Channel 8 stands by its decision to go with Louie Anderson over Peter Jennings for the millennium ... Local radio guy teaches them the American way in Europe ... Forget the Sugar Bowl, bring on Buzz Bowl! ... Ex-city manager Robert Bobb gets national pres 

Street Talk

Channel 8: We'd Drop "ABC 2000" Again
European Radio Digs Sounds of Richmond
Pass the Sugar: It's Time for a Real Bowl
Strong Mayor/Strong Manager Make Case on the Coast
Channel 8: We'd Drop "ABC 2000" Again

It was an "amazing and enthralling global epic," writes Washington Post television critic Tom Shales. It was "extraordinary and spectacular." It "showed us the world and made us feel part of that 'global village' ...."

Of course, it was not available in Richmond — and wouldn't be, even if WRIC-Channel 8 had it to do all over again.

Despite angering some Richmonders and netting none of the 175 million viewers who watched "ABC 2000," Channel 8 still defends its decision not to air the parent network's blockbuster New Year's coverage. (Of ABC's 200 affiliates, ours was the only not to do so.) Instead of 'round-the-clock, 'round-the-world with Peter Jennings, the station went with syndicated programs, expanded local news and the 1989 movie "Batman." (On ABC: Big Ben tolling 12 before the most spectacular display of fireworks ever seen. On Channel 8: Louie Anderson yelling "Survey said!" on "Family Feud.")

Channel 8 General Manager Tom Best says the station received complaints about the decision — but gets them "about anything we do" that's not to everyone's liking. He adds there was no financial incentive in favor of carrying or not carrying ABC's 23-hour millenniathon and that the decision was based purely on serving the community.

"ABC was treating Y2K as an entertainment issue," he says, adding viewers could get entertainment-based programming on any number of stations. "There's nothing wrong with that, but no one was taking a news-coverage approach to it. ... We felt that the audience was not being properly served by the network."

Best says he felt obligated to focus on news, particularly in light of Y2K worries, and adds Channel 8's news department staff volunteered for citywide coverage of events (and, in the case of Y2K, non-events). "Even if you're angry with us over not having ["ABC 2000"] ... there was only one station there for you if you needed it," he says.

Baloney, says ABC spokeswoman Eileen Murphy. There were more than a dozen local breaks, from 10 to 30 minutes each, for affiliates to plug local news and ads into "ABC 2000," and the network would expect affiliates to cut away in the event of local emergencies, she says. Murphy adds that it is improbable Channel 8 did not make more money over New Year's by running its own show, so to speak, but she believes the longer-term price of disgruntled viewers and a peeved parent company outweighs a few quick extra bucks.

Local stations' New Year's viewership figures are not available, but the national ratings are unequivocal. ABC netted about 175 million viewers — nearly three times those of a regular broadcast day, according to Nielsen Media Research, and more than CBS and NBC combined. (By comparison, about 128 million people watched last year's Super Bowl.)

Networks (and presumably affiliates) that ignored the millennium altogether fared even worse. Staying home with family and friends was the "in" thing to do this New Year's, and about half of the 100 million U.S. homes with TVs had them turned on. The two networks — Fox and UPN — that didn't offer any millennium coverage had minuscule ratings numbers.

Rob Morano

European Radio Digs Sounds of Richmond

European Radio Digs Sounds of Richmond

Maybe you don't think too much of Richmond radio, but the French and Brits sure do. So much, in fact, they've hired former Q94 and B103.7 program director Steve Davis to hook them up with the marketing, programming and on-air talent they need to keep European kids loyally listening.

Davis is in Ireland this week after a holiday break here at home from extended visits this year to London and Paris, where he's been helping top-40 stations maintain their respective market leads. (Key difference overseas: broadcasters can play songs with sexually explicit lyrics — stuff too hot for stateside stations to handle — but not the violence-infused, "Cop Killa" type of stuff they get away with here — a culturally telling difference, Davis says.)

Davis, who started off in the biz as a DJ and has worked everywhere from the Deep South to Chicago, has been doing this sort of consulting for five years, with a small, Houston-based firm called Zapoleon Media Strategies. What do you know? This also happens to be the fifth year Zapoleon has won radio consultant-of-the-year honors from Billboard magazine for the top-40 and adult-contemporary formats.

