WTVH Sends Staffers Packing

March 2, 2009 by

SYRACUSE -- Sadly, the rumors we reported earlier have become true:  Syracuse's first TV station has sent 40+ staffers packing, and the news operations have been "gutted" to a barebones crew.  (Updated at 6:25pm)

According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, WTVH -- originally known as WHEN when it signed on in 1948 (and later WHEN-TV when Meredith acquired WAGE and renamed it to WHEN) -- told staff members this morning that it is joining forces with WSTM-TV (Channel 3).  As a result, most WTVH employees were laid off, with only a small "transition team" keeping their jobs.

There's no word yet on who exactly is on this "transition team" or how long it will last.  The paper says "it's expected there will be a newscast tonight," but nothing about the long-term plans for WTVH's news department.

The newspaper lists a number of contributing factors in WTVH's slide from first-place to dead last in the local TV news battle.  The station boasted incredible ratings numbers in the 1980s, but has consistently ranked third behind WSTM and WSYR-TV (Channel 9) for the past several years.  Some shows even reportedly posted a zero rating.

Former WTVH morning anchor Keith Kobland is also a DJ at Sunny 102 (WZUN).  Former Chief Meteorologist Tom Hauf provides forecasts for Movin 100.3/96.5.

Update 6:25pm: Sampling WTVH's 6pm newscast tonight, the only "native" WTVH personalities we've spotted were anchor Michael Benny and reporter Haley Hinds.  Weather was done by WSTM's Wayne Mahar, and WTVH aired a report by WSTM's Lisa Spitz.

WTVH's 6pm newscast also featured a pre-recorded interview shot on WSTM's set with channel 3 anchors Matt Mulcahy and Jackie Robinson, with Barrington Broadcasting GM Chris Geiger, who will now also be overseeing WTVH.  Geiger said the combined stations would offer local newscasts in timeslots where they currently do not exist (we're guessing 4 and/or 7pm), along with expanded offerings in existing timeslots, though no specific examples were given.

The weather and sports segments appeared to be pre-taped, as evidenced by the lack of "banter" between Benny and the WSTM personalities.

Related Links:
- Press release on WSTM's website,
- Press release on WTVH's website,
- Rod Wood, formerly of WHEN-AM/TV, posts his thoughts at
- Report filed today by the Utica Observer-Dispatch
- YouTube: WTVH's 50th Anniversary in 1998, where the late Ron Curtis closes saying, "but one thing will never change: our commitment to you."

Notable WTVH Alumni (from Wikipedia):

Although usually leaves the TV biz to our friends at CNY TV News, we felt this was too big a story to ignore.  We sympathize with those at WTVH who lost their jobs today, and we know it's easier said than done, but we wish you all the best in finding new employment.

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6 comments on “WTVH Sends Staffers Packing”

  1. Very sorry to read the News of this tragic event. Granite Broadcasting is a typical example of ownership paying too much for properties and then cutting expenses to increase profit revenues. You increase profit by growing sales revenue. Citadel is in the same situation. Prior to Citadel buying WNTQ/Lite 105.9 95X and 1260WNDR
    These properties were very profitable and a great place to work much of the credit for their success was Michael Doyle and the staff he assembled. It breaks my heart to see the industry decline to this low level. My prayers go out to the people impacting by these current owners.

  2. Also sorry to read the story about TV-5 and the nonsense that is going on in the broadcast industry in general. It appears that talent and ability no longer matters in this field. Maybe, someday, the general public will begin to question the need for monopolistic operations in their communities. People should start asking serious questions of the FCC about stations being of service to their communies as a "public trustee".

  3. Dave Bullard, formerly of WTVH, posted an excellent comment below the Syracuse Post-Standard's story that very nicely sums up Granite's treatment of the station. We can't copy and paste it here (but he can if he wants to), but it's well worth clicking the P-S link above and scrolling down through the first few dozen other comments, to see what Dave said.

