Broadband, Pandemic Powers Charter Q2


Cable operator adds video subs in period fueled by COVID-19-related offers

Programs aimed at keeping residential customers connected online during the nationwide pandemic helped fuel growth at Charter Communications in Q2.

Charter said it added 102,000 video subscribers in Q2, a reversal of the 150,000 video customers it lost in the prior year but entirely the result of programs like the Federal Communications Commission Keep America Connected pledge and others, where providers agreed not to disconnect customers for non-payment.

Charter said that 149,000 video customers signed up in Q2 as part of the FCC Keep America Connected pledge and 12,000 joined through its Remote Education Offer. The company said nearly 50% of REO customers chose to subscribe to other services like video, voice and mobile and were billed for those products.The REO program expired on June 30, and Charter said 90% of cumulative connects through that program have retained service through July 27.

On a conference call with analysts, Charter chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge said regardless of how those customers came to the company, they are acting like any other subscriber that joined via a traditional promotion.

“From a profile perspective they look just like our regular customer base and they are just like our regular customer base,” Rutledge said. “They very much are behaving like all customers we create. We look at that offer in many ways as a conventional offer with a broadband benefit, but it brought in real customers that subscribe and act like existing customers.”

However, he didn’t expect to see continued video growth, adding that it was a combination of the pandemic which kept people stuck in their homes and in front of their TV sets, and the programs.

“The secular trends for video haven’t changed,” Rutledge said.

Despite subscriber gains, Charter said video revenue was down 0.4% for the period to $4.4 billion, which the company said was due to a higher mix of lower-priced video packages and the waiver overdue customer balances.

The FCC program also was a big factor in broadband gains. Charter said it added about 825,000 residential and business broadband subscribers in the quarter, but added that about 600,000 residences and 100,000 businesses applied for the FCC program, and at its peak, 208,000 residences and 14,000 businesses would have been disconnected for non-payment. About 30% of those Keep America Connected customers’ bills were current and more than 60% were making partial or full payments. Charter said that to help those customers with overdue balances, it waived $76 million residential, $6 million business and $3 million of mobile receivables in the quarter.

Charter also said it added 325,000 wireless customers in the period, ending the quarter with 1.7 million Spectrum Mobile subscribers.

The subscriber growth helped fuel a 3.1% lift in total revenue to $11.7 billion. Adjusted EBITDA rose 7.3% to $4.5 billion.

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Charges dismissed in case against Tennessee football’s Darel Middleton

The charges in the case against Tennessee defensive lineman Darel Middleton have been dismissed, according to online court records.

Middleton had been scheduled for an August court date stemming from his February arrest on misdemeanor charges of domestic assault and public intoxication.

“He is an excellent student-athlete, and all charges against Mr. Middleton have been dismissed,” Gregory P. Isaacs, Middleton’s lawyer, told Knox News when contacted about the case.

Middleton, 23, faced allegations that he twice shoved his girlfriend to the ground, causing her to scrape her knee. He was arrested after an officer responded to a call at 2:44 a.m. Feb. 29 for an incident that allegedly occurred in an alley behind Walgreens on Cumberland Avenue. 

Middleton was jealous of one of his girlfriend’s male friends, became angry and began fighting with one of his own male friends, according to an arrest warrant. Middleton twice shoved his girlfriend after she intervened, according to the arrest warrant.

When police located Middleton at The Standard at Knoxville apartments, near Cumberland Avenue, he smelled of alcohol and had “blood shot eyes and slurred speech,” the arrest warrant stated.

Middleton apologized in a note he posted on Twitter on March 2.

“I am learning to take responsibility for my actions,” Middleton wrote. “No matter what my intent may have been, I was wrong in my actions. I have come to realize that alcohol was an influence on my actions. Alcohol is not a problem for me in regards of how much, how often, etc.

“I realize it is a problem if it can cause me to act in a way (that is) not in my best interest. For that, I am seeking Alcohol Counseling.”

