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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Veteran anchor Bill Ratliff to leave WFLA-Ch. 8 after 27 years

17

April

BillratliffFor WFLA-Ch. 8 anchor Bill Ratliff, the idea came while trudging through the TV station's parking lot in the dark, heading in for another 5 a.m. newscast, wondering: Should a 60-year-old guy really be doing this?

Ratliff finally found his answer this year, deciding to step down from his job anchoring WFLA's morning weekday newscasts after an unbroken decade in the time slot and 27 years' total at the station.

The anchor, who returns from vacation on Wednesday, will work his last day on June 25.

He said this morning that the decision was mostly financial. Entering the final year of a 10-year deal, station management asked him to take reduced hours for reduced pay for the last 12 months.

Well aware of the financial strain parent company Media General is facing -- the corporation revealed today that its first quarter broadcast revenue in 2009 dropped 19 percent from the previous year -- and past layoffs that claimed the job of sports anchor Dave Reynolds two weeks ago, Ratliff decided to leave with a severance package.

Overall, Media General, which also owns the Tampa Tribune, Richmond Times-Dispatch and several other newspapers and TV stations -- reported an 18 percent drop in revenue in the first quarter, adding up to a loss of $21.3-million. A year earlier, the company reported first quarter losses of $20.3 million; the company also announced it cut 300 jobs by March 31 and will freeze its pension plan in May.

"Media General refers to an employee like me as a - quote -- highly compensated employee," noted Ratliff, who said his current salary is in the six-figure range -- essentially the same compensation a top, highly tenured anchor would make helming evening newscasts. "I understand the pressures ... Sometimes, I don't know how they keep the lights on."

The move also continues a trend that has seen highly paid, long-tenured local TV anchors lose jobs, as viewership for TV newscasts dips, consumers turn to the Internet for instant news and longtime advertisers find their finances crunched by the ongoing recession.

"Legacy anchors are going away," said Ratliff. "When you get into markets like Los Angeles and New York where the anchors are making several millions of dollars a year -- the stations are saying, 'We need to get away from that.' There are managers now who say the only thing that matters is content. But I think people are still loyal to those who give them the news ... It's a trust factor."

Guyardo150x190 Ratliff's longtime co-anchor Gayle Guyardo (left) will anchor the morning newscast alone, flanked by weather forecaster Jennifer Hill and traffic reporter Alicia Roberts.

Noting that the station is in a tough ratings battle with WTVT-Ch. 13, which the local Fox affiliate often wins, Ratliff wondered about the wisdom of breaking up a long-running anchor team some viewers have followed for a decade.

"Morning television is a different animal ... the audience connects with you on a different level and they're very loyal," he said, noting that the station's revenue has also been affected by the classified advertising losses at sister publication the Tampa Tribune. "TV stations make 30 percent of their revenue from automobile advertising and we are off 80 percent from that now. It will come back, but it will never come back to where it was. There are no business models for that."

Ratliff came to WFLA in March 1982 from Dallas, lured by the promise of anchoring the station's 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. By 1984, he was teamed with Bob Hite in a match they thought would be ratings dynamite, but instead, newscast ratings tanked.

"The news director called us in and told us one of us would be off the evening newscasts by the end of the year," Ratliff said. Hite wound up staying in the spot, continuing a tenure which ended with his retirement in late 2007; Ratliff eventually landed on the morning newscast in 1987, taking a break in 1999 before teaming with Guyardo.

Now Ratliff isn't sure what he will do, beyond taking at least two months off and getting his sleeping patterns back in order. Because the station isn't enforcing a "non-compete" clause in his contract, he's also free to talk with other stations about TV jobs, though he's wary of staying in an industry where he's worked for the past 41 years.

 "The primary issue for me is the hours I work have worn me out," he said, noting that he's in good enough shape financially that he doesn't have to consider working for a while. "After doing something for so long, maybe the fire doesn't burn as brightly. But the one feeling I have is that I'm just grateful I had 27 years in place ... and I'm leaving on good terms. I'm going to wake up on June 26 and have no idea what I'm going to do. In a way, they kind of did me a favor." 

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Click below for WFLA's news release:

BILL RATLIFF LEAVING WFLA-TV (NBC, Tampa)

Tampa, FL - News Channel 8 Today co-anchor and managing editor Bill Ratliff
is leaving WFLA-TV (NBC, Tampa) at the end of his contract on June 25,
2009.

Ratliff has been with the station since 1982 and during his tenure
has anchored all of WFLA-TV’s weekday newscasts.  Anchor Gayle Guyardo,
Meteorologist Jennifer Hill and TBO Traffic’s Alicia Roberts will remain as
the newscast’s team, bringing the most up-to-the-minute morning news,
traffic and weather coverage to Tampa Bay area viewers.  News Channel 8
Today airs from 5 to 7 a.m. weekday mornings.

“We are sorry to see Bill leave us. His experience and professionalism
have helped make WFLA-TV one of the country’s great stations,” said News
Channel 8 News Director Don North.    “The news business is changing at an
unprecedented pace...that coupled with the tough economy means we’ve had to
make some difficult decisions about how we are moving ahead.”

Ratliff is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and attended the University of
Cincinnati. He has worked in broadcasting for more than 40 years.  Before
joining WFLA-TV, he was a journalist at WFAA-TV in Dallas, Texas; WDIV-TV
in Detroit, Michigan; WKYT-TV in Lexington, Kentucky and WLWT-TV in
Cincinnati, Ohio.

"As Tampa Bay's local news leader, we continue to innovate and provide our
audiences with the best possible news coverage, every day,” said John
Schueler, President of Florida Communications Group, which includes
WFLA-TV, The Tampa Tribune, TBO.com and CENTRO Tampa.  “Our multimedia,
interactive approach is a commitment to the kind of quality coverage the
people of Tampa Bay expect from us…on-air, online and in print.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:57pm]

    

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