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Lowe’s Settles EPA Lead Paint Violations by Its Contractors


Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Home improvement giant Lowe’s Companies Inc. has agreed to pay $500,000 after federal investigators found its home renovation contractors in nine states had violated safety standards for lead paint. The retail chain was also unable to provide documentation proving some contractors employed by the company were certified to work with the toxic substance, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department said Thursday.

The investigation by the EPA stemmed from tips and complaints from homeowners who had used Lowe’s renovation contractors. In reviews of company records the government found contractors had not used EPA-approved lead-test kits on projects, or lacked proper training to work with the hazardous element known to cause developmental problems in children and kidney and cardiovascular illness in adults.

The EPA also found contractors had failed to properly clean and contain work areas in three homes, although the agency emphasized they had not found any direct cases of bodily harm in the course of their investigation. The punishment sought against Lowe’s was more cautionary, they said. Officials also stated the violations were not company-wide, but isolated to certain brick-and-mortar stores discovered in their investigation.

“This is not to send an alarm signal that people who have had work repairs done should be alarmed about this,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert Dreher said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles said it sent a clear message to companies to comply with the toxic materials standard.

“Lowe’s is taking responsibility for the actions of the firms it hires, and EPA expects other contractors to do the same,” she said.

The officials pointed homeowners to the EPA website for fact sheets on protective measures and red flags to watch out for when working with lead-based materials.

Lowe’s says they have always sought to comply with the EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule standards since they were enacted in 2008, and have “resolved all issues alleged by the EPA.”

“Lowe’s hires thousands of independent, third-party contractors and the EPA identified only a few who failed to meet certain record keeping or work practice requirements regarding lead-based paint,” a Lowe’s spokesperson told ABC News. “There have never been any reports of lead-based paint health issues associated with any projects completed by Lowe’s contractors.”

Lowe's declined to provide an estimate on the total number of homes that may have had renovations performed by the violating contractors, or whether the company had sought disciplinary action against them.

The EPA discovered the infractions through review of Lowe’s stores in Alton, Ill.; Kent and Trotwood, Ohio; Bedford, N.H.; Southington, Conn.; South Burlington, Vt.; Rochester, N.Y.; Savannah and Lebanon, Tenn.; Boise, Idaho Falls and Nampa, Idaho; and Muldoon, Alaska.

Thursday’s settlement also mandates the home improvement chain create a new compliance and training program at its more than 1,700 stores in the U.S.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Stocks End Mixed Ahead of the Holiday Weekend


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street stocks rolled to a mixed finish to end the short week before a holiday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 16 points at 16,408.54. The Nasdaq Composite finished up 9 points at 4,095.52. The S&P 500 ended the session up nearly 3 points at 1,864.85.

Google, IBM and insurer UnitedHealth were among the biggest losers Thursday, while General Electric and Morgan Stanley were among the session's winners.

The markets will be closed for Good Friday.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Do Companies Void Your Right to Sue If You 'Like' Them on Facebook?


Facebook(NEW YORK) -- Can companies limit your right to sue if you "like" them on Facebook or download a coupon from their website? A number of companies are including fine print in their terms of service that apply to some of the most "trivial" of consumer activities, potentially preventing a person from having their day in court.

General Mills changed its legal terms on its website, which now requires "all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration," excluding the option of a court trial or class-action lawsuit.

Coffee company Starbucks has similar language in its gift card terms and conditions related to "binding arbitration."

Companies that have had "forced arbitration" provisions in their legal language include DirecTV, Verizon Wireless, Chase, AT&T and Wells Fargo.

Scott Nelson, an attorney with the nonprofit group Public Citizen, calls these types of provisions "ubiquitous," and Public Citizen lists more on its website.

There are “numerous” other companies not included in the list that impose arbitration clauses and class-action bans on consumers and employees in their contract terms, said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel at Public Citizen.

However, General Mills' new terms are "the broadest attempt" to attach terms of service to a website extending to all subsequent consumer transactions with a company, Nelson said. "Once someone does it, though, others are sure to follow," he said.

The cereal and snack manufacturer, whose goods are sold indirectly through grocers, is trying to cover its products by attaching an arbitration agreement to the use of its website for relatively trivial interactions, Nelson said, "making that agreement so broad as to cover claims based on the consumer’s subsequent purchases of its products."

In response to a New York Times story and other media articles describing General Mills' legal policy change, a statement from General Mills said, "This is being broadly mischaracterized. No one is precluded from suing us merely by purchasing our products at the store or liking one of our brand Facebook pages. That is just a mischaracterization."