Middleton made his initial court appearance in March. Days later, he participated in spring practice. Tennessee had just two spring practices before they were halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 6-foot-7, 305-pound Middleton is a junior-college transfer who played in high school at Oak Ridge. He played in all 13 games last season, including six starts, during his first season with the Vols. He figures to again be a prominent piece on Tennessee’s defensive line.

In 2018, he made 29 tackles for East Mississippi Community College and helped lead EMCC to an undefeated national championship.

Middleton made 28 tackles last season and blocked an extra point against Kentucky, a play that proved important to the Vols’ 17-13 victory.

Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at blake.toppmeyer@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake’s subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.

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AG Barr Hails House Bill Banning Warrant-Proof Encryption


Invokes pandemic, child sexual exploitation

Invoking child sexual abuse and the pandemic, Attorney General Bill Barr is praising the introduction of a bill that would require tech companies to give law enforcement access to encrypted data. 

It is an issue AGs from both the Obama and Trump Administrations have hammered Apple over. 

Related: AG Barr Again Calls for Access to iPhones 

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) has introduced the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, which would disallow warrant-proof encryption. It is a companion to a similar Senate bill introduced by Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). 

Tech companies–Apple is the poster-company–have resisted building encryption back doors into their devices.  

“I applaud Representative Wagner for introducing this critical lawful access legislation. Although strong encryption is vital, we cannot allow the tech industry to use encryption that blinds law enforcement and prevents it from thwarting or investigating serious crimes and national security threats, including terrorist plots, cyber attacks, and sexual exploitation,” said Barr.   

Related: Barr Says Warrant-Proof Encryption Aids Sexual Exploitation 

The danger is particularly great for children, especially during this time of coronavirus restrictions when children are spending more time online. “Survivors of child sexual abuse and their families have pleaded with technology companies to do more to prevent predators from exploiting their platforms to harm children. Unfortunately, these companies have not done enough, which is why this legislation is needed.” 

“Bad actors, especially child predators and human traffickers, have taken full advantage of warrant-proof encryption and other technological advances to hide their criminal activities from law enforcement at the expense of innocent victims,” said Wagner and Graham in a joint statement. “It is time tech companies stand with criminal investigators and the public to make clear they are committed to rooting out perpetrators who use their services to commit horrific crimes.” 

The law would require tech companies to help law enforcement get access to data if they had a warrant, encourage developing strong encryption that still allows for such access, and training law enforcement on how to access such data. 

“I am confident that the tech industry can design strong encryption that allows for lawful access by law enforcement,” said Barr.   

The legislators argue the law balances privacy, public safety and due process. The bill is supported by various police, sheriffs and district attorneys groups, as well as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. 

Related: Comey Says Warrant-Proof Spaces Are Problematic 

The Trump and Obama Administrations are not on the same page on most issues, but both have fought warrant-less encryption and had their run-ins with Apple over trying to get access to phone data.  

Back in May, Barr made Apple’s refusal to build government back-doors into information on its iPhone part of the lead of his announcement on the December shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. He said Apple’s practice of warrant-less encryption is “dangerous” and “unacceptable.”

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Search the database: Which Tennessee cities and counties have the highest unemployment rates?

Memphis and Shelby County led the state with the highest unemployment rates among Tennessee cities and counties in June, according to data released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

But the impact of coronavirus pandemic-related business closures has caused unemployment rates to swell throughout the state, if unevenly.

Unemployment rate data from June is the most recent available, with rates for July due to be released in August. July brought spikes in COVID-19 cases in parts of Tennessee and other areas of the country, raising concerns about reopening businesses. The overall impact has yet to be determined, but some recent markers are grim.

In less than five months, 54.1 million people in the United States filed first-time unemployment claims, including another 1.4 million who filed last week. The U.S. Commerce Department reported Thursday that the country saw its worst performance on record in the second quarter, contracting 32.9% as the pandemic shutters businesses yet again.

From June 28 through July 25, 93,529 Tennesseans filed first-time unemployment claims.

Tennessee’s unemployment rate reached a record-breaking high of 15.5% in April, and has since fallen to an estimated 9.7% in June.

Despite an overall downward trend statewide, some Tennessee cities and counties saw their unemployment rates rise in June.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released city data only for cities with populations of 25,000 or more.

