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Thursday, August 14,2014

Broadcast news

Local TV, radio changes break new ground, say goodbye to longtime personalities

by ALLAN I. ROSS


CORRECTION: The online version of this story has been corrected. Evan Pinsonnault will not anchor the evening news at WLNS.

Contrary to media doomsday polemicists, the Internet did not kill television, just as TV didn’t kill radio in the ‘50s and radio did not kill newspapers in the ‘20s. As you’re reading these words, some DJ somewhere is giving “Hotel California” its billionth spin while a cub TV reporter is earning her wings interviewing a 90-year-old yoga enthusiast. The broadcast industry is rarely news itself. In Lansing this week, recent developments have included several noteworthy changes.

The biggest is the addition of a new daily news program. Last month, mid-Michigan NBC affiliate WILX-TV (Comcast’s channel 4 in Lansing and channel 10 in East Lansing) launched “First @ 4,” a half-hour news digest show that airs weekday afternoons at 4. That time slot had previously been filled by nationally syndicated programming, but Kevin Ragan, the station’s news director, said he thought his station “could do it better ourselves.”

“We looked at the syndication landscape, saw what was available and made the decision (to create this show),” Ragan said. “We wanted to control our own destiny, so we did. And we’re very proud of the results.”

“First @ 4” summarizes the top news of the day, including entertainment reports and weather recaps. Ragan said the concept of 4 p.m. news shows is about 5 years old — Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids each have one — but this is the first one in Lansing.

“We’re very aggressive about expansion, so we started looking for a new news time,” Ragan said. “(The 4 p.m.) time period is being filled all over the country. We thought it was important to be there too.”

The show is hosted by Ann Emmerich and Kirk Montgomery, with Andy Provenzano providing weather updates. Montgomery returns to mid-Michigan after stints in California, Florida, Detroit and 13 years as an entertainment reporter in Denver, while Emmerich jumped channels from WLNS- TV across town to helm the show’s news.

“Ann is undoubtedly one of best reporters in town — we were very fortunate to get her,” Ragan said. “And Kirk is a fun, very engaging entertainment reporter. We really fell into our talent.”

Ragan said the 4 p.m. slot supplements the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. broadcasts, and appeals to a mostly female, 25-54 crowd.

“That audience is very attractive for advertisers,” he said. “There was an awful show (that had been airing at 4 p.m.) that fell away. It’s a good example of why we’re doing ‘First @ 4’ and not doing that.”

Meanwhile, change is also happening over at WLNS. The station’s “6 News Evening” anchor Greg Adaline, who worked as a reporter at the station from 2005 to 2009 and returned in 2011, leaves this week for New Orleans. He’ll anchor the morning news there.

“It makes sense financially and for being able to spend more time with my family,” said Adaline, 34. “I love Lansing, I love Michigan — I was born and raised here — but this opportunity presented itself and I couldn’t say no.”

Last month, meteorologist Jake Dunne was booted to weekends and replaced by Emily Wahls. (Dunne had no comment about the move.) Morning anchor Chivon Klepfer will stay put, but morning reporter Francesca Amiker will depart later this week for Jacksonville, Fla., where she’ll be a nighttime reporter for the independent WJXT-TV. Amiker, 24, a native of Atlanta, had been at WLNS for a year. She said the move is part of her career plan.

“I’d love to be a reporter for ‘Good Morning America’ someday, traveling abroad — that really suits me,” Amiker said. “I have enjoyed my time getting to know Lansing. This town is my second family. But when you get an opportunity to move on to a top 40 market, you say yes. I’m a single girl, what have I got to lose?” Jacksonville is the 47th biggest news market in the country; Lansing is the 114th, according to StationIndex.com.

WLNS News Director Jam Sardar said shakeups like this happen all the time in TV.

“Reporters come and go — it’s part of the game,” Sardar said. “We’re a market where we give a lot of reporters their first job. It’s kind of like grad school. They get experience and go on to bigger markets and get more money. I knew from Francesca’s resume tape that she’d go on to bigger and better things, and we were lucky to have her as long as we did. We enjoyed every minute she was here.”

Sardar said the station isn’t planning any changes to its scheduling anytime soon.

“We’re going through the same thing every news org is going through,” he said. “Making use of social media platforms, adapting news to mobile devices, trying to figure out how to give news to people where they want it when. It’s a tricky industry.”

And on radio, Amber “Alabama” Cole, the 2014 City Pulse Top of the Town winner for Best Radio Personality, quit her job at WJIM-FM (97.5 NOW FM) last month after six years. A non-compete agreement in her contract means she can’t accept a job at another Lansing station, so she’s been traveling to other cities — including Detroit, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Spokane, Wash. — looking for other gigs.

“I haven’t paid my power bill yet this month,” said Cole, 29. “It’s been a struggle. I’ve got to find a job.”

Cole said she quit because she became angry after being put on a 60-day probation. She said her station bosses felt she wasn’t giving the station “enough attention.” (Cole also DJs part time at a Detroit radio station.)

“I said this is bullshit, I’m not going to sit around and wait to be fired,” she said. “I want to be famous. I want to be big. I thought I could do that in Lansing but now it looks like it’s not going to happen.”

Cole said she’d like to host a “Chelsea Lately”-type show eventually, and has made in-roads with TV producers on the West Coast. But the experience hasn’t burned her off the medium.

“I’ll always listen to the radio,” Cole said. “Radio will be fine.”

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