John Damschroder

The News-Messenger 8/30/2016
Most of my working hours nowadays are spent at Root’s Poultry, working alongside brothers Mark and Mike in the third generation family-owned business started by my grandfather, Wayne A. Root, who had lost his job with the telephone company in the midst of the Great Depression.

Now, 86 years after the fear and trauma I assume grandpa must have felt over the loss of a good job, the financial needs of a growing young family and the high uncertainty and across-the-board responsibility for the brand new business, I marvel at the role serendipity plays in our economic lives.

Each day, multiple steamers are filled multiple times with the raw birds that will end up in a shredded chicken sandwich, but not before the precious wings are cut from each chicken and saved for a more profitable use — the sports bar favorite, wings.

When I last worked at Root’s Poultry as a college kid home on breaks from Ohio University, wings were a cheap and undesirable part of the chicken. But as a ripple effect of Bill Rasmussen’s 1978 bout with unemployment, my old family business changed and so did the broadcasting world I entered upon graduation from OU.

Rasmussen was the communications director for the New England Whalers hockey team who had the post-firing idea that a cable channel devoted to Connecticut sports could find enough audience and advertisers to keep him afloat financially. Due diligence revealed that satellite delivery of the regional sporting events and talk shows would be much cheaper than the prevailing system of telephone land lines, and suddenly his little regional cable idea had a national footprint.

Pure happenstance, a recent firing and new, underused technology led to the creation of the ESPN channel, now known far and wide as the “worldwide leader in sports.” It wasn’t long after the 1978 birth of the first all-sports channel that sports bars, a concept built around multiple TV’s showing nothing but sports, started popping up like dandelions after a spring rain.

The narrow sports focus of these ubiquitous bars covers nearly any competitive athletic event known to man. The narrow beer-dominated beverage options are broad enough to cover dozens of brands, and the menu staple of the once-lowly chicken wing comes with a dozen sauce choices. What makes the wing king is the many players in the sports bar business who all have the same programming and the same beer choices. It’s the perception of the best wings that usually decides which sports bar will earn a customer’s patronage and loyalty.

Now, many days as I stand cutting chicken wings from birds heading to the shredder, I think about how the scarce broadcast resources available when I entered the industry turned into unlimited options. Even grade school children today are in possession of mobile devices capable of bringing them video content from the vastness of the internet.

There are TV stations once valued as steady growth businesses, immune to the effect of bad management, that are worth far more money going dark and helping the government shift the spectrum space to cell phones.
Now I try to imagine the new opportunities that will ripple from this change in dominant media technology, from TV to wireless internet, and what will be the next ESPN that can transform a community and create thousands of jobs as the sports broadcaster did for Bristol, Connecticut.

I wonder what seemingly insignificant resource, like the chicken wing, will get cast in a new light because of a serendipitous ripple that changes everything. Being alert to the opportunity could change everything in Fremont. And it’s economic adversity that normally gives the process a push toward prosperity.