WBFF unveils news team

April 24, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Youth, new faces from other places and a weatherman who simultaneously plays the harmonica and drinks coffee while delivering the forecast were on display yesterday when WBFF-TV introduced its "News at Ten" anchor team.

The 10 p.m. newscast from Channel 45, Baltimore's Fox affiliate, is tentatively set to launch June 3, with a newsroom staff of 35, $4.5 million worth of equipment and renovated studios/offices and an anchor desk with an average age of 31.

The weeknight team will consist of Lisa Willis and Jeff Barnd as co-anchors, Max Morgan on sports, and Len Johnson as weatherman.

Willis, 30, comes to Channel 45 from WWOR-TV in Secaucus, N.J., where she did weekend weathercasting and general assignment reporting. Willis said she will also serve as the health reporter for Channel 45.

Barnd, 33, was anchoring for WGME-TV in Portland, Maine, before joining Channel 45 this month. He previously worked as a general assignment reporter for television stations in Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Bangor, Maine. Barnd said yesterday that he will also be doing special events reporting -- "like the covering the returning troops and the troops from this area still in the Persian Gulf."

Morgan, 35, has been working the last eight years at KTHV-TV in Little Rock, Ark., where he anchored sports on the 10 o'clock newscast.

Johnson, 28, was the weekend weatherman in Reno, Nev. Before that, he was nightly newscaster in Yuma, Ariz..

At a press conference yesterday, Channel 45 showed videotape of each of the news team members. Johnson was shown outdoors at night exhaling deeply and then asking viewers if they could see his breath. That was to show how cold it was in Reno. Then he drank coffee on the air to try to warm up. Then he inexplicably started playing the harmonica and trying to drink coffee at the same time.

"Len has a slightly different perspective on the world than most ++ people," Channel 45 News Director Mark Pimentel said. "He delivers weather information in an . . . offbeat way." Pimentel, who comes from Charleston, S.C., is 34.

Pimentel said Channel 45's hourlong report, airing seven nights a week, "is going to be a Baltimore-area newscast, and not just a Baltimore City newscast." He said six of the 35 staffers are full-time reporters. By way of comparison, Channels 2, 11 and 13 have newsroom staffs about twice as large.

Pimentel said he received 1,700 applications, many from TV journalists in Baltimore. The only reporter area viewers are likely to recognize, though, is John Rydell, who left MPT to cover government for Channel 45. Pimentel said there was no strategy to hire talent from outside Baltimore. He said the Baltimore applicants simply lost out "through the competitive [selection] process."

Channel 45's General Manager Bruce Lumpkin said the idea for the newscast grew out of a Dale Carnegie course he took in 1988.

When asked about launching such an expensive venture in such a tough economic climate, Lumpkin said, "I'm often asked don't I wish I could hold off. The answer is no. With others cutting back, there's a bigger void to fill."

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