WRVA News Pares to Hub, "Rewriting" 

Three weeks ago, Mac Watson, the gleefully annoyed afternoon talk-show host on WRVA 1140-AM, was riffing on phone messages from angry listeners. They didn't like his on-air tirade against a woman protesting President Bush during his visit to town.

Several of them sounded as though they'd just woken up from a nap after "The Jell-O Show Starring Jack Benny." One pulled out the tired zinger that WRVA legend Alden Aaroe would be rolling over in his grave (at Hollywood Cemetery).

As he usually does, Watson scoffed at these kinds of callers, saying they couldn't accept change for the sake of progress and better content. In the past he's also touted WRVA's stronghold as a source for local news, especially during emergencies.

Recent changes at WRVA, however, may challenge Watson's defense.

The newsroom of the decades-old station, owned by Clear Channel Communications, is shifting to a less costly "hub" approach, cutting news staff and creating a system where anchors in Richmond read news for myriad markets.

After laying off anchor/reporter Jim Craig in September, last week Clear Channel Richmond cut the positions of WRVA anchor/reporters Tom Callan and Craig Butterworth and Total Traffic reporter Rick Genova (on air as Paul Richards).

An e-mail told employees the Nov. 1 departures were part of a "company-wide consolidation of news and traffic operations."

Ruth Stoutermire, market manager for Clear Channel Richmond declined via e-mail to comment on recent changes at WRVA, citing a policy "not to comment on employee matters."

Callan, who spent more than seven years at WRVA during two stints there, says the new strategy virtually eliminates the idea of a traditional newsroom, where reporters take tips, pursue leads and hit the street.

Instead, he says, anchors will get news mostly from other sources — wires, newspapers and television news (which also partly get news from wires and newspapers).

Anchors based in Richmond will be able to check in on other cities' news, from Fredericksburg to Norfolk to perhaps Greenville, S.C., and points south, then construct a newscast and broadcast it to that locality.

"There's nobody energized by that," Callan says. "All you're doing is rewriting someone else's news and putting your voice on it."

He adds that the station is likely to manage the newsroom differently during emergencies, such as when a hurricane strikes, in order to serve local listeners more effectively.

Unfortunately for day-to-day events, he says, "I think that local newsgathering is completely eviscerated."

WRVA, the last major station that comes closest to an all-news format here, is among Clear Channel properties feeling the pinch. The company announced Oct. 25 that it had hired Goldman, Sachs & Co. to evaluate "strategic alternatives to enhance shareholder value," and analysts speculate that its future may include going private.

As for Callan, he's off to a news station in Salt Lake City to do what he loves, he says: "Radio news is supposed to be immediate and vibrant, and we're supposed to be out there running the chase." S

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