Jackson leaves radio for business


Change: The WBAL-AM morning news voice also aims to spend more time with family

July 11, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Chuck Jackson, for three years the voice behind the headlines each morning on the drive-time morning show on WBAL-AM, has left the mike in the favor of the mower.


This spring, Jackson told station manager Jeff Beauchamp that he'd like to cut back his hours after each show that he's supposed to be available as a reporter. Earlier this year, Jackson bought a Howard County-based company, Lonestar Landscape, and he is responsible for overseeing a staff of six that maintains the grounds on 60 properties.

His trial balloon went over like a George W. Bush environmental initiative.

"He got very tense," Jackson recalls. "He said to me, `Do you want out of your contract?' I said, `Yes, I do.' "

Says Ed Kiernan, the general manager of the station: "It's tough to do morning drive news and landscaping. It's one of the more bizarre things that's happened to us."

Jackson is being replaced by the team of former WPOC news director Bill Vanko and former Philadelphia radio business news anchor Mellany Armstrong.

Jackson, an experienced radio hand and former spokesman for the state police and University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, explains that he's recalculated his priorities. He's just turned 50, he's just gotten remarried, and he's just figured out that the way to share time with a spouse usually doesn't involve arriving at work before 2:30 each morning.

"It's just great being outdoors and being where mother nature is in full bloom," Jackson says now.

Jackson appeared during the 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. section of the top-rated morning show with host and WBAL stalwart Dave Durian. (WERQ, at 92.3 FM, the hip-hop and dance music station aimed at a younger, more urban-oriented market, often comes in first otherwise.)

It was the third go-around for Jackson on WBAL, the all-news and talk station heard at 1090 AM: He had worked there from 1972 to 1976, from 1982 to 1985 and from 1998 through this summer.

Mark S. Miller, WBAL radio's news director, says the station has taken advantage of Jackson's departure at the end of last month to tinker with the show. "This is really just a chance to re-energize the news segment," Miller says.

Vanko was hired about a year ago as the "next generation" of news readers, Miller says. Armstrong, a former print and broadcast pro, boasts strong credentials and will become one of a relatively small number of female radio news anchors heard in Baltimore during drive-time.

Changes at WAMU

While WJHU-FM endures its own contortions up here in Baltimore, WAMU-FM, one of its Washington counterparts, has moved to attract those in its audience who seek more news and interview shows.

Starting this summer, WAMU, heard at 88.5 FM, is broadcasting NPR news shows from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with updates on local news and some original local reporting.

In making the shift, however, WAMU has angered a small group of loyal listeners who are intensely devoted to the iconoclastic schedule of bluegrass and folk music programs previously found on weekday afternoons.

The move follows the arrival of general manager Susan Clampitt. "When Susan came in a year ago, we started to take a hard look at everything," says Chris Naylor, the station's spokeswoman. "We [used to] lose 90 percent of our audience every day at 3 o'clock. When you look at it that way, we're not serving our audience very well."

The American University station instead airs some music shows over the weekend. And it has set up a Web site offering a constant stream of bluegrass music: BluegrassCountry.org.

But that's meager consolation for many fans. Montgomery County resident Cathy Fink wrote a letter laying into the station's management for abandoning its locally produced programming.

"I am deeply troubled and disappointed by the change in programming at WAMU," Fink wrote in her letter, which was circulated to like-minded activists. "Bluegrass was one of the few unique things that WAMU had to offer from other NPR stations. Washington needs more talk and more news like it needs more crime."

Naylor says calls and e-mails from listeners have been running 4-to-1 in favor of the new format, which, as it happens, more closely resembles that of WJHU (88.1 FM). While WAMU had been in the running to purchase the Johns Hopkins University-owned station, the Washington station can be heard in much of the Baltimore metro region already. Forty-eight percent of WAMU's listeners live in Maryland.

More sweeps

If you've been wondering lately why they're shouting at you more than usual on the local news, remember that we're in a "sweeps" period, during which stations scour for every last viewer to show advertisers. Baltimore's news stations seem to be branding every other story as an "exclusive," an "investigative report" or "breaking news" or "continuing coverage."

Last Thursday, WBAL-TV reporter Mindy Basara had a two-part fish tale tagged as investigative reporting that might not have been the most biting piece of journalism. It did, however, hold my attention. Channel 11 purchased pricey fish - as much as $15.99 a pound - from four Baltimore-area gourmet stores and found some of the fish didn't meet freshness standards.

The kicker came when Basara said that government seafood inspector Michael DiLiberti had found one last thing wrong with the flounder he examined: "We know for a fact," he said, painfully slowly, "that it's not flounder."

Questions? Comments? Story ideas? David Folkenflik can be reached by e-mail at david.folkenflik@baltsun.com or by phone at 410-332-6923.

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