Category Archives: Along The Watchtower

If it happened in my life – or if I imagined it did – it’s shoved somewhere in here. Stories of growing up Southern, in a small, rural town – and the ensuing escape; of life experiences and passing thoughts at the moment.

Go Fast, Turn Left, Don’t Hit Anything

By Brian M. Howle

As life continues its daily, relentless grind on us all, wearing us down, beating us into submission – it is only natural for almost everyone to just accept this as a given; to take in stride the changes that affect us in all the negative manners we are told is our predestined fate, and to let those slight, few regrets which we may still retain just fade away and remain unreconciled.

Yeah, well, fortunately for me, I am not everyone.

So when my daily grind began with checking email for our publications enabled me to run across the evite to attend the Media Day Appreciation event being hosted by the recently purchased Myrtle Beach Speedway on April 18, it took me a split-second to read and then re-read what was on the screen before me: “You may choose to drive an actual NASCAR stock car or you may choose to ride with …”

Well, I never got to the part explaining you could also just be passenger while a professional driver took the wheel until later.

One of 16 media drivers at the NASCAR Racing Experience challenge who had their photo taken with the official NRE car and lived to tell the tale.  And this guy is good.

And that’s because if ever a Walter Mitty-type dream came true for anyone, it most certainly just had for me.

This was made possible by the fact that one of the new owners of the track, Bob Lutz,  is also founder and owner of NASCAR Racing Experience.  After 20 or so years in running these types of driving schools, Bob knows that promotion is more than just the name of the game, and what better way to ensure that the word get out on your newest endeavor – via all local media outlets – than by inviting the entire motley crew of thrill-seeking journalists out to the track for a true first-hand perspective.

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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Along The Watchtower


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Christmas For Dummies

By Brian M. Howle

It really is hard to believe that yet another Christmas has snuck right up and foisted itself upon an unprepared and skittish world.  As I write this, it is the literal beginning of the 12 Days of Christmas, as we get that honest assessment deal going on just in time for Christmas.

For those who celebrate this holiday of Christmas – who have it so ingrained into their memories it is essentially a part of their personality – that whole Thanksgiving weekend deal really begins to set off all the little hidden sensors that will chime in familiar succession as traditions beget memories that beget new memories …

And they all become this glorious, wonderfully individual glop of a lifetime that we call our souls.

Oh for sure, the involuntary nature of cardio and pulmonary gives us a heart, and it does keep us alive while it’s healthy.

But that warm and fuzzy (or bare and destitute) feeling we get at holiday times can become much, much more than just a storage facility for happy memories with grandpa and grandma and Crazy Aunt Lisa.  It can also give us cause to reflect on our lives, and the world around us; to reset the big picture and make sense out of what has become clouded on our journey through life.

This more erudite, progressive, thinking person’s world has now reached a position of being above it all, really; a place where there is no time for silly throwbacks to our Puritan founders. They see religion as the root problem of just about every argument they roll out, and on any other given day a lot of people just might have the inclination to agree on that one.

I have to admit, although I pride myself on being intently observant of the world around me, I missed the exact date that things began to change.  I don’t remember there being any one incident or announcement that trumpeted when things took a turn from normalcy and common sense, but it’s an unfortunate fact that now resides before us at this time of worldwide celebration and faith.

Since there wasn’t any huge public outcry against it that I can ever remember as a child, it’s difficult to understand exactly why it has even become an issue.  I mean, really.

But as you all know by now, those wonderful folks who decide what the rest of us can and can’t say or do or share or celebrate in our nation of freedom of choice and freedom of religion have most fervently put the ol’ kabash on that most hateful, hurtful and horrible phrase that some particularly selfish citizens inflict on unsuspecting friends, neighbors and strangers:

“Merry Christmas!”

Again, this isn’t any insane argument about anyone’s belief system.  The say, “oh, you can still have your precious little religion.  We don’t mind that.  You just can’t celebrate it or speak of it in public.”

And the end-all reason for this view, for this mass edict that all must bow to and obey? Why is it we can’t say it?

“Because it’s offensive.”

