As a meteorologist, Andy Parker is used to making long-range forecasts.
He knew that dark clouds have pretty much hung over Channel 7 since he left the ABC affiliate about 14 years ago and that things have been pretty sunny less than a mile away while he worked at Channel 2’s “Daybreak.”
But when Parker’s contract was about to expire and Channel 7 called, he looked at the future and decided to end his decade-long run at Channel 2.
He became the first on-air piece of the plan of new owner E.W. Scripps Co. to revamp Channel 7’s moribund morning program this fall.
Parker, who was in position to replace Kevin O’Connell as Channel 2’s top weatherman once O’Connell retires, said a lot of thought went into his decision.
“Being in weather, you are always looking ahead,” said Parker. “And when you are doing these contracts, you have to look down the road and forecast where TV will be in three, four, five years … It was my feeling that the landscape was going to look significantly different a few years down the road. When you ask yourself which station might be in the position to make the largest gains, I think you are looking at Channel 7.”
So he returned to the station he left in 2000 when he chose to keep running a business rather than stay at Channel 7.
“It was a very good package,” said Parker of Channel 7’s offer. “It is more than just dollars. It is a very complete employment package – from the numbers, to the people and the product that is going to be forthcoming.”
Parker, 43, most likely received a huge pay raise at a time his family is expanding. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, have one child, and are expecting twins. Parker added he also likes the Channel 7 staff and is excited about the staffers the station might bring in.
“It isn’t, ‘hey, let’s plug Andy Parker into a pre-existing show that is in third place and see what happens,’ ” said Parker. “It’s ‘hey, let’s clean this out and we’re going to bring in the right group of people.’ And looking at that group I’m very confident. Everybody on that shift – from the people in front and behind the cameras – all 110 percenters. There is a fresh attitude. It is going to change the culture of that station from the bottom up.”
He also is impressed about the new technology that Scripps plans to showcase.
Still, it had to be hard for Parker to leave first-place “Daybreak” and co-anchors John Beard and Melissa Holmes to go to a morning program deep in the basement.
The Western New York native received some encouragement when he met his mentor, legendary Channel 7 weatherman Tom Jolls, for a hot dog before Parker’s move to Channel 7 was announced.
“He told me a very interesting story,” said Parker. “Back in the day when he was at Channel 4, he had the same situation. He was at the No. 1 station and to go to Channel 7 everybody told him, ‘what are you, nuts?’ He made the decision on family and timing. It was in the pit of his stomach … From that day, he met Irv Weinstein and told me the rest is history. So he’s like ‘you do the right thing, you follow your gut and your intuition and you’ll be fine.’ ”
Local TV news has changed significantly in the half century since Jolls made his move. It has especially changed in the past decade, with anchors here taking significant pay cuts, reporters being hired straight out of college and audiences growing smaller as people head elsewhere for news. The changes make forecasting the future of local TV news even harder than it was years ago.
Scripps undoubtedly realizes that it needs more than Parker to get people to watch in the morning, the one time period that has been growing recently.
The hiring of Parker, who most likely did extremely well in Channel 7 research, is a good first step. Another key will be the hiring of Channel 7’s new morning co-anchors. Parker said he was encouraged by the short list of potential hires he was shown.
Channel 7 would be wise to follow the blueprint of Channel 2’s “Daybreak.” It may get goofy at times, but you always get the sense that all the people on the program like each other and are having fun.
Scripps knew it had to make some sort of splash to get people to give the morning program another look. Parker’s hiring might not seem initially to be a big splash. However, the hiring is Scripps’ way of announcing to local TV talent that it will spend the money needed to get who it wants.
“Certainly they are going to raise the market value of a lot of TV heads in Western New York,” said Parker. “You had a two-horse race in this town. And now it is a three-horse race. That raises the value of people whose contracts are up.”
That isn’t good news for Channel 2 and Channel 4, which didn’t have to worry about Channel 7 stealing anyone from their staffs when Granite Broadcasting and the hedge fund that controlled it cut staff and salaries and ran the station into the ground.
Scripps’ aggressiveness certainly would appear to put Channel 4 on the spot as it looks to the future with a new news director. Anyone Channel 4 might let go or give a low contract offer could immediately head over to Channel 7 since noncompete clauses no longer are legal in New York.
Scripps has been undoing many of the foolish things that Granite did over the last decade that led Channel 7 to go from first to worst in the market.
“It is not the same place that I left,” said Parker. “That’s the reason that I am eager to go back.”
Scripps plans to hire more reporters and producers, re-signed with Nielsen and two wire services dropped by Granite, conducted audience research and now has shown its willingness to spend money – some would say overspend – to acquire talent.
“It took a long time to break that baby down,” said Parker of Channel 7’s demise. “But it is going to be a lot shorter ride to build it back up.”
That optimistic long-range forecast from Parker could end up being as accurate as the local forecasts this week that predicted much more rain than the area received.
However, Scripps clearly is doing everything it can to chase the dark clouds away from Channel 7.