WFLA Places Second in Local HD Race; Do Viewers Care?
It is a widely-whispered rumor locally that WFLA-Ch. 8 was expecting to be the first local station to unveil its high-definition newscasts in the market. Then WFTS-Ch. 28 snuck under the wire in July, snatching the bragging rights for a significant technological advance from the area's longtime market leader.
But WFLA news director Don North denied such concerns surfaced much in the station's quest to go HD, a task which will be complete at 5 p.m. tomorrow, when WFLA offers its first high definition newscasts. (See my little treatise on the politics of local HD here).
"The reality is, I think everybody knew folks were moving to do this...It's clearly something everybody is going to do, so we might as well get to it," said North, noting that field reports still won't be broadcast in high definition, but anchor shots in studio and the weather reports will be. "It's more an issue for the engineering departments than the news department."
Okay. At any rate, the suspense is over, and WFLA is about to get in the HD game. As a reporter, it has been a bit frustrating watching this all play out, as local news executives ignore phone calls and refuse to speak on their plans, even after the race for first was done. And it's tough to know whether viewers will care much about this advance -- given that only about 30 percent of the Tampa Bay market has high definition-capable TV sets now.
One big issue which seems to face WFLA is its anchors. High definition technology often exposes flaws in the anchors' skin tones that could previously be masked by powder makeup. And WFLA has some of the oldest anchors in the market, including the retiring Bob Hite, Gayle Sierens and Bill Ratliff, all of whom have tenures of 25 years or longer at the station.
"I think our anchors look terrific -- they always looked fine," said North, who noted anchors will be using a special type of makeup -- applied with an airbrush -- which looks smoother than powder in high definition. "I don't think they look any different now."
The big question left for the market now: When will WTVT-Ch. 13 and WTSP-Ch. 10 make the transition?
New Meteorologist at WFLA
WFLA has also hired a new meteorologist to fill out its weather team after the death of John Winter in April. Her name is Leigh Spann and she comes from another Media General-owned station, WCBD in Charleston, S.C. She'll start next week at WFLA, forecasting on weekend mornings, allowing reporter Peter Bernard -- who had been helping out by covering weekend shifts -- to go back to chasing news stories.