It occurs to me that, as long as we’re talking fantasy views here, that we could solve the nation’s energy crisis tout de suite if we could hook up a generator to the graves of our founding fathers, ‘cause they must be spinning like the Large Hadron Collider right about now.

The initial concept of political correctness was, as most things are, a fair and noble idea.  Those with certain conditions, afflictions or affiliations seemed to always be the butt of jokes by the majority, and words can leave wounds after all, so let’s just start watching our p’s and q’s, shall we?

And so, a considerate thought for the feelings of a few “special” folks amongst us was born as not just an idea, but a movement.  And if there’s one thing we humans (especially Americans) latch on to like a seagull on a french fry, it’s a movement.

Oh, those poor, poor folks who have been wronged by your and my beliefs, our holidays and all the ancillary traditions that go along with it.  Can’t you feel how they were wronged and ridiculed by our evil declarations of “Merry Christmas!”?

But as we all know, all too painfully by now, that whole “seemed like a good idea at the time” vibe that accompanied most P.C. agendas quickly morphed into a public-shame-&-humiliation hydra that soon developed tentacles of truly stupid and ill-conceived laws.

And the long-standing battle between those of ecumenical beliefs and those without escalated into even more absurd and idiotic arrays of charges and counter charges.

Townships, communities, cities, counties, states and ultimately federal governments began issuing edicts of what was and was not allowed to be displayed or celebrated at taxpayer expense due to “consideration for those not members of the thingy-du-jour.”

Crosses that had adorned land or buildings for decades were actually outlawed by an American court of law.  Nativity scenes were ordered taken down in town after town because they promoted one religion over another.  The singing of religious songs was also rather unceremoniously banned.

Again, this is not my fight for one religion.  I’m not pushing Christianity over anything else. That is not the issue.

This is about taking law and using it as a tool to impose narrow concepts on the majority of the populace.

But the simple act of acknowledging the existence of Christmas, alone, can not be denied by decree or ignored by those who believe.

Growing up in a relatively religious atmosphere – from what I witnessed – didn’t seem to have drastically affected any of my friends in any negative or nefarious manner.

What it did do, however, was to makes us all aware of the needs of those less fortunate than us.  It made us have a core value base that imparted us with a sense of pride in our community, for respect of our neighbors’ property.  We understood the need for everyone to do their part all aspects of our lives, because there literally was no such thing as a free lunch.

There was, however, such a thing as compassion and assistance thru churches and service organizations.

The obligatory meal to make the holiday seem more normal for those without food gets all the press on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Everyone sees those PR opportunities.

But, those same people need food, clothing and shelter on every other day of the year, too.  Difficulties and hardship do not take vacations or time off.

It’s an extremely difficult concept for me to wrap my head around, to be honest with you.  I was raised by a family, a neighborhood, and a community that looked after one another and rallied in a moment’s notice in the event of tragedy or loss.

These same people made the advent of the holiday season the most anticipated time of the year by engaging in the simplest and least expensive tradition ever conceived:
Exchanging goodies.

Oh, while I’m sure some families who were particularly close to one another may have done some actual gift exchanges – but that’s not the goodies I’m talking about.

And no, gifts of libation aren’t these goodies, either.

I’m talking ‘bout food.

Not just run-down-to-the-Piggly-Wiggly, precooked, mass produced munchies, kids.  I mean, honest-to-peanuts, made from scratch goodies.

There are families in my hometown that, to this day, most likely guard that family recipe like it’s the next project coming up from Apple.

One family made a chocolate cake that would give you the same chemical rush of pleasure as heroin – in theory.

Another family baked cookies that were recognized as legal tender in several of the more advance culinary nations.

There was an avalanche of the best cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries – along with the occasional liqueur – the likes of which no issue of Southern Living magazine has ever had the distinct honor and pleasure of photographing, sampling and sharing with the world.

Hardly was there ever a time in the many, many years that have passed from those happier, carefree days that my siblings and I didn’t make some reference to those simple delights.  When we reflected on this dish or that, and who made it, that tangible part of our past and our present began to foreshadow the future, as the numbers of those friends and families slowly began to dwindle.  There was the expected attrition from children growing, marrying and in most cases, moving away.

