Excuse Me, Will You Watch If I Pay You?, A Technical SNAFU or Deliberate Act to Cover Up Information on TV, and A Lesson on How NOT to Act on TV News

Like it or not, giveaways are now an ingrained part of TV news ratings wars in Memphis. I credit a former news director at WREG with really getting the ball rolling on the combination Weathergasms, tabloid news type coverage and giveaways in the Bluff City. There’s nothing like giving away some cars in a watch and win contest to whet the appetite for viewers. The problem is, it doesn’t always work. When it does, it’s kind of hard for the winner to say they won the book on the merits of their news coverage. But then, that’s been a growing difficulty for many news operations across the country anyway. I ran across a story on Shoptalk Tuesday which mentioned Local TV LLC station KFOR in Oklahoma City and sister station WREG in Memphis, which both used cash giveaways and a chance to grab lots of cash to drum up viewers. Here’s part of the story from Shoptalk.

In an old-fashioned “watch and win” sweeps stunt, Local TV station KFOR Oklahoma City gave $500 to 18 lucky late-news viewers last month—with one of those winners randomly chosen for a 60-second romp in a bank vault stuffed with over $100,000 in loose bills. The stunt was also a hit at sister station WREG Memphis. But while WREG’s winner managed to grab around $7,000, Benny Meier walked away last week with nearly $18,000 from KFOR‘s vault. Here’s the good part: he’s blind. But that hasn’t stopped Meier, who’s in his mid 60s, from running marathons (with a guide) or using his lanky frame to gather a bundle of bills.”It made for really good television,” says KFORJim Boyer, who concedes that the vault was stocked with bigger bills than WREG’s. Boyer says he hasn’t seen a ratings uptick from the stunt, a practice generally frowned upon by news critics that can earn stations an asterisk in Nielsen ratings books. But a Nielsen spokesperson says, “As long as they targeted the entire market with the promotion, not just the Nielsen homes, there’s nothing wrong with it.”

Note to self: next time bigger bills in vault. Now lets get to work on those sweeps pieces for May.

What supposedly started out as a technical glitch for Local TV LLC sister station WHNT in Huntsville, AL has turned into an inquiry by the FCC. In today’s Shoptalk, the article focuses on the blackout that occurred of a report on CBS 60 Minutes about the imprisoned former governor of Alabama and how he got there. The station said it was a technical glitch that prevented the airing of the report even though it was rebroadcast by the station later in the week (I think twice). Nothing like that kind of publicity to help a station’s credibility factor.

And speaking of credibility, live local TV news can really give you an idea of what goes on behind the scenes. With as many egos as it takes to get a broadcast on, it’s inevitable that those egos clash. Hey, it happens. Having said that, watching this video from New York just made me shake my head. Check it out on this You tube link from this blog in Tampa. Something tells me the two won’t be sitting next to each other at the next station gathering.

This incident reminds me of something I’m told that occurred on the air right after a tornado hit West Memphis, AR in the late 80s.  As I understand it (and please wade into this if the facts aren’t all straight) the storm hit and news crews were dispatched to the scene.  One of the first reporters on the scene with a live truck from WREG was Kathy Thurmond.  She and the videographer were scrambling to put up a live signal  and get something on the air ASAP.  The anchor (not Jerry Tate who was at WHBQ 13 at the time)  Roy somebody I think,  started asking Kathy questions on the air that she couldn’t answer because she had been too busy trying to get a live shot on the air.  This anchor apparently admonished Kathy on the air for not having more information incurring the wrath of news crews at the station and viewers alike.  It didn’t help the anchor that he was not well liked and Kathy (who is still such a sweetheart) was well liked.  I think that anchor eventually went back to Chicago.  Kathy left WREG not long after that and worked around town before finally getting into the insurance business.

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9 Comments on “Excuse Me, Will You Watch If I Pay You?, A Technical SNAFU or Deliberate Act to Cover Up Information on TV, and A Lesson on How NOT to Act on TV News”

  1. The GM Says:

    I remember that exchange during the West Memphis tornado. I was watching from my apartment at that time in Country Squire. Isn’t live television great!

  2. joelarkins Says:

    Do you remember much about the exchange that you saw on the air? Did you have any reaction one way or there other in what you saw? I’m curious as to what you thought about it as a viewer.

  3. The GM Says:

    I distinctly remember thinking the anchor “just schooled her”. I also remember thinking at the time that he was the one who lost his cool. I don’t recall his name. I think he said something like “well Kathy you might want to go find someone who can tell us something”. He came off as a blow hard. I wasn’t in management at the time but from this perspective today I can understand his frustration. In retrospect it seems to be the fault of the producer or the ND for rushing a live shot on-air without having anything solid to report.

    The GM

  4. joelarkins Says:

    Thanks for the insight.

  5. Roy Weissinger, he was gone soon after that, he really blew it, because Kathy Thurmond was a solid reporter with years of radio experience before she went to 3.

  6. Sudsy Says:

    It indeed was Roy Weissinger, co-anchoring with Memphis’s own Natalie Allen (now with the Weather Channel I believe). I was Kathy’s photog that night with our Engineer Don Williams running our live truck on the corner of Ingram Blvd. and Barton Ave. just south of I-40. It was a very memorable night for everyone, including a news intern who was with us on her very first night on her internship ( I was worried she would step on a downed power line and get killed on her first assignment. There were seven killed that night in the storm). I can say with complete confidence that one of the anchors that night was a real prick on the air towards the best reporter on our staff when she didn’t have all the answers at that very moment. I believe it’s much more credible for a reporter to truthfully say, “I don’t know” to questions they don’t have an answer for instead of BS for all our viewers to recognize. It takes real skill for an anchor, or meteorologist, to fill time endlessly while those in the field gather information and needless to say he didn’t get out of the newsroom much. He didn’t last long at ‘REG and thank our Creator Jerry came back. For Roy…Delta was ready when he was!

  7. Joe G. Says:

    Yes, and I believe Roy Weissinger’s departure was a mutual decision. While all this was going on, he had been ankling for another job. WREG pulled him off the air after that night and I don’t think he ever returned. Within weeks, he was anchoring a prime-time newscast at WEWS in Cleveland. He has since retired.

  8. JDC Says:

    I’m late to respond, but being the media junkie that I am, I can remember this. It was on December 14, 1987 when the tornado hit West Memphis, killing seven and touching down at Southland Greyhound Park. I was only in junior high at the time, but I remember opening the back door to look out that night and realizing something wasn’t quite right to the west of the river.

  9. Ginny Says:

    Well, I was right in the middle of that tornado. I came across this site while googling more info on it. I lived in my first apartment off Ingram Blvd behind the truck stop. Lost everything. My apartment was leveled up to the bathroom where I was. Needless to say, I didn’t watch the news that night. I was one of the ones walking barefoot down Ingram to the shelter they set up at the church.

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