business news in context, analysis with attitude

I remember having an eight-track in my car, many years ago. (Those of you to young to know what an eight-track tape is, keep it to yourself.) And I remember when I upgraded to a more useful cassette player. When I got my first in-car CD player, I thought that was pretty cool, and I really like the six-CD player that Mrs. Content Guy has in the Murano, though it always takes me a few minutes to figure out how to get the discs in and out of the slot. I recently drove a rental car with satellite radio, and fell utterly in love with Sirius, which allowed me to listen to Margaritaville Radio for a couple of hours.


Still, while I appreciate and embrace these technological advances, I was startled this week to read in USA Today that automakers are beginning to consider that the next generation of audio systems won't even take CDs.

"Blaupunkt announced it's shipping a second-generation, $160 stereo and AM/FM radio that ditches the CD player in favor of ports for other digital music technologies including Apple iPods and other MP3 players, thumb drives or other USB devices or SD memory cards," the paper writes. "Other makers have competing units that began appearing last year. All are aimed at the growing segment of music-loving auto enthusiasts who carry their tunes in their pockets."

It is somewhat sobering how far things have come just in my lifetime. I was reading the other day how in 1956, there were Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge, and Plymouth models that offered as an option an under-dash phonograph that could handle 45-speed records. It got a little dicey when you went over a bump – shock absorbers weren't as good then, either – but that was considered state-of-the-art.

It is just extraordinary how technology changes basic assumptions, and quickly makes previous innovations obsolete. Not that CD players are going to disappear overnight, but it always seems to be that once this shift start, it accelerates faster than we expect. I fully anticipate that when I have grandchildren (hopefully many, many years from now), they will look at CDs with the same disbelief that my kids look at 33 RPM records.

I am confused by one thing, though. I was looking at a new Miata the other day (just flirting…I'm not ready to turn my back on my 14-year-old ragtop just yet), and I could get an in-dash 6 CD-changer and either an iPod hookup or Sirius satellite radio…but not both.

Not sure why this is the case, but I do know one thing. Like so many American shoppers, I want it all. And being denied it all dopes not sit well with me.

A story in the Boston Herald the other day related how the paper decided to find out if college students could buy acceptable outfits at Walgreen, which has begun offering its own line of Casual Gear clothing. So they gave two young women $50 each and sent them on their way…and these kids came back with an outfit apiece, and were perfectly happy.

How great is this? Next time my daughter says she needs clothes, I'm just going to hand her $50 and drive her to Walgreen.

Of course, she will look at me like I have three heads, but there's nothing new about that.

So let me get this straight.

First, the top management at Macy's, having acquired a number of major department store chains over the years, decided to dump such much-loved institutional identities as Marshall Field's and convert virtually all of its stores to the Macy's banner in order to become a national chain.

And now that sales are off, the company has decided, according to the Wall Street Journal, to ditch "the nationwide cookie-cutter approach in favor of tailoring merchandise at the world's largest department-store chain by sales to local tastes." The gamble now is that while having one banner and infrastructure gave the company greater clout with suppliers, going to a more localized approach will give it more credibility with shoppers … which, at the end of the day, is what retailing is supposed to be about.

There's nothing wrong with an executive team realizing the error of its ways and reversing its course, but one has to wonder if this reflects a true strategic mindset, or more of a tactical approach in the face of an economic downturn that is having a real impact on sales and profits.

But two things seem clear.

One is that when the folks at Macy's made the initial decision, they did it because it was good for them, not good for the customers. A lot of people – me included – argued that time, money and effort would be better spent shoring up brands that might have grown a little tired, rather than tearing them down and replacing them with the Macy's name - which, let's face it, ain't exactly Nordstrom.

The second thing is this. I'm not a native Chicagoan, but even I feel a little ping of regret when I walk down State Street and see that Marshall Field's name has been replaced. It is as if there is something amiss in the universe. I can only imagine how the natives feel.

It caught me by surprise this week to learn that "Bull Durham" is out on DVD with a new 20th anniversary edition.

Has it really been 20 years since the best sports movie ever made came out?

Hard to imagine.

I was reminded of the great lines written by Ron Shelton and uttered by Kevin Costner as Crash Davis when he talks about the difference between being a minor league player and a major leaguer:

"Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium."

Ain't it the truth.

I generally like red wine better than white wine, but one of my favorite wines is Viognier, and the advent of warmer weather is always a good excuse to break out one of the bottles that is sitting chilled in the fridge.

Which is what I did yesterday – enjoying a nice 2006 Cline Viognier from California with a simple dish – scrambled eggs served with a mélange of cheddar, Monterey jack, asadero and queso blanco cheeses, and topped with Trader Joe's terrific salsa verde. Yummm…

Great line from the estimable Gene Robinson, a columnist for the Washington Post, talking about the ongoing Obama-Clinton conflagration in the Democratic party as both candidates seek its presidential nomination:

"It was supposed to be 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington." It's turned into 'Alien vs. Predator'."

Like almost everybody, I get a ton of jokes sent to me via email. Most of them I don't read, and most of the ones I do read aren’t all that funny. But an MNB user sent me this one yesterday, and I laughed out loud.

A new supermarket opened near my house.

It has an automatic water mister to keep the produce fresh. Just before it goes on, you hear the sound of distant thunder and the smell of fresh rain.

When you pass the milk cases, you hear cows mooing and you experience the scent of fresh mowed hay.

In the meat department there is the aroma of charcoal grilled steaks with onions.

When you approach the egg case, you hear hens cluck and cackle, and the air is filled with the pleasing aroma of bacon and eggs frying.

The bread department features the tantalizing smell of fresh baked bread & cookies.

I don't buy toilet paper there any more.

Of course, when I start laughing at supermarket humor, it may be that I've been doing this for too long.

Are you going to FMI in Vegas? If so, drop me a note…and perhaps we can find a moment or two to catch up. It'll be a busy couple of days, as we cover the show not just for MorningNewsBeat, but for our new FoodWireTV project. But it would be great to meet…

A final note, if I may.

It is important for you to know that I never, ever take for granted the support and engagement of the people who read MorningNewsBeat each day. It is, for me, a unique pleasure and responsibility to be part of this community that often seems to have taken on a life of its own.

So whether you send me emails about my taking my daughter on a business trip to Spain last week, or notes that are incredibly supportive concerning yesterday's MNB Radio "mea culpa," I want you to know that I read and think about every one.

There are too many, to be honest, to respond to every one. And in these two cases, at least, I think that to post the emails would be to belabor points and discussions that don't require it.

But I thank you for your thoughts and support.

I'm a lucky guy.

Have a good weekend.


KC's View: