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The Ratings Warriors : Christine Lund Tells What It's Like as KABC's Diamond In The Rough Battle For L.A. News Viewers

January 06, 1991|DANIEL CERONE | Times Staff Writer

News anchor Christine Lund, whose recent return helped KABC reclaim bragging rights as Los Angeles' rights as Los Angeles' top-rated afternoon news station during the important November ratings sweeps, furrowed her brow. In the middle of an interview in her small windowless office, a garbled voice had just descended from an unseen speaker requesting Lund take a telephone call.

"Excuse me," she said kindly.

Lund began punching buttons on her telephone, but couldn't retrieve the call. Instead, she got a recording. The tin speaker impatiently paged her again. Finally, Lund let out an exasperated breath, holding the receiver up to the heavens.

"Is there a human being out there?"

If Lund is experiencing a bit of techno-shock, it's understandable. She's been away from the news business for four years.

During her voluntary exile, the tall, proud Swede engaged her hours quietly raising two young daughters, shearing sheep and spinning yarn on her San Fernando Valley farm. She spent summers in a cabin, chopping wood and fishing salmon on a desolate Alaskan island.

Her triumphant return from the wilderness and KABC-TV's dramatic if temporary ratings resurgence has put an uncomfortable spotlight on Lund.

With the help of the fair-haired anchor, whose fans continued to call the station years after she left, KABC-TV picked up a considerable 90,000 households over last year in the November ratings sweeps for its 4 p.m. newscast, according to A.C. Nielsen Co. figures. (Since November, however, ratings have flattened out and it appears that KNBC has nudged its way back to No. 1.)

In a recent column, Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg credited Lund for helping bring KABC news back to prominence while at the same time calling her presence nothing more than a "glossy hood ornament."

"Well, this is the job," Lund said shaking her head on the day the column appeared. "You get inordinate praise and inordinate condemnation. And if you're going to keep your sanity at all, you really have to add them up, divide by two, and there it is."

Still, Lund winces when she hears charges that most female anchors are former beauty queens or bubble-headed beach blondes. She disapproves of the cheap ratings gimmicks used by news stations and instead has her sights set on mini-documentaries about such issues as child abuse, California orphans and longevity in AIDS patients.

"It isn't right," she said. "That people who do what we do are mindless is an absurd claim.

"There's a terrific temptation for some people to sandbag the product. I think it's partly disappointment with the fact that TV news is a headline medium. It's always going to be a headline medium. We're not Newsweek. We're not Harper's. We never will be. We're just the front line of information.

You have to have a picture of the scope of things. You can't berate (TV news) for something it was never intended to be."

Lund spent 13 years anchoring news at KABC-TV beginning in 1973. During much of that time, the station's newscasts drew the largest audiences in the L.A. area. When Lund failed in her attempts to renegotiate her contract to spend more time with her children in 1986, she walked away from TV news.

In doing so, she became a champion for the common woman and man.

"I know how I felt when I left work--exhausted," Lund said. "And I have a sense of people's fatigue. The numbers are down; fewer people are watching news. Personally I believe there's an exhaustion factor, an emotional exhaustion factor at work for the average person.

"We're tailing off into a recession. People are living from check to check. No one can save money. The situation in schools is paralyzing for caring parents. And the daily business of living is just overwhelming. People's resources are outstripped. . . . In many cases people are not up for anything but escape. They'd rather watch cartoons. And I think that's reasonable. God love 'em."

In the Alaskan outback, Lund had no television and didn't miss it. The air was clean and free of smog and TV transmissions.

"Television produces an alpha wave state in the brain," Lund said, explaining the tranquilizing effect of the tube.

"This is not the best state to be in for picking up information, or thinking. This is great for dozing off. For learning, you need to be in a beta state. So in a way, it's more of a reach to watch television news for people, in a physical sense, than it is to watch cartoons. It's much more natural and expected to watch utter escapism on TV."

Perhaps because of this, Lund has no objections to presenting news in an appealing package, even though most critics frown on the glitz in L.A. news.

Lund said that colorful newscasts are "refreshing to the palate. Some people can sit down and dig into, you know, a four-pound compacted loaf of whole wheat bread. But most people need to take a drink of water. They need a little bite of salad. They're looking forward to some dessert.

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