And then came the attrition through the normal cycle of life.

This is not a bad thing, nor is it a harbinger of end times, this shaking off of our mortal coils.  But with each loss, those of us left behind begin to feel the erosion of all those things that we – and our parents – held so dear, and fought so valiantly to maintain.  And the battle to preserve that lifestyle seemed to become more and more, one of diminishing returns.

However, the families of my youth have grown and evolved through a couple more generations.  And with each child of these folks that I meet today – now adults with children of their own – it is impossible to ignore the familiar watermark on the hearts and the values of these small-town folks who raised them.

So join my friends and I in keeping these traditions alive.

If you know of an elderly, homebound or just a lonely individual who is facing this season alone, please give of your time and your heart – and make a wonderful difference in their life, if only for a day.

And I promise you – that person will absolutely not consider your religion a problem.

So to all of you sharing this amazing planet – enjoy your religion, or lack of it – and may you all have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy New Year!

The column was also published in Alternatives NewsMagazine and Coast Magazine, Dec. 15, 2011 – January 12, 2012.

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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Along The Watchtower


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Christmas Lesson 2011: Baby Doll and Ken

Baby Doll and Ken have a front yard reunion.

Note: Every Christmas, I try to write a column that extolls the spirit of the season, something nice, something sweet, something quite unlike the daily ugliness we all face out in the big, bad world.  This year was easy; several stories were in wait to be selected already when this came across my news feed this week.  If you know someone particularly jaded or lacking something to believe in, have them take a quick look at this.  It’s a short read, but will stay with you forever. – Brian

By Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation, Inc., from a post on Facebook

We were just talking about how horses never forget. Here is a short story from one of our friends and adopters, John and Cindy. I thought this might bring some Christmas cheer to those who need it. Feel free to share if you wish.

We look after a sweet mare by the name of Baby Doll. Her owner is a man named Ken who is getting up there in his years (he is 90+ now).  Due to health issues Ken has not been out to the barn in over a year to see his beloved mare.  Now, Ken is one of these guys that when he would come to the barn each week he always had some dog & cat food for the barn critters, treats for his and other horses and usually a 2 day old Danish for the barn managers.  You get the picture of what type of man Ken is.

Cindy and our friend Kym decided to pay Ken a visit a few weeks ago (he lives about a 1-1/2 hour drive from the barn, not far from O’Hare airport) and in tow with them was Baby Doll. They knocked on Ken’s door, who was delighted to see his ole friends Cindy and Kym. They smiled and said someone else was here to see him, and there was Baby Doll in the yard (right there in the Chicago suburbs).

Cindy said the look on his face was nothing but pure joy and when he called his beloved mare her ears perked up so tall; she knew and missed that voice.  Now, Ken is not one to show a lot of emotion (he fought some nasty battles in WW-II), but Cindy said it is the first time she has ever seen a tear in this man’s eyes. There was no doubt that Baby Doll had not forgotten this man who had taken care of her for so many years. Above is a great reunion picture of an ole cowboy greeting his beloved mare that he had not seen in a very long time.

Ken has made arrangements to pay for her even when he is gone. Baby Doll is 26 now and you would never know it, she has such much spunk on trail. She is the best mare I have met and we love her tons, she has such a kind personality.

We plan on printing the picture and putting it in a frame and sending to Ken for Christmas. Cindy said the one that had the most tears in their eyes was Ken’s wife – tears of happiness to see her husband be able to hug the girl he talks about so often. ∆

So, if you know a Ken – or a Ken’s wife – who has lived long and given all they had to give; if you know someone of this age who has served their country in the military, or who worked their entire life either in commerce or making a difference in their community, or who sacrificed career for family or caring for others … please …. take a few minutes to find what could give their weathered hearts a proper dusting off, and injected with love and hope.  And then – do it.

Because Christmas alone is anything but Merry.

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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Along The Watchtower


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Frank Zappa Wrote A Song About This Guy

By Brian M. Howle

It’s really amazing to realize that the late, great Frank Zappa – who was so far ahead of his time it’s not even close to being funny – could have envisioned the unfolding of my life, even at this late stage, and had the wherewithall to write a song about it.

