Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Strip. Live. Today. Gloria Estefan.

We're back on today from 5-6 pm PT at LVRocks.Com, so come listen live as we mull the past weeks' news, play my conversation with Gloria Estefan and do all the other fun stuff that we do. Gloria and her husband, Emilio, received a star on the Vegas Walk of Stars on Friday outside the Flamingo.

Hear Gloria hint about her upcoming Vegas endeavor as well as discuss the Arizona immigration law, Cuba's renewed efforts at repression and more.

Join us, hear us, watch us, chat with fellow listeners. Or wait for the podcast version. Your call.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

LVW Col: I'm (Not) Coming Out

Here's this week's LVW column on where my head is these days as it pertains to gay pride events. Please don't misunderstand: They're important and valuable. They're just my thing anymore. Read on. -sf

I’m (not) coming out
Why I won’t attend Gay Pride


I am what is wrong with the gay community in Vegas. And since this is the season of Gay Pride, I must stand up and say I’m pretty proud of that.

It’s an odd declaration, to be sure. Also, it’s true. I have a great deal of respect for those people who spend so much of their lives “being gay,” but I’ve been there, I’ve done that and now I’m over it. I still care and I follow queer politics as carefully as the next gay, but, to quote Elphaba from Wicked, something has changed within me, something is not the same.

There was a time, as I just mentioned, when it was my whole thing. When I moved to Las Vegas in 1996 with my first long-term partner, we were a super-active couple. We went to every AIDS Walk, we catered tables at the Black and White Party, we volunteered at the Gay Pride Festival. Hell, we even started a monthly gay book group and were the youngest duo to regularly attend a monthly gay couples potluck. Rainbow flags adorned our cars, provocative male photos were prominent in our home and a direct-deposit donation to the Gay & Lesbian Community Center went out every month. We set the alarm to be up in the middle of the night to watch Princess Diana’s funeral live and sobbed through it, burying our faces in the fluffy mane of our white poodle, Ozzy.

Yeah, I know. Super-duper gay.

Read the REST at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sunday's Paper on Tuesday

I caught up on the past several days of newspapers this morning and realized that I had missed mentioning a LOT of things that came out on Sunday.

* Warren Bates died. This knocked the wind out of me this morning. Bates, 49, was an assistant city editor at the Review-Journal. He was a general assignment reporter in the late 1990s when I worked there and, honest to goodness, one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to know. Also, a magnificent writer. He came to my home a few times in recent years for a journalist-publicist poker night I used to organize. It appears he killed himself on Friday near Amboy, Calif., by parking his car on railroad tracks as an oncoming train approached. The detail that somehow got me was Mary Hynes, the longtime city editor, giving a quote while "fighting back tears." Maybe it's because that's a phrase Hynes has probably edited in tragic stories a zillion times but this time it was about her. Warren had a quiet decency to him and I'm sure his death has shaken that newsroom. Brava to Laura Myers for an appropriately loving obituary. Check out Warren's site, which continues to house his phenomenal desert photography. Someone should organize a show in his memory.

* John L. Smith stuck it to Steve Wynn. And good. Wowzer. I, too, think there's something quite offensive about both Wynn and Adelson suggesting their enterprises are more Chinese than American companies. They're not the first CEOs to discover Asia as a robust market, but you've never heard the chief of, say, Proctor & Gamble, make such anti-American remarks just because they sell more shampoo and toothpaste and get to dump toxic chemicals wherever they want over there. Wynn is frustrated that there's no place to release his creative juices in Las Vegas these days, but while he can arguably blame other business issues on the current president, he can't seriously pin the overbuilding of Vegas on Obama. If the town weren't overbuilt, Wynn would be in development right now in anticipation of opening long after the recession healed. Instead, he's spouting nonsense about moving his headquarters to Hong Kong which is not just inane but unprecedented. There is no major American company that has ever moved its HQ to China. Ever. And Steve Wynn ain't gonna be the first. Neither Elaine nor Roger Thomas would go, and that's the rest of the trinity.

