way back in the early 60s that it looked like Santa wouldn't be visiting that year. Young Meredith -- she was about 5 at the time -- would have to make do for another year. A heartbreaking prospect for any child, to say the least, but especially for a little girl full of innocent faith

What makes this story so special is a couple of things. First, I work with Meredith at Hope Church here in Tupelo, Mississippi. She's an integral part of the church staff -- a caring, compassionate, talented woman with a big heart, bigger smile, and beautiful voice (that was her singing "Blue Christmas" last week) -- who makes sure things get done in fine style and on time. Without her, things just wouldn't be the same.

Secondly -- and I didn't know any of this until recently -- it turns out that Santa DID visit her home that year so long ago -- in a memorable way. In fact, Kris Kringle's visit to Meredith's Arkansas home left her with a memory so vivid that it lights up her eyes even now. Half a century after it happened, this true story not only became the stuff of family legend, but it seems to have shaped her entire view of the world. This kind of Love, Meredith says -- a Santa Claus spirit brought to life by the love of her family -- is what makes Christmas such an extraordinary time of the year.

Don't tell Meredith Farris there's no Santa Claus. She knows better. And she explained why on DeltaTalk Radio, Wednesday morning, December 12, 2010. Enjoy!

Click here to go to a podcast of the interview


Thursday, December 9, 2010

DeltaTalk Podcast -- December 8

 We're calling it our "Blue Christmas" show (how can you live in Tupelo, Mississippi and not pay homage to Elvis Presley from time to time, huh? Click here to be wisked away to the podcast).

In this program, we feature:

Tom Booth: Tom's the executive director of The Lyric Theater. He brought us up to date on the renovation of the theater, including its marquee (new neon after nearly 40 years of NO neon!).

Blue Christmas Shoppers: We ventured out with a microphone and a mission to convince unsuspecting Tupelo shoppers to sing Elvis' "Blue Christmas" for us. Hysterical!!

Howard Hite: Howard manages the world-famous Tupelo Hardware, the place where Elvis -- thanks to his mom Gladys -- picked up his very first guitar. The real story behind the beginning of the King's career.

J.J. Jasper: One of AFR's more beloved radio hosts, we excerpted a recent guest speech he gave at Hope Church in Tupelo, Mississippi. This speech -- entitled Faith + Hope + Love -- includes an anecdote illustrating the need for elevating relationships over activity.
I hope you like the show. We encourage your constructive feedback and hope you'll support the program with story ideas, photos, and research that may be helpful in producing future shows. Join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, too!

Thank you!
Mike Russell

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don't Quit Your Day Job!

I love interviewing people on the radio. For me, it's just one of the great things I get to do in my fantasy work as a talk radio host in North Mississippi. I call it that -- fantasy work -- because it's not my day job, but something on the side that scratches a broadcasting/journalistic itch I've had since I was knee-high to my Dad's old Royal typewriter.

So when I got the chance to interview Sonny Brewer recently, I jumped at it.

Who's Sonny Brewer?

If you're not familiar with his name, don't be embarrassed. To be totally honest, I hadn't heard of him either until I found out he'd put together a new anthology called DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit -- and that he would be in Tupelo to sign copies of it for those fortunate enough to catch him for the four hours he was in town.

First let me tell you that I loved this book (or, rather, I'm still loving it. I just picked it up and I'm about half-way through it). Brewer has assembled an all-star line-up of southern writers, and no doubt through the same persistence he used to launch his own writing career, has given us a candid and realistic glimpse of what these famous writers did for a living before they were rich and famous (or at least famous).

I'm talking about writers like:
  • John Grisham (sold underwear and drove a caterpillar before writing A Time to Kill, The Firm, and The Pelican Brief )
  • Larry Brown (firefighter, carpenter, carpet cleaner before writing Dirty Work, Joe, and Father & Son)
  • Pat Conroy (counted people for the church before writing The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini)
  • Winston Groom (construction worker, encyclopedia salesman before writing Forrest Gump)
 If you ever written, you know how it can totally mess with your mind, not to mention your livelihood. So it's no small feat that Brewer made friends with these writers, much less got them to contribute stories for Day Job.

