Friday, April 10, 2009

A few parting words...

Hope I didn't get your hopes up with my return last week to comment on the elimination of local news on WYOU. I never planned my return to be permanent, mainly because I no longer live or work in NEPA. That makes it hard to keep up on local news happenings, even with the occasional tip that wound up in my inbox. The blog will stay up for your reading pleasure, and I'll still moderate comments, but unless another local TV news operation goes belly up (and let's hope that never happens) or something big happens, it's back to obscurity for yours truly.

But before I go, there's one thing that's been on the back of my mind since WYOU News was axed, and that's the film archive lurking in the bowels of 62 South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre. I've written about the archive before, and the importance of preserving it for the sake of local history, since WBRE and WNEP no longer have film archives. This collection dates back to the 1950s, and was preserved due to the efforts of longtime WDAU photographer Jack Scannella. A lot of important events were recorded on that film, as were everyday events.

You may not care that WYOU is no longer doing local news, but would you care if important pieces of local history wound up in the trash? Think how you would feel if someone threw away your treasured and irreplacable family photos or videos. The WYOU film archive could meet that same fate, unless someone steps forward to preserve it. NEPA is home to many libraries and universities that would accept the film and perhaps even preserve it in a digitized form for all to see.

And if you're a Nexstar/Mission Broadcasting executive, think of the good publicity you'd get from donating the film archive! Sure, you may have killed a local news outlet, but in a way, you would be saving local news by donating the film. Better yet, I'm sure you could get a tax write-off, and save even more than the $900,000 estimated savings. Besides, it's not like you're going to need that film archive for any WYOU newscasts, right?

If you feel the same way I do, won't you please contact WBRE/WYOU and politely ask general manager Lou Abitabilo to preserve WYOU's film archive? You can either call him at (570) 823-2828, send him an e-mail to, or use this Web form to contact him. Your efforts may help convince WBRE/WYOU to preserve important pieces of local history, before it's too late.

As Forrest Gump would say, "That's all I have to say about that."

Sunday, April 05, 2009

WYOU's final newscast

Someone uploaded WYOU's 11 p.m. Friday newscast to YouTube today, so if you didn't see the station's last hurrah, here you go. It's split up into six parts. The fourth part includes the caller who asked about WYOU's demise, and anchor Eric Scheiner's response.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Who's staying, who's going?

Now that WYOU has eliminated local news programming, several of its news personalities have been shown the door: reporter David DeCosmo (29 years with WYOU), anchor Eric Scheiner (hired in 2006 for the "interactive" newscast), anchor Lyndall Stout (moved from WBRE to WYOU in a swap for Candice Kelly), meteorologist Dave Kuharchik (joined WYOU in 1999), and sports anchor Mike Conigliaro (the only man left standing after WYOU ended its sports segments). Over at WBRE, weekend anchor Dia Wallace, who's been at the station since 1996, was also shown the door.

Who's staying? As previously mentioned, anchor/reporter Eric Deabill will move to WBRE and stay there, though his new position at WBRE is not known. What's also not known is Mark Hiller's future. He was moved to WYOU to be its noon and 4 p.m. anchor, after spending 20+ years at WBRE. His name has not come up on the list of cut personalities published in the local newspapers, but I haven't confirmed whether he'll return to WBRE.

Know something I don't? Share it via e-mail, or post a comment below.

Remembering WYOU

YouTube is a great resource for digging up old television clips, and there's plenty of clips from WYOU's heyday. Here's a small sampling. You can also take a trip down memory lane by checking out this Web site run by Carl Abraham, a former WDAU employee who now works at WNEP.

1987 newscast segment (1/2), with Larry Sparano, Keith Oppenheim, John Nugent, Joan Murray, and Paul Heppner.

1987 newscast segment (1/2), with Larry Sparano, Paul Heppner, and John Nugent. (Bonus: a story about Debbie Dunleavy appearing in a local play.)

1980s promo commercials touting people who made the switch to watching WYOU. (Mullet alert at 0:36 seconds in!) Also includes promos from WBRE and WNEP, featuring the likes of Vic Vetters, Nolan Johannes, Karen Harch, and Tim Karlson.

1987 WYOU promo reel. "First News at 5:30 is distinctive and darned good!" That's an endorsement you can't beat. You also can't beat "The Heart of TV 22" song.

Another 1987 video segment, mainly of a WYOU newscast with Liz Linskey, Michael Gargiulo, and Derry Bird. (I believe that's a clip from Reefer Madness at 1:49!)

WDAU news promo touting the Luzerne County tag team of David DeCosmo and Kevin Jordan.

