TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — R.I.P. Ed Schultz

If he was gonna do it, Ed Schultz should have expired July 4. It would have fit his sense of theater. After all, he was a football All-America quarterback and in many ways reflected America itself — high achiever, pugilistic, self-centered, generous, mercurial, brilliant, reckless and fearless.

It was one of the few times Ed missed his mark. Then again, maybe he was just being his contrarian self. He didn’t need the Fourth of July. Ed was a walking fireworks display.

By now, there have been miles of copy written by former colleagues, competitors, friends and foes. Sometimes they could be one and the same. He was loved. He was reviled. You couldn’t be neutral on Ed Schultz. Switzerland didn’t exist in his world.

An introduction to Ed Schultz should have been delivered like a tornado warning. He burned more bridges than William Tecumseh Sherman. He never burned mine, although in his final few years, the bridge didn’t get used at all, mostly because I was disappointed when he went to work for R-T America, lending undeserved credibility to the state-funded Russian news operation. But then, so did Larry King. I didn’t call Ed because if the subject came up, I’d have to tell him what I thought.

There’s always been skepticism about Ed’s conversion from a capitalist conservative to capitalist progressive. I never doubted it, and if you’ve met Wendy, his wife, who opened his eyes on their first date at the homeless shelter where she volunteered, you’d get it. Wendy helped Ed discover his better angels. I’ve always thought she was one. Ed enjoyed the irony of being married to a psychiatric nurse.

I’m not sure there’s a definitive truth about Ed Schultz. There are only perspectives. One conversation stands out. Ed was talking quietly about the loss of his parents. “Sometimes I feel like an orphan,” he said.

We met nearly two decades ago when as the Chamber president, I invited him to speak at our annual banquet. During his introduction, I presented him with a muzzle and recounted a discussion with the chamber board about the gift. “Funny …” I said. “But who’s going to put it on him?”

Ed roared when I told the story. He and Wendy and I hit it off over beers afterward. Soon, I was guest hosting KFGO’s “News & Views” from a remote studio at the Ashley Tribune.

Shortly after he launched his national radio show, he called with literary agent Al Lowman on the line. There was a book deal in the works, but Ed didn’t want to work with some hot shot New York writer. He wanted me, and unless he got me, there would be no deal. They wanted a manuscript in six weeks. Six weeks! I balked, which drove Lowman crazy. What was it with these stubborn prairie dwellers? If I remember right, Wendy finally interceded and I signed on.

The way Ed told it was, “I said to Al, ‘You think the best radio talker in the country comes from North Dakota, right? Why can’t the best writer come from North Dakota?’” I’d like to believe this is one time Ed wasn’t exaggerating.

When I look back at “Straight Talk From the Heartland,” the first of two books we did together, Ed was prophetic about the direction of the country. He had remarkable political instincts. He’d tell me something I thought was outrageous and impossible, but it would come to pass. I started listening closer.

Suddenly the world is a whole lot less interesting.

Heart problems, they say. I don’t think so.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — There’s No Business Like (Halftime) Show Business

One thing about the Super Bowl is that if you’re not disappointed by the outcome of the game, you can be disappointed by the halftime show. This year it was Justin Timberlake’s turn to disappoint.

Part of the problem is that we’ve set the bar for the game’s show unreasonably high. Also, everybody is a critic, myself included.

To begin, there was Timberlake’s outfit: a camo suit, a T-shirt with an image of two deer on it, a red kerchief and, earlier, a fringe leather jacket, There’s your wardrobe malfunction, right there! A nod to Minnesota’s hunting season, perhaps?

Then there was the sound. To say the least, muddy. Part of the problem might have been the new stadium’s acoustics, which the Star Tribune calls notoriously “bouncy.”

The show had its moments. The “Suit & Tie” marching band segment was killer. Turning Minneapolis streets into a purple glyph electronically was not.

What JT’s show didn’t have (besides the rumored Prince hologram) was a finish. A fan selfie? Really? That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?

I like Justin Timberlake, I really do. A lot. He’s a great entertainer and very, very funny. But I don’t think he was well-served by the producers of this show. It wasn’t a train wreck. We’ve had enough of those lately. It was just a little disappointing. And like I say, everybody is a critic.

It’s just too bad Prince himself wasn’t around in his hometown to outdo his own 2007 Super Bowl show. He would have, too. That would have been something. There wouldn’t have been anything left of the new stadium once he got through with it.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — What’s My Line?