* Someone finally did a non-funny barter story. Well, someone else besides me last week for the Web's fourth most popular news source. Paul Harasim of the R-J, at long last, did a piece on the fact that there actually is such a thing as bartering for health care. Granted, he did it nearly three weeks after Republican Senate candidate Sue Lowden first referenced the concept. No, it's no solution to the nation's problems -- and nor did the candidate say that it was -- but it is, in and of itself, a fascinating practice. I had no idea people actually did this until this came up. And leave it to the knee-jerkers at the phony journalism site LV Journal Review to suspect a sinister conservative plot on Bonanza Road to save face for Lowden instead of, say, wondering how it was that the local press stuck to the cheap shots and jokes for this long instead of noting that thousands of people obtain health care via barter exchanges every year.

* Pies on Route 66! When I was down in Arizona a couple of months ago working on some pieces, I stopped in at the Frontier Cafe along Route 66 for dinner. The owner was very chatty and when I said I was reporter from Vegas, she told me that some journo had been by doing a big travel piece on the pies of Route 66 pies for, she thought, the Review-Journal. Well, that guy was most likely Roger Naylor and he penned a scrumptious piece on several Route 66 pie stops for the travel section.

What I didn't read from Sunday's paper: The lengthy profiles of Republican Senate candidate John Chachas, one in the R-J and one in the Sun. This is a guy without a prayer in hell of winning who will be gone from the state, never to be heard from again, before sunrise the day after the primary. Pundits can't ignore him because he's got a lot of money and his use of it could impact the race's viable candidates, but who exactly he is will make very little difference to anyone two months hence.

R-J/Sun DID Get a Pulitzer Bump!

In April 2009, the Las Vegas Sun won the city's first-ever Pulitzer Prize. The graceful folks at the Review-Journal took days to offer kudos publicly, of course, and then went about touting Best of the West prizes picked up by the R-J staff as though they held some comparable value.

Here's what R-J Publisher Sherman Frederick never told you: The combined newspapers enjoyed a rather robust circulation bump in the immediate aftermath of his bitter rival's triumph. The Sun is, of course, distributed inside the R-J in a very unusual joint operating agreement.

Today, the Audit Bureau of Circulations released the latest semi-annual circulation statistics for the nation's daily newspapers and, overall, the figures were awful as usual. The nation's dailies on average shed 8.7 percent of their weekday subscribers since last year at this time.

Our market, however, was different. The Review-Journal's Sunday circulation was actually UP 1.2 percent to 197,312 and up 2 percent for Saturdays, too. The weekday circulation did drop, but that was a loss of a mere 563 subscribers for a microscopic 0.3 percent fall. That's almost not worth mentioning. See for yourself:

These figures, however, compare October 2009-March 2010 to October 2008-March 2009. That's important, as I'll show you.

Taken on their own, the data doesn't reflect anything about the Sun's Pulitzer. But this was the first time the ABC folks gave me press access to their full sets of reports, so I blew a hole in my day examining several reports related to the R-J.

I took some things apart and look what I found:

Paid Circ for the R-J/Sun (Sunday/Weekday)

Oct 2008 - March 2009: 194,919/175,439
April-June 2009: 204,570/178,857
July-Sept 2009: 202,903/172,871
Oct 2009- March 2010: 197,312/174,876

See it? The Sun's Pultizer was announced in mid-April 2009. In the three months that followed, the R-J/Sun's Sunday circulation popped back up over 200,000 and enjoyed a 5 percent boost. Daily circulation was up 1.5 percent, too. It stayed aloft for a while but the figures floated back to pre-Pulitzer levels by this reporting period.

Here's where it gets fun and a little confusing, but stick with me. These numbers are reported in six-month blocks and all the data you hear about are the new figures compared to the same periods from the year before.

When the data came out for April-October 2009, the R-J/Sun showed a 6.6 percent circulation rise over April-October 2008. Stephens Media circulation chief Steve Coffeen dismissed that -- weird in itself -- by saying that the newspaper got a bump because it was allowed to include the number of electronic editions sold. That hadn't been allowed in same period the year before.

What Coffeen did NOT do was compare April-September 2009 to the immediate six months prior. The e-editions were included in both of THOSE spans and circulation was, as you saw above, still up a lot.

Instead, while Coffeen strangely opted NOT to point out the good news, publisher Frederick actually told a conservative group that the R-J/Sun's circulation was up ever since he had blasted Sen. Harry Reid for saying he hoped the newspaper would go out of business.

Frederick, as is often the case, was dishonest. That particular Reid brouhaha broke out at the very end of August 2009. By then, the paper's circulation was settling back down to its pre-Pulitzer levels. They've lost about 3 percent of its circulation since then, but it LOOKS like it's up for this reporting period because the current numbers get compared to the six-month period immediately prior to the Pulitzer.

