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TV/Radio Notes: WPGH news director fired over radio show interview

Thursday, January 11, 2001

Tom Burke, WPGH's news director since September 1998, was fired this week after being interviewed on a KDKA Radio show about a glitch-filled special marking the last Steelers game at Three Rivers Stadium. Burke was bounced by Dick Singer, regional manager for Channel 53.

"It was pretty simple. He was not happy with me going on KDKA Radio last Wednesday to talk about the Steeler postgame show we did a few weeks ago," Burke said. "It wasn't the postgame show itself, where there were a lot of good things in it and a lot of problems. I just didn't let him know I was going on the radio, and I should have."

Singer yesterday would only say, "Tom Burke no longer works at the station, and that's the only comment I'm going to make." Assistant news director John Poister is now acting news director.

Thor Tolo said he invited Burke on his show after receiving a copy of a lengthy Dec. 29 letter (also sent to the Post-Gazette) explaining what had happened after that final Steelers game. Among the criticisms leveled at WPGH were its placement of commercial breaks and handling of player introductions.

Burke wrote, in part, "I did not personally hear any of the lava-hot discussions on radio because I was too busy calling back dozens of ticked-off viewers all week long, as well as re-editing the 100-minute postgame show down to 60 minutes for the commercial-free broadcast a week ago."

His 2 1/2-page missive provided a rare window into behind-the-scenes maneuvers and why and how mistakes happen. Although Burke wasn't ducking responsibility, he said the show represented the efforts of 50 people, "many of whom did outstanding work," including a field producer who worked in the steady rain despite a death in his immediate family.

The letter conveyed both Burke's disappointment and his pride. "During our broadcast there were a lot of good things both the Steelers and we did in that 1 hour and 40 minutes, outside of the 11 minutes in question, that brought home the emotion of the day." The 11 minutes referred to the player introductions, which had been expected to take 30 minutes.

Burke was not in KDKA's studio but spoke with Tolo from 8 to 9 p.m. Jan. 3 by telephone. "It was very entertaining," Tolo said yesterday. "I'll be honest with you, shooting straight from the hip, we were up against the Orange Bowl and Mario Lemieux's game against the Capitals."

The talk-show host characterized his guest as "forthright but understandably defensive at points. He didn't duck a single question," and Tolo said his questions were not softballs. No word on where Burke, who came to Pittsburgh from a Detroit station, will land next. (Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer)



Urban gospel station WPGR-AM (1510) is now being operated as part of the Sheridan Broadcasting Company. Sheridan also owns WAMO-FM/AM (106.7, 860) and WSSZ-FM (107.1) here, and WUFO-AM in Buffalo, N.Y.

Sheridan has entered into a local marketing agreement with WPGR owner Mortenson Broadcasting Company. The agreement will last for a year, at the end of which Sheridan will have the option of buying WPGR.

WPGR, which is based at Sheridan's Downtown studios, will continue to have an urban gospel format.

In other developments at Sheridan, WAMO-FM (106.7, 107.1) has a new program director. J. Michaels, a 15-year radio veteran, comes from urban station KBCE-FM in Alexandria, La., where he was program director and on-air personality.

Former WAMO program director Ron Atkins moves to American Urban Radio Networks, where he'll be director of entertainment programming. He'll be based at the company's Pittsburgh headquarters.

"We're extremely pleased to have a man of Ron Atkins' talent, energy and vision join the network," said Jerry Lopes, president of program operations and affiliations at American Urban Radio. (Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer))



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