SAN DIEGO — In 1990, local television news, in its zeal toattract new viewers, inadvertently created two new parlor games.
The most popular was the wild and wacky Pin the Hair on Susan game. Day after day, San Diegans gathered around their television sets to try to guess KFMB-TV (Channel 8) anchorwoman Susan Roesgen's hair color. One day it was blond, the next it was dark brown, as the station attempted to find a winning hair color combination.
Then there was Roger Rotisserie, the game spawned by the arrival of the new KUSI-TV (Channel 51) news program. Participants were awarded points for spotting different movements by stoic anchorman Roger Grimsby. The astute viewer who noticed when Grimsby moved his head received 10 points, 20 points if he blinked, 100 bonus points to catch him smiling.
It was that type of year for local television, as the local stations struggled to attract a regular audience through news programming. The year saw an increase in the amount of local news, but little expansion of content.
As always, style and form--hairstyles and wardrobes--seemed more important than the task of actually improving the quality of the news product. Consistency reigned supreme. New developments, like the Channel 51 newscast, eerily resembled old formulas.
The same was true in the local industry radio, where the most popular game was tracking the local morning programs, sort of a version of "Wheel of Fortune." The popular "Berger and Prescott" and "Jeff and Jer" shows "defected" to XTRA-FM (91X) and KFMB-FM (B100), respectively. The end result: The hot new shows for 91X and B100 were really old shows.
Throughout the year, both the television and radio ratings were dominated by single stations--the same stations that had dominated in 1989. In television news, KGTV (Channel 10) was No. 1 for the entire year, while KKLQ (Q106), featuring teen-oriented dance tunes, was the big winner in overall radio ratings.
Channel 10 persevered, thanks to slick news presentation--a combination of hard news, zoo stories and light health and fitness features--and consistency, presenting the same faces as the year before. To a degree, that consistency was destroyed in September when Michael Tuck, perhaps the most popular anchorman in town, left for a similar job in Los Angeles.
Although Tuck continues to do commentaries twice a week for the station, reporter Marti Emerald and former Urban League president Herb Cawthorne were brought in to provide their own "Perspective" pieces. The choice of Cawthorne, whose career in the private sector has been plagued by controversy, was particularly noteworthy, primarily because he became the first regular black commentator on local television.
In the main anchor seat, Tuck was replaced by weekend anchorman Stephen Clark, a handsome young anchor who teamed with Kimberly Hunt, the blond bombshell of local news, to create the best-looking anchor team in town. Hunt made her own headlines--in society columns--early in the year by marrying San Diego Chargers linebacker Billy Ray Smith.
The biggest news on the local television scene, though, revolved around Channel 51. After years of struggling with the majority owners, financially strapped United States International University, minority owner Michael McKinnon finally bought the station in February and immediately announced his plan to start a 10 p.m. newscast.
The program finally debuted in October, with former ABC executive Peter Jacobus at the helm and two senior anchors: Grimsby, who spent 20 years as a top anchor in New York, and California veteran George Reading. The newsroom was staffed by several San Diego veterans rejected by other stations, including Cathy Clark, Jesse Macias and Doug Curlee.
For most observers, the news show proved to be a letdown. Like the radio shows, the hot new thing was really little more than the old thing--a new version of old-style television news. It was a low-budget operation, relying heavily on national reports and basic local features.
On the other hand, Grimsby's dour persona and scathing commentaries have become an entertaining addition to the local news scene, and the evolving program is the only local news show at 10 p.m., as its ads emphasize.
But Channel 51 wasn't the only new news program on the air. Faced with diminishing audiences due to increased competition from cable and video, the stations increasingly turned to local news programs to help build their local identity. Channel 10 started supplying hourly five-minute updates that aired on cable systems, and both Channels 8 and 10 expanded their commitment to weekday morning news.