Davis has helped more than 60 U.S. radio stations get their acts together, but says he enjoys the fresh challenges (and even fresher nightly television) of working abroad.

- Rob Morano

Pass the Sugar: It's Time for a Real Bowl

Pass the Sugar: It's Time for a Real Bowl

Don't cry for us, Blacksburg; the truth is we never loved you. And now that another national championship is at stake — with a real trophy, not that awful Sears faux-crystal-looking thingy — our ears are deaf to your hokey Hokie hokum.

We — and Richmonder Kevin Walker — have our eyes set on the Sixth Annual Official Electric Football Super Bowl & Convention, Jan. 21 to 23 in Washington, D.C.

Walker and hundreds of other Electric Football League "coaches" from around the nation will butt heads over their regulation EFL fields — kind of like the helmets on Monday Night Football, but not really. At stake? "The prestigious Miggle Trophy," says a press release from Illinois-based Miggle Toys, "the exclusive manufacturers and marketers of the game."

"Electric football is clearly America's all-time favorite tabletop football game," notes EFL Commissioner (and Miggle Toys president) Michael Landsman. "It is a strategic game which requires thought, and it has a valuable social element to it that is not available in computer and video games. Most importantly, it is a game to be played and shared with family and friends."

The game made its debut in 1947, and its fortunes more or less followed the rise of the Baby Boom, ebbing with the "early '70s and the widespread introduction of video and arcade games." Now it's experiencing renewed interest, apparently — some new buzz, you might say.

"It kind of reminds me of my childhood," explains Walker, 35. " I like football, it's hands-on and I like collecting" the team pieces that come in 11-man packages (most valuable: late '60s Redskins players with spears on their helmets, worth up to $1,000 on eBay). Players wear officially licensed NFL "home" and "away" uniforms, and Walker has amassed nearly 200 different 11-piece sets. To create college teams, he buys plain pieces and paints jerseys on them himself.

Uniforms or no — how do you get the men to go in a straight line? Walker says you put the little green bases in boiling water, which softens them and enables you to flatten and adjust the little prongs with a pair of small pliers; it's trial-and-error.

We still like it the old-fashioned way, though: each player running off in his own direction, in his own little vibrating universe, part of a team that is not a team.

Just like you-know-who.

- Rob Morano

Strong Mayor/Strong Manager Make Case on the Coast

These days former presidential candidate Jerry Brown and ex-Richmond city manager Robert Bobb seem as powerful — and nearly as popular — as the Wonder Twins.

And with this duo in charge, many contend that Oakland, Calif., has never looked so good. Crime is down, schools are on the rise, and, for the first time in more than a decade, people are being drawn downtown to work and live.

Brown, Oakland's mayor; and Bobb, the city manager, are the hot topic of government aficionados and municipal workers everywhere. The two grace the cover of this month's Governing magazine and Brown recently touted Oakland's strong-mayor, strong-manager experiment to Leslie Stahl during the Jan. 2 broadcast of 60 Minutes.

A little over a year ago, Oakland residents voted to do away with their council-manager system — the structure followed in Richmond — in favor of a six-year experiment with a strong mayor. Critics warned the troubled city was being set up for another failure. But rather than try to tackle all of Oakland's ills on his own, Brown decided to home in on the resourcefulness and tenacity of Bobb's city manager skills. So far in Oakland, Brown and Bobb have been able to pull off a coup: dislodging a stuck city government by shaking it up, and letting executive and political power fall into fewer hands — theirs.

"Nobody predicted what has actually ensued: the mayor and manager fusing their powers into a formidable alliance for dramatic change," writes Rob Gurwitt in an article for the January issue of Governing.

Already, cities like Cincinnati, San Diego and Charlotte are positioning themselves to give more power to the mayor.

Oakland's experiment could have implications even farther east. Robert Bobb has friends here, among them, Mayor Tim Kaine, who says he still keeps in touch with the Oakland city manager.

"It's probably where cities are moving," Kaine says about Oakland's strong-mayor, strong-manager model of city government. "I suspect there will be dialogue about the issue of an elected mayor," he says. But Kaine cautions that, for Richmond — where city government moves slowly — it's a matter of timing. "As a leadership model, I think it's real positive," says Kaine. "People have to feel they can trust the outcome."

— Brandon Walters

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