In Memphis, the unemployment rate increased from 12.9% to 15.3% from May to June. Columbia’s 14% unemployment rate for June is the second highest in the state, but the city’s rate actually improved significantly from May, when it logged an 18.8% unemployment rate.

Of Tennessee’s 95 counties, 74 saw rates decrease in June, 14 saw rates increase, and four remained the same, according to the state department of labor.

None of the counties have an unemployment rate that is less than 5%. Before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the economy, the state’s overall unemployment rate in March came in at 3.3%.

62 counties have an unemployment rate equal or greater than 5% but less that 10%. The June unemployment rate in the remaining 33 counties is between 10% and 19%.

Counties with the 10 highest unemployment rates

  • Shelby County, 13.2%
  • Grundy County, 13.1%
  • Cocke County and Warren County, 12.7%
  • Marshall County and Sevier County, 12.6%
  • Davidson County, 12.1%
  • Haywood County, 11.8%
  • DeKalb County and Lauderdale County, 11.6%
  • Van Buren County, 11.3%
  • Maury County, 11.1%
  • Lincoln County, Perry County and Rhea County, 10.8%

Counties with the 10 lowest unemployment rates

  • Williamson County, 6.7%
  • Crockett County, 6.8%
  • Pickett County, 7.2%
  • Chester County, Hickman County, Humphreys County, Overton County and Stewart County, 7.4%
  • Dickson County, 7.6%
  • Moore County, 7.7%
  • Cheatham County, Morgan County, Roane County and Weakley County, 7.8%
  • Knox County and Smith County, 7.9%
  • Loudon County and Obion County, 8%
  • Fentress County and Trousdale County, 8.1%

Cities with the 10 highest unemployment rates

Data released by the state department of labor includes unemployment rates only for cities with populations greater than 25,000.

  • Memphis, 15.3%
  • Columbia, 14%
  • LaVergne, 12.9%
  • Nashville, 12.1%
  • Smyrna, 11.9%
  • Clarksville and Jackson, 11.3%
  • Chattanooga, 11.2%
  • Gallatin and Kingsport, 11.1%
  • Lebanon, 11%
  • Murfreesboro, 10.8%

Includes reporting from USA Today

Reach Cassandra Stephenson at ckstephenson@tennessean.com or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.

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FCC Grants Brief Extension of 2.5 GHz Tribal Window

The FCC has provided a 30-day extension of the priority window for rural Tribes to file for free 2.5 GHz 5G spectrum before the FCC auctions it. 

That window opened Feb. 3 and the FCC said it has over 200 applications for the spectrum already. The window was supposed to close Aug. 3, but will now remain open until Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. 

Related: FCC Grants Navajo Nation Special Access to 2.5 GHz Spectrum

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that it is appropriate to extend the application deadline by 30 days,” said FCC chairman Ajit Pai in announcing the extension. 

Some Tribal entities and others had sought a six-month extension, citing the challenge of filing while dealing with a pandemic that is hitting Tribal areas particularly hard. But Pai explained the 30-day decision: “A much longer extension would substantially delay our award of licenses to Tribal entities and thus delay their ability to use this spectrum to connect those consumers living on Tribal lands.”  

It could also delay the auction of the remaining spectrum, an auction the FCC said will “facilitate the rapid deployment of wireless networks across rural America.  

Pai said a longer delay is also unnecessary, as evidenced by the large number of applications the FCC has already received.  

The FCC was under pressure to extend the window, including from some in Congress, and groups including Common Cause, Common Sense, Public Knowledge, INCOMPAS, New America’s Open Technology Institute, The National Tribal Telecommunications Association, and the United Methodist Church. 

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Fox News Grabs July Cable Ratings Crown


With July win, Fox News remains undefeated on a monthly basis in primetime, total day in 2020

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Big Tech Takes Big Swing at 6 GHz Recon Petitions

Three of Big Tech’s biggest, Facebook, Apple and Google, have joined with Microsoft, Cisco and others to add their voices to the computer and cable chorus asking the FCC not to reconsider its decision to open the entire 6 GHz band to low-power unlicensed–broadband access–devices. 

