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The Quest for News Gold

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We watched Apolo and Michelle and even those Do-the-Dew halfpipe skiers. But what we didn't get to see was perhaps the most taxing sport of all: Olympic newsgathering, thanks to the large contingent from Charlotte's NBC Newschannel. The NBC Newschannel, for the uninitiated, is that building surrounded by big satellite dishes next to WCNC-TV on Billy Graham Parkway. It's the newsfeed service for all NBC affiliates across the country. If St. Louis needs some file footage of Osama Bin Laden or a live feed of a presidential news conference, they call the Newschannel. And 24 hours a day, staffers prepare specialized feeds and stories and send them via satellite to those same stations.

With those stations' ratings at stake during the Olympics, the Newschannel sent 40 people from Charlotte to crank out the endless info and video that only NBC affiliates are allowed to use, given the rights ownership of the Games by the network.

I talked to Executive Producer Sharon Houston before her day got busy in Salt Lake City one morning last week. The Newschannel, NBC News, MSNBC, and local affiliates had transformed the Gateway Building into Satellite Central.

"When it's really busy, we have as many as 400 people in here," Houston said. "It really never stops, 24 hours a day."

"We're doing custom live shots with our reporters for stations around the country in the morning and again at night. Maybe as many as 50 a day. And we're also covering the Olympic stories of the day and putting together those packages to send out on our feed."

Also chronicled one night on NBC were the icy conditions on a rooftop satellite setup, where local station reporters were working hard, with 18 satellite "paths" from that locale every night.

With that workload, Houston lamented the cold temperatures of the first Olympic week, but said that Salt Lake City had done a good job with the Games, and that crowds had increased day by day. She'd actually been able to check out a few events in person, including short track skating, the neo-Roller Derby of the Games.

There were a few surprises for the Newschannel in terms of the hot stories stations were requesting. "Skategate" aside, "believe it or not, people have been interested in curling," she said, "and snowboarding, too."

And was she coming home with one of those USA berets? "Well, I was going to buy one for my daughter, but you just can't see wearing that in Myers Park."

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* Denise Dory will go quietly into that good night March 1, which is her last night anchoring at WBTV. No intrigue attached to her resignation, though. Dory and her family are headed to familiar territory and a new anchoring gig at WMAR-TV, Baltimore's ABC station.

Dory and her husband, Michael, both hail from the Washington, DC area, and had always hoped the opportunity would come for them to head back home one day. When WMAR called, she listened. And as she put it, "it was an offer I couldn't refuse."

But won't she miss Charlotte just a little? "The nicest thing anyone said to me (after she announced her resignation) was that 'you know you'll always have a home here,'" she told me.

She came here in 1995, and made some good friends in the area, as well as having her second child, Quinn, in one of those on-air pregnancies common to the modern anchorwoman these days.

Bon voyage to her, even as the new anchor hunt (or shuffle?) begins at WBTV.

* Tis' the season for awards like the Oscars, the Golden Globes, and even the regional Emmys. But for Rick Ballew of WRFX-FM, he got his Emmy and Oscar all rolled up into one February 3 in Memphis. Ballew, host and producer of the "FOX Smokin' Blues" show, accepted the "Keepin' The Blues Alive" award from the National Blues Association for having the best commercial radio show in the country.

His five-year-old program on 99.7 runs from 8-10pm, and is a rarity in these days of strict music formats (and on a Clear Channel station, no less). "It is rare, because we pretty much go without a format: I play old blues and some of the new artists," Ballew told me. "People in Charlotte really enjoy the blues, especially if you look at the success of somewhere like the Double Door Inn. I think it's because the music is so roots-oriented."

* Speaking of roots, the eclectic music mix lives on WNCW-FM, the public radio station in Spindale that broadcasts on 100.7 FM in Charlotte. If you'd like some input into what you'd like to hear more (or less) of on WNCW, here's your chance.

Community Advisory Board chairperson Ruth Moeller got in touch to let me know the board is taking its act on the road to hear from listeners across its broadcast area. They'll meet in Charlotte and want to see you on March 11 at 7pm at the Van Every Building at CPCC. If you want more information, head to their website at www.wncw.org.

* This week's "He Did What?" award goes to WTVI honcho Hal Bouton, who deemed the recent Frontline program about America's multi-billion dollar pornography industry too much for Charlotte-area viewers to handle, so he chose not to run it. No biggie if you actually wanted to see it, though. Other PBS stations, including WUNC-TV, ran it after 11pm, and ran an edited version, which "pixelized" all the naughty parts. In case you missed it, it was a well-made documentary about a controversial subject. Catch it again in reruns -- just not on "Charlotte's Public Television Choice."

* Kind of like a lottery within a lottery, South Carolina has picked the winners of the Ratings Bonanza. The five TV stations that will air the state's lottery numbers game live when it begins later this year are: WLTX in Columbia, WSPA in Spartanburg, Florence's WPDE, Myrtle Beach's WWMB and WCBD in Charleston. It was an interesting process, since stations had to make their pitch to be "the one" in their market to carry the live drawings. Competition was, well, competitive.

So where will Charlotte-area lottery buyers be able to see the fun? Well, NC broadcasters can't advertise lotteries by state law. And though WB55 is technically licensed in Rock Hill, its broadcasting facilities are here in Charlotte. Hope you have a satellite dish.

Stay tuned. . . *

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