The brave new world for WWOR minus a news department began last night with the debut of Chasing New Jersey. As we reported last week, Fox management, without any fanfare, opted out of its regular 10 p.m. newscast. Instead, Channel 9 is airing a show that is being labeled by some as TMZ meets A Current Affair. The nightly show jettisons anchors and reporters in favor of a ringleader and chasers to highlight New Jersey-centric topics. Perhaps the closest element to being “news” worthy is interviews with state politicians.
The dramatic movement by Rupert Murdoch and Fox in the last few days has brought attention squarely upon the FCC. The agency has been in a struggle with WWOR for years. Since Channel 9’s move to the shadows of the Meadowlands in the late 1980s, the station has been under the gun by the FCC. Becoming a New Jersey broadcast outlet forced Channel 9 (then owned by RKO) to cover the Garden State properly.
An FCC spokesperson tells Tuned In that the WWOR issue is before the Commission so it cannot comment. The spokesperson adds that there is no specific timeframe for a decision.
In order to satisfy a license renewal, the FCC will need to determine if local news is getting the short end of the stick at WWOR, whose license expired in 2007.
Matthew Schwartz spent a career at Channel 9. The reporter worked at WWOR (and the original call letters WOR) for 20 years. Even though he’s been out of New York for a decade, Schwartz says the death knell sounded for Channel 9 News when Fox purchased the station in 2000.
“I wasn’t surprised at all. I saw it almost from the get-go,” Schwartz tells Tuned In. “I blame the FCC first, and then I blame Fox second, because they’re equal partners in this. How could [the FCC] let this station, licensed to New Jersey, not even have a newscast? What a joke. It’s a disgrace.”
Not to be overlooked, the timing of the Fox’s decision came just weeks after Senator Frank Lautenberg died. He was a major reason that WWOR headed across the Hudson.
Tuned In attempted to reach Governor Christie’s press office for a comment. Long before Christie, and with apologies to Bruce Springsteen, Lloyd Lindsay Young was arguably the biggest name in New Jersey. He patrolled the green screen with the forecast for 12 years at WWOR.
“I was sad to hear about Channel 9,” Young tells Tuned In. “I had a great time at Channel 9.”
But the one-part weatherman, one-part showman doesn’t want Washington to get involved.
“I don’t think the FCC should step in,” Young admits.
Getting a little sentimental, Schwartz, the former investigative reporter, cites a history of serious broadcast journalism and great on-air talent as hallmarks at Channel 9 in the last generation.
But beating Fox 5 in the ratings was another matter.
“They were like 25 years ahead of us, as far as when they started. We were perceived as a New Jersey station, even though we covered all the major New York stories. We did some of the best work that few people ever saw.”
Also hurting WWOR, like WPIX today, the weak prime time lead-in.
“Our biggest night in the ratings were Thursdays when we had the wrestling,” Schwartz, who now works at KVOA in Tucson, says.
The ratings have been a constant thorn in the side of WWOR. Since 2009, the Channel 9 late newscast (and only on the station) got shifted from 10 to 11 and back to 10 p.m. for a reduced 30-minute broadcast. Anchor Harry Martin has been offered a reporter position with WNYW, and is negotiating a deal.
“I’ve really loved working for Channel 9. I loved working for Channel 5,” Martin tells Tuned In. “I would love to be a part of the Channel 5 family again, if we can come to some sort of mutual agreement.”
Martin joined My9 in 2003. He overlapped seven years at Channel 5, including double anchor duty at 6 p.m. on Channel 5, followed by the late news at Channel 9 with Brenda Blackmon.
Reportedly, Blackmon, a WWOR mainstay for more than 20 years, is staying put in Secaucus, producing and hosting news specials for the station. Russ Salzberg, who already handled sports on WNYW, now reports directly from East 67th Street. Meteorologist Audrey Puente will see more weekend and fill-in work at Channel 5.
As for the controversial move by Fox adding Chasing New Jersey, Schwartz put it succinctly, “Nobody’s going to watch that show. Good luck with that.”