LAST THURSDAY afternoon, the news team at Channel 45 (WBFF) was chomping at the proverbial bit.
"It's frustrating to do all this work and know nobody's seeing it," co-anchor Jeff Barnd said. "It's time to do it for real."
"People around here do feel that we are ready," said Mark Pimentel, the news director. "You have to remember, we've been doing this for three months."
That's how long Channel 45 has had the personnel on board for "News at Ten," its hourlong newscast that debuts at 10 p.m. tonight.
Almost from day one, they've been out shooting stories, doing interviews, writing stories, watching games, forecasting the weather -- doing all the things that you need to do to put on a newscast, but not putting one on.
For the last several weeks, they've been sitting down every day on Channel 45's new post-modern, wood-and-glass, columned-and-louvered set and facing the cameras, putting bits and pieces of the show together until the full hour was in place.
All last week, the rehearsals were at 10 p.m. The "News at Ten" crews were out on the street during the day and evening, the reporters and an
See HILL, C4, Col. 1 HILL, From C1 chors were writing copy and editing their stories, everything was done as if that night's run-through was an actual newscast.
Indeed, as 10 p.m. approached last Thursday, a news truck set up for a live weather-related shot from Federal Hill was sent racing out to a lightning-caused fire in a Baltimore County apartment complex, the producers choosing to cover that story instead of a propane gas tank also set afire by lightning near Owings Mill Mall.
Copy was hastily rewritten and the show reformatted. The tension and pace in the control room cranked up a notch as 10 p.m. drew nearer. The director counted down the seconds and the show opened with a videotape of kids playing in a fountain as the weather topped the news. Pimentel explained that instead of beginning with a shot of Barnd and co-anchor Lisa Willis sitting at their desk, each program will start with a picture from the lead story.
The plans call for a 10-minute locally oriented news block at the top of the hour, followed by a second segment that will center on a lengthy -- four-minute -- "cover story." Business news, both local and a syndicated Steve Crowley spot, will be next with six to seven minutes of national and international news, mainly from CNN, bridging the half hour.
Weather and a health segment follow with a couple minutes of entertainment news next. The sports won't come on until nearly 10:50 -- in part to allow time for the Orioles game to be finished -- with an update of the top story and weather, plus a "kicker" piece closing out the hour.
"Things have worked out pretty much as we envisioned them," Pimentel said. "Having the hour allows us to give a story two or
three minutes if it needs it -- we don't have to limit everything to a minute and a half.
"And we've been very pleased with the way everyone has come together," he added. "What we've been through is much like a baseball team in spring training. You know you have the people who have the ability to play, but you don't know how they will mesh and relate."
Pimentel said "News at Ten" will be a local newscast, with emphasis on the suburban areas. "We're covering the Baltimore region, not just Baltimore City," he said.
And he noted that with a photography staff that ranges in age from 23 to 28, viewers should expect a different visual style.
"One thing we look for is stories that actually affect people, that anyone can relate to," Pimentel said. "We look for things that could happen in your neighborhood."
So on Thursday, the lead weather piece was about a high-rise city housing building with broken air conditioning, the residents sweating it out in their nearly windowless apartments. That was immediately followed by a piece on firefighters battling a blaze with an emphasis on how the heat affects their health.
But something was wrong with the fire tape -- there was no sound. After a few seconds the director bailed out of it. Barnd apologized to the non-existent viewers for the error and went on to another piece.
Next it was time for the cover story and, again, it was pictures with no sound. So Barnd made another recovery, as behind the scenes the producers scrambled to cover and fill, still awaiting a microwave signal from their live truck.
Then a third taped piece went up on the screen without sound and Pimentel called a halt to the proceedings, ordering that they do the whole show again.
It's not surprising that Channel 45's news is having technical glitches. Not only is everyone operating on new and, in many cases, unfamiliar equipment, but they are working in a building that is still under construction.
The news is the only portion of WBFF's operation that has moved into the station's newly renovated building at the foot of Television Hill on West 40th Street, and it's in an area that has boxes stacked in the corners, unpainted spots on the walls and loose carpeting all over the place.
Still, as the director again counted down the seconds to the opening a half hour, the crew that had been so eager to hit the air that afternoon was clearly glad this show hadn't been for public consumption.
"That's what rehearsals are for," Pimentel said.