"For example, should an individual subscribe to one of our publications or download coupons, these terms would apply. But even then, the policy would not and does not preclude a consumer from pursuing a claim. It merely determines a forum for pursuing a claim," the General Mills statement read. "And arbitration is a straightforward and efficient way to resolve such disputes."

Nelson said liking a brand on Facebook would not be enough to subject consumers to an enforceable contract to arbitrate a case, as opposed to filing a lawsuit, for example.

"A contract has to involve benefits running both ways," Nelson said. "To make a promise to arbitrate enforceable, it has to be part of a contract in which both sides are getting something." If a consumer just says she likes General Mills on Facebook, she has not received any benefit from General Mills in exchange that could create a binding contract, he adds.

Still, Nelson said General Mills' terms are "still incredibly broad" to try to assert that someone who just visits a website, or downloads a coupon, thereafter must arbitrate all claims arising out of any future purchases of their product.

Public Citizen is pursuing a lawsuit against another company for its terms of service that prevented customers from writing negative online reviews. Jen and John Palmer from Utah are suing KlearGear.com after it fined them $3,500 for writing a negative online review, sparking an alleged debt to credit reporting agencies.

Scott Michelman, another attorney with Public Citizen, has moved for a default judgment because KlearGear has failed to respond to the suit. That motion has been pending for about a month, awaiting a judge's approval, he said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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San Francisco Creamery Offering $3.3K Sundae for the ‘One Percent’


Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Get out your checkbooks: a San Francisco creamery is offering an ice cream sundae that costs $3,333.33.

Yes, you read that right. Three Twins Ice Cream coined the treat, which is just three scoops of organic ice cream with an organic banana topped with three syrups made from extremely rare dessert wines, the “World’s Most Expensive.”

“The World’s Most Expensive Ice Cream Sundae was originally created as something fun for people to read while waiting in line,” Three Twins founder Neal Gottlieb said. “I really hate the ‘most expensive …’ when most of the expense is for the serving dish, like the most expensive cocktail that comes in a crystal chalice. We serve the most expensive sundae, but the food cost is one-third of the price.”

Another third is donated to a local land trust, and we have to assume the last one-third goes to Three Twins.

In addition to ice cream, banana and syrups -- which are made from a 1960s vintage Port, a Chateau D’Yquem and a German Trockenbeerenauslese, by the way -- customers can eat the ice cream with a spoon from the 1850s and listen to a private cellist play anything they want while they eat.

“Be sure to wear your ‘I’m part of the 1 percent’ card on your chest when you order it,” Gottlieb said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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LeBron, Heat Boast NBA's Top Jersey Sales


ABC Inc.(NEW YORK) -- LeBron James' reign as "King James" continued this season, after the Miami Heat forward topped the list of NBA jersey sales for the sixth time.

The rankings are based on overall retail sales through the NBA's online store during the 2013-2014 season.

Most Valuable Player candidate Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry from the Golden State Warriors rounded out the top-five most popular jerseys. James, Durant, Bryant and Rose finished in the top five in the NBA's previous rankings, released in December.

Bryant and Rose remained among the league's most marketable stars despite missing time due to injury -- Bryant played in just six games this year, and Rose played in just 10.

Among the top 15 players on the list, nine will participate in the upcoming playoffs, including the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan, who appeared at number 14 on the list, his first appearance since 2007.

The two-time champion Miami Heat were the only team to have two players land in the top 10, with All-Star Dwyane Wade appearing at number seven. The Heat were also the best-selling team.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Weak Barbie Sales Lead to First Quarter Loss for Mattel


David McNew/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The corporate earnings season is still young, but the latest reports are already revealing some striking trends. Troubles in toyland are among them.

Mattel’s report reveals that weak Barbie sales are one reason for its unexpected first-quarter loss. Toymakers are facing problems globally, largely because of fierce competition from tablets and other electronic gadgets.

Mattel, the largest U.S. toymaker, says it lost $11.2 million in the first quarter of this year. Sales dropped 5 percent.

Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels cars and Disney Princess dolls are among the best known of hundreds of Mattel toy brands.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Weekly Jobless Claims Rise but Stay at Near Seven-Year Low


glegorly/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Jobless claims climbed slightly last week but still remained at a near seven-year low, the Labor Department reported Thursday morning.

For the week ending April 12, the number of people filing for benefits rose by 2,000 to 304,000.