Even with hundreds of television channels, HBO and all the rest to watch, and Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to stream, sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be “much” on TV.

So, every once in awhile, Ginny and I like to watch “What’s My Line?” The 1950s and ’60s game show is seen currently in all its glorious black and white-ishness on the Buzzr network.

Many of us watched it originally Sunday nights at 9:30 on CBS as something of a ritual. One last weekend hurrah before another week of school would begin the next morning. Seeing it today reminds me just how much television has changed and how good it once was, even in its simplicity.

The game show was moderated by John Charles Daly. His day job the rest of the week was that of radio and television reporter and anchor. No slouch in that department either, he was the first national correspondent to deliver the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, among many other feathers in his cap.

The panel was anchored by Bennett Cerf, the founder and publisher of Random House, who introduced the world to fine literature by the likes of William Faulkner and works like “Atlas Shrugged.”

Arlene Francis was a New York actress better known perhaps for hosting radio and television programs, at one point becoming “the first lady of television.”

Dorothy Kilgallen was a hugely popular syndicated columnist who wrote about entertainment and politics. Rumors abounded at the time of her untimely death that she had information about the assassination of President John Kennedy. Questions about how she died linger yet today with a recent biography.

A fourth chair was filled with a rotating cast of panelists including Fred Allen, Steve Allen and others.

All of them were smart, urbane and witty. Mostly smart.

“What’s My Line?” was nothing if not classy. It made an effort to be. The men sometimes wore tuxedoes. The women made their “entrances” at the beginning of the show usually wearing evening gowns and often gloves.

Although they were funny, the panel seemed to take the game seriously.

The game itself was simple. After guests would “sign in” at a blackboard, they would whisper their “line” or occupation to Mr. Daly. Then panelists would ask a series of yes or no questions. “Does your work involve a product?” “Would this product be found in most homes?” For each no, guests would get $5.

Occupations were usually off-beat. A female big game hunter. The father of the Fischer quints. A clearly overweight female packager of “reducing” pills. Often the panel would come up with the occupations with just a few questions asked.

For the “mystery guest” segment, blindfolded panelists would try to guess the identities of people the likes of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Jerry Lewis and Colonel Sanders who would try to disguise their famous voices. Often they were movie and television stars “in town” to promote their latest projects. Usually, identifying them wasn’t much of a challenge for the panel, either.

Put all together, “What’s My Line?” was SOMETHING. It had a certain quality that’s hard to define and one that doesn’t exist much in television today. It was popular with people across the board. It was the longest-running game show in prime-time television.

Although several reincarnations of the show were done as late as the mid-1970s, I’d like to see a new version of “What’s My Line?”

My dream panel would include Craig Ferguson, Paula Poundstone (even though she already does the NPR game show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me”) and, maybe, Salmon Rushdie. Somebody like that. My first choice for moderator would be Peter Jennings. Since he is not available, maybe Charlie Rose.

On second thought, “What’s My Line?” might best be remembered as what it was. Something special.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — ‘The Things They Carried’

Like millions of others, I’ve now watched all 10 episodes of the moving Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary, “The Vietnam War” on PBS. My thoughts are filled with the stories and images in this film and with my personal Vietnam War memories.

After we’ve watched each compelling episode, my husband and I talked about his Vietnam War memories. He served in the U.S. Navy and my father in the U.S. Army.

This photo was taken in 1966, on my family’s last day in Okinawa. We were at flying back to the United States, via Tokyo, on to my dad’s next assignment at Fort Bliss, Texas.

The war started the year I was born, and I have vivid memories of watching the fall of Saigon on our television set in North Dakota, where my parents had settled upon my father’s retirement. My older brother was soon to enter the Army and he would not have to risk death in the jungles of Asia. Every day, we watched the horrible news from Vietnam and then watched episodes of the TV show “M*A*S*H.” All the years I was growing up, we subscribed to Life magazine and even as a little girl, I read each issue.

This photo was taken of my father in the ’60s. The other is of my parents, at a military ball, with our neighbors, the Ray Morrisons, when we lived on Okinawa. I remember watching my mother put on her lovely gown, secure in the knowledge that my parents were so beautiful and so brave.

