Baltimore native returning to town to co-anchor WBFF's 'News at Ten' On the air: Tony Harris, who has national experience, will join Lisa Willis on first-string team, replacing Jeff Barnd.

February 21, 1996|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

WBFF-TV has a new anchorman, and he's part of a relatively rare breed in local television news -- a hometown guy with some national experience.

Tony Harris, 36, will join Lisa Willis next week as first-string co-anchor on Fox 45's "News at Ten," the station announced yesterday. He replaces Jeff Barnd who left WBFF to work as an anchorman in Boston.

Mr. Harris, a Baltimore native who graduated from Franklin High School in Reisterstown in 1977, comes to WBFF from "Day & Date," the nationally syndicated news and information show produced by Group W/CBS.

He declined comment on his contract except to say that he has a three-year deal with WBFF. The salary range for anchormen and women at a Fox station in a market the size of Baltimore starts at about $115,000 a year.

"It's very exciting to be able to come home again," Mr. Harris said yesterday. "I interviewed at and talked to other stations in the market. But this is the station that gave me the best opportunity to bring all of my skills together."

Mr. Harris started learning those skills in 1979 when he left Towson State University before graduating to take a job at Baltimore radio station WSID.

During the next two years, he also worked for sister stations WLPL in Baltimore and WOOK in Washington.

"I was working for three radio stations and trying to go to school," Mr. Harris said. "Needless to say, school had a hard time competing with the money I was making. That's how I got started in the business."

From Baltimore and Washington, Mr. Harris went to radio station WJMO in Cleveland, where he was host of a morning talk show at age 21.

His career in television started two years later, when he was hired by WJW, the CBS affiliate in Cleveland, as a reporter for its "PM Magazine" show. He also worked as co-host of the magazine and as a general assignment news reporter before leaving WJW 10 years later to join "Entertainment Tonight."

He was a correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight" until 1990.

A year later, Mr. Harris won a local Emmy in Cleveland while working as an anchorman at WKYC -- a job he left in 1993 to be a correspondent for "Front Page," a prime-time newsmagazine on the Fox network that has since been canceled.

"We're very fortunate to land a veteran newsman of Tony Harris' caliber," said Steve Marks, WBFF general manager.

"Any time you can add national-level talent to your local roster, your newscast can only be that much better."

Mr. Harris said the chance to come back to his hometown "and put down roots" seemed especially appealing to him and his wife, Amanda, since they became parents eight months ago with a son, Michael.

His first night on air will be Sunday, since WBFF uses its first-string anchor team Sunday through Thursday, rather than Monday to Friday as do the other network affiliates in Baltimore. The reason is that when "News at Ten" was launched in 1991, Sunday was the night on which Fox had the largest audience, according to Jeff Rhodes, program director for the station. The station wanted that audience to see its first-string team. The practice has been continued.

"News at Ten" is a success story by almost any measure. It has won more awards than any newscast on any of the other local affiliates since its inception, making WBFF the most-honored news station in Baltimore.

Its average nightly audience is about 90,000 homes, and it has strong demographic appeal with one of the largest audiences of young men in local television news.

"News at Ten" regularly outperforms its lead-in from Fox's prime-time programming, which suggests that Baltimore viewers are going out of their way to tune in the newscast.

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