"This is the lowest level for this average since October 6, 2007 when it was 302,000," the Labor Department said in a press release.

The previous week, claims stood at 302,000 -- an upward revision of 2,000.

The four-week average, meanwhile, went down, decreasing by 4,750 to 312,000.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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QVC Host Lives in Fear of Stalkers, Reports Say


Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- For so many of QVC’s viewers, Lisa Robertson is the host with the most.

Robertson, 48, is one of the shopping channel’s most popular personalities. Every week, the former Miss Tennessee sells the latest in beauty and fashion, drawing an estimated 20 million viewers a week.

That prominence has brought her a lot of attention, some of it unwanted.

In court documents obtained by the Daily Local News of Chester County, Pa., Robertson, who lives in Chester County, alleges that she has secretly lived in constant fear of one of a number of men who have reportedly been obsessed with her during her time with the network.

In a recent victim’s impact statement, Robertson reportedly wrote: “I lock myself in my house every day. I check my alarm constantly…I watch my rearview mirror when I go home at night…if there is a sound at night, I lay awake wondering.”

In December, 50-year-old Peter Ferriera was sentenced to 7 years’ probation for violating a court order from a previous stalking conviction. He is appealing.

Ferriera was first arrested for stalking Robertson 10 years ago. He allegedly went to Robertson’s home and followed her to a movie theater, where he was, according to a police affidavit, “close enough to Robertson that he could smell the popcorn she was eating.”   

In that case, he pleaded guilty to stalking, and served 132 days in jail.

Robertson’s tenure at QVC was marked by more terror, as other men were also obsessed with her. In one case, according to the Los Angeles Times, one of those men reportedly traveled to the home of another QVC host, hoping to meet Robertson there. Police reportedly said that strapped to the man’s chest were engagement and wedding rings.

In a statement to ABC News, Robertson said, in part:  “…We enjoy the connection we have with our audience from being open and sharing our personal stories.  Unfortunately, one of the downsides to this is that people can take these connections too far and cross personal boundaries.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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The Biggest Cost of Owning a Car May Surprise You


Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many consumers may not know this, but the largest cost of owning a car is depreciation.

According to new research from the auto price valuation firm ALG, the process begins on day one.

Consider a new car or SUV that sells for $30,000: “On average you lose almost $5,000 literally driving it off the dealer lot,” ALG President Larry Dominique says. “Typically, after three years, the vehicle is worth about half what it was when you first purchased the car.”

Most motorists pay attention to gas and insurance costs but, as Dominique notes, “the number one thing we see with cars over time is the depreciation whether you own that car three years, four years, seven years.”

A nearly new car loses value at a much faster rate than an older vehicle.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Auto Safety Group: Congressional Documents Show GM Rejected Safer Ignition in 2001


Allison Shelley/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Center for Auto Safety says according to its analysis of documents General Motors turned over to Congress, GM designed an adequate ignition switch but rejected it in favor of a cheaper, less safe option in 2001.

In a timeline submitted weeks ago to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM acknowledged that the company knew of problems with the ignition switch in 2001. It had also been revealed that the automaker changed the ignition switch without changing the part number.

While this information has already become public knowledge, the Center for Auto Safety claims its analysis reveals new information not previously evident to the public: 1) GM had a safer switch in 2001 and did not use it, and 2)  The company did return to that safer switch many years later under the same part number "in a silent remedy that went undiscovered until 2013."

The auto safety lobbyist group said "smoking gun" documents submitted to Congress prior to Barra's testimony included an engineering drawing that shows GM's return to the safer design in 2006.

On Wednesday, the Center for Auto Safety revealed its findings in a letter sent to GM CEO Mary Barra:

“Were you briefed on these internal General Motors documents prior to your testimony before Congress? Since they were submitted to Congress before you testified, surely your engineering staff should have told you about the shocking contents of these documents. They paint a tragic picture of the cost culture and cover up at General Motors. The conclusion we draw from examining the two different designs of the ignition switches under consideration in 2001 is that General Motors picked a smaller and cheaper ignition switch that cost consumers their lives and saved General Motors money. The documents show that when General Motors changed the ignition switch in 2006, it did not have to develop a new more robust design because GM engineers had already designed the safer switch that GM previously rejected in 2001.”

GM is not making any definitive statements on these matters until their internal investigation is complete.  The results of that investigation will not be released for at least another month.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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KFC Bringing Back the Popular ‘Double Down’


Sandra Mu/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- This is not a drill: KFC plans to bring back its infamous Double Down starting April 21, reports USA Today. In case you forgot what this glorious creation includes, it’s a bunless “sandwich” that uses breaded and fried chicken breasts instead of bread, which enclose melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheeses, two slices of bacon and the Colonel’s sauce.

