More changes are in store at the WPXI Severe Weather Center: Morning meteorologist Krista Villarreal is leaving to return home to Texas where her husband already found a job several months ago. She joined WPXI in early 2005 from KXAS in Dallas.
Mike LaPoint will take over in the morning and at noon with Julie Bologna assuming LaPoint's title and duties as chief meteorologist at 5, 6, 10 and 11 p.m. Scott Harbaugh, whose Weather Plus tasks will come to an end when that digital subchannel goes dark later this month (WPXI is opting not to replace it with another channel at this time), will take a more active role in forecasting for PCNC, including the live 7 p.m. