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Station Break

Bye Bye, news

Sinclair Broadcast Group's ABC affiliate WXLV-TV Winston-Salem, N.C., will end its 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts Friday, putting as many as 35 people out of work and drawing the curtain on the station's news presence in the market.

The move—described as painful by Sinclair Station Group Manager Will Davis —is the company's fourth in just over a year, including elimination of morning news at WXLV-TV in late 2000.

Sinclair also pulled the plug on the 3 1/2-year-old news department at WTWC(TV) Tallahassee, Fla., in 2000, firing nearly 40 people.

In its biggest cut, Sinclair eliminated news at its St. Louis ABC affiliate last October, axing 50 jobs in the nation's 22nd-largest market. Sinclair noted, however, that it had added or expanded news in five of its markets.

In announcing the action, Davis said he told his news staff that they'd done a good job but the station's poor signal coverage, the poor economy and competition in the market made it impossible to keep the department. The newscasts, he said, posted Nielsen ratings between 1 and 2 (the winner usually pulls a 6 or 7).

Sinclair said it is trying to place as many staffers as possible at other Sinclair stations.

Logging a ratings win

That 30-plus-year-old, 6 1/2-minute loop of a burning log that aired continuously for two hours on Christmas day not only gave WPIX(TV) New York a time-slot victory (B&C, Dec. 31, 2001) but garnered the station more attention than even its longtime, former connection to the mighty New York Yankees.

Since the revelation of the log's popularity, General Manager Berry Ellen Berlamino has been quoted on behalf of the station not only in the New York media and TV trades but also on CNN, the BBC, worldwide wire services and newspapers nationwide. The tape was created by the station's one-time GM, the late Fred Thrower, as a soothing holiday respite for urbanites, and its airing was a tradition from the late '60s to the late '80s. It was brought back in 2001 with a fanfare that included promos from comedian Ray Romano and, Berlamino says, will likely have a bright future.

PBS plug panned

The appearance of a Mecklenburg County, N.C., commissioner in a local PBS promo has stirred controversy involving a possible conflict of interest.

Commissioner Bill James has protested the appearance of Parks Helms on behalf of WTVI(TV) Charlotte because, as commissioner, Helms helps finance the station and should not benefit from free airtime there. "He is receiving the benefit of their primary asset," James says. "PBS stations are not in the habit of giving away airtime."

Helms is expected to seek reelection, although he would not confirm that. He says he sees promoting the station as part of his job. Station executives could not be reached for comment, but the ad is part of a campaign using a number of local public figures.

Thumbs up

Aaron Barnhart, TV columnist for the Kansas City Star
and proprietor of the popular Web site, is going into the new year with encouraging reports from his doctors. Barnhart was diagnosed a year ago with a rare form of blood cancer. After months of treatment, he says things have improved greatly.

"This is a little different from tumor-based cancers," Barnhart told BROADCASTING & CABLE, "so it's impossible to say that the cancer is completely gone. But I've felt great for months and now have some numbers that back me up."

News exec sentenced

Former Denver TV news executive Scott McDonald was given a 12-year sentence in Colorado's community corrections system late last month for swindling several victims, including former colleagues at the two Denver stations at which he had worked. He will live in a halfway house and work to repay nearly $200,000 to numerous victims. McDonald had been managing editor at KDVR(TV) and had worked at KUSA-TV before that.