One of the thousands of images that caught my eye was a scan of household products of the era. My mother must have used several hundred cans of this spray starch on my father’s uniforms over the years.

I knew much about the images I saw on my TV these past two weeks, but I learned so much in the poignant stories of the individuals who were featured, especially the Vietnamese people. I will never forget Karl Marlantes, Vincent Okamoto, Eva Jefferson Patterson, Matt Harrison and all of the others. I grew up with people just like them and have known them all of my life. I knew the Crocker story would end in tragedy, but I still cried when his mother and sister shared their memories.

One of the people featured in the film is the writer Tim O’Brien, a soldier of the Vietnam War. I had the privilege of hosting O’Brien when he was at the Dickinson (N.D.) State University as a visiting author for the Heart River Writers’ Circle, a literary series of which I was the co-coordinator.

The night he gave a reading from his book, “The Things They Carried,” the rapt audience was forever changed by his courage and his powerful words. The students studying the literature and history of the Vietnam War received a very special gift that night. O’Brien signed a copy of his book for my husband, Jim, and it is in our collection here at Red Oak House.

O’Brien had the last word in the film, in the episode entitled “The Weight of Memory”. If you’d like to learn more about him, you can read this article and review these learning resources from PBS.

And then there is the music of the film, a haunting accompaniment to the story that captured the times in which we lived, both period songs and original music, a full listing of which can be found here.

“Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 10-part, 18-hour documentary series, ‘The Vietnam War,’ tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides — Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam. Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally remastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th century, historic television broadcast, evocative home movies and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. ‘The Vietnam War’ features more than 100 iconic musical recordings from greatest artist of the era and haunting original music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo-Yo Ma.”

The episodes of this extraordinary film are now streaming.

I freely admit that I have a penchant for guys in uniforms. And I’ll just leave it that I have a visceral understanding of PTSD.

At Sunday morning Mass, I said a private prayer for all of these people, for my father and for my husband (pictured here on the flight deck of the USS Oriskany, which was cruising the Gulf of Tonkin), and a prayer for peace.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Mr. Warmth

Today is Don Rickles’ birthday. It’s also my mother’s birthday, but that’s another story and another post.

Don Rickles died a month ago. If you’re like me and you always wanted see him live but never did and you feel cheated, the next best thing may be to watch the terrific John Landis documentary “Mr. Warmth.”

Johnny Carson was the first to call him Mr. Warmth. It stuck. The Spanish matador music that signaled his entrance on “The Tonight Show” also meant we were all in for something good. Really good.

Like no one else, Don Rickles could say the most outrageous things to people in his audiences and somehow get away with it. Really, truly outrageous things about race, religion, war. And he kept saying them for almost 60 years. Few took offense. Many regarded a Don Rickles insult as a badge of honor.

He was also a pretty darn good actor, too. He did some good movies like “The Rat Race” with Tony Curtis and some bad (but popular) ones like the “Beach Party” movies.

He attracted friends of all ages, from Bob Newhart to Jimmy Kimmel.

He never stopped working, even at age 90.

It’s all in the documentary. Netflix it. Trust me on this one.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — A Poignant Flood Story

This has never been a very easy story for me to tell. For that reason, I haven’t told it very often.

It had been a very long, very hard day. There had been a lot of April days like that during the 1997 Red River Valley flood. They were long days whether or not you were a television reporter.

It was about a week after the worst of the flooding had hit Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. That day we had covered President Clinton’s visit to Grand Forks Air Force Base, where hundreds and hundreds of people — with nowhere else to go — were being housed. It was late evening. I had talked with Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens, who was halfway back from Grand Forks by now, into returning to the base so she could be part of a television news “live shot.”

I was shot. I was ready to go home. In this case, home was a camper parked along with a half-dozen or so others in the farmyard of a couple of our friends near Thompson, N.D. Most of us at WDAZ still weren’t able to return to our actual homes because of the high water.

As I was getting ready to leave, a young man, probably in his mid-20s, approached me and said something like, “Will you please help me? I’m trying to find my girlfriend. It’s very important.”

He wasn’t the only one trying to find someone. Hundreds of people, probably more, had been displaced from family and friends in the confusion of evacuating Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the largest evacuation of people we were told later since the Civil War.

With the internet and even cell phones in their infancy then, in the most primitive way imaginable, we had been reading messages on television, practically around the clock for several days, trying to help people reconnect.