Good ol’ Frank and the Mothers of Invention. They cranked out some seriously incredible music, albeit extremely eccentric from time to time (well, more often than not is more like it), and Frank himself was an absolute machine, a prolific writer and artist who churned out an amazing body of work in his all too short lifetime.

But in the last week, I have come to realize that he had the visionary ability to peer into my current situation and assess the total sum of a person who has become a bane on my existence, all at a time where I have attempted – much to the consternation and disapproval of my friends and ex-lovers – to give assistance, service and help to someone who is so self-absorbed, so ungrateful, and so completely unworthy of my friendship and talents that they can be so beautifully nailed in the verse of one of Frank Zappa’s greatest works: “You’re An Asshole,” from the song, “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes.”

Yeah, I know, the song was about a girl, and my subject matter isn’t.  But the verse fits perfectly, and I’m sticking with it.

And you know who you are.  So does most of Myrtle Beach.  Enjoy your free publicity.


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Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Along The Watchtower


Nashville Residents Need Our Help In Flooding Aftermath

nashville floods
Dover Anthony sings on as he overlooks the parking lot of submerged cars at the Knights Motel in East Nashville, Sunday, May 2, 2010. (AP Photo/The Tennessean, John Partipilo)

Compiled by Brian M. Howle from AP Reports

Muddy waters have poured over the banks of Nashville’s swollen Cumberland River, spilling into Music City’s historic downtown streets. The flash floods caused by record-breaking rain caught many here off-guard, forcing thousands to frantically flee their homes and hotels. The rapidly rising waters killed 18 people in Tennessee alone, including 10 in Nashville, and officials feared that the death toll could increase.

The ongoing Gulf Coast oil spill and the attempted Times Square bombing have caused many to overlook the impact of flooding on Tennessee, especially in Nashville. Parts of top Nashville tourist spots including the Country Music Hall of Fame and The Grand Ole Opry House were flooded.

There have been recent media reports making the air, with country music stars reaching out to share their personal stories of property loss (like Keith Urban) with the hundreds of thousands who not only have lost all of their personal belongings, furniture, clothes and homes, but now face rebuilding their lives without the benefit of flood insurance, as the likelihood of flooding was not seen as a high probability. The freak storm has now brought that sobering reality to many, many responsible, hard-working folks who just got caught at the worst time in the worst way.

The Cumberland flooded quickly after the weekend’s storms dumped more than 13 inches of rain in Nashville over two days. That nearly doubled the previous record of 6.68 inches of rain that fell in the wake of Hurricane Fredrick in 1979.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Rose said the river crested at 51.9 feet at 6 p.m. CDT Monday night (May 3).

For residents of the Grand Strand, the memories of what we have to contend with after hurricanes (like Hugo) should trigger strong empathy to help immediately.

The Nashville Area Red Cross is in need of financial support to continue providing relief to victims of local disaster flooding. The American Red Cross is not a government agency. All disaster assistance is free, and is funded solely by local donations. There are several ways to give:

• Visit and click DONATE NOW to make an online gift;

• Mail a check to the Nashville Area Red Cross;
2201 Charlotte Avenue, Nashville, TN 37203;

• Call (615) 250-4300 to make a donation by phone;

• Text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation on your mobile phone.

The photos and videos of the aftermath might not have the emotional punch that those of post-Katrina or post-tsunami images unleashed on us all, but we must all come to the aid of our fellow citizens and help them in their time of need.
This article also appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, May 7-20, 2010.

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Posted by on May 10, 2010 in Along The Watchtower


Petals & Pooches: Charleston’s Magnolia Plantation & Gardens Has Gone To The Dogs (In A Good Way)

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Katie Lee Ashley stands guard over the Petunias while she waits for her fellow canines to arrive. (Photo by Tami Ashley)

By Brian M. Howle

Thinking of taking the family pooch along for a day trip to one of S.C.’s wonderful, aromatic and fully-in-bloom gardens this weekend? Well, I hate to tell ya, Sparky, but think again.

That is, of course, unless you plan to visit beautiful Magnolia Plantation and Gardens close to Historic Charleston, SC, just off of storied, live oak-lined Highway 61.

