wall to wall weather

I’m in Birmingham in the middle of one of those spring storms that brings everything tv-show-wise to a halt. All of the local stations have ditched regular programming for wall-to-wall-weather. They need to. There are at least 2 possible tornadoes moving through Alabama now, one of them is supposedly near St. Clair County where we are tonight.

My parents are on Dish-Network so for the past 15 minutes we’ve been waiting it out with no tv at all. They (against my suggestion) do not have one television in the house with either cable or an antenna in order to watch bad weather when the satellite goes out. You’ve got to have some way to see the bad weather when it’s headed your way. The tornado siren went off about a half-hour ago and judging from what the meteorologists had on the air then, the bad stuff should have already passed us.

It’s always interesting to me to compare local tv in Birmingham with that in Memphis. I grew up watching these stations so my opinion of what they do may be somewhat skewed in their favor. But I think the Birmingham stations do an excellent job of covering what’s happening, maybe even better than the stations in Memphis.

There are 5 local stations doing local news. WBRC (FOX6, the leader in most timeslots) WVTM (the NBC O&O) WBMA (ABC 33/40, the relative upstart), WIAT (CBS), and the local WB station that just started local news a couple of years ago.

This station has been number one from the day I was born. They have more news than perhaps any other tv station in the country. Their on-air talent are top-notch anchors, some of whom have been on the air since I was in junior high. The recent ratings show FOX 6 (which used to be the ABC station) as the winners in the morning, and at 10. The morning show combines hard news and the morning-talk-show format that I hope is making a return in some markets. Their morning news beats the Today Show and Good Morning America! Since FOX doesn’t have an evening newscast, FOX 6 does it’s own national newscast which also beat the national broadcasts in the market for February. Very dependable in their coverage of all local news and weather and sports. Familiar anchors who are consistent and friendly and credible. You won’t go wrong watching FOX 6.

Years ago I thought this station would overtake 6 as the dominant station in Birmingham. 6 switched from ABC to Fox and WBMA was an upstart with the ABC signal. The leg-up 13 had on the competition though never really turned into the ratings giant I suspected. Most of the reason was probably talent and a lack of good promotions. The popular weatherman moved to the news anchor desk and the popular sports anchor moved to another news anchor seat. They’ve had a bit of a revolving door in the news director’s office and moved another very good and popular primary 10pm anchor to the weekends. Most of the people I know here say they don’t watch 13, but they can’t really explain why. Some of them say they’ve never been able to accept the weatherman, Mike Royer, as a news anchor. That’s reason enough for them to depend on the other stations in town for their news. 13 does make a good showing in the ratings, a few books ago they won one of the early evening slots, but not for February.

WBMA ABC 33/40
The Albritton owned station made a huge splash when it burst onto the scene during the “big switch” of the mid-90s. They brought over some of the big name talent from 6, including James Spann who is unarguably the most popular weatherman in Alabama. He’s the best meteorologist I’ve ever seen. When looking at any severe weather map in the state it’s common to hear Spann say “and if you’re familiar with this area the storm is approaching ‘Smith’s Dairy Dip’ at the corner of Highway 11 and State road 157. His presence at the ABC can explain how the upstart does so well in the ratings. My folks would never dream of tuning into any other weatherman during a storm. The talent on the anchor desk is good too, but if there is any lack of depth it’s in the street reporters. The good reporters eventually move on to other markets and it’s sort of a proving ground for young reporters in their second jobs. The reason is likely that ABC pays it’s on-air anchors so much it doesn’t have enough to go around in the reporter area.

I was watching on the very first 42 newscast in the mid to late 80s. They had a bubbly female anchor and a veteran male anchor as the show opened. He looked into the camera and read the wrong line. “Good evening, I’m Marianne Matthews” HE said. She laughed and said something like “no silly, I’M Marianne Matthews, you’re (whatever his name was). The station has been trying to play catch up ever since. A few years ago the brain trust decided to use only the anchors for it’s reports. Reporters would gather the package information, shoot the video, write the story but the anchors would voice it. No live shots in the field. No reporter was ever seen. I think WIAT still uses this format but I can’t be sure. I don’t know of anyone who watches their evening news.

The WB station does local news but it also uses a network “feed” for part of the newscast. I watched a portion of their news this weekend but only caught a majority of the national part.

Tomorrow: Birmingham TV News Part II


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