Longtime WMAR news anchor Stan Stovall is being dismissed by the Baltimore station when his contract lapses at the end of December.
WMAR general manager Drew Berry and news director Staci Feger-Childers would not discuss the decision other than to praise Stovall's professionalism, saying the move is a personnel matter. But the two officials acknowledge they are taking a series of steps to try to reverse the fortunes of the consistently third-rated station.
"I definitely will be leaving," Stovall said late Friday. "The station decided not to renew my contract. My future -- my family's future -- right now, everything's up in the air."
Weekend anchor Mary Bubala, who has been with WMAR since summer 1997, also will be released by the station when her contract expires later this month. "It's such a subjective business," said Bubala, who intends to stay in the region. "It's a No. 3 station, and, in moving on, I can only move up."
In the meantime, WMAR has hired Vernon Shaw, a morning anchor with the Fox affiliate in Philadelphia, as a reporter and anchor. Feger-Childers stressed that Shaw is not a replacement for Stovall.
The station also plans to retool its "Real People, Real News" promotion. "It is true that we are about to go into the next stage of our branding campaign," Berry said. He would not divulge additional details, citing "competitive reasons."
Earlier this year, Stovall said he sensed his future here was uncertain because WMAR management had made no efforts to keep him even as the end of his contract approached. After 23 years, Stovall is one of the best-known and best-compensated figures in the field locally: His annual pay is estimated by those familiar with Baltimore television salary practices at more than $300,000.
In the earlier interview, he said the station was keeping him at arm's length by refusing to include him in promotional campaigns.
"It leaves you with a feeling that they don't want you," Stovall said in July. "When you're the senior anchor at the station, and they don't do any promotion on you, and you see them do promotion all around you, what would you do with that?"
Stovall arrived in Baltimore in 1978 after having been a broadcasting wunderkind in Arizona: He had been plucked as a high-schooler to appear on the air by a Phoenix television executive impressed with the youth's composure during a public address.
"He was kind of a young buck when we both started on the air," said WJZ's Sally Thorner, who was his co-anchor at WMAR during the late 1980s and early 1990s. "Baltimore got to see him grow up."
While radiating assurance as a news reader, Stovall enjoyed reporting some stories, often indulging his interest in guns, weightlifting -- he holds several state titles -- and warfare abroad. He worked at WBAL before joining WMAR, and then, after a brief stint in Philadelphia, returned to WMAR for good in 1989.
The station's viewers have also seen him report stories on his attempts to quit smoking, and on life for people on the margins. In that last segment, he appeared as an impeccably groomed panhandler.
Off the air, Thorner said, he was a generous and friendly colleague. "I see a confident, handsome, charismatic man," Thorner said. "He's got the right stuff."