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Saturday, September 15, 2018

NewsFix signs off, plus remembering the old 39 News

Sharron Melton returns to Houston TV on CW 39 KIAH

Revelations from NewsFix's development and what the old KIAH newsroom was like before the new show's debut

NewsFix on CW39 KIAH Houston and CW33 KDAF in Dallas-Fort Worth has officially signed off after eight years (at least in H-Town).

Below are some goodbye videos from the last broadcast.

I don't know if I've ever written this before or not, but back in 2010, I was kinda getting bored of writing this blog when this wild Tribune concept to revolutionize news appeared on my radar.

Suddenly I was excited about blogging again.

So who knows, if NewsFix never existed, would my blog even be around today? There are probably now a lot of TV managers who suddenly wish they could go back in time and stop Tribune.

Also, I can thank NewsFix for allowing me to meet KLOL legend Grego and AOR radio creator Lee Abrams - both will appear in my upcoming 101 KLOL documentary. Being that I'm a KLOL photo addict, if you have any photos or video of Grego from his radio days...let me know! While we're at it, anyone have any Lee Abrams photos from the 70s or 80s? They could end up in the film.

You might remember that KIAH hired me as a temp reporter ahead of the NewsFix launch to fill-in the staffing gap as employees left the station or were transitioning to the new NewsFix side of things. That was a fascinating view of a station in transition from my perspective.

RELATED: NewsFix Behind The Scenes of CW39 KIAH

The newsroom actually was overhauled for NewsFix. State of the art broadcast tech was installed, the joint was re-wired with faster pipes for space was converted, even the walls were repainted.

Looking back, I was actually watching the show being developed in real-time. After all, nothing like this had ever been done.

No joke, comedy writers were being hired to punch up scripts a la Jackie Martling. Sound engineers were being hired to sweeten the sound. If you work in TV news, sound is the last thing most news crews think about as they are recording audio in the field. Graphics production was amped way up compared to normal newscasts...although from what I hear...these days traditional news departments have caught up in that department.

The NewsFix staff even held rehearsals for a months ahead of the launch. They were finding stories, shooting and editing them. Full shows were put together that never aired.

And if you were still working for the 39 News that was still on the air, you could not ask a NewsFix person for help, because they were now working on the future thing.

There were people hired for NewsFix that were gone before the show debuted.

I was originally hired to be on a few weeks in the fall of 2010. Weeks turned to months. Then 2011 rolled around. NewsFix finally debuted in March.

My biggest NewsFix regret was not getting a copy of the original show pilot as recalled here. I did actually see part of it and yes, it really was shocking. The way society has changed since 2010, that pilot would probably trigger many viewers today. I can tell you that the show that debuted in 2011, looked like the pilot aesthetically, but was NOTHING like the pilot.

KIAH 39 News: The last days in photo

Also interesting was watching the 2010-11 culture war between KHOU and KTRK brew inside the old 39 newsroom (CAUTION: This is about to get really nerdy and insidery - and no, there was nothing going on like this).

KIAH at that point was staffed by a lot of former KHOU managers and producers who had the Belo way of doing things. Then a lot of temp staffers came in who were formerly of KTRK. As a former KTRKer, the old Belo KHOU and the old 13 were in the same city but operated their newsrooms worlds apart. Now the two staffs were together operating in the same environment.

Let's call it a battle of philosophies. For example, from my memory, back then, 13 liked quick anchor intros:

KTRK anchor 1: Looking for the best price on airfare?
KTRK anchor 2: Eyewitness News reporter [blank] found out there are some tricks on the Internet that can help you fly on a budget.

Now the old Belo way:

KHOU anchor 1: The sun is coming out and Houstonians are ready to head out for a summer adventure. But whether you're jetting off to Europe or taking a trip to our national park system closer to home, when it comes to buying that plane ticket, you need to do your due diligence.
KHOU anchor 2: 11 News reporter [blank] travelled around talking with experts to find out how timing can play a big part in landing your dream vacation.

My examples might be a little cartoonish, but it's late on a Friday night as I'm writing this, and you get my point. And I'm not saying either style is right or wrong. Each style works. Both of these stations were also at the top of the ratings back then in a big battle.

All this aside, the newsroom was a pretty fun and nice environment. Everyone was cool. It was not the pressure cooker that either the KHOU or KTRK newsroom would have been at the time. I enjoyed working with the KHOU staff and learned things from them. Newsroom leader Perry Pace was one of my favorite bosses ever.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention two current Houston news stars that came from the old CW39 news department - Mia Gradney (now KHOU) and Mayra Moreno (now KTRK). Also, Maggie Flecknoe, who was working as an AP back then, is the star of KIAH's morning news, which as Morning Dose goes away, will give way to a new three hour local show.

And I have to say, the old 39 News staff stayed professional to the end. As I mentioned, many of these young folks had left jobs at the bigger Houston station to move up in their career. They are then told that their news is being cancelled. Many chose to leave at that point or keep working until they found a new job. Others knew they were working in a job that was going away and were hoping to get hired on with NewsFix. I got the impression the old 39 newsroom was pretty tight and like a family. So I assume there were a lot of raw emotions, but everyone showed up and kept working hard to get the traditional newscast on the air.

Today we face the same issue. After posting about the upcoming NewsFix cancellation, employees of both KIAH and KDAF shared their stories with me on social media. Some were recently hired, others had been working for years on the show. As the Houston Business Journal reported, between the two stations and Morning Dose, there are 120 people without jobs as of month.

Keep them in your thoughts, and look out for them. There are talented people at both stations that now need work to support themselves and their families.

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