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Fox affiliate will buy its news from WPXI, lay off 35

| Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006

Veteran Pittsburgh TV newscasters Sheila Hyland and Alby Oxenreiter are among about 35 members of the Fox Ten O'Clock News team who will be out of work by month's end.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., owner of WPGH-TV, said Wednesday that it will dismiss the on-air and production staffs for the 9-year-old Fox 53 newscast and contract with WPXI-TV for its news programming. The two will share advertising revenues. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Beginning Jan. 30, WPXI reporters and anchors will appear on the WPGH broadcast under the name Channel 11 News on Fox 53.

WPXI will send its broadcast by microwave from its tower across the Parkway North to North Side neighbor WPGH, where it will be transmitted by Fox 53's antenna.

"It was not totally unexpected," Hyland said. "There's only so many ad dollars to go around."

Hyland joined the fledgling newscast as its anchor in 1998 after building a solid career at the much larger WTAE-TV. She said she wants to stay in Pittsburgh, her home for 17 years, but would explore options.

"This truly was my dream job," Hyland said. "I'm proud of the work we did, even though we didn't have the resources the other stations in town did."

WPXI General Manager Ray Carter said his station will discontinue the 10 p.m. news broadcast on its cable affiliate station, PCNC, which is available only to Comcast cable subscribers. PCNC instead will begin broadcasting a live 7 p.m. half-hour newscast.

Despite being the first 10 p.m. news broadcast in the Pittsburgh market, PCNC has registered a distant third place in the time slot.

Two years ago, WNPA (UPN 19) began a 10 p.m. newscast in partnership with KDKA-TV.

"This should be a fun fight," Carter said. "We look forward to meeting (UPN) on the broadcast stage."

Carter said WPXI intends to hire people for the 10 p.m. broadcast on Fox 53, but he didn't know how many. He encouraged Fox 53 staffers to apply.

"We would be willing to talk to any one of those individuals," he said. "The phone has already begun ringing."

Sinclair began broadcasting a 10 p.m. news program after the Super Bowl in 1997 at the urging of News Corp., owner of the Fox network.

John Poister, who served as the newscast's original executive producer, and later its news director, was responsible for hiring many of the first employees, including Hyland and sports director Oxenreiter, who also left WTAE.

Poister said he expects many, but not all, of the Fox 53 employees to find jobs with WPXI or other local stations.

"A lot of the people there have been there since it started. There are a lot of veterans, particularly on the photography staff," said Poister, now program director at Renda Broadcasting Corp., a Green Tree-based operator of three local radio stations.

Fox 53 reporter Andy Briggs is losing a job for the second time in four years. He was let go by KDKA before joining WPGH.

"This was a great newsroom to work in," he said. "Because it was only one show a day, the stress level was nonexistent."

Sinclair has been striking similar partnerships with competitor stations to provide shared news and advertising services in several markets, but Pittsburgh is the biggest market where it has resorted to the measure.

The agreement with WPXI, owned by Atlanta-based Cox Communications Inc., follows other shakeups involving Fox 53's news team.

Two years ago Sinclair adopted a centralized news format for many of its 60 stations across the country. Under the format, dubbed News Central, local news dominated the first half of the hour-long newscast. The second half-hour of national news and weather is broadcast from Sinclair's suburban Baltimore studios.

Ratings for WPGH's 10 p.m. newscast began falling after the News Central concept was introduced.

News director Sharon Ritchey was fired in March 2004, along with 10 other staffers.

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