Station Break

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Chopper fired on

The news chopper of WNDU-TV South Bend, Ind., took a bullet when covering a police standoff at a Michigan farm where police suspected marijuana use. Two men later died during the five-hour standoff, shot by police, authorities said, after the two men pointed guns at them. A third man was also shot.

During a fly-over to shoot footage of two burned-out buildings, the station reported, "Newschopper 16 was shot at and hit. A bullet believed to be from a .22 tore through a stabilizer, but that did not affect the helicopter's ability to fly. The bullet missed the chopper's rotors and did not harm anyone inside."

Local reports said shots also were fired at an unmarked state-police plane Saturday but missed.

Willi exits AR&D

Without much fanfare, Jim Willi, president of consultant Audience Research & Development, is leaving the company after 12 years. Addressing speculation that has appeared on the Internet, Willi said he was not fired nor is he defecting to rival consulting firm Frank N. Magid. The former station news director and GM suggested he would be returning to station or station-group management.

Cost-Cutting caveats

Fisher Broadcasting employees have been told to expect staff cuts as the company reduces expenses by 10% in the next year. Parent Fisher Communications sold off its flour-milling business this year to focus more on its core radio and TV business. The company employs about 1,000 workers at its 12 TV and 26 radio stations.

"Risks and uncertainties" could cause Fisher to "scale back or stop entirely its cost-reduction effort," a company statement said, "if (1) cost reductions began to unacceptably degrade our product, particularly the quality of our broadcasts …cost reductions began to otherwise unacceptably injure our ability to generate revenue (e.g., by losing key sales personnel); cost reductions unacceptably damaged employee morale; reallocation of responsibilities increased workloads to too great an extent; or cost reductions threatened to prevent Fisher from taking advantage of a business opportunity."

Mountain time

Longtime Boston newsman Ted O'Brien, missing for two days and nights in New Hampshire's White Mountains, was discovered unhurt by a search party. The former WHDH-TV anchor and WABU(TV) news director (both Boston) acknowledged his lack of preparedness for what was intended to be a six-hour hike. O'Brien, now an anchor at WBUR-FM Boston, quipped that, if he'd taken more steps beforehand, he'd have taken fewer steps afterward.

TV Staffer busted

South Carolina authorities are accusing Howard Burkhart Jr, a 67-year-old longtime camera operator at WSVN(TV) Miami, of ties to a major drug- smuggling and money-laundering operation. Police say Burkhart allowed his brother, Ronnie, who allegedly had connections to the Medellin drug cartel, to buy properties in South Carolina in his name. Burkhart was arrested last weekend at his Hollywood, Fla., condo by local police.

Local media reported that Burkhart has no criminal record, although his son was arrested last year, allegedly trying to help a friend escape a treatment center via helicopter. His brother, who died last year, was also a target of the investigation.

The station had no comment, and Burkhart could not be reached for comment.

Lights, camera, news from PBS

RTNDA attendees will get a preview of Local News, a five-hour PBS documentary for which Lumiere Productions obtained extensive access to the news operation at WCNC-TV Charlotte, N.C. Lumiere's Cal Skaggs said his crew received unprecedented access for nearly 10 months. The project cost between $2 million and $3 million, financed by grants from the Ford and McArthur Foundations and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Among the events covered are the firing of reporter Bea Thompson and subsequent protests, a busing-desegregation trial, and hurricane coverage, but Skaggs says it's mostly about "TV news, period, vividly acted out in people's lives."

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