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TV 12 OUSTS SPORTSCASTER, WEATHERMAN\ THE DISMISSALS COME AT THE HEIGHT OF WXII'S PUSH INTO GREENSBORO.
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TV 12 OUSTS SPORTSCASTER, WEATHERMAN\ THE DISMISSALS COME AT THE HEIGHT OF WXII'S PUSH INTO GREENSBORO.

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Television station WXII will lose two high-profile broadcasters - with 17 years of local experience between them - because station executives have declined to renew their contract.

Chief meteorologist John Wendel will leave WXII (Channel 12) today, and main sports anchor Dan Rath will leave the station sometime after the holidays. These changes come as the Triad's NBC affiliate in Winston-Salem is going after more Greensboro viewers.``We certainly understand that viewers may not understand our thinking because, for goodness sakes, viewers establish relationships with the people they see on TV,' said WXII's news director Michelle Butt. ``But we still have a lot of good people on staff.

``Go with us, give us some time,' Butt said. ``Believe it or not, we know what we're doing.'

The announcement comes during WXII's biggest change in its news coverage in 10 years. Earlier this year, WXII began wrestling with WFMY (Channel 2), WGHP (Channel 8) and WXLV (Channel 45) for more viewers by doing more stories in Greensboro and Guilford County.

The stakes are high. Viewers mean ratings and ratings mean money. Each rating point - a percentage of a particular age group watching a show at any given time - represents as much as $700,000 in a market with a potential $75 million in advertising.

The most recent viewership survey shows WXII's eastward push is working. In November, one of TV's four viewership assessment periods, Butt said WXII was No. 1 during the 11 p.m. newscast and No. 2 - tied with WGHP - for the 6 p.m. newscast. WFMY was No. 1 at 6 p.m.

Butt declined to comment about why Wendel and Rath were released. Retired WFMY news anchor Lee Kinard said he believes on-air presence must have had something to do with it.

``If the competition is so keen and the personality isn't strong, that is interpreted as a marketing weakness,' said Kinard, a local broadcaster for 43 years. ``That's what it's all about. The audience is pleased more by personalities than by coverage.'

Rath, a native of Wisconsin, joined the station in 1988. He became WXII's sports anchor and started the ``I Dare Dan' franchise, a program in which viewers challenged him at sports and other past-times.

Rath, said he doesn't know if he wants to stay in television. But he wants to stay in the Triad.

``As for the end of my service to WXII-TV, I see it as God closing one door and opening another,' Rath said in an e-mail response Thursday. ``When I hear the loudest knock, I'll open that door and see where it leads.'

Wendel, a native of Illinois, joined the station five years ago. He became WXII's chief meteorologist and guided the station's coverage during such major weather news as the Stoneville tornado in 1998. Weather consistently ranks No. 1 in viewer-interest surveys.

Wendel will join Charlotte's WCNC as its meteorologist for the 5 p.m. newscast. He starts at the NBC affiliate Dec. 18.

``Oh boy, there was the initial shock at first,' Wendel said Thursday. ``But you have to think that they have to do what they think is best for the station. Even though you may not agree with them, you have to accept it and go out and try to find something even better.'

The Triad's TV landscape has experienced some big changes in the past month. A week before Thanksgiving, WXLV laid off 10 employees - including five on-air broadcasters such as weathercaster Tammy O'Neil - after canceling its weekend and weekday morning newscasts.

WGHP said goodbye to consumer reporter Jim Donovan and weekend anchor Fields Moseley who left for larger markets. Donovan left last Friday for Columbus, Ohio; Moseley will leave next Friday for Salt Lake City, Utah.

And now, WXII has released two of its big-time broadcasters.

``It is unsettling,' Cameron Kent, WXII's most veteran news anchor, said of losing Rath and Wendel.

``You develop personal relationships with people, and it's difficult to see them go, but this is such a transient business,' Kent said, ``Everybody knows that change is inevitable.'\ \ Contact Jeri Rowe at 373-7092 or jrowe@news-record.com

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