NCTA Tells FCC to Reject Recon Petitions

That came in a filing at the FCC opposing the petitions for reconsideration filed by Verizon, CTIA, the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition and The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, Inc. (APCO). (APCO withdrew that petition this week without explanation. An APCO attorney had not returned a request for comment at press time.). 

Cable broadband operators have also asked the FCC to reject the petitions and proceed with freeing up all that spectrum for unlicensed Wi-Fi, which is those operators’ primary mobile broadband and home networking play. 

The computer companies arge that the petitions fail to justify reconsideration of the 6 GHz order and should be dismissed for procedural defects, which in this case means repeating arguments the FCC has already considered and rejected rather than on the merits, though they argue the petitions fail on that score as well. 

“Even where petitioners’ arguments are not barred by these well-established Commission rules, all fail to undermine the compelling analysis in the Commission’s 6 GHz order,” they said.  

The FCC voted unanimously April 23 to allow the entire 1200 MHz of the 6 GHz band to be shared with unlicensed Wi-Fi, the FCC’s latest move in freeing up more spectrum for connecting 5G in-home devices–video streaming, video calls–and connecting IoT devices to the internet.

Broadcasters, who use the spectrum for electronic newsgathering, and utility companies, who use it for the electric grid, have gone straight to court to try and reverse the FCC decision to allow unlicensed Wi-Fi in the entire band. 

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Teen mom still behind bars but no charges filed so far in death of toddler Evelyn Boswell

Nearly five months after the body of a missing Sullivan County toddler was found in her grandfather’s shed, authorities still haven’t sought charges in the death.

The body of 15-month-old Evelyn Mae Boswell was discovered inside a shed owned by grandfather Tommy Boswell Sr., on March 6 – just a few weeks after he reported her missing.

In the months since, the child’s teenaged mother, Megan Boswell, has been locked up on charges she lied about her daughter’s whereabouts and records about her daughter’s death have been kept under seal.

Authorities haven’t disclosed how, when, under what circumstances and in whose custody the toddler died.

Megan Boswell’s attorney, Brad Sproles, has been pushing Sullivan County Criminal Court Judge James Goodwin to lower the $150,000 bond that is keeping her behind bars on 11 counts of filing a false report. So far, Goodwin has refused.

At a brief hearing in Sullivan County Criminal Court Friday, Sproles noted Megan Boswell has already served five months in the false report case and — if tried and convicted now — likely would qualify for probation.

Filing a false report is a low-level felony with a penalty range of two to four years, only a third of which must be served behind bars. Because Megan Boswell has no criminal history, she would likely receive the minimum two-year sentence if convicted and is presumed under the law to be eligible for probation.

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus did not directly address the issue of Megan Boswell’s bond in the false report case at Friday’s hearing. He signaled, though, that the investigation into her daughter’s death may soon be ripe for grand jury consideration.

Without complaint from Sproles, Goodwin left Megan Boswell’s bond intact and postponed her hearing in the false report case until Aug. 28.

Denials abound

Megan Boswell is accused of leading law enforcers on a wild goose chase of suspects in daughter Evelyn’s disappearance.

Evelyn was first reported missing by paternal grandfather Tommy Boswell Sr. in mid-February. He claimed he hadn’t seen the child since early December. He has since denied any knowledge of or role in her death.

Knox News probe: Baby Evelyn Boswell’s life started in a family racked by chaos

A Knox News investigation shows Megan Boswell was living in her father’s home with Evelyn in the months before she turned up missing. The shed in which the child’s remains were discovered belongs to Tommy Boswell Sr. and is used by him to store vehicles and equipment.

After he reported the child missing, detectives with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office confronted Megan Boswell.

In a series of interviews with authorities, including the FBI, Megan Boswell is accused of falsely implicating the child’s father, Ethan Perry, in the disappearance.

When authorities debunked the claim — Perry was stationed at a military base in Louisiana at the time — she then began accusing her mother, Angela Boswell, of hiding the child from her and holding her as ransom over a debt, according to the indictment.