Bottom line: Frederick, who trumpeted circulation gains in his Sunday column in 2008 that actually didn't even exist, hates the reality that there's a market for really good but really expensive journalism. It is actually capable of piquing the curiosity of the public even in this modern age and he's the one sitting on the proof.

So watch out, folks. Frederick may tout the latest gains but the fact is, they were made because of the Sun. He just hasn't finished squandering that boost yet.

A few more interesting tidbits I gleaned from the data:

* The R-J/Sun has the 51st largest circulation in the nation including Puerto Rico on weekdays but on Sundays it falls to No. 60 owing to the facts that (a) the Wall Street Journal and USA Today don't publish on weekends and (b) there are 11 papers with larger circulations on Sundays but not on weekdays. They are located in San Antonio, Nashville, Des Moines, Tampa, Hartford, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh.

* The paper's penetration given its market remains low. Vegas' TV market size, in contrast to its newspaper circulation, is the nation's 42nd biggest. The daily newspaper in Little Rock, Ark., metro-area population: 685,000, is bigger than the one in Vegas, with a metropolitan area population of 1.6 million.

* The Los Angeles Times fell below 1 million subscribers on Sundays, falling 7.6 percent. I suspect that's the first time that's happened in a lot of years.

* The Reno Gazette-Journal, the only other newspaper in the state with audited circulation, had a rough year, losing 11.7 percent of its weekday circulation and 10.1 percent of on Sundays.

Finally, something continues to baffle me: The enormous number of "electronic editions" that are sold in the least likely of newspaper markets. The R-J, for instance, reported it had an average of 26,337 electronic subscribers on weekdays, making up 15 percent of the circulation. That figure was huge -- the New York Daily News had only 15,123, by contrast, or 2.9 percent -- but other papers you'd never expect had fairly large numbers as well.

The Bulletin in Bend, Ore., for example, has a total daily circulation of 43,895, of which 12,462 were electronic editions, 28.4 percent! Who says nobody's making money selling their content on the Web?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pictorial: Taxi Tunnels!

Back in December 2008 when Steve Wynn walked me through the soon-to-open Encore Las Vegas, he made an off-handed remark about how the taxi staging areas at his resorts are decorated to entertain cabbies. It was a little thing and, while I made a mental note to follow up, I never did.

One listener who was fascinated by that notion was Diane Taylor, a writer and weekly contributor to the blog at Living-Las-Vegas.Com. Taylor was the one who won the KNPR auction in February and donated $370 for lunch with me and Miles. Wynn Las Vegas donated the lunch to KNPR, so today Miles and I honored her donation with a terrific visit at Society Encore with her and her husband.

Diane had made one extra request. She wanted to know if the Wynn would show us the taxi tunnels. And so I asked the PR folks and, sure enough, they were happy to oblige.

First, we went down into the Encore tunnel. That's where that sign above leads to. It's a two-lane, 15-car length area with reddish orange walls adorned with flat-screen TVs tuned to ESPN.

Along the walls, too, were these murals. All of them involved drawings of sexy ladies and some sort of subterranean (as opposed to subliminal, natch) message about something related to the resort. For instance, this one...

...features the blonde there saying to nobody in particular: "Botero restaurant features two of famed Columbian artist Fernando Botero's sculptures and three of his paintings."

This one's fun, too:

It's a run-of-the-mill pajama party, see, and the redhead who happened to show up in a French maid outfit and seems to have a duster protruding from her mouth, says, "The high rollers can be found in the private Sky Casino, which is located at the top floor of Encore." Naturally, then, the only reasonable reply from the blonde trying to make the blood rush to her head is, "Did you know that our largest suite is 5,800 square feet and includes three bedrooms, an elevator and butler service?"

I did, actually.

This one took two frames to shoot:

This time, it's a lineup of cocktail waitresses. The bubble on the right says, "It's interesting to know that Mrs. Wynn directs the designs of all staff attire" and the lady to her left asked, "Did you know Mr. Wynn began his career in 1967 as part-owner, slot manager and assistant credit manager of the Frontier hotel?" That's fun, but wouldn't it have been even better if she had said, "Did you know that Mr. Wynn once called the Frontier Hotel the single biggest toilet in Las Vegas?"

