Cutting back at WMAR, Channel 2

Buyouts: Strapped station hopes its pending `voluntary termination program' can buy some time

Radio And Television

August 11, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Management at WMAR, Channel 2, Baltimore's struggling No. 3 station, is putting together an employee buyout package to reduce jobs and costs.

WMAR Vice President and General Manager Steve Gigliotti confirmed that the station will be offering a "voluntary termination program for some of our employees."

Gigliotti would not detail the type of severance package being offered or the degree to which he hopes to reduce the station's staff -- other than to say it would be considerably less than the 50 percent reduction claimed in several anonymous calls to The Sun.

"There's a lot of conversation right now on who might be interested in such a proposal, across all facets of the company," Gigliotti said. "We're trying to just look at the future to see what we would need in the year 2005 to be competitive as a local television station."

Word of the impending buyout plan began to leak out Friday, after station management met with union representatives to provide some early details. A meeting with all station personnel was held yesterday to answer questions.

Union officials said a letter outlining the proposal, detailing who will be eligible and what sort of financial package they can get, will be presented to station employees Aug. 17. Eligible employees will then have 45 days -- until Oct. 4 -- to decide if they want to accept the offer. Employees who sign on will have until Oct. 11 to reconsider.

WMAR has 160 to 185 full-time employees on its payroll. More than 70 full and part-time employees are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union Local 1200. The station's on-air talent is represented by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

AFTRA shop stewards Stan Stovall and Andy Barth were unavailable for comment yesterday. Officials from IBEW said they were not surprised by the buyout proposal but remained optimistic that management would treat employees fairly and try to keep disruption to a minimum.

"They're having a rough financial time, and I think people have seen the writing on the wall for the past two years," said Pam Joyner, business representative for Local 1200. "They're trying to hold it down as much as possible, in hopes they might turn it around. That's their hope, that's their intent, that's everybody's desire."

Gigliotti came to WMAR three years ago, determined to drag the station from Baltimore's ratings basement. Adopting a strategy of concentrating on Baltimore events and locally produced programs, including coverage of area basketball and lacrosse teams, he and his staff have managed only small gains in the station's ratings.

Newscasts at both WBAL, Channel 11, and WJZ, Channel 13, generate much high numbers than those on WMAR; the dinnertime newscast on WNUV, Channel 54, also outperformed WMAR in the July ratings. "We've made some small gains, but I don't think you can make big gains anymore," Gigliotti said. "You have to accept the size gains that you get as you get them and adjust."

The staff reductions, Gigliotti said, are an effort to "build ourself toward [being] a model of an efficient, competitive, local television station of the future. We're not going to give up on local news; we're not going to give up on local programming. Those are things that we've been developing for a long time, and we'll keep on developing them."

`A Hot Night'

Comcast customers who just can't get enough of Phil Collins are in luck this weekend.

"A Hot Night In Montreaux," featuring concert footage of Collins performing at this year's Montreux Jazz Festival, will be available to Comcast cable customers at 8 p.m. Sunday on channel 25 in Baltimore County, channel 54 in Howard County and channel 69 in Harford County.

"A Hot Night in Montreaux" features the 20-piece Phil Collins Big Band, a group whose recent debut album, "A Hot Night In Paris," debuted at No. 3 on Billboard magazine's jazz albums chart.

In addition to new songs from the album, Collins will be performing such hits as "In the Air Tonight," "I Don't Care Anymore" and "That's All."

Subbing for Steiner

During the first half of this afternoon's edition of "The Marc Steiner Show," guest host Mindy Mintz will be discussing a survey on the Baltimore mayoral race with Carol Arscott of Gonzales/Arscott Research.

Congressman Ben Cardin is scheduled to discuss the Patient Bill of Rights during the second half of Friday's show.

Mintz's stint as guest host will continue through next week, with guests including Julie Mertus, author of "Kosovo: How Myths and Truths Started a War."

Mertus will discuss the book during the second half of Tuesday's show.

"The Marc Steiner Show" can be heard from noon to 2 p.m. weekdays on WJHU-FM (88.1).

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