A "Newscene 22" newscast gets a bit exciting when one of the studio lights explodes and singes one of the anchors. (Can you identify the two in this clip?)

One day in 1980, WDAU became "Batscene 22" when an errant bat flew into the studio and freaked out Debbie Dunleavy. Fortunately, Derry Bird was armed with a broom.

Now this is a treat! From the early 1980s (or late 1970s?), a WDAU promo for CBS's "Looking Good!" campaign. Someone pretending to urinate in a filing cabinet? A flasher? Someone on a toilet? Clearly WDAU's employees had very strange senses of humor!

Friday, April 03, 2009

WYOU News: 1953-2009

On July 7, 1953, WGBI became the first television station in NEPA to hit the airwaves, and after 56 years, its current incarnation as WYOU has become the first to fall victim to the economy. Employees were told this afternoon the 11 p.m. newscast would be their last one. According to the Times-Tribune, 14 WYOU employees will lose their jobs, though Beale's Bites has learned from a source that number could be as high as 25.

WYOU's demise is a sad end to a once-prominent station that established TV news in NEPA. Though the early days as WGBI were hardscrabble, the station's news broadcasts -- led by veteran newsman Tom Powell -- were what people watched. The station, which became WDAU in 1958, would continue its success for the next two decades or so, leaving WBRE and WNEP to duke it out for second place in the ratings. WDAU was the jewel of local TV news.

But something happened to WDAU that would eventually lead to its downfall: a tight wallet. The station's many owners became more reluctant to spend money, and it was around that time when WNEP decided it needed to spend money to make money. As WNEP began to throw more coal onto the fire, WDAU began to throw more water on its fire, and soon the station found itself in that eternal battle against WBRE for number-two in the ratings.

WDAU's future as WYOU would not get any brighter. Still a third-place station, WYOU was bought by Nexstar Broadcasting, and its news operations were merged with former rival and fellow Nexstar station WBRE. Then came the experiments: news anchors, new sets, even an "interactive" newscast that was a glorified talk show. Anything you threw at WYOU's wall would not stick. Things got so bad, that WYOU's 6 p.m. newscast was beat in the ratings by reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond" from WOLF.

That brings us to today. Nexstar/Mission has made good on the nearly ten years of rumors about the end of WYOU, by taking the horse out to pasture, and shooting it in the head. WYOU is not alone. Those of you who follow broadcast trends know other stations are either laying off news employees, getting rid of newscasts, or just getting rid of news departments altogether. Consider the case of WTVH, the CBS affiliate in Syracuse. A tight wallet tanked the once-proud station and led to the demise of its newsroom.

What about the futures of NEPA's two remaining TV news operations? WBRE is still in its far-behind position as number two in the ratings, and Nexstar is reluctant to spend money on the station. Even WNEP, the station that has dominated the ratings since the 1980s, is no longer immune. Earlier this year, station managers on Montage Mountain Road decided to get rid of Skycam 16 -- its well-known news helicopter -- and lay off the pilot. Why? Skycam 16 was too expensive to keep and maintain.

Given the state of the nation's economy, it's hard to assign full blame for the death of WYOU News, as the station's downward spiral began several decades ago. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear. Many of the people who kept WYOU's newsroom running, even if it just sputtered and heaved like a run-down Chevy Vega, will be out of a job after today, through no fault of their own. The people of NEPA will have one less source for their news and information. A sad day, indeed.

Could WYOU News have been saved? Perhaps. All that was needed to bring in more vieiwers was to give the viewers something they wanted. Not a new set or a "Dialing For News" newscast; something relevant, something exciting, something informative, something insightful. But guess what? That costs money, and nobody's spending money these days. Catch 22.

So, to the station and the employees that kept going when many thought they should give up, I say to you, godspeed. And to the people in charge who allowed WYOU's newsroom to wither away and die, I say to you, go to hell and shove it.

Comments and e-mail are open; please share your thoughts.

Beale's Bites has learned the layoffs are not limited to WYOU. Some WBRE employees were also laid off to make way for WYOU employees with seniority. As for on-air employees, Eric Deabill will move to WBRE and stay there. A source says some others, who were not named, will stay temporarily, and then be let go. Another source says some WYOU producers walked out the door after today's announcement, and left behind unfinished newscasts.

Goodbye to WYOU

After 56 years of broadcasting the news to northeast Pennsylvania, WYOU is closing its newsroom. This story has made me come out of exile, if only for one night, to post what I'm feeling, and to allow you to share your thoughts.

More to come by the end of this evening. Stay tuned.