Nestled on the banks of the Ashley River, Magnolia Gardens – the oldest public gardens in America – offers an all-day schedule of events to fill your day with history, beauty, nature and communing with a large number of God’s creatures, large and small. And unlike every other major garden in the Charleston area – as well as most around the state – Magnolia puts out the water bowl for your dog because, well, the owners think dogs are people, too!

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The Long Bridge at Angel Lake, Magnolia Plantation’s most-photographed vista. (Photo by Tami Ashley)

Once you clear the Ashley River bridge when heading south on U.S. Hwy. 17, it only takes about 15-20 minutes to arrive at the history-laden gates of Magnolia Plantation. After paying the entry fee, a variety of tours are available for separate charges. Guided tours include Magnolia’s plantation home; a Nature Train tram tour (I recommend this one because you cover the main grounds with a very entertaining guide at the wheel); the Audubon Swamp Garden tour; a Nature Boat tour of the wetlands; and the new “Slavery to Freedom” tour.

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Majestic live oaks abound, like this one gracing the Ashley River with full floral guard. (Photo by Tami Ashley)

Once inside the gates, you’re free to wander the lush, floral-covered grounds at your own, leisurely pace. Azaleas are the star of this show, but the variety of flowering plants is seemingly endless. Self-guided walks throughout the garden’s many trails are easy to follow. The rich, historic past of Magnolia Plantation permeates everything around you, and the original slave cabins command a sense of reflection among the stands of breathtaking, huge, moss-draped live oaks. Amenities such as bicycle rentals, a great little gift shop in the plantation homestead, restrooms and a beverage/snack bar are available for your convenience.

Children of all ages will absolutely love the ample petting zoo that features a myriad of animals readily found in the glory days of plantation life – from pigs and goats, to proud roosters and peacocks. My favorites can be found among the small herd of ponies grazing the main pasture, who stroll up to the split-rail fence to solicit muzzle rubs and sugar cubes.

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Katie’s “Elvis Snarl” lets us know she’s picked up some “P-mail” left behind by a previous pooch amongst nature’s delights. (Photo by Tami Ashley)

Get an early start and make a full day of your visit, as this glorious marriage of natural beauty and man’s stewardship will literally take a full day to completely explore and enjoy to its full magnificence!

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is located at 3550 Ashley River Road (Hwy. 61), Charleston, SC 29414. Open daily 8am to dusk; Adults $15, Kids 6-12 $10; Kids under 6 Free. For more information, visit or call (800) 367-3517.
This article also appears in Alternatives NewsMagazine and Coast Magazine, April 8 – 22, 2010; and online at .

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Posted by on April 10, 2010 in Along The Watchtower


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Help Stop The Radio Performance Tax

radio tax vote
By Brian M. Howle

Some Of Washington’s Weasels Are Trying To Sell Out Music Radio Stations, Artists To Big Record Companies
In bringing you this important story, I find myself firmly between two facts: One puts me in the happy position of assuring all of you this issue has absolutely no basis in political party affiliation; the other regretfully confirms that there are nefarious powers out there who will stoop to the lowest common denominator in finding new ways to screw us all in the name of “revenue enhancement”.

So here’s the skinny on the latest attempt by the corporate whores (and their congressional pimps) who are trying to destroy yet another American freedom – and industry – as provided to us by the National Association of Broadcasters:

For more than 80 years, radio and the recording industry have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship: free play for free promotion. And it works. It’s a relationship that has sustained businesses on both sides.

In fact, radio’s free promotion of artists translates to as much as $2.4 billion annually in music sales for record labels and artists. And this doesn’t even include the enormous revenues they receive from concerts and merchandising.

But the labels–like many businesses–are struggling in this economy. They have failed to adapt to the digital age, and find their business model is broken. And now they want to impose a fee called a performance tax on local radio stations to subsidize their losses.

A performance tax would threaten the local radio stations that communities depend on. It would financially hamstring stations, stifle new artists and harm the listening public who rely on free local radio.

