WTSP-Ch. 10 debuts new chief meterologist Jim Van Fleet
In what some might call a "soft launch," St. Petersburg CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 saw its chief meterologist Jim Van Fleet make his debut in the station's 5 p.m. newscast Monday -- nearly four months after they announced his hire.
"I'm actually here...and allowed to be on air," joked Van Fleet Monday, referring to the contract issues which kept him from appearing on WTSP until his agreement with Orlando Fox station WOFL-TV fully expired. "That was Triple A, and now I'm ready for the majors."
Van Fleet worked at WOFL for 10 years, but when he accepted the offer from WTSP, the Orlando station wouldn't let him out of his contract early, forcing the Tampa Bay area station to wait months for a key player in its weather team.
It's been a rough transition for WTSP, which replaced three quarters of its weather staff this summer. The instability started in January, when then-weather chief Tammie Souza returned to Chicago after just two years in the Tampa Bay area, saying her husband couldn't find a job locally.
Then word spread that meteorologists Chris Suchan and Sherry Ray Hughes would be leaving. Suchan, considered a prime candidate to replace Souza, eventually accepted a job at KCTV in Kansas City after learning he would not be the chief at WTSP. Hughes moved out of state to be with her husband.
Only morning forecaster Bobby Deskins remained from last years group of meteorologists -- an odd flurry of staff changes, considering that Souza's predecessor, Dick Fletcher, worked at WTSP nearly 30 years before his death in January 2008 following a stroke.
Now WTSP is running advertisements touting the Florida backgrounds of its new meteorologists (new hire Mark Collins is a St. Petersburg native and Kate Wentzel came to WTSP from West Palm Beach). But the promotional spots I saw never gave a specific date when Van Fleet, who also sings in a country band on the side, would debut.
But in a market where weather is one of the most popular features of a newscast and rival stations have chief forecasters with many years' experience in the area, WTSP may still face an uphill struggle with so many new faces.