- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

The D.C. Council will consider legislation tomorrow that prohibits television and radio companies from putting "non-compete" clauses in their labor contracts, a practice that prevents anchors, reporters and disc jockeys from leaving one station and immediately going to work for a competitor.
Depending on the contract, the clauses may force employees to wait between 90 days and one year before they can go to work for another station in the same city. Fewer than 1,000 people who work in local television and radio in the Washington area would be affected.
"There are people who have been forced to move to another market because they aren't allowed to seek employment here. This is the sort of thing that splits up families," said Patricia O'Donnell, executive director of the local chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the labor union that is pushing for the legislation.
An estimated 52.5 percent of all people who work in television news are under contract, and 46.5 percent of those employees have a non-compete clause, according to the Radio and Television News Directors Association trade group.
News anchors, sports anchors and weather forecasters are the most likely employees to have non-compete clauses.
In spring 2000, for example, ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) wooed chief meteorologist Doug Hill away from CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9), but his contract with WUSA prevented him from showing up on WJLA's airwaves until that December.
"It strikes me as fundamentally unfair. These things limit your ability to work in the market where you are best known," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and the legislation's chief sponsor.
Mr. Mendelson is chairman of the Committee of the Whole's subcommittee on labor, voting rights and redistricting, which will hold a hearing on the legislation tomorrow.
The federation's local chapter will ask the Maryland General Assembly to consider similar legislation in January. Eventually, it hopes to lobby the Virginia legislature, Ms. O'Donnell said.
In recent years, lawmakers in Arizona, Illinois, Maine and Massachusetts enacted laws that prohibit non-compete clauses. California has outlawed the practice since the 1940s.
Local stations are expected to fight to keep the clauses. "Why should we spend our money to promote talent if a competitor can steal them away?" said one local news director.
Anchors away?
Staffers at WJLA and WUSA are buzzing about possible anchor changes on their stations' 5 p.m. newscasts.
At WJLA, management is still searching for a co-anchor for Maureen Bunyan on the late news. The person who gets the gig may also be assigned to the 5 p.m. newscast, where he or she would likely replace Del Walters, who has been working without a contract for about a year.
The search for Miss Bunyan's partner began more than a year ago. The station is said to be seeking someone it can groom into a signature star.
Among the candidates WJLA has passed on: former "Good Morning America" news reader Antonio Mora and Philadelphia anchor Ren Scott.
(Too bad about the latter. It would be a kick to see someone named Ren Scott share an anchor desk with Rene Knott, WJLA's longtime sports director.)
Since late July, reporter Doug McKelway has been Miss Bunyan's co-anchor on the late news. Several staffers hope the popular Mr. McKelway, who previously anchored at NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4), will get the gig permanently.
The WJLA suits declined comment. Mr. Walters did not return telephone calls.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he left, and I wouldn't be surprised if he stayed," said Gregg Willinger, Mr. Walters' agent. If he leaves, another station would likely hire him, Mr. Willinger said, noting that Mr. Walters has won 17 Emmy awards, primarily for his work as WJLA's senior investigative reporter.
Over at WUSA, knowledgeable staffers say management is considering relieving Virg Jacques of his duties as anchor of the 5 p.m. news with JC Hayward.
Mr. Jacques, who also reports for the station's 11 p.m. news, said he is unaware of such a plan. News Director Dave Roberts did not return telephone calls. General Manager Ardyth Diercks was unavailable for comment.
Happy trails
Tom Bresnahan said yesterday he will retire as president and general manager of WMAL-AM (630) effective Oct. 11, ending almost 15 years at the station and 30 in the broadcast industry.
The ABC-owned news-and-talk station has not named a replacement. The announcement comes as the ailing company considers selling WMAL and its 25 other radio stations.
It has been a turbulent year at the station: WMAL won the Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence, but its ratings also slid following a series of programming changes.
This just in
The Heritage Foundation and Talkers magazine will hold a forum on talk radio and the 2002 elections Friday on Capitol Hill. Panelists include syndicated talkers Jim Bohannon and Armstrong Williams and former WMAL host Victoria Jones.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the debut of the syndicated version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" was a dud. The show averaged a dismal 62,900 households in its first week on WUSA, finishing fourth weeknights at 7.
Questions? Comments? Tips? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to cbakerwashingtontimes.com


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