If you want to watch the newest brawl in local television, you'd better get up early. The action is going to be in the morning, as the other stations attempt to catch up with long-dominant WJZ (Channel 13).
"The morning newscasts are very lucrative," said Drew Berry, general manager for WMAR (Channel 2). "Advertisers love morning news - you reach such a huge cross-section of viewers there."
In the latest development, WBAL (Channel 11) this week announced new anchors for its 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. weekday news show. Starting Jan. 29, WBAL will pair Sade Baderinwa, currently a reporter at the station, with Marilyn Getas, an evening anchor and consumer reporter at a small sister station in Northern California.
WBAL morning anchor Audrey Barnes was said by colleagues to be livid after being told Monday that she would be demoted to reporter on the early shift. The morning reporting position is considered something of an entry-level job in the industry. Barnes did not return calls seeking comment.
Last fall, WMAR also named a new pair of morning newscasters: Valarie Williams and Roosevelt Leftwich. And WBFF (Channel 45) intends to start up its own morning show, scheduled to begin in mid-March, although it's not yet clear who will be involved on-air. Despite persistent rumors, Sun columnist Dan Rodricks does not appear likely to become a host at WBFF.
All of these moves represent efforts to chip away at WJZ's seeming stranglehold on the early morning hours. While NBC's "Today Show," which airs on WBAL from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., is the top morning network program for the nation and the region, WJZ's "Morning Edition" from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. with Marty Bass and Don Scott wins the most local viewers until "Today" starts. Often, "Morning Edition" even beats the first hour of "Today."
"It's one of the strongest morning programs in the nation," said Jay Newman, WJZ's general manager, of his station's show. "What makes it successful is that the program is a unique blend of news, information and weather combined with lots of fun and entertainment."
Bass and Scott are irreverent - sometimes to the point of clownishness - but that radio drive-time sensibility appears to appeal to a major segment of the population.
The rest of the potential viewing audience is up for grabs. And that's what WBAL officials say they are pursuing. They say their new team should provide a straightforward approach with a friendly touch.
Getas, 30, offers a professional and capable demeanor on-air, said Joseph Heston, general manager of Northern California's KSBW, which, like WBAL, is owned by Hearst-Argyle.
"She really brings a great sense of immediacy when she's anchoring," Heston said. "We were looking inside the company to find a perfect opportunity for her."
Baderinwa, 31, is described by news professionals at WBAL and other local stations as an enthusiastic and considerate colleague who is unusually telegenic. However, several local television journalists, speaking on condition they not be named, expressed concern that she is still inexperienced.
But WBAL news director Princell Hair says Baderinwa has proven herself over the past year as a reporter and substitute anchor. "She brings great energy to the show," Hair said. "It's real important to be `up' at that hour of the morning because people are waking up to you. We will have an energetic news team, a dynamic news team."
Additionally, WBAL weekend anchor Julie Chapman told station managers yesterday that she would leave the station when her contract is up. Chapman, 30, a new mother, said she would be opening a diner outside Albany, N.Y., with her husband, Mark Gillenwalters, the chief chef at the ESPNZone at the Inner Harbor.
Chapman, who has worked at WBAL for three-and-a-half years, will be replaced by reporter Mindy Basara, 30, who had also been in the running for the weekday job.
While tinkering at the margins, WJZ is happy to stand pat with Scott and Bass, who have been together on the station's morning show since the early 1980s.
"If you had those type of numbers, would you change? It's working. Whether people hate the talent or like the talent, they watch just to hate or like," said WMAR's Berry. "It's like the whole Howard Cosell thing. People watched because he was unpredictable and they wanted to see what outrageous fight he might get into on Monday Night Football."
WJZ viewers were able to see "Report from the RavenZone," which usually appears on Saturdays, a day early last week. The station aired the hour-long program, paid for by the Ravens, at 7 p.m.
To do that, the station dropped "Entertainment Tonight," typically broadcast weeknights at 7:30. And WJZ shifted the "CBS Evening News" from 7 to 6:30 - killing the half-hour of local news that usually appears then.