Monday, June 27, 2011

27 JUN 11: Weather or Nuts

At one point during the 6:00 p.m. ET half-hour Sunday, parts of six counties in the Columbus area were under severe thunderstorm warnings. If you happened to watch the infomercial on WRBL, you knew about them. If you watched the newscast on WTVM, you probably didn't. No wonder I've seen people call up the AccuWeather website when local storm sirens sound.

How could this upside-down situation happen? Because WRBL had computer-generated maps in a corner of the screen showing the warnings. WTVM had Katherine Kington doing double duty as news and weather anchor, so she couldn't go to the weather center to check for updates. Kington clearly needs one of those "Droid Apps" on the news desk at moments like this.

Sunday's dinner hour actually revealed how both TV stations have problems handling severe weather these days. We'll start with WTVM, which still hasn't recovered completely from the ouster of Kurt Schmitz three months ago. New Chief Meteorologist Derek Kinkade apparently went out-of-town for the weekend - and unexpectedly turned into a storm chaser.

Since Bruce Lee left WTVM several weeks ago, the station's "weather team" has diminished to only Derek Kinkade. I'm told recent appearances by April Gonzales and Laura Huckabee are fill-ins only, until permanent replacements can be hired. I'm not sure why Huckabee wouldn't want to return to television -- especially since no one will confuse her with a 2012 Presidential candidate.

(Huckabee used to be on the air in Atlanta. But she left the CBS station as it focused on making a woman named Dagmar a star, complete with giant billboards along the interstates. If you weren't in a heat wave, Dagmar seemed designed to create a personal one.)

In a move as surprising as a heat wave in June, Kurt Schmitz now has filed suit against WTVM General Manager Lee Brantley. The case is in Muscogee County Superior Court, as opposed to Dee Armstrong's race discrimination suit which was in federal court. I don't think Schmitz could claim discrimination against polka enthusiasts.

Kurt Schmitz contends a contract he signed last September was breached when WTVM fired him in March. Schmitz told the Ledger-Enquirer he was under contract until February 2014 - at which time he would have been free to compete for the U.S. curling team at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Kurt Schmitz's lawsuit claims he never resigned from WTVM, and Lee Brantley ended his "career as a broadcast meteorologist" by terminating him in March. I'm not sure it's really ended, though. Wouldn't ubiquitous radio forecasters Alan Archer and James Spann appreciate Schmitz giving them a few days off?

The lawsuit reveals Kurt Schmitz's contract bars him from working at another Columbus TV station for one year. One question in the case is whether WTVM made that "non-compete clause" null and void by firing him. It's a very grown-up version of asking, "Can I go outside and play again?"

Kurt Schmitz admits he now watches WRBL's Bob Jeswald for weather reports - but that may become tougher in the second half of this year. WRBL's parent company Media General announced the other day all employees must take 15 furlough days by the end of 2011. The taped weather reports played on Saturday nights soon may last all the way to Tuesday.

The 15 forced furlough days raise the question of whether WRBL will stop newscasts it recently restarted. You may recall the 12:00 noon news and Sunday "Nightwatch" were brought back last year, after being eliminated in 2008-09. Tammy Terry ought to use her time away from the newsroom working on an infomercial selling hair products.

(The furlough announcement also applies to Media General newspapers, including the Opelika-Auburn News. I'm going to assume that paper will go without a sports section for 15 days in July, because it wouldn't dare miss an issue during football season.)

While two Columbus TV news departments deal with short staffing, WLTZ quietly goes about its business. But the evening news anchor seems to change so often, I'm not sure they bother flying down from Iowa to get acquainted anymore.

As for the storms, WRBL reported a sudden two-inch rainfall in Lee County caved in a gas station roof in Opelika. I can't wait for someone to blame this on President Obama - claiming the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is making more than gas prices drop.

A familiar name in Columbus radio begins our check of other weekend news....

+ Former WVRK "Rock 103" host Chris Chaos announced online he's ending his own "180-day non-compete," and will join WRCG and "106.9 Rocks" next week. Chaos again will be on the air during the afternoon. Many families already have enough chaos in the morning, simply getting everyone to the right location.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer revealed more details of the Columbus Police investigation of the Parks and Recreation Department. Concerns apparently were raised about the Georgia Blazers basketball program as far back as 2003. Maybe that's why the Columbus Lady Wings basketball team has had trouble getting media attention.

(Former Carver High School men's basketball coach Richard Mahone told police the Muscogee County School District reprimanded him, because he complained about then-Parks Director Tony Adams recruiting out-of-town players. Didn't he realize how valuable every tourist dollar is?)

+ Albany eliminated the Columbus Lions in the Southern Indoor Football League Conference Finals 75-61. I've already read one lengthy "conspiracy theory" suggesting the Lions threw the game, to save the cost of a long road trip for the championship game. I'm not sure about that - but it would have looked strange for the team to hold a bake sale outside the Civic Center.

+ The Miss Phenix City pageant hosted a "princess party" for girls. I'm not sure that sort of gender restriction will be allowed in New York much longer....

+ Instant Message to the Woodland homeowner with a large trimmed-hedge W outside his house: Two thoughts came to mind Sunday, when I drove by. Either you're welcoming visitors to your town - or you really need to get over the 2008 election.

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