- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

How hard is it to fill Alexandra Steele's heels? The popular morning weather forecaster departed WJLA-TV (Channel 7) in November, and the ABC affiliate still hasn't replaced her.
"The honest thing is, the evaluation process has taken longer than we expected," said Bill Lord, vice president of news for WJLA and its sister cable network, NewsChannel 8.
Miss Steele, who chose not to renew her contract with the station, delivered her final forecast on Thanksgiving. The job was still open when Mr. Lord arrived at WJLA Feb. 3, and since then, he has reviewed 50 audition tapes.
Twelve candidates remain contenders, he said. The job won't be filled before the start of the 28-day May ratings sweep, which begins tomorrow.
"Some people have contract issues. A lot of them have unrealistic salary expectations. Ultimately, we want someone who meets our high standards," Mr. Lord said.
When Miss Steele left, WJLA management quietly made overtures to WTTG-TV (Channel 5) chief forecaster Sue Palka, who chose to remain with the Fox affiliate. More recently, Mr. Lord considered Chikage Windler, a WRC-TV (Channel 4) meteorologist who ended up taking a Boston job.
WJLA also brought Atlanta forecaster Christy Henderson in for an on-air tryout in the winter.
Throughout the search, the ABC affiliate relied on pinch hitters to deliver the morning forecast. Among them: weather producers Brian van de Graaff, a protege of chief meteorologist Doug Hill, and chipper Adam Caskey, Mr. Lord's first hire at WJLA.
Newsroom staffers hope a permanent forecaster is named soon. "Good Morning Washington" has made strides in the morning news wars since Mr. Lord's predecessor, Steve Hammel, overhauled the show last year. Staffers fear the program will lose momentum without a regular forecaster.
Meanwhile, Channel Surfing has received lots of e-mail from folks curious about the whereabouts of the alluring Miss Steele. One reader said he will especially miss her summertime forecasts, when she perfected the use of the word "steamy" to describe the day's conditions.
A spokesman for Miss Steele's agent told us she is keeping a low profile and wasn't interested in being interviewed. At the time of her departure, Miss Steele said she planned to spend time traveling and skiing before looking for a new job.
I-Team dropped
Don't look for any I-Team reports on WJLA this May. The station has dropped its signature investigative-reporting franchise.
The much-honored I-Team was comprised primarily of senior reporter Del Walters and producer Cindy Wright. Mr. Walters, who also anchors WJLA's 5 p.m. news, is still with the station, but Ms. Wright moved to Sinclair Broadcast Group in Hunt Valley, Md., where she helps manage news operations for its stations around the country.
Instead of relying on an investigative-reporting unit, Mr. Lord said he wants to give all his reporters a chance to do investigations. "It's incredibly important to do investigative reporting. This station has a great tradition in that area, and it will continue," he said.
Some of the I-Team reports produced before its dissolution remain unaired. In one, the unit left a Ryder truck parked in front of a federal building to illustrate holes in post-September 11 security.
The I-Team generally did serious work, avoiding the silly consumer-oriented investigations that plague so much local TV news. "We had an incredible 12-year run. We saved lives," Mr. Walters said, declining further comment.
Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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