- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

A few weeks ago, a man approached Del Walters at one of the television news reporter’s regular haunts, a coffeehouse in Reston, and handed him an envelope. “You’ll know what to do with this,” the stranger said cryptically.

This sort of thing happens to Mr. Walters a lot. Someone will see him on the street and give him the story tip they believe will lead to his next big expose. Some even provide documentation, like the man in the coffee shop.

“People come up to me all the time and ask me to tell their story,” Mr. Walters said.

Yet Mr. Walters hasn’t had a place to tell those stories for the past five months. ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7), the station that made him a household name in the Washington area, dumped him in September.

Now he’s moving on.

WMAR-TV (Channel 2), the ABC affiliate in Baltimore, will announce soon that it has hired Mr. Walters to become its investigative reporter and one of its main anchors. He will probably debut during the February ratings sweep.

“They’re marrying both of my passions: investigative reporting and anchoring,” Mr. Walters said.

In Charm City, he hopes to get the respect that eluded him toward the end of his stay at WJLA.

Mr. Walters joined Channel 7 in 1985 and made a name for himself as the station’s I-Team investigative reporter. He crusaded against dirty hot dog vendors, unsafe auto air bags and dishonest bureaucrats, breaking some stories that led to hearings on Capitol Hill.

The Mike Wallacelike bravado he brought to local television earned him 20 Emmys and many other journalism awards. Perhaps his greatest honor was a citation from the D.C. Council for saving two persons during a City Hall hostage standoff in 1988.

WJLA didn’t pick up his contract when it came up for renewal more than a year ago. In September, when the station announced it had hired Leon Harris, formerly of CNN, as an anchor, WJLA pulled him off the air.

Mr. Walters’ agent and WJLA’s managers talked about finding a new role for him, but nothing panned out, and Mr. Walters departed.

Other stations in the Washington area came calling, and by some accounts, Mr. Walters came tantalizingly close to moving to one of WJLA’s rivals. In the end, he said, WMAR made him an irresistible offer.

“I wanted to be in a place that was aggressive. They’re in a dogfight, and I like dogfights,” he said.

The move to Baltimore should help relieve the sting he felt when WJLA let him go.

Mr. Walters grew up poor in West Virginia and bounced around the business before landing at WJLA. In Washington he became a star. His portrait hangs on the wall of the famed downtown D.C. restaurant the Palm, in between likenesses of Wolf Blitzer and Vernon Jordan.

“When a Washington audience embraces you, it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye. As an African-American broadcaster in a town with many African-American residents, I hope I served them well,” he said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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