“The Double Down launched originally in April 2010. It was a huge hit with fans, with more than 10 million sold in the first month, so it stayed on the menu past its original late May 2010 promotion-end date,” the company told Eater. “Many restaurants continued selling Double Downs throughout 2010. It has not been nationally promoted in four years.”

The company will reportedly be rolling out a media campaign for the official announcement called the “Double Down Dare.” Stay tuned for details on that one.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Dow, S&P Advance for Best Three-Day Gains Since February


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- What a difference a day makes.

Solid earnings reports and a smaller slowdown in China's growth than many had feared pushed stocks higher for the third day in a row.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 16,424.85 -- a 162-point advance. The Nasdaq Composite added 52 points to close at 4,086.23. The S&P 500 rose 19 points to 1,862.31.

Both the Dow and S&P indices saw their best three-day gains since Feb. 11.

Yahoo rose 6 percent, benefiting from its lucrative investments in Asia.

Meanwhile, airline stocks rose sharply, with Delta gaining 5 percent, JetBlue up 6 percent and American gaining 5 percent.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Google’s Plan to Shake Up Smartphone Market


Google(NEW YORK) -- Google's "Project Ara," an affordable smartphone with swappable and customizable hardware, could be the next big thing to shake up the mobile market.

Details of the phone were unveiled at the first Ara developer's conference on Tuesday, when leader Paul Eremenko announced it would go on sale early next year and retail for about $50.

"It’s about getting exactly what you want in a phone,” Patrick Moorhead, principal technology analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy told ABC News. "For a lot of people, their primary reason for buying a phone could be social media. For another person it could be taking pictures. For other people it may be gaming. It’s all about customization."

According to Google's "Project Ara" module developer's kit, users will be able to build on to a basic structural framework to customize their phone with different modules to design a phone with the look, capability and price that they want.

As new technology comes to market, users won't have to wait for a new phone and can instead just swap in the modules, empowering users to customize their technology.

Essentially, it's an a la carte phone and consumers are allowed to choose the extra bells and whistles they want to use or swap out on any given day.

While the lower price point could make the phone more accessible to the developing world, Moorhead predicts "Project Ara" will have an impact in tech-hungry markets where individuals' smartphones "mean everything to them."

"Some people will want modular and others will go thinner," he said. "I think the market will decide where it goes from there."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Dominos Debuts Chicken Pizza Crusts


Dominos(NEW YORK) -- In a world of crazy food mash-ups with one chef outdoing the next, Dominos has officially entered the arena.

Let us introduce what the brand calls its new “specialty chicken,” which is fried chicken covered with traditional pie toppings for a new take on “pizza.”

The new chicken comes in four varieties: Crispy Bacon & Tomato, Spicy Jalapeno-Pineapple, Classic Hot Buffalo and Sweet BBQ Bacon. The toppings come over 12 pieces of breaded and fried boneless white meat chicken for $5.99.

“The CEO said they sell almost as much chicken as they do pizza -- more than anything else -- so this is a way of combining. They say they already have all the pizza ingredients in the stores,” ABC’s Lara Spencer reported on Good Morning America. “So why not? Starts on Monday and they say if it goes well, they’ll do more.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Google Glass ‘Explorer’ Offer a Sell Out


Google(NEW YORK) -- The hot item at Tuesday’s one-day-only Google Glass public sale was the “cotton” colored frames, which sold out in a matter of hours once the wearable tech devices became available.

The sale was part of an expansion of Google’s Explorer program, in which they allow a small pool of users to wear Glass and help experiment with different capabilities before it becomes widely available.

The company said Wednesday that all of the new spots in their Explorer program had been filled up during the one-day sale.

Shortly after 3:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon Google announced that it had sold out of white frames.

“Wow, what a morning! We’re happy to see so many new faces (and frames) in the Explorer Program.  Just a quick update that – ack – we’ve sold out of Cotton (white), so things are moving really fast,” the company said on Google .

The frames also come in colors like charcoal, shale, tangerine, and sky. The cost of the device and joining the program is $1,500.

Google declined to say how many devices were sold during the sale.

“All spots in the Explorer Program have been claimed for now,” the company wrote shortly after midnight, “but if you missed it this time, don’t worry. We’ll be trying new ways to expand the Explorer program in the future.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


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