  4. Glad to cross post the comment here. It's worth noting that most folks up through the 80's came to WTVH (and other Syracuse TV stations) from Syracuse radio. Me, Bill Carey, the late Donna Speziale, Bill Pfohl, Jim Campagna, Dan Cummings, Christie Casciano and lots of others. Just one more radio tie to this story.

    Here's the comment:

    Heartbreaking news.

    The major reason for Channel 5's decline, in my less than impartial opinion, is the structural decision by the new owners (and the old owners, magazine publishing company Meredith Corp., were excellent) to suck every dollar possible out of the operation in order to pay the massive debt required to fund the purchase.

    You cannot cut your way to a profit. And you surely cannot cut your way to excellence.

    Granite was handed a dominant #1 station, with the top-rated anchor team in town (Ron and Maureen) and experienced (read: higher priced) reporters and photographers. 30+ share at 6; 50+ share (one of the last in the nation for a market that size) at Noon.

    On Day 1, Granite's leaders told us that the pay scale that Meredith had used for non-union reporters and photographers was scrapped. The old pay scale moved you quickly from a starting salary of $18,500 (this was in 1990 dollars) to $35,000 in 4 years. That's the kind of money a reporter or photographer can count on to help raise a family, and to be able to settle down in the market for a long time or even forever.

    Benefits were also cut way back, though I forget the exact details.

    End result:

    I was hired in 1985 at $18,500. When I left -- 9 years later -- my replacement was hired at $16,000. 9 years later!

    That's a big reason why the reporting corps got younger, and left town sooner.

    The station did not prepare adequately for Ron's retirement and mishandled Maureen, whom people loved to watch.

    And the revolving door of GMs and NDs has provided no stability.

    This outcome may not be what Granite wanted, but it's exactly what they've been headed towards since day one of their miserly run to the bottom.

    Sadly, all the wrong people continue to get hurt.

    -Dave Bullard
    Reporter/Producer, WTVH, 1985-1994

  5. This breaks my heart!


    The Magic Toy Lady, Mister Trolley, Uncle Skip and the Our Gang Young Rascals!

    Magnificent local programming of all kinds originating from lower Court Street studios in the earliest days of Syracuse TV with Electronics Park churning out black & white sets by the tens of thousands, made by Syracusans for the world.

    Several weeks ago, the Toledo Blade published this editorial by a WNDR DJ from the late 'fifties:

    Published Thursday, February 5, 2009

    Time for Toledoans to Take Back Radio

    By way of brief introduction, My name is Peter Cavanaugh.

    I am former executive vice president and chief operating officer of Reams Broadcasting (WIOT/WCWA, 1983 to 1992) and ex-vice president/general manager of WSPD/WLQR (1994 to 1995).

    Following Clear Channel's Inaugural Day slaughter of nearly 2,000 loyal broadcast employees, and with the company's Toledo market manager Andy Stuart "unavailable for comment," might I propose a few "new rules" about media ownership?

    In the past dozen years, we've seen facility value thrive on the promise of "consolidation," then brutally collapse under the weight of egregious greed.

    Major broadcasting stocks have become virtually worthless through no fault of sales, programming, clerical, marketing, or promotional talent.

    When 2009 financial covenants can't be met, taxpayer-owned (or owed) banks should seize the stations and/or groups which they funded and transfer the facilities in Federal Communications Commission-sanctioned public auctions to local interests.

    In such transactions, former employees would receive special consideration, including the opportunity to be considered for small-business loans to not only gain control but participate in common, community-oriented ownership.

    Details to be determined. Nothing to it but to do it.

    Toledo, take back your stations!

    Peter Cavanaugh

    Oakhurst, Calif.

    This was written about Radio, but the same thoughts apply to TV.

    Granite WILL default on its corporate obligations.

    Syracuse, take back your Television Station!

    Peter C. Cavanaugh
    Cathedral '59
    LeMoyne '63

    Ron Curtis was my PD at WFBL.

  6. If I were at the FCC, LMA's would equal ownership. People can say whatever they want, but that's just the way businesses are operating these agreements.

    With that, and knowing no-one will be able to sell stations, there are about 50 stations from 3 groups that would end up going to the auction block.


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