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Why So Many Newscasts? 

Plus, can't WBT fire people the right way?

In the broadcasting business, they call them "street Nielsens." They're the comments you hear from the neighbor, the friend, or the relative who tells you what they watch on TV and how they watch it.

Despite the fact that I toiled for over 22 years in TV news, what you thought about what you accomplished each day in the newsroom was pretty much slapped down by the ones you love. Or at least like.

"I never watch TV news." "I only see the 10pm." "I can't stand to watch (fill in the news anchor's name)." "I love to watch (fill in the anchor's name)." I only catch news in the morning when I eat breakfast."

What's painfully clear is that TV news is not one-third as important to viewers as it is to the people who create the newscasts. The gaping holes in content relevance make even seasoned news directors wince when they cater to audiences they must reach, rope, and hogtie for ratings and financial survival. The news department is the cash cow for a commercial TV station, yet viewership is shrinking, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Ten years ago, they found that 77 percent of Americans watched local news. By 2002, that number had decreased to 57 percent. But if less people are watching local news, why are we getting more local newscasts?

WJZY is airing a new 10pm newscast produced over at WBTV, and anchored by Dave Stanley. Chances that they'll win the time slot are slim to none.

Over at Fox18, they're gearing up and hiring staff to begin a two-hour morning show starting in January. The people that bring you the offbeat "Fox News Edge" want to zoo it up in the mornings now. Will it beat network fare? Nope.

The reason we get more news is. . .money. When a local station chooses what programs to air, winning the most viewers doesn't always equal the most ad dollars. That's because stations get to sell all the commercial time within their own newscasts. They only get a tiny slice of the ad pie for network shows and syndicated programs they purchase, like a Wheel of Fortune or Oprah. News can be pricey to produce, but another half-hour or two doesn't cost a whole lot more.

Just when you thought the dust had settled after the "Randall Bloomquist years," and the firing of Richard Spires last month, the wrecking ball hits the wall again at WBT-AM. It's nothing less than embarrassing when an on-air show host, namely Brad Krantz, finds out he's being replaced in his time slot by reading a radio industry website. You have to feel for Krantz, whose afternoon drive show was wiped out when co-host Spires was fired for personal reasons. It's a station's prerogative, of course, to program how they see fit, but employees shouldn't find out from the Internet that they're out of a job.

Krantz is still on the WBT payroll, but has not been on air. Don Russell has been filling in, and promos are already running, saying that he's filling in for Jason Lewis, who hasn't even starting working yet. Lewis, who will take the 3-6pm time slot next month, had a short stint at WBT several years ago, then went to Minnesota to ply his rightwing thing at WSTP-AM. He's the ex-husband of former WBTV anchorwoman Madeline McFadden.

What we'll have now from noon to 6 is WBT taking its upscale angry white guy niche up a notch, with Lewis following Rush Limbaugh.

LAST CALL. . . It's a time slot that makes it perfect for the VCR or TiVo, but you might check out Ellen Degeneres' new talk show, running at 3pm in this market (on Fox18). After the sitcom and the coming out, and that icky Anne Heche stuff, it makes you remember why you liked her in the first place. . .Dr. Phil McGraw fans will notice that not one, but two North Carolinians are finalists in the talk show host/shrink's "Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge." In this Survivor of the weight loss wars, 13 people picked from 7,000 who mailed tapes into the show will spend the next nine months following a plan and losing weight. It's part of the juggernaut surrounding McGraw's best-selling new book. Angela (they aren't using last names) from West Jefferson, and Monika from Goldsboro are in the final 13, and the show will follow them through the following months. Angela looks to have the toughest climb: she weighs over 450 pounds and is unemployed. Dr Phil graces our local airwaves on WSOC-TV at 10am. . . .WJZY-TV has begun its new public affairs show, Charlotte Now with Mike Collins, Sundays at 10:30pm. . . .In the good works department, WSOC-TV presented the local chapter of the Red Cross with a $10,000 check to aid Hurricane Isabel victims. All the money came from viewers who responded to news stories and public service announcements.

Stay tuned.

Shannon Reichley is the producer/writer of Lending a Hand; Habitat for Humanity, airing on the DIY cable network this month. E-mail at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com.

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