Search warrants in the case — which could shed light on who authorities suspect killed the child — remain under seal, and authorities have revealed few details, including how Evelyn died, when and under what circumstances.

Angela Boswell was behind bars when Evelyn was born and has continued to rack up charges for thievery and drug possession since her granddaughter went missing. She’s denied any role in the child’s disappearance or death.

Both she and her ex-husband have a history of violence against each other. Tommy Boswell Jr., who also lives on the family compound where Evelyn’s body was discovered, helped his father carry out a violent attack on one of his mother’s paramours in 2012, court records show.

Email Jamie Satterfield at jamie.satterfield@knoxnews.com and follow her on Twitter @jamiescoop. If you enjoy Jamie’s coverage, support strong local journalism by subscribing for full access to all our content on every platform.

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Liberty DeVitto: Billy Joel’s Big Beat Man Remembers

For nearly 30 years, he provided the big backbeat behind Billy Joel as a core member of his band for hundreds of concerts around the world and on a string of hugely successful records. The two also formed a deep personal relationship, enjoying good times and the vast fruits of their success. Not too bad for a guy whose sixth grade music teacher once told him “Put down the sticks – you’ll never do anything with them!”

But it all came to an abrupt halt when Liberty DeVitto discovered that he wasn’t invited to Joel’s (third) wedding in 2004. And when the Piano Man went back on the road, DeVitto’s phone remained silent. Lawsuits were filed about royalties and song credits, and the two only communicated through lawyers. But a surprise late turn makes a nice ending to DeVitto’s new memoir, Liberty: Life, Billy and the Pursuit of Happiness (290 pp., $24.99, Hudson Music).

While his relationship with Joel and the music they made provides the crux and the heart of the book, there’s plenty more to his story. Born to a large, boisterous Italian family in New York, DeVitto’s musical “a-ha” moment came like so many others of his generation: On the evening of February 9, 1964 when the Beatles played for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show.

“I was 13 and I didn’t really like Elvis. I liked the black R&B music and Dion. And when the Beatles came on, they could have come from Mars. Nobody knew where Liverpool was, they had these amazing accents, and nobody looked like them!” he laughs. “And they were recycling [American] black music. But nobody had seen anything like it!”

DeVitto began playing with several bands and, despite being underage, found work in clubs in and around Long Island. Occasionally, he’d run into another gigging teen musician – one Billy Joel – along with Russell Javors (guitar), Doug Stegmeyer (bass). The drummer later spent time playing with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and a group called Topper while trying to get his career kickstarted.

Meanwhile, Joel had recorded one flop album (Cold Spring Harbor), left the biz, moved to LA, then returned with two that barely did any better (Piano Man, Streetlife Serenade). So it was make-or-break for 1976’s Turnstiles, by which time Joel had returned to New York and coalesced his core concert and studio band that included DeVitto, Javors, Stegmeyer, and Richie Cannata (sax).

The next album was originally slated to be helmed by George Martin…the Beatles’ George Martin! But when the Englishman insisted on using studio musicians instead of Joel’s own band, Joel turned him down. Nevertheless, The Stranger became their huge breakthrough. And with the addition of David Brown on second guitar, Billy Joel and his band went on to worldwide success for more than two decades.

Liberty DeVitto performing at his Seaford High School, 1965.

Liberty DeVitto performing at his Seaford High School, 1965.

Photo by Liberty DeVitto/Hudson Music

“Billy said ‘Love me, love my band.’ He wanted the same guys on the record and touring,” DeVitto says. “Luckily, the next guy in line to produce was Phil Ramone, and he was fantastic. And an even better fit for us.”

Liberty breezily takes the reader through those glory years, and DeVitto provides an album-by-album breakdown of some of the songs, including his contributions to them. “If he [Billy] was the father of those songs, and the songs were his children, then I was the uncle. I taught them how to walk,” he writes.

There are plenty of new nuggets for fans, as well as amplifications on stories. It’s been long known that early versions of The Stranger’s “Only the Good Die Young” featured a reggae beat.

But DeVitto says studio visitor Paul Simon’s suggestion that a song with such heavy lyrics should have lighthearted groove altered that (the Catholic Church’s subsequent “banning” of the song only helped its sales). Oh, and DeVitto was so hung over, he passed out in a broom closet right after recording it.