I asked this man to write down his message to his girlfriend on a piece of paper, which I put in my pocket. Somewhat reluctantly on my way “home,” I made a stop at the station and handed the note to one of the anchors in the studio. I didn’t think any more about it.

A week later, I was back at the air base, where hundreds of people were still living. The same man again found me. This time he said, “I want to thank you for helping me locate my girlfriend. I was able to find her about an hour before my father’s funeral.”

He had told me it was important. He just hadn’t told me “why” it was important.

In the months and years since, I have come to believe that that simple, little act, which required no talent whatsoever on my part, may have been the single-most important thing I’ve ever done on television. And with no intention of trying to be overly dramatic, I also believe that in some way it may be one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Meet Me At The Bates Motel

“Bates Motel” has been one of my very favorite guilty television pleasures for the past couple of years. The A&E series is a prequel, of course, to arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular film, “Psycho.”

I saw “Psycho” back in the 1960s, when I was way too young. Apparently, they didn’t check IDs back then. Anyway, I was too young to have an ID.

Suffice it to say, after seeing the movie I was scared sleepless, maybe for more than one night. I wasn’t the only one, either. Grown women — and men —  stopped taking showers, presumably switching to baths, especially in motels and hotels after “Psycho” came out.

The A&E series has been a lot of fun. We learn a great deal about what brought Norman to his current state. Not without his problems, Norman has been in and out of a mental institution, for instance. And his relationship with his mother has been “complicated.”

It was a little disappointing to learn that, unlike the classic film, “Bates Motel” wasn’t shot on the Universal Studios lot in Hollywood, but rather the Bates Motel and the Psycho house were recreated outside Vancouver, B.C., where the series was shot. It’s cheaper that way, I guess.

In fact, with production of the show’s fifth and final season ended, the motel and house have already been taken down. So have another house and motel at Universal Orlando where several “Psycho sequels” were filmed years ago. The orginals remain as one of the most interesting parts of the Universal Studios Tour, however. The “Jaws” shark and the parting of “The 10 Commandments” sea are just not all that exciting from the tour’s tram.

Any who, the current series is hotting up, what with Marion Crane, no less, being introduced in the latest episode. Just in case you don’t know, Marion Crane is the Janet Leigh character who’s life is cut short, so to speak, in the original movie.

Pop star Rihanna plays Marion (beautifully), now a notary public in somewhat questionable, modern-day Seattle real estate firm.

If he weren’t dead himself, Hitch probably wouldn’t approve of the casting. He preferred to torment blondes like Janet and Tippi Hedren.

Unable to get a promotion or even a raise, Marion decides to walk away with a briefcase filled with $400,000 in cash — up from $40,000 in “Psycho” — that just happens to be floating around the office. She really needs the money, too, to pay for her very expensive business suits and the Mazda Miata convertible she drives.

We just know she’s headed for the Bates Motel. She makes it there, too. We know this because in the teaser for next week’s episode, we see her having a nice cup of tea with Norman in the motel office.

My advice, Marion, after you’ve finished your tea, go straight to bed. Skip the shower.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Nancy O’Dell Is A Class Act

For me, about the only good thing to come out of the whole sorry, sordid Donald Trump/Billy Bush/”Access Hollywood” tape affair is that I have new respect for Nancy O’Dell.

O’Dell is the anchor of “Entertainment Tonight.” She is clearly talented, classy and — even by Donald Trump standards — beautiful. But until this past weekend, I’ve always been a bit ambivalent toward her, good at her job as she is.

There are two more characters in this piece. Bush is the other boy on the “Access Hollywood” bus. And Donald Trump is Donald Trump.

Nancy O’Dell is the Nancy that Trump is heard admitting on the tape to attempting and failing to seduce. The talk gets worse. Much, much worse. We’ve all heard it.

In the debate Sunday night, candidate Trump called it “locker room talk.” “They’re just words, folks,” he said. Words that sounded a bit empty to many of us, to say the least.

There has been no apology to O’Dell from Trump and none that I’ve seen from Bush, who “added” to the bad boy talk. Bush is likely to lose his “Today” gig and rightly so.

It is Nancy’s words that show character. In two statements following this sleazy affair, without naming Trump and without drawing further attention to herself, she says “there is no room for objectification of women, or anyone for that matter, not even in the locker room.” For the sake of children, especially girls, she also says “the conversation needs to change because no female, no person, should be the subject of such crass comments, whether or not cameras are rolling.”

