Anchor job leads Sandra Pinckey to change channels

July 22, 1994|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

Longtime WJZ-TV (Channel 13) anchor and reporter Sandra Pinckney is moving to WMAR-TV (Channel 2), but not until after a year-long, paid vacation similar to the one Sally Thorner enjoyed when she jumped in the opposite direction from WMAR to WJZ.

Thanks to a clause in her WJZ contract that bans her from appearing on a competing station for a year, Ms. Pinckney will be paid by her new employer to idle until July 1995, when she takes over the 6 o'clock broadcast with co-anchor Keith Cate.

"Thinking of all the years and all the people and all the memories here, it was hard to say good-bye," an emotional Ms. Pinckney said yesterday after her last broadcast at the station she joined in 1977 as a management trainee. "But sometimes you have to leave home to grow up."

Ms. Pinckney said the opportunity to anchor her own broadcast at WMAR was irresistible -- and something WJZ was unable to offer her. "Those positions here are all filled by good people," she said.

She is part of the four-member anchor desk on WJZ's 5 o'clock broadcast, but clearly, Ms. Thorner is first among equals on that team, and indeed had been lured away from WMAR to start the 7-month-old show. "It was really not my show," Ms. Pinckney said.

By the time Ms. Pinckney appears on the airwaves again, the local television market will have undergone other recently announced changes: Her new station, Channel 2, will have become an ABC affiliate, which is what her old station, Channel 13, had been for 46 years.

Confused? Welcome to the continuing drama of "Who's on 2, 11 and 13?" The recent musical chairs in network affiliation will result in Channel 13 affiliating with CBS, while the current CBS affiliate, WBAL-Channel 11, is expected to link up with either NBC or Fox.

It is that sort of shake-up in the market that makes a locally familiar face such as Sandra Pinckney's so valuable -- both WMAR and WBAL tried to hire her away from WJZ, which also tried to keep her.

"[Familiarity] is important in any market, but particularly in Baltimore. Viewers take a particular interest in the anchors that come into their homes," said Jack Cahalan, news director of WMAR. "By being lucky enough to bring Sandra into the family here, we're re-enforcing our commitment to the area."

Ms. Pinckney is joining a station that has lost several familiar personalities in recent months: Her predecessor on WMAR's 6 p.m. broadcast, Beverly Burke, left three weeks ago for KCBS in Los Angeles. She had been in Baltimore since 1984, first at Channel 13, then at Channel 2. And Horace Holmes, a 9 1/2 -year WMAR veteran, left at the end of last year for a post at WJLA-TV in Washington.

The biggest loss, though, came in November 1992, when the popular Ms. Thorner jumped to WJZ for a $250,000-a-year salary. The first year of her five-year contract was spent on paid vacation because a non-compete clause in her WMAR contract kept her from appearing on any other local station for a year.

Neither Ms. Pinckney nor her new employer would discuss the terms of her contract. She said she'll spend her year off the air on various community interests -- she is on the board of Maryland Public Television and the Governor's Commission on Women's Health and has particular interest in projects involving breast cancer and AIDS.

Ms. Pinckney, who would not give her age, is somewhat of an anomaly in her business, having spent all but several years of her career at WJZ. She spent the early part of her career off the air as a producer and booking director. She left the station in 1980 to produce shows for WUSA-TV in Washington and the Black Entertainment Television cable station, but returned and became a general assignment reporter in 1985.

Ms. Pinckney said it was her friend and former co-worker Oprah Winfrey who helped her make the transition from off- to on-camera, urging her to ask for the next on-air slot at the station rather than spending a year developing a tape as she originally planned.

Ms. Pinckney, who had been an anchor on the noon and 5 o'clock broadcasts of WJZ and the station's health reporter, said she won't totally disappear from the airwaves for a year. She arranged to continue to do stories for the nationally syndicated show on paranormal subjects, "Encounters: The Hidden Truth."

For Ms. Pinckney, who lived in numerous places here and abroad because her father was in the military and the diplomatic corps, her job may be changing but her home remains the same.

"People here have adopted me," said Ms. Pinckney, who is divorced and has a 21-year-old daughter living in San Francisco. "I've traveled all my life, and Baltimore is home now."

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