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Team KNBC Storms Olympics


Not one of them will run, jump, swim or flip for a medal, but local station KNBC-TV Channel 4 is nonetheless sending a larger team to the Olympics this week than will many of the nations participating in the two-week event.

More than 30 members of the station's news staff, including an assortment of anchors and sports reporter Fred Roggin, will travel to Atlanta so that Channel 4's local newscasts can originate at the scene of the action.

When the entire world gets together (especially if your parent network has purchased the rights to televise it), all things global are local and all things local . . . well, they'll still make the newscasts, if they are really vital.

Bill Lord, KNBC's news director, said that each of the station's newscasts during the Games will be jointly broadcast, with some of each originating from the newly built set in the Olympic complex and some from the station's studio in Burbank.

"The newscasts will be weighted toward the Olympics, but we won't neglect the news here," Lord said. "Even with 30 people gone, we still have the vast bulk of our news-gathering team. We won't miss any major stories. We won't let the Olympics dictate how we cover everything going on here. We can do these stories and still get in all our local news."

The stories reported from Atlanta by anchors Paul Moyer, Colleen Williams, Chuck Henry and Kelly Mack will focus on the Olympics, especially on athletes and spectators from Southern California. All non-Olympic local news will be reported as usual by those left behind, although Fritz Coleman will present Southern California weather reports from various venues at the Games.

"It would seem funny if we were doing it back in the '50s and I had to have the maps sent by carrier pigeons," said Coleman, who will also serve as a man-on-the-street feature reporter in Atlanta. "But technology is such that the viewer won't even know. I'll have the same computer and be looking at the same maps as always. And it's a time of year anyway when the weather in L.A. is fairly uneventful."

Although the KNBC contingent won't be competing in any of the official Olympic events, the reason for this massive cross-country effort is the same as for the athletes: competition.

During the Olympics, a much higher than normal number of television sets in the L.A. area will be tuned to Channel 4, giving the station the opportunity to showcase its news team to a lot of viewers who may usually watch news on other outlets.

Newscasts will not be aired at the usual times, however. Because of NBC's extended live coverage of the Games, KNBC will air half-hour local newscasts at 3, 4, 9 and 11:11 p.m. during the Olympics, with the network's "Nightly News" at 3:30 p.m.

"First off, we are doing this because we know from the past that the Olympics is much more than a sporting event," said Carole Black, KNBC's president and general manager. "It's an all-encompassing event with all kinds of human drama as you have all these people pushing themselves to be the best. People get very caught up with it, with the drama involved, the thrills and some tragedies, and it has captured the imagination and the interest of a huge number of viewers in Southern California.

"And that gives us the opportunity to showcase our talent and our abilities to people who may not have seen them before. That is a great opportunity for us."

Judging from past Olympics--and KNBC sent a similar team to the 1988 Games in Seoul, Lord expects an "afterglow" effect on the station's news ratings in the months to come.

But although both he and Black admit that they wouldn't send more than a few of their personnel or originate newscasts from the site if some other network had the rights to the Games, neither thought it was artificial to put anchors in chairs in Atlanta just so they can do the news in front of an Olympic backdrop.

"If we didn't have the Olympics, I know we would still send some people because it is a giant event, but we would also be aware that most people would be watching the other station that was covering it," Black said. "But we send our anchors to every major news event, it's just that usually those are big tragedies. This gives us an opportunity to focus on something that is extraordinarily positive."

"And having these people there, on the scene, enhances our coverage," Lord added. "It is a clear signal to our viewers that we take the Olympics very seriously, and we think that you are interested enough in not only the sports, but in the event as news, for us to send our top people."

Based on his experience in South Korea eight years ago, Coleman said that the excitement and momentum of the event rub off on everyone involved for a long time.

"It's a 'you were there' kind of thing," he said. "We proved at the Seoul Olympics--in a much less glamorous environment and ambiguous circumstances, in that we were restricted in our traveling and our reporting--that people back home were eager to tune in to see what we were up to that day. You really reap the benefits of that wonderful experience, not only in the ratings, but institutionally as a news department. We were there for this monstrous event the same way CNN was there for the Gulf War. It gives you this subliminal credibility in the minds of the viewers."

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