Nancy O’Dell has been known for years as an entertainment reporter. I think she would make a fine reporter. Period.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Off-The-Air Thoughts About The Art Of On-The-Air Interviews

Have you ever just turned on the TV and watched — really watched — how the cable news channels discuss issues? I’ve been paying close attention lately, and I sure hope our youth of today are doing the same … and see exactly how the supposed “adults in the room” go about it.

Intelligent discussion and debate? Not-t-t!

The first thing you’ll note is that when candidates’ spokespeople are asked to comment, the program’s moderator either doesn’t have a microphone cutoff switch or has never been taught to use it.

The sad thing is that those who come on the air to speak for the intelligent candidate — not Trump — usually get it right. When they do, the spokesperson for the opposing candidate  — that would be Trump —  jumps in, interferes and tries to divert attention away from the legitimate subject to something else.

If they were going one-on-one, that rude and juvenile approach might be appropriate. But when yap, shout and hurl insults, the moderator ought to cut their mic off!

In viewing interviews of Trump’s various representatives, you’ll note a pattern. When factual matters are raised, his people jump in to talk over both the moderator and the other panelists. That’s just wrong. It simply makes the media look foolish. The audience gets lost in the uproar. No one should accept that as legitimate debate and legitimate interviewing.

Broadcast network news is not much better. It may, in fact, be worse. Take your Sunday morning news shows, where the hosts usually interview candidates separately and one-on-one. Most spokespeople and candidates do rather well in this format … except for the Trumpster type.

The hosts routinely catch Trump with his political and factual pants down. Once they snare him and go in for the kill, though, he starts interrupting: “excuse me. Excuse me! EXCUSE ME!” Then he diverts the subject to something else completely. The worst part is that the media news hosts let him get away with it. And then they don’t follow up.

This DJT tactic, almost always successful, is going to give me a stroke if the dummies don’t work up the courage to take him on.

Here’s how I’d run the interview:

Me: Mr. Trump let’s talk about Trump University and your personal involvement. The ads stated that you would “personally select and vouch for the ability of the instructors.” Did you?

Trump (interrupting): Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me … thousands of people signed affidavits that they were satisfied with ….”

Then I’d cut off his mic.

Me: If you don’t understand the question, say so. Don’t divert us to another issue because every time you do, I’m going to cut off your mic. Understood? So … did you vouch for ….”

Trump (interrupting): I told you thousands of …”

Then I’d cut off both mics. The audio feed goes dead.

Me (off the air): Listen, you goddammed moron, was I that difficult to understand? Either answer the question I asked, admit you don’t know the answer, or shut the hell up.

Trump: Do you know who I am? I am the richest man on the planet! You can’t talk to me like that. I have friends in high places! I’ll cost you your job.

Me: Oh yeah? Well, Mark Cuban is a friend of mine, he’s worth more than you, and he says you’re a damned lying jerk. Mr. Trump, we’re running short of time. We’ve had our mics shut off more than they’ve been on, and my sponsors are going to get irritated. Did ….” (interrupted by Trump)

Trump: Why won’t you let me talk about my affidavits?

Me (still off air): I’m running this show, Donny. As of this moment, you are permanently off air. (Then I’d instruct Security to remove Trump from the studio.)

Me (back on the air): Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the delay and the fact that Mr. Trump had another commitment … to a mental institution. There’s always the slight possibility that when he’s released, he’ll return. Perhaps by then, he’ll have learned how to define a question and formulate an answer to it. We might even invite his wives and girlfriends and the lady who has just sued him for rape to the show, just to make the show entertaining. Have a great weekend!

Now, on a completely different note …

I have a 12- or 16-foot fishing boat that had a 9.5 horsepower Johnson outboard as power. “Had.” Last week, on a very windy day, one of my grandchildren took a friend out for a ride in it. Once they realized how high the waves were, they decided to change direction and get the heck out of there.

Now, I wasn’t in the boat, but this is what I’ve been told. Those waves were very big, and the boat kept bobbing up and down. On one of its upswings, the motor took a downswing — right off the back. My grandson, who is lucky he is alive and still has all his parts, valiantly grabbed the handle (which, by the way, was still running because it hadn’t yet come loose from the gas line).