In short, the money generated from the performance tax would flow out of your community and into the pockets of the major record labels – and three out of the four are foreign-owned. The record labels would like for you to think this is all about compensating the artists, but in truth the record labels would get at least 50 percent of the proceeds from a tax on local radio.

If you’re one of the 235 million people who listen to radio each week, a tax could reduce the variety of music radio stations play, and all but eliminate the possibility of new artists breaking onto the scene. The tax could particularly affect smaller, minority-owned stations, some of which may have to switch to a talk-only format or shut down entirely.

It also affects your community. Radio stations are major contributors to public service – generating $6 billion in public service annually, providing vital news and community information and free airtime to help local charities. If a tax were imposed, stations’ critical community service efforts could be reduced.

And, worst of all, if you’re one of the 106,000 Americans employed by local radio, your job could be in jeopardy. In these troubling economic times, the last thing local radio needs is to be hit with a tax that some analysts estimate could be $2-7 billion annually.

Congress has continually recognized that local radio is different from other musical platforms and should not be subject to a performance tax. Local radio is free, so everyone, regardless of income, can have access to it. Local radio also has to fulfill certain public service obligations that other platforms do not. And importantly, the free music that radio plays provides free promotion to the record labels and artists – up to $2.4 billion annually.

There are currently two bills pending in Congress that would levy a performance tax on local radio – H.R.848, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (MI-14) and S.379, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT). Your members of Congress need to hear that you strongly oppose these bills.

Additionally, anti-performance tax resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate in support of local radio. In the Senate, Sens. Blanche Lincoln (AR) and John Barrasso (WY) introduced S. Con. Res. 14, and in the House, Reps. Gene Green (TX-29) and Mike Conaway (TX-11) introduced H. Con. Res. 49. Both are known as the Local Radio Freedom Act. Many members of Congress already support local radio and resolutions against the performance tax. Others still need to hear your voice.

Take Action Now!
We need your help! Support local radio by taking action against legislation that could kill local radio as you know it. The performance tax could bankrupt local radio stations and give giant foreign-owned record companies a bailout. It’s a bad idea that will happen unless you speak out against it.

Visit The “Stop The Radio Tax” Website
Simply go to and you will find all the links and information you need. Sign up now and take a stand in support of local radio! By signing up, you’ll have the opportunity to join thousands of people from across the country who are ready to fight the performance tax.

Tell A Friend
Send an email to your friends about the performance tax issue, letting them know what they can do.

Post A Facebook Status Update/Tweet This
Use your own social networking page to spread the word. Simply update your status on Facebook and Twitter with messages related to the campaign. Your message should be unique, but can follow the examples below.
Post this message to your Facebook:
STOP THE RADIO TAX. The performance tax is a bad idea that would hurt [insert radio station name]. If you enjoy listening, help us take action against this at
Tweet this Message:
[Insert radio station name] needs help. Congress is killing the radio star. Tell them no. #stoptheradiotax

Write A Letter To The Editor
Write a letter to the editor or longer guest column to voice your opinion on why a performance tax is a bad idea.
Personalize the letter, and let the editor know why radio is important to you and your community. Encourage readers to take action. Below is a sample letter:
The proposed performance tax on radio stations could cripple local radio, hurt the listening public, and silence up-and-coming artists – all while big record companies get a bailout.
Radio has given so much to the music industry, launching the careers of many of the artists that we’ve come to love. Radio also plays a critical role during emergencies, informs us about what’s going on in our neighborhoods, supports local charities and nonprofit organizations and provides jobs for our community.
Why impose a tax that could bankrupt our local radio stations just to help foreign-owned record companies recover from their own business mistakes?
It doesn’t make sense. Congress should realize that a performance tax is a bad idea.

The website contains more information to help you understand all of the facts of this incredibly arrogant and moronic attempt to literally ruin free music radio as we know it, along with destroying the livelihoods of countless tens of thousands of folks in radio, as well as the musicians who are the core creative force for everything involved in producing the music we all enjoy and treasure as one of the inalienable rights guaranteed to us by the framers of the United States Constitution.

Your voice does make a difference – so make yours known today! Log onto now.
This article originally appeared at

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Posted by on February 25, 2010 in Along The Watchtower


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