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IN COMEBACK BID, 7 NEWS PUTS ITS MONEY ON BANKS NEW CONTRACT KEEPS VETERAN ANCHOR AT WKBW AS STATION TRIES TO STEM RATINGS SLIDE

If once-powerful 7 News is going to recover in the next few years, co-anchors Susan Banks and Keith Radford will be part of the comeback.

Banks, who has been at WKBW-TV for 19 years over two different terms, said that she has signed a new three-year contract with the ABC affiliate. Radford has a few more years on his current contract, News Director Bill Payer confirmed.

"You always try to stagger (their contracts)" said Payer, who doesn't blame the anchors for the ratings slide of 7 News.

"I think she's terrific," Payer said of Banks. "I think we've got the best anchor team in town, but everyone would expect me to say that."

"They are trying to make a commitment with me," said Banks. "I had some concerns, but I'm very confident that, yes, we will see improvement."

Banks first came to Channel 7 in 1977 during the glory days of Eyewitness News and stayed for four years. She had stops in Boston, at WGRZ-TV and at KHOU-TV in Houston before returning to Channel 7 in 1990.

In recent years, WIVB-TV has been the dominant news station. Channel 7 had been in second place, but during the recent February sweeps it slipped to third behind Channel 2 News.

A combination of poor lead-ins from ABC and Channel 7's own programming, the introduction of people meters in 2000, a smaller and relatively young reporting staff and aggressive competition has been largely responsible for the ratings decline in recent years.

"Some of the problems we've had in the past are being rectified," said Banks. "I can't say how long it will take, but I have a great deal of confidence in Bill Payer. And (general manager) Bill Ransom has done the best he could with what he's gotten from a company (Granite Broadcasting) that is having problems. The company got a little over its head and is trying to fix that now. They are trying to put more resources into the newsroom now."

Banks sees the decision to send reporter Pete Kenworthy to Rome to cover the funeral of Pope John Paul II as evidence of that.

"That is huge," said Banks. "That is something they might not have done a year ago. We're trying to be more competitive. I can't get into anything more specific. Granite is starting to understand they have to make the news operation work."

Banks had much bigger concerns than ratings three and a half years ago when she was treated for breast cancer. She later won an Associated Press award for a series on breast cancer.

"I'm cancer free," she reports. "My health is excellent. I'm feeling wonderful, and I'm enjoying every day."

Her days would be even more enjoyable if 7 News had an a resurgence. To her, the news decline is personal.

"One of the reasons I'm staying is I really love this place," said Banks.

She recalled talking to her husband years ago when she was contemplating moving from Houston.

"I just hated Texas," said Banks. "He said, "You want to go back to Channel 7, don't you?' It is the only place you ever loved to work."'

"Call me crazy," said Banks, "but I still love it here. I am going to stay as long as I feel I can do something good."

* Ginger Geoffery, now a Channel 7 reporter, has filed a federal lawsuit against her former employer, Adelphia, and the Empire Sports Network, for gender discrimination. Bob Koshinski, the former general manager of Empire, confirmed that he recently was deposed by Geoffery's lawyer.

"I can't comment at this point," said Geoffery. Her lawyer, Robert Moriarty, also declined comment.

Geoffrey apparently believes she should have been retained by Empire instead of a male co-anchor-reporter, Jason Bristol, who hadn't been at the regional sports network as long as she had been when Adelphia ordered job cuts. Adelphia is expected to argue that it needed an anchor-reporter and that Geoffrey wasn't an anchor.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com