When Don Pratt, WCBD Charleston VP and general manager, was searching for a new news director, one candidate’s credentials stood out. Besides the more traditional station experience, including majormarket producing stints and an assistant news director post at WLOS Asheville, Brian Luhn had been a producer at The Weather Channel. In a coastal market prone to hurricanes and tornadoes, such experience was undeniably attractive.
“The No. 1 thing viewers want from their stations here is weather,” says Pratt. “Brian was out in the field; he knew and understood how to go about deploying crews successfully and safely. That was tremendously important.”
Luhn is one of a handful of Weather Channel alums who have landed in key management positions at TV stations of late. On November 10, Weather Channel VP of live programming Jennifer Rigby was named news director at WXIA-WATL Atlanta. In September, Jesse Hamilton shifted from executive producer of primetime at Weather to exec producer at WLS Chicago. Jennifer Graves, WLS VP and news director, called him a “whiz” at showcasing, breaking coverage and social media.
Going back further, Helen Swenson, former Weather Channel senior VP of live programming, moved to general manager at LIN Media’s WIAT Birmingham in late 2013.
Local Trust Factor Rules
The moves indicate the important role weather news continues to play for local TV viewers. While they can receive weather updates from any number of national outlets, a substantial number still prefers to get them from veteran meteorologists in their market. “It’s still the local station people who give you perspective that other people don’t, that your app doesn’t,” says Laura Clark, senior VP at consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates. “There’s a lot of value in people who live in the community and know which way the weather goes.”
While a station chief needs to be fluent in multiple aspects of the business, one with a weather background may be more likely to make sound decisions when severe weather strikes. Clark says a GM with a sales background may be concerned about displaced advertisers during live coverage, while a boss versed in weather is perhaps more focused on the best way to get updates out. “Someone who’s sensitive to how important weather is is probably a good thing,” she says.
To be sure, people have moved from The Weather Channel (which has had two rounds of layoffs this fall) to local TV, and vice versa, for years. Last year, Rashida Jones—who spent seven years at Weather Channel—left the news director position at WIS Columbia to produce at MSNBC. And the recent hires from Weather Channel all possess significant station experience as well.
John Deushane, WXIA-WATL president and general manager, says cable news experience might fit with his goal of hiring “disruptors.” “I look for someone who brings a different skill set to the mix,” he says.
For his part, Pratt likes that Luhn can speak with WCBD’s weather talent in their language. “When the news director ‘gets it,’ they’re a much more active participant [in severe weather coverage],” he says, “instead of being 100% dependent on the meteorologists.”
HEARST TV’S KCCI ADDS MYNET AFFILIATION
KCCI Des Moines has added a hybrid of MyNetworkTV and new Weigel digi-net Heroes & Icons to its digital tier, with “My Des Moines” airing on channel 8.3. MyNet programming, including The Walking Dead and Law & Order: SVU, runs 7-9 p.m. The remainder of the schedule is supplemented with Heroes & Icons (H&I), a trove of crime-fighting dramas that includes The Commish, NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues.
Pappas-owned KDMI previously held the MyNetworkTV affiliation in Des Moines, which is DMA No. 72 (see “Market Eye”).
Hearst TV-owned KCCI is a CBS affiliate with Me-TV on its dot-two, and now MyNet/H&I on its dot-three.
“Whether it’s local news, weather and CBS programming on KCCI, classic and new dramas on My Des Moines, or classic comedy on Me-TV Des Moines, we will have something for everyone,” said Brian Sather, KCCI president and general manager.