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With a budget cut of nearly $1 million, OETA is making some changes


Nicole Hill July 8th, 2010

In the course of one day, Gerry Bonds learned her OETA talk show, "OKC Metro," was up for two Emmy awards and, almost immediately, it would soon end.In addition, she found out she'd anchor her last "O...

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In the course of one day, Gerry Bonds learned her OETA talk show, "OKC Metro," was up for two Emmy awards and, almost immediately, it would soon end.

In addition, she found out she'd anchor her last "Oklahoma News Report" June 30.  

Bonds, co-anchor George Tomek and weatherman Ross Dixon are the three most visible casualties of a $994,000 budget cut for OETA that prompted changes at the station.

Bonds, who has been on-air with OETA for 14 years, said she was shocked and disappointed by the news. Her colleague Dixon, however, said he wasn't surprised in light of the state's budget troubles.

"It's easier to do to us than a state employee," he said.

Unlike full-time OETA employees, the trio are not state employees; they're contract labor, paid salary for the work they do with no benefits or retirement packages. The decision was made to use in-house on-air talent instead as a cost-saving measure, said John McCarroll, OETA executive director.

"We've got these people who are anchors that we're paying, and they've been strictly reporters for the past few years, but they can certainly read the teleprompter and do a good job," McCarroll said. "And they're journalists."

Dick Pryor will be a main anchor replacement, along with a rotation of five others with anchor experience. The change in personnel will not affect the quality of coverage, McCarroll said.

"The news will continue to be generated by our reporters, by our photographers, and it will be delivered now by our reporters and our anchors," he said. "So there's really no change in the news."

There will be a change in the weather, however " there will be none. And that's a decision Dixon calls a "misguided assumption" that people will get their weather from other sources, like the Internet. A large portion of OETA's audience is based in rural Oklahoma, an area that still does not have universally reliable and available Internet service, he said.

Tomek said laying off the three independent contractors would barely make a dent in the budget cuts, with the three's salaries comprising less than 10 percent of the nearly $1 million cut.

As such, he said he had thought the anchors might be approached about taking a pay cut before being "summarily lopped off."

But the layoffs are only one piece of the budget puzzle, McCarroll said.

Five productions " "Tulsa Times," "The State of Creativity,"  "Legislative Week," "The People's Business" and Bonds' "OKC Metro" " have all been put on hiatus, in an effort to maximize a sparse staff. In addition, McCarroll said, viewers can expect fewer installments of programs like "Stateline" and "Gallery."

Already under a hiring freeze, OETA is authorized for 84 employees, but as of now, employs 68. To use all available resources, McCarroll said, the station will partner with KGOU and KOSU radio stations and The Journal Record.

Bonds and Tomek said the news report did an invaluable service to the community by providing coverage not found elsewhere on broadcast news, and the program will continue to do so in a different capacity.

As to whether she'll be watching: "I probably will," Bonds said.

Ultimately, the versatility and cross-training of staff will aid OETA in its transition to more limited resources, McCarroll said.

For Tomek, Bonds and Dixon, the future is still uncertain, although they are open to possibilities. Tomek hopes to use the contacts he has cultivated over his career to do some sort of continued political coverage. Dixon will focus on forensic meteorology, the field he's been in for 40 years. And Bonds looks to work in some capacity showing the state of Oklahoma as a "great place to be."

All that is certain is that they've signed off their 6:30 p.m. broadcast for the last time.

"These anchors have been wonderful people. They've been great on our air," McCarroll said. "We appreciate their service to OETA, but this was a budget decision. We're sorry we're going through this, but it's just something that has to be done." "Nicole Hill

top photo Former OETA anchor Gerry Bond.
middle photo Weatherman Ross Dixon prepares for broadcast in 2006. photo/Mark Hancock
bottom photo Former OETA anchor George Tomek.
 
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