Likewise, if you've ever worked at one job while dreaming of something on the other end of the Pay & Prestige Scale, you'll love Brewer's book. It's ripe with the fruits of all those worldly labors, fruits that no doubt at the time seemed more like fruitcakes than they did preparation for The Top Banana.

In the interview, he spoke candidly about the genesis of his work ethic and persistence (he was one of eleven kids left behind when his stepfather was killed in a car wreck in 1963). And in the introduction of the book itself, he writes:

     The book will speak to you, no matter where in the country you live. For this reason: Work is universal. Somebody today might've punched a time clock in Tennessee to dip new-made boat paddles into vats of hot lacquer. Or in Maine. Maybe in Colorado, where people love to paddle kayaks and canoes on beautiful rivers and lakes. There are mail carriers in every state in the union. There are waitresses, and schoolteachers, and dump truck drivers, and lawyers, and pizza deliverers, and manure muckers from sea to shining sea.
     And right now some of them are thinking of picking up one last check.
     If there is a writer among them, just waiting to be discovered in the full bloom of genius, he will someday jump at the chance to write about all that hard work, and the day he quit his day job.

Whether or not you're a writer, a wannabe writer, or, like most of us, simply laboring in the Trench of Hope and Opportunity, I have a feeling you'll appreciate Don't Quit Your Day Job.

If nothing else, it might be just the encouragement you need to plant a few more seeds.

Note: Thanks to Sonny Brewer for appearing on DeltaTalk Radio on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 -- and for posing for pictures with Jack Reed, Sr. at Reeds Bookstore in Tupelo. Click here to go the DeltaTalk Facebook page for those.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Marquee Performance

TUPELO (December 2, 2010) -- A great scene at the Lyric Theater tonight, this time outside the theater. After 40 years without a name in neon lights, the Lyric marquee and facade got a facelift. Thanks to some timely relationship-building and a grant, the neon lights gave a return performance to a bevy of hometown onlookers. Executive Director of Tupelo Community Theater Tom Booth was all smiles as the crowd counted down and the switch was flipped. Congratulations, Tom! We'll have a quick interview with Tom on our next DeltaTalk Radio show -- Wednesday morning at 9 on SuperTalk 102.9 FM.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

NEXT DELTA TALK: Got your Christmas spirit on yet?

Black Friday has come and gone; the Christmas shopping season's in "Full Steam Ahead" mode. But contrary to popular opinion, Christmas isn't going to be red or green; it's going to be BLUE!

What does that mean?

Well, you'll just have to tune in and see (grin...DeltaTalk airs Wednesday mornings at 9 on SuperTalk 102.9 FM in Northeast Mississippi).

I will tell you this; Tupelonians (I like this term soooo much better than "Tupeloans!") will get a chance to step up to the microphone (another grin).

We'll have a few more tricks up our sleeve, too, including interviews and pictures from the annual Christmas Parade. And we'll bring you details from Toyota's "Moving Forward in Mississippi" announcement on Friday, too.

Just three weeks until Christmas! I can totally feel the excitement already...


Sunday, March 21, 2010


For some reason, despite the volumes of TV, radio, newspaper, and corporate writing I've done over the years, I've never blogged. What's up with that, huh? You'd think blogging would come natural to someone who pounds the keyboard so much.

Oh, I've given it a try here and there, but blogging never really seemed to catch my attention back in my pre-Mississippi days (that would be anything pre-2008). And even though I was huge Stephen King fan -- I even owned a leather-bound, slip-cased edition of Insomnia, for Pete's sake -- I never jumped on the blogging bandwagon.

I don't know. Maybe I was just too busy cranking out copy to write for the pure enjoyment of it...

Anyway, for some reason (could it be the legacies of Grisham, Faulkner, Harris, Williams, and Welty tickling my imagination?), I feel more inspired to share my thoughts now that I've moved below the Mason-Dixon line. After all, these authors -- some of the greatest writers whoever dipped their quills -- live, or have lived, here in the Hospitality State.

It is, though, the life and success of the first author on that list -- John Grisham -- that inspires me most. His literary prowess and publishing success is the stuff of legends; his legal thrillers have sold more than 250 million copies -- and the films based on those thrillers have grossed nearly $646 million. That Miss'sippi boy done good!
(Dear reader, it would be appropriate here to let you know that I actually do have roots in Mississippi.  I might've been born in Los Angeles, land of freeways, beaches, and all things trendy, but my "kin" are from the Mississippi Delta. And you don't get much more "southuhn" than that. I've been visiting here my whole life. I MUST have at least 10% country blood in me!)
Beginning with A Time to Kill (1988), he wrote about injustices wherever he found them, even in his own field. An attorney by education (Ole Miss, a breathtakingly beautiful school I have photographed) and original intent, he's generally frustrated by the self-absorbed nature of lawyers (as am I), hence the not-so-subtext of his books The Firm and The Rainmaker, among others. In doing so, he became one of only a few authors ever to sell at least two million copies on his first printing (his '92 novel-turned-Hollywood-blockbuster The Pelican Brief sold more than 11 million copies in the U.S,. alone). And perhaps most important of all (to me, at least) he's written at least one book a year, a feat that, if nothing else, demonstrates the power of "dripping" content. In other words, write at least one good page a day and you'll have 365 of 'em by year's end (even though Grisham, by his own admission, takes only six months to pen his average work).

And finally, Grisham is faithful to the craft of writing -- and loyal to those in the south who pursue literary goals. He has endowed a number of writing scholarships at Ole Miss and was the founding publisher of Oxford American, whose tagline is "The Southern Magazine of Good Writing." The Los Angeles Times describes it as " of the brightest periodicals to appear on the American literary scene. A fabulous…magazine of passionate, quirky writing about the South." Now I ask you, "Who wouldn't be enamored with the efforts of a guy like John Grisham?"

Beyond books and movies, Grisham, like me, loves baseball. He played it in high school (about the same time as me -- in the late 70s) and tried out for Delta State. I say "tried out" because he didn't actually make the team. Apparently (unlike me) he was better at writing than hitting curve balls. And therein, I think, lies the pivotal dividing moment in our erstwhile parallel careers.

I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course. I did play college ball in the south (Southern California, that is) --  after being drafted by the Reds in '74. I loved the sport then, and I still do. But athleticism doesn't last nearly as long as literary skill, so John definitely got the better end of that deal. He went on to a great writing career and continues to support (and write about) baseball. He even wrote an original screenplay for and produced the film Mickey (2004), a film about Little League. And I wouldn't be surprised if he had secret hopes of owning a team (John, are you listening.....?).

One of Grisham's favorite sayings is, "You live your life today, not tomorrow, and certainly not yesterday." I happen to agree, if not (always) in practice, at least by wishful thinking. And so, it's in that spirit that I wishfully re-engage in the art, craft, joy and occasional torment of writing. Besides, if blogs help presidents get elected, companies reach out to their customers (or the other way around), and all of us to capture the hearts and minds of each other, then maybe giving it another (more serious) try is a pretty good idea after all.

In the days and months ahead, look for all kinds of Tupelonian random-ness, so named because I live in the biggest little town in southern America, Tupelo, Mississippi. It's the birthplace of Elvis, but becoming notable for other things these days, including racial reconciliation, regional economic development, the building of an ultra-modern Toyota plant (that's a whole other story), and some of the best high school baseball in the country (no way I could leave that out of the list).

It's a slower pace here in Tupelo. No more big-city drive-by handshakes from me (also a whole other story). This time, I'm slowing down enough to write in pencil...and walk to the sharpener.

Maybe that way, I'll catch up with my buddy John.