Fox Channel 45 introduces its news team


April 24, 1991|By Michael Hill

One look at its anchor team lets you know that Channel 45 (WBFF) is going to take a different tack when it puts on its 10 o'clock news.

In a city where the memory of years of ratings domination by gray-haired Jerry Turner is still affecting hiring and firing decisions, Fox-affiliated Channel 45 is going with a cast that looks like a new version of "The Rookies."

The oldest member of the station's weekday and weekend anchor teams, who were introduced to the press yesterday, is 35. The two main co-anchors are 30 and 33. The two weather people are 25 and 28. There won't be too many gray hairs on the station's still-to-be-unveiled set.

According to news director Mark Pimentel, who does have a few gray hairs though he's just 34, it's not a matter of age, but of mind-set.

"Sometimes you find people that have been in the business for 20 years or more have a certain way of doing things and they don't want to try something different," Pimentel said.

"We were looking for people who would be willing to try new things. Of course, when you ask people to join a start-up operation, the ones who aren't willing to take chances tend to weed themselves out."

Though the members of the primary anchor team, Lisa Willis and Jeff Barnd, both grew in the Philadelphia area, they come to town from jobs in New Jersey and Maine. The 30-year-old Willis has been a reporter and anchor for WWOR, the cable superstation in suburban New York City which has a 10 o'clock news. Barnd, 33, has been an anchor in Portland, Maine, and spent several years working for WPVI in Philadelphia.

The 28-year-old weatherman, Len John son, is a Montana native who arrives from a station in Reno, Nev., while sports anchor Max Morgan, 35, comes from his native Arkansas. To take advantage of Fox's Sunday night strength, this team will work the Sunday through Thursday telecasts.

Weekends will be anchored by Gina Germani, who has been working in Tucson, Ariz., and Josh Thomas, who arrives from Atlanta. Weekend weather will be handled by Veronica Johnson, who comes from cable's The Weather Channel, which is out of Atlanta. Sports comes from Bruce Cunningham, fresh from Huntsville, Ala., who also has the title of sports director.

Some 1,700 people responded to Channel 45's call for applicants, with station person nel reviewing more than 1,100 audition tapes before choosing the news team. They have been on the job since April 1 and are already shooting stories for a planned mid-June launch of the 10 p.m. hour-long nightly newscast.

Perhaps more surprising than the lack of advanced age is the lack of any familiar faces. With the availability of a host of television talent already well-known to Baltimore audiences -- Rudy Miller, Steve Aveson, Susan White-Bowden, Jack Bowden, Sloane Browne, Vicki Cox, to name a few -- it was widely speculated that Channel 45 would go for the instant credibility one or more of those names would bring.

But that wasn't the case. Though Pimentel hired local experience behind the scenes, he decided to avoid the baggage that accompanies any known quantity and instead opted for fresh faces to accompany his youth movement.

Several former local television personalities have said that they were told by Channel 45 management that a decision had been made not to go with any familiar faces, but yesterday Pimentel denied that that was station policy.

"It was simply a competitive situation," he said. "We talked with some very talented local people, but we just thought that these ** were the best people for the jobs. It was a nationwide search that gave us a nationwide team."

The news staff of 35 includes six full-time on-air reporters in addition to the anchor teams. They are the first occupants of Channel 45's new building, a completely renovated former soda bottling plant that was a later a lighting store. It is on 41st street at the foot of Television Hill.

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