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Former WPXI news director headed for KDKA

Friday, May 04, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The revolving door turned again at One Gateway Center yesterday as KDKA-TV announced its latest news director. This time the station borrowed a page from the playbook of rival WPXI, which led the market in the February sweeps ratings.

KDKA named former WPXI news director Al Blinke to head KDKA's news operations. Blinke left WPXI in 1996 after a nine-year tenure at the station (as managing editor and six years as news director), a near eternity in the unstable, turbulent world of television news executives.

Blinke departed WPXI to become news director at Atlanta's WSB (like WPXI, it's owned by Cox Communications). For the past three years he's worked for Frank N. Magid & Associates, a TV news research company that works as consultants to Channel 11 (Blinke said he hasn't personally done consultant work for WPXI recently).

Reached on the road at a station he works with in Birmingham, Ala., Blinke said consulting and being a news director involve many of the same skills. But as a news director, he hopes to implement his ideas, not just make recommendations.

"One of the frustrations [as a consultant] is you go in and suggest ideas and a direction, but you really have no control over it," Blinke said.

At KDKA Blinke, 51, follows Joe Coscia, who lasted fewer than six months at the station before conflict with KDKA general manager Gary Cozen led to Coscia's ouster.

Blinke said he wasn't concerned about Coscia's short tenure and hadn't asked what went wrong, but he's happy to return to Pittsburgh.

"I love the city of Pittsburgh; both my kids were born there," Blinke said. "It was a tough decision coming back to Pittsburgh not working for the station I worked for in the past, but KDKA is a great station with a good legacy and I wanted to get back to Pittsburgh."

Blinke is still friends with WPXI general manager John Howell, who did not return a call seeking comment by deadline.

Blinke said Cozen has been talking to him for more than a year about becoming news director at KDKA, but previously the timing wasn't right. Now Blinke's contract with Magid is up and he's free to move from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of the consulting firm. His start date at KDKA hasn't been determined, but it will likely be in late May.

"My goal is to be [at KDKA] for a while," Blinke said.

During his tenure at WPXI, Blinke helped plant the seeds for the top-rated station Channel 11 has become. He hired Bruce Pompeani (now at KDKA) and the departed Darieth Chisolm and Margaret Shortridge and was involved in the hiring of John Fedko and Peggy Finnegan. Blinke also helped launch the 5 p.m. news, weekend morning newscasts and PCNC.

Mike Gerst, KDKA's director of marketing, said Blinke was hired for his "impeccable knowledge of strategic planning and news research."

Gerst said the fact Blinke worked for a competing station isn't as important as his ability to develop a future vision for the station.

"It's been a while since the research and strategic planning have been put into place here to tackle what viewers are looking to see," Gerst said. "I'm sure it helps that he's been in the market, but his strength as a news director is the single most important thing."

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