Thank God, he wasn’t injured. But needless to say, said the motor tore loose from said gas line and departed from said boat to land somewhere on the bottom of said lake.

The poor kids walked the entire shoreline from the spot where the incident occurred to our cottage, where they stumbled in. We hopped on my pontoon, crossed the lake and pulled the fishing boat back to our dock.

Next day, a search party equipped with drag lines went out to seek the body of the late motor … no luck.

Mostly as a joke, I posted the story on Facebook and asked if anyone had diving experience. To my absolute amazement, some certified divers with locator equipment live on my lake … and they have volunteered to see if they can find it, gratis..

I’m told that since this is a small motor, chances are better than 50:50 it might work if we find it and clean it up. I can only hope. I’ve owned that old motor longer than any other mechanical item to my name, and while it’s old, it really worked. Stay tuned for a report on the results of the salvage operation.

And one more story in honor of Independence Day:

Many moons ago, on one fine July 4 evening, with the moon shining bright reflected on the still surface of the lake … it was a perfect evening for fireworks. My eldest son, who shall remain nameless (let’s just call him Greg), was on the end of our dock along with his brother, our two sons-in-law and a big box of fireworks.

My wife noticed Greg walking off the dock with a funny look on his face, followed by one son-in-law, then taking off on a dead run, just as our second son-in-law bailed into the lake. It seemed something — a punk, perhaps — had fallen into the fireworks bag and set it on fire. Fireworks starting exploding in every direction! Youngest son, who shall remain nameless (Ron), beat everyone to safety.

Things happened so fast that we oldsters didn’t have a chance to do or say anything till it was all over. Glad no one was hurt … but it was one of the best fireworks displays we’ve ever witnessed.

I’m not into commercials, but if you want to watch first-class national interviews, watch CNN’s “Reliable Sources” — the best of the best every week. Until next week — amen.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — The Best Or Worst Of Times? Stay Tuned

It would be tempting to say these are the worst of times for traditional media ― for the long-established newspapers and broadcasters who come to mind first when media fortunes are tossed about. Logical, but not quite certain: You never know what’s just around the corner.

Nevertheless, the news grows ever more dismal for our mass media. While newspapers’ dwindling fortunes are played out mostly behind the scenes ― they hate covering their own bad news ― television’s struggles are out there for all to see …

Or not see, if you (like we) subscribe to DirecTV. The latest mini-apocalypse in our corner of the planet occurred at 11:59 p.m. June 1, when the two-headed TV powerhouse of Forum Communications Co., WDAY-TV and WDAZ-TV pulled its programming off the satellite.

Despite ominous crawls across the bottom of our screen, we ― and, perhaps, a large contingent of fellow subscribers and local advertisers ― were taken by surprise. We’d doubted that the leading ABC affiliate in our market would scorn 15 percent of its viewers (according to its own numbers) in a corporate game of “chicken.”

Wrong. Our home and some 25,000 others in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota were caught up in a rarefied power struggle between big (in local terms) and much, much bigger corporations.

Remember playing “chicken”? Dreamed up by high school boys seeking to prove their mettle, this face-off pitted two drivers guiding steeds of steel and rubber in a headlight-to-headlight duel on a lightly supervised back road. The foolhardier idiot who kept his pedal to the metal won … if and when his opponent flinched first and swerved.

To those of us who watch ― rather than make ― TV, that seems like what we’re caught up in today: an increasingly shrill game of “chicken,” pitting the equivalent of a 1949 Studebaker half-ton pickup against the space shuttle Atlantis … or perhaps a hardy Hobbit standing up to Godzilla.

At stake, largely unknown outside the broadcast industry, are the fees local stations are paid by the cable and satellite systems for the right to retransmit their product ― the same programming distributed over the air for free, from the old days of rooftop antennas and rabbit ears right up to digital gadgets for HD.

How times have changed! From the earliest days of cable TV, broadcasters lobbied relentlessly for laws to require cable to carry the local signals. Without that coverage, TV stations’ ability to sell advertising would have evaporated.

When they finally won their battle in 1992, local broadcasters got everything they wanted … and more. Along with the mandate to carry local channels, the law added one very special clause. The cable (and now satellite) companies were required to obtain the locals’ express permission to retransmit their broadcasts.

