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An era ends with Banks' farewell

Veteran co-anchor Susan Banks has departed WKBW-TV only hours after co-anchor Keith Radford read a company statement on the 11 p.m. news saying that no job would be lost after it filed for bankruptcy protection Monday.

Tonight's 11 o'clock newscast will be Banks' last at Channel 7. The Granite Broadcasting station hasn't announced who will replace her, or if Radford will go it alone.

Banks, who worked at Channel 7 for 20 years, must have seen the irony as she sat next to Radford while he read the statement during Monday's newscast. Earlier in the day, Banks -- who co-anchors the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts -- and General Manager Bill Ransom had both declined to accept questions about the rumors of her departure.

The station then sent out a media release late Tuesday afternoon making Banks' departure official.

In the announcement, Banks said she was going to pursue other interests, including starting her own image-consulting business. However, according to sources, Banks resigned after being told she was going to be relieved of her 11 p.m. co-anchor duties and would get a significant pay cut.

She was presumed to be one of the highest-paid staffers in the news department at a time Granite is looking to save money due to its Chapter 11 reorganization.

The station's announcement to the media painted a much more pleasant picture. In the news release, Banks said her years at Channel 7 "have been some of the happiest in my life."

She said she was going to pursue other interests, including starting the image-consulting business, and she thanked the viewers, who supported her during a battle with breast cancer five years ago.

In the release, Ransom was quoted as saying Banks made "a personal decision" and added, "I wish her the best."

Banks had been at Channel 7 through the best of times and the worst of times. The best times were during the glory days of Eyewitness News. Her first stint was from 1977 through 1981, when the Irv Weinstein-led news department dominated. After anchoring in Boston, Houston and WGRZ-TV, she returned to Channel 7 in 1990.

She experienced the worst of times in the last few years, when Channel 7 dropped the Eyewitness News format and became known as 7 News.

Channel 7 is now No. 3 in local news, behind WIVB-TV (Channel 4) and WGRZ-TV (Channel 2). It held a slim edge over Channel 2 at 6 p.m. for second place in the just-concluded November sweeps, 7.2-7.0, but was a distant third at 11 p.m. and at 5 p.m.

However, former news director Bill Payer didn't blame Banks or Radford for the declining ratings in April 2005, when she agreed to a three-year contract.

"I think she's terrific," said Payer back then. He left the station a few weeks ago.

A combination of poor leadins from ABC and Channel 7?s own programs, the introduction of people meters in 2000, a smaller and relatively younger reporting staff and aggressive competition were all largely responsible for Channel 7's ratings decline.

When she signed her new deal in 2005, Banks said "they are trying to make a commitment to me." The commitment has ended abruptly, with the station apparently hoping it can get the same low news ratings without Banks and her high salary.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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