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Tuned In: WTAE changes lineup of weather forecasters

Saturday, August 31, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The forecast for one WTAE weatherman just got brighter, while clouds closed in on another.

Effective yesterday, weekend weathercaster Don Schwenneker became Channel 4's 6 and 11 p.m. forecaster, with Stephen Cropper bumped to weekends. Schwenneker will also take over the station's school visits.

The move comes as a surprise because Channel 4's promotions have strongly suggested Cropper is heir apparent to longtime meteorologist Joe DeNardo. In a recent spot, DeNardo and Cropper were featured together while Schwenneker was seen alone in a rainstorm.

"For a number of reasons I'd rather not get into, we felt that Don was better suited for the 6 and 11," said WTAE news director Bob Longo. "Stephen's done a great job for us, and we obviously want him to stay.... We think it's going to be business as usual. This just strengthens us up and shores us up."

Cropper, the latest in a long line of No. 2 weathermen at Channel 4, did not return a call seeking comment. He joined Channel 4 in August 1995 and he holds the American Meteorological Society broadcast seal of approval. According to Channel 4's Web site, he's enrolled in Duquesne University's law school, so he may have already been thinking of life beyond television.

Longo would not comment on the status of Cropper's contract.

Weather is the most competitive battleground for local stations, which devote many on-air promotions to their weather teams and toys. Stations frequently conduct research to discern how their personnel are viewed by the public. Overwhelmingly positive research on one person can sometimes help elevate his or her status at a station.

Stations also look for ways to gain a distinct advantage over their competition. Schwenneker is folksy and personable, bringing to mind the "Today" show's Al Roker.

Schwenneker moved to Pittsburgh in November 2000 after more than five years at WTAJ in Altoona. He is currently pursuing his AMS seal.

"There wasn't any previous talk about this or anything. I'm still kind of shell shocked," Schwenneker said of the change. He didn't ask the reason for the switch. "When you're staring that down, you just say OK."

Schwenneker, who finishes off his weekend shifts today and tomorrow, said he came to Pittsburgh in part to learn from DeNardo's tutelage.

"I don't see him going anywhere for a long time," Schwenneker said. "He lives to come in here every day. The guy loves his job."

DeNardo, who will continue to forecast weather on the 5 p.m. newscast, said he was not involved in the decision to make a change and wouldn't offer an opinion on the moves. "I have no comment on that," he said. "They do what they do."

Even on the station's Web site yesterday the "24 Hour DeNardo Weather Watch" logo included photos of DeNardo and Cropper, but despite appearances, DeNardo said he's never been told his successor was chosen.

"Nobody's ever come to me and said, 'We would like you to say, "Here's my man," ' " DeNardo said. "I think they're looking. I have no qualms about anything they're doing."

The veteran forecaster endorsed the entire staff of forecasters. "I have confidence in every meteorologist we have out there."

Labor Day telethon

WPXI will air the "Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon" beginning tomorrow night at 11:35. It will air until 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Local portions will be broadcast from the west court of Monroeville Mall with Bill Cardille hosting for the 32nd year.

From 11:35 p.m. to 12:55 a.m. tomorrow, Cardille will be joined by Gina Redmond and Keith Jones. From 7:40 a.m. until noon Monday, local cut-ins will be hosted by Bob Bruce, Newlin Archinal and Julie Bologna. From 1 to 6:30 p.m. Cardille will host with David Johnson, Peggy Finnegan and Steve Teeling.

National segments from Hollywood will feature Lewis, with support from Ed McMahon, Wayne Brady and others.

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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