Likewise, they were going to leave the ballad “Just the Way You Are” (written for Billy’s then-wife Elizabeth Weber), off because Joel and the band felt it was too mushy. But pleas from singers Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow that women would love it made them change their minds. It became one of Joel’s most famous songs, winning Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. And gave them a new fanbase.

“When we went on the road, we were playing a hall in Washington, D.C. And when we walked out, Billy just got mobbed by these girls. That’s when I knew things had changed,” DeVitto recalls. “I was on the outside of the circle and he was on the inside. He’s short, so he’s kind of on his tip toes looking over the girls’ heads, looking at me like ‘Wow, this is really cool!’.”

Of all the albums, DeVitto says that his favorite to record was 1984’s An Innocent Man, a smash whose entire sound harkened back to a previous era of rock and roll. “When we started recording, Billy only had ‘Tell Her About It’ and ‘Easy Money.’ The rest were all created in the studio,” DeVitto recalls. “He had some ideas and the band had some ideas. If we played it and it really swung, he’d go home and finish the song. I tried some different drums sounds on that as well.”

He notes that the band would be in the control room and put on the Drifters and the Four Seasons, and Joel would say he wanted to write a songs like that. That’s how he came up with the “An Innocent Man” and “Uptown Girl.”

The Billy Joel Band in 1978: Richie Cannata, Russell Javors, Doug Stegmeyer, Liberty DeVitto, Billy Joel, and David Brown.

The Billy Joel Band in 1978: Richie Cannata, Russell Javors, Doug Stegmeyer, Liberty DeVitto, Billy Joel, and David Brown.

Photo by Liberty DeVitto/Hudson Music

There’s also sections about the highs (and lows) of life on the road, DeVitto’s own struggles with fame, drugs, and alcohol. And the band’s eye-opening 1987 trip to play a six huge shows in the Cold War thawing-out Russia.

DeVitto once offered peanut butter to one of his government “minders” who, having never tasted it before, spit it out in disgust.

The book doesn’t really go into the animosity and estrangement between DeVitto and Joel went through post-2004. And maybe that’s for good reason, because the book ends with quite a surprise.

DeVitto had knee surgery in 2019, and recuperation gave him time to think. He had also started performing with former bandmates Russell Javors and Richie Cannata and others in the band The Lords of 52nd Street, whose set list is largely from the Billy Joel catalog.

“When I was relearning the songs, I started to fall in love with them again, and all I could remember was all the good times we had together,” he says. “I had the music, but not the guy whose eyes I looked into for 30 years. That was the only piece that was missing.”

So he offhandedly emailed Joel in February of this year with caveat “it’s time for the piano and drum feud to be over,” and proposed a meeting over coffee or breakfast. Less than 24 hours later, Joel responded he’d like to do just that, as both were disappointed in how their relationship had ended. So they met one morning in a Florida diner where DeVitto had just played with the Lords and snowbird Joel was living.

“It was like it was at the beginning. We’re in a diner, I’m eating pancakes, and he’s eating bacon and eggs,” DeVitto laughs. “And we didn’t talk about business or the bad stuff that happened between us. It was mostly about our children and our wives, people we had knew and lost, and what we had planned for the future.”

DeVitto’s book was already written, but in a surprise development, Joel agreed to write the forward. And the drummer added an epilogue, which includes a picture of the old friends smiling together in the diner. DeVitto won’t divulge more specifics on their conversation, but he did tell Andy Greene for Rolling Stone that it’s possible all the bad blood was due to a simple misunderstanding.

As of now, Liberty DeVitto is happy to have his life story out and to talk to people about it. But his latest interest might take a more, um, scientific turn.

“I’m building a lab in my mother-in-law’s basement and I’m going to cure this virus so the Lords can get out and play again!” he laughs. “We’ve already done one of those parking lot gigs and we’ve got another one planned. You do what you have to!’

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Reese Schonfeld, Force Behind CNN and Food Network Launches, Has Died


Teamed with Ted Turner to create 24-hour news net

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