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Tuned In: WTAE weekend anchor to take job in Phoenix

Thursday, June 06, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

WTAE weekend evening anchor Ted Koppy will move to weekday morning newscasts, but he won't do it at Channel 4. Koppy has accepted a job as morning and noon anchor at KPHO, the CBS affiliate in Phoenix.

Koppy, 35, said he struggled with the decision to leave Pittsburgh, which has been home to the Minnesota native since 1999.

"I wasn't ready to leave," he said. "Some of my single co-workers say Pittsburgh is not a great place to be, but with a young family I think Pittsburgh is awesome."

Koppy and his wife, Maria, have two daughters ages 4 and 9 months.

"I just really enjoyed it here and my wife loves it here, but I think getting comfortable in a weekend anchor job at my age is not a good career move," Koppy said. "I could see staying in Pittsburgh if there was a long-term opportunity for me, and there isn't. [News director] Bob Longo has been so reasonable through this whole process. He said, 'I'd love to tell you I have a better job to offer you, but I'd be lying to you.' I really do appreciate his honesty."

Koppy said station executives asked if he were interested in a move to Channel 4's morning show after Sam Merrill left, "though I don't know how serious they were, and at the time I wasn't interested. Financially it wasn't worth my while to disrupt my lifestyle here in Pittsburgh."

In moving to Phoenix, Koppy jumps to market No. 16 from Pittsburgh's market No. 21, though he sacrifices some sleep in the process.

"I'm actually a morning person, but I'm not sure I'm a 3-in-the-morning person," he said. "Part of my thinking was mornings are the only growing [time period] in local news, so it was inevitable if I wanted to move up I'd probably have to go through mornings."

News director Bob Longo said it's too early to tell who might replace Koppy, but that the station will look at in-house candidates and outsiders. Those in the running from Channel 4's ranks likely include reporter John Greiner and sports reporter Jake Ploeger, who both have filled in as news anchor on weekend newscasts.

The loss of Koppy and his former co-anchor Shawn Yancy is a disappointment. They were an excellent team in a town that's lucky to have a bevy of solid weekend anchors.

Koppy's last day on the air at Channel 4 hasn't been set, but it will be sometime this month. His first day on the job in Phoenix is June 24.

Storm coverage

Finally, a story worthy of the "breaking news" label.

With my power out, I saw limited coverage of the Friday storms on a battery-powered TV, but I certainly heard about it.

The loudest outcry came from viewers upset when KDKA-TV's Yvonne Zanos reported that the one fatality at Kennywood was an 8-year-old girl, which proved untrue (it turned out to be a 29-year-old woman). It was particularly upsetting because at the same time KDKA and other stations were reporting that the park was filled with children and teens on school picnics.

No one feels worse about the mistake than Zanos, who had begun a vacation last Friday and pitched in to go to the park to gather information.

"I volunteered to be a water boy and ended up on the field when I dropped the proverbial ball," Zanos said.

When she reported the fatality was a child, which she was told by a police officer and an EMS worker, she didn't know it was something that hadn't been reported before. She couldn't see what was on the air.

"If I had known it was something nobody else had, I would have been more suspicious of it, and I should have been anyway," Zanos said. "It was my fault and I know that. I wish I could take it back. It wasn't done with malice or to be first, it was just the information I had and I was passing it along."

KDKA's news director Al Blinke compared the mistake to the errors made Sept. 11 when some reports in the flurry of breaking news proved false.

"We were responsible," Blinke said. "We had reliable sources. It's not like we picked it up off the scanner. The police department was very apologetic about it."

WPGH also reported a child's death, and WTAE included the error in a promo before the 11 p.m. news.

During the 8 p.m. hour when I had access to television, KDKA and WTAE had pretty static video -- anchor pictures, weather radar -- while WPXI had the best video, live footage from its helicopter.

Blinke said KDKA's helicopter pilot was out of town, and WTAE's Longo said the pilot from Metro Networks, the company WTAE contracts with for its helicopter, opted not to fly.

"They felt conditions were still unsafe to fly," Longo said. "At that point I had to accept their explanation and go with it as much as it pained me. I still have a twitch every now and then thinking about it."

Before 9 p.m., KDKA had taped video from the scene, but it was often obscured by large graphics at the bottom of the screen, a continuing problem in many of the station's reports.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan did a good job reporting on the injured at local hospitals. His reports were calm and reasoned and were made that much more definitive by anchor Stacy Smith, who kept a running tally of the injured. It was simple but useful reporting, though a later interview with a doctor about the possibility of more victims trapped under debris at Kennywood only added to the confusion.

On WPXI, anchor David Johnson repeated a report from Gina Redmond, saying, "No people under the roof right now could be survivors. That is the gravest news to report." That didn't tell viewers anything concrete because no one knew if anyone other than the single confirmed fatality was trapped.

"We kept working to clarify what that meant," WPXI news director Pat Maday said. "It was a little bit confusing even for the folks we were talking to about it."

New doc on the block

At first I thought the new doctor on KDKA was a syndicated reporter -- early reports didn't show much evidence of locality -- but more recent reports by Dr. Maria Simbra make it clear she possesses the much-vaunted "Hometown Advantage."

News director Blinke said the former KDKA intern and Morgantown native has been hired as a part-time medical reporter, turning out two to three stories a week mostly for the 5 p.m. news.

"If there's a big story, she may end up in the 5 and 6," Blinke said. "If one of the Steelers rips some sort of muscle or tendon and it becomes a huge story, we want her to explain it to us."

Simbra is a neurologist who still sees patients in private practice in Beaver County. She's also getting her master's degree in journalism from Point Park College.

Blinke said reporter Mary Robb Jackson will continue to cover health stories, too.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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