Thus opened the door to an all-new source of profits for local stations. Their financial model previously offered programming to the masses at no charge whatsoever ― using their eyeballs, so to speak, to entice businesses to sell to their audience by purchasing advertising. Ad sales were expected to cover all of the costs of their programs and production.

Now, though, broadcasters could negotiate for a slice of the money these newfangled cable guys collected from customers. In other words, they could now get paid for what people with had been receiving over the airwaves absolutely free.

And time passed. Satellite dishes sprouted on roofs and balconies. A second cable provider, Midcontinent, began to vie with Cable ONE in more and more of the metro market. AT&T swallowed both DirecTV and Dish Network. Prices rose; channel choices mushroomed; and local TV stations faced competitive threats they could never have imagined in the days of “I Love Lucy.”

So, today, picture our two valiant opponents locked in the local battle for broadcast bucks: The lion-hearted broadcasting behemoth of the Red River Valley … versus the largest broadcast satellite service provider, DirecTV. The market for WDAY and WDAZ is estimated at about 200,000 households. AT&T’s DirecTV has 35 million subscribers. Even with regional cables and Dish riding shotgun, plus those over-the-air antennas on sale at Walmart, it’s hard to give even odds for this particular bout.

But these are desperate times. Never underestimate the valor of a determined underdog. And so, 11:59 p.m. June 1, channels 6 and 8 went dark on DirecTV. Our hometown metaphoric David, Forum Communications, had reached the end of its patience with the global Goliath. And it did have one nice stone to fit into its slingshot. The Golden State Warriors would play the Cleveland Cavaliers the next night in Game 1 of the NBA finals, broadcast on (drum roll) ABC.

But life goes on. Basketball fans across the valley grumbled, but they ganged up with friends who had other providers … or headed for happy sports bars.

Local news mavens got their fix of Kevin Wallevand via simulcasts on WDAY Radio and the station’s own website. John Wheeler’s legion caught his forecasts via WDAY’s StormTracker app. “General Hospital” and “Bachelorette” addicts could keep up by streaming them online.

And as for the substantial and worrisome segment who are already lost to traditional broadcast TV … they never even noticed. A good chunk of younger adults no longer even own televisions.

Meanwhile, the advertisers who continue to pay mightily to reach customers on the ‘DAY and ‘DAZ airwaves lost about 15 percent of the viewers — DirecTV subscribers — from the audiences they’re paying to reach. They, too, have multitudes of other choices.

This kind of standoff has become increasingly common across the country. Local broadcasters are facing the same competitive squeeze that has brought newspapers to their knees. There are just too many ways to gobble news and entertainment, but only the same old 24 hours in the day.

The owner of WDAY and WDAZ, of course, is working hard to convince us they’re the good guys. I hope they win. Underdogs are my very favorite breed of hound. But the fact is that they ― not DirecTV ― made the decision to pull the plug.

Forum Communications would have dissatisfied DirecTV subscribers use this lemon to make lemonade: Switch to CableOne, Midcontinent or Dish Network. But there are two big old flies circling that jug. One is that many (most?) of us are under contract and would pay hefty fees to jump ship early, even if we wanted to.

And here’s the other: Just because DirecTV is the villain in today’s retransmission-fee struggle, there’s absolutely nothing to prevent the same hassle from reoccuring with the others. This isn’t the first time. Remember when KXJB-TV, may it rest in peace, sat out most of 2009 from the cable lineup? Last year, a breakdown between the Dish Network and a media group with 129 stations blocked them in 36 states. Cox Cable blacked out local stations in nine markets on the eve of the 2016 Super Bowl, driving their owner to cry “uncle.”

This wrestling match is not a one-off, and none of the alternatives is even close to being a sure bet.

By the time you read this, WDAY and WDAZ may be back on DirecTV. Or maybe not. One way or the other, the Hanson household budget ― and your own ― will continue to pay the very same monthly fees. Businesses seeking to reach us will still be charged full freight for ads that many in their theoretical target audience will have never see. And a growing share of us will simply be moving on to the Web.

It’s the paradox of this golden age of communication. While technology leaps thoughtlessly forward, delivering dazzling surprises and delights, some familiar faces we’ve long trusted are being left behind in the digital dust … reduced to squabbling over the remnants of their proud, storied traditions.

These are the best of times for new forms of media. And for the rest ― would it be fair to conclude these are the worst? The landscape is changing before our eyes. Stay tuned.