Tuesday, May 28, 2002

'Hometown' reporter quits WCPO

By Jonh Kiesewetter jkiesewetter@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WCPO-TV is losing one of its best storytellers, as the talent drain continues at Channel 9.

        Joe Webb, who did those delightful HomeTown features, is leaving the station Friday to start his own business.

        He's also talking to WKRC-TV (Channel 12) about reporting part-time starting Dec. 1, six months after he leaves Channel 9.

        Mr. Webb, 47, wanted to work part-time at Channel 9, while trying to establish a company to do voice-overs and write and produce stories for various cable channels.

        Channel 9 wanted him only if he would work full-time, as he has for 15 years at the station.

        “They really made me a nice offer, and I could have stayed for three years or more,” says Mr. Webb, whose wife is marketing director for St. Elizabeth Medical Center. They live in Edgewood with their two children, a sixth-grader and a second-grader.

        “More than anything, I wanted to explore these other opportunities while working part-time,” he says.

        More than anything, Channel 9 wanted a full-time staffer.

        “We negotiated back and forth, and I couldn't reach an agreement,” says Bill Fee, Channel 9 vice president and general manager. “I didn't want to lose Joe, but I need someone here full-time.”

        In recent years, Channel 9 has lost some key personnel to cable channel productions, most of them for parent E.W. Scripps Co. Starting the exodus was Jim Zarchin, the former news director who is now head of Scripps' Do It Yourself (DIY) cable channel.

        Former news director Stuart Zanger, photographer Larry Deal and promotion producer Mary Kay Deal quit to produce shows for Scripps' Food Network and other channels.

        Reporter Jay Shatz left the station to form Jay TV. His company produces Around the House (11:30 a.m. Sunday, Channel 9), and a series of Do It Yourself shows for Scripps' TV stations, including Do It Yourself Cincinnati (10 a.m. Sunday, Channel 9).

        Photographer Richard Schuldlos, who shot Mr. Webb's HomeTown features, quit last month to work for Jay TV.

        Reporter Deb Haas left 18 months ago to produce for Scripps' Fine Living channel, launched March 17.

        Add that to the departures of veteran 5 p.m. anchor Randy Little andweekend anchor Paul Schaefer, and you see why Channel 9 has so many new faces these days.

        “It's increasingly frustrating to see people go take jobs elsewhere,” Mr. Fee says.

        Channel 12 experienced a similar talent drain in the 1980s, when it was the city's top-rated TV news organization. Anchor Nick Clooney left for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles; weatherman Ira Joe Fisher went to WABC-TV in New York; sports anchor Dennis Janson jumped to Channel 9; and weekend anchor Edie Magnus moved on to ABC News.

        “The punishment of having good people is they get pulled away from you,” Mr. Fee says.

        Mr. Webb has spent most of his TV career at Channel 9. He started in TV 18 years ago, at age 29, for Scripps' Oklahoma City station. Before that, he worked seven years as a lab technician for Conoco Oil in his hometown of Ponca City, Okla.

        “It's nice to be leaving on my own terms, in a business where people often don't get to leave on their own terms,” he says.

        “I've had 15 great years at Channel 9, and I don't regret any of them or staying here as long as I did. I've made some great friends here. It was a really great run.”

        Enquirering Mind: This Enquirering mind wants to know: Can you imagine the terrific Tristate history stories that Mr. Webb could tell for Channel 12, if he hooks up with Channel 12 historian Dan Hurley? What a dream team that would be!

        Mr. Webb didn't want to talk about joining Channel 12 while still on Channel 9's payroll.

        “I'll be around,” he says. “The stuff with Channel 12 isn't finalized.”

        Channel 12 would be smart to revive Mr. Webb's HomeTown features (at least for weekend newscasts?), and possibly sell video compilations at Christmas (as Channel 9 did). Mr. Webb produced 330 HomeTown stories from 1997 until it was canceled last June by News Director Bob Morford.

        More Channel 9 news: You don't read much about wrestling or babies in this column, but for this I'll make an exception:

        The day before Channel 9 learned it was losing Mr. Webb last week, reporter Lynn Giroud told her bosses she's expecting triplets in November. She'll probably start maternity leave in August.

        Election night: All-volunteer Cable One public access will provide live Northern Kentucky election results 7-9 p.m. today on Insight Cable. The judge executives from Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties and Democratic Party leaders will analyze results. It airs on Channel 22 in Kenton and Boone, and Channel 21 in Campbell County.

        KET airs results 8-9 p.m. today (Channel 54).


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