Meanwhile, at the pool... woman says, "Inspired by the French Riviera, the pools at Encore are at the heart of the activity" while the ladies to the far right are marveling, "The restaurant Wazuzu features a crystal dragon made of 90,000 crystals and 2,400 flickering lights."

There's also a restroom down there as well as signs indicating that the hotel holds a weekly NFL contest where taxi drivers who pick winning teams win stuff.

Obviously, the point here is to give cabbies something fun to look at and perhaps fill their heads with some good selling points while they wait to pick up passengers. Wynn started the taxi tunnel idea with Bellagio because he didn't like the way that the line of taxis looked at Mirage and Treasure Island.

LVCabChronicles, a Vegas taxi driver who blogs and Tweets about the trade, says that Paris, Riviera and Aria also have tunnels. He says cabbies are generally pleased with the Wynn folks and that "there is no question Mr. Wynn cares about the cabbies," but he also noted when I asked about the downsides:

"They are tunnels. You can get trapped in there, for sure. If business is slow and you commit to that tunnel, you can be in there a while. If a regular calls, I can't get them, I'm stuck. If my shift is over, I'm stuck. Plus, Wynn's driveway in general is way too small for the amount traffic coming and going, which lead to many cabbies hating that place at first. ... Worth noting: multiple companies forbid drivers from pick up at these properties when it rains. It gets very very slick in those tunnels."

Noted. And speaking of the Wynn tunnel, here we go.

The Wynn Las Vegas tunnel is lined with images of race cars. It's not quite the buxom babes spouting sweet somethings about the resort, but whatever. Here are some more shots:

I can sure see how that could get claustrophobic. There is, too, a unisex bathroom down here. LVCabChronicles said the vast majority of taxi stands at Vegas resorts don't have restrooms easily accessible to drivers. None of the other taxi waiting areas, he wrote, are decorated at all.

He also had praise for Bellagio, which "has a nice setup with a picnic table and vending machines and the restroom for drivers. They also have a dry-erase board that indicates the exact number of check ins/outs at that hotel that week which can be useful for drivers."

Hey! That could be useful to nosy journalists, too! Just saying!

Anyhow, that was a fun look-see at something most people don't ever think about or get to view. The Wynn fellow who drove us took us through the underground valet area of the hotel and we passed this:

That's the maintenance and storage area for the Ferraris that are sold at the resort.

Finally, since everyone's so curious, here's a shot of the new Switch Beach Club and Surrender Nightclub being built where Encore's west valet used to be. I was intrigued by the bridge built from Wynn self-park's second level because I wonder if that's going to be a faster way just to get to Encore from that garage without having to walk all the way around the resort.

But mostly, I wondered: What happened to the taxi tunnel for that valet stand?

This week's LVW col: Matt Goss v HN

Here's this week's very controversial column comparing the rollout of Matt Goss to that of Human Nature in Las Vegas. Enjoy. -sf

Why Matt Goss could learn something
from Human Nature


The act was big. Really big. Millions-of-records-sold big. But that was then and that was somewhere else and almost nobody knows about it in the United States, so the act landed in Vegas hoping that America’s entertainment crossroads would provide the introduction necessary for broader success.

That’s the setup, anyway. And in the past year, much to my fascination, we’ve seen that hand being played out in two dramatically different fashions on the Strip, with significantly different outcomes.

The Australian group Human Nature and British singer Matt Goss both largely started from zero in their career second acts after boy-band successes in their homelands. Both even found well-regarded names to stand up behind their incursions onto the Strip scene and a classic musical trope to emulate.

The results, however, have been starkly different. Human Nature is rounding the bases to their first anniversary at the Imperial Palace, having proven to be a rare smashing success during the city’s most challenging economic era. And Goss? He was bounced from the Palms after about five months during which he couldn’t quite fill a tiny lounge, only to relocate to Caesars Palace’s 160-seat Cleopatra’s Barge, which, again, he is not filling up without the help of casino comps.

So what does this tell us? The answer, dear readers, is in the Gossiness of it all.

What, perhaps you ask, is “Gossiness”? Well, nobody exactly knows, except that it is very likely in coming years to be an Urban Dictionary entry synonymous with an act that thinks it can burst on the Vegas scene and expect everyone to revere its awesomeness before it’s actually even bothered to prove its awesomeness.

Read the REST at LasVegasWeekly.Com