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Through the Wire

Contributors: R. Thomas Umstead, Ted Hearn, Tom Steinert-Threlkeld, Kent Gibbons.

Ong: Big ChiSox Fan, Small Owner

Among the many long-suffering Chicago White Sox fans celebrating the team’s World Series win last Wednesday was National Geographic Channel president Laureen Ong. The ChiSox win was especially sweet for Ong, a former employee of the team and a “limited partner” in the team’s ownership for nearly 20 years.

While her Nat Geo duties have her running the bases at full speed, Ong said she’ll try to attend some of the festivities sure to be planned in the Windy City around the Sox’s first World Series win since 1917.

“It’s a great testimony to the spirit of team, as well as to the loyalty and focus the organization and its fans have shown. Finally, their day has come,” said Ong, who hasn’t decided whether to don White Sox gear during the Nov. 16 Women In Cable and Telecommunications benefit gala in Washington, D.C., where she’ll be feted as woman of the year.

FCC Hosts Wiley, Rein Alumni Meetings Daily

We’ll never laugh at grassy knollers or the Area 51 guys again.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin — a former associate at powerhouse communications-law firm Wiley, Rein & Fielding in Washington, D.C. — on Oct. 20 decided to name Heather Dixon as his new legal adviser for media issues. Dixon, also a former Wiley, Rein associate, is replacing Catherine Bohigian, whom Martin named acting chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

In a statement on the Dixon-Bohigian job changes, Martin generically mentioned that before joining the FCC, Bohigian “was an attorney in private practice focusing on communications matters.” But he did not provide the firm’s name. We can do that: Wiley, Rein.

In her new post, Dixon will work closely with Martin’s pick to run the Media Bureau, Donna Gregg. Martin got to know Gregg when she was a partner at … you got it, Wiley, Rein.

When Martin, Dixon, Bohigian and Gregg need to chase down an obscure legal citation, they’ll undoubtedly turn to the new director of the FCC library. That would be James Lent, who a few jobs and a few years ago was the law librarian at … Wiley, Rein.

Sounds of TV Silence Aren’t Always Golden

It’s not a glitch — it was “a conscious decision between us and the guide partner.” Regardless, Motorola spokesman Paul Alfieri confirmed to The Wire last week that a software upgrade is coming soon that will let cable customers tell their Motorola two-tuner high-definition digital video recording set-top to stop muting the audio when the box turns on to record a scheduled show.

Apparently, it occurred to Motorola and Gemstar-TV Guide, the guide maker, that when the box turned itself on (after a customer turned it off, say, before bed) to record a show late at night, if the TV were on and hooked to a Surround Sound system, said TV owner might be roused from bed rather rudely. Imagine, for example, “Previously, on Nip/Tuck” blaring from the corner of a dark bedroom at 3 a.m. So, in those circumstances, the box is programmed to mute the audio.

Problem is, the muted box can’t be unmuted. To watch the show while it’s recording, and also listen to it, the viewer has to turn off the box and turn it back on. Or, as an RCN customer-service representative advised a Wire contributor last week, just don’t ever turn it off.

Alfieri said the condition afflicts an unspecified number of DCT-6412 models with a particular version of the guide — “a small subset” of 6412 units shipped late last year. The software patch, he said, will let customers override the mute feature.

How to Dismantle a Long Box-Office Bomb

When the consumer can download and watch a show at any time, it doesn’t make any difference when a program starts or stops or how long it is, said Starz Entertainment Group president Robert Clasen. At a telecom convention last week, he contended there are no limits any more, at least not in programming. Shows can be 30 seconds long or two days long.

Movies can be two minutes long, if you haven’t time to watch the whole thing and only need to fill in the blank. In fact, he said, Starz has compressed the essentials of the comic-hero action movie The Hulk into 120 seconds. (Probably a good move, given the film’s critical drubbing. The actual running time of the 2003 release: 2 hours, 18 minutes.)

Hmmm. Hope Peter Jackson is taking note. He just got approval to boost the length of his remake of King Kong to three hours. What’s he going to tell his Universal bosses when Starz figures out how to tell the same story in two minutes?

Classic’s Squeeze: Pulling Lyrics From a Blackberry

Last Wednesday night, Glenn Tilbrook of the famed early-’80s rock band Squeeze performed at the Watercolor Café in Larchmont, N.Y., as part of a tour sponsored by VH1 Classic. When some listeners in the audience began shouting out requests for the 1991 Squeeze song Satisfied, Tilbrook said he’d comply — if someone could provide him the lyrics.

VH1 Classic general manager Eric Sherman was ready, willing and, with an assist from his BlackBerry, able to comply. He found the lyrics using the device’s Web browser, then got up on stage next to Tilbrook and held up the Blackberry as a prompter during the whole song.

“No, I did not sing along,” Sherman told VH1’s Brett Henne, who told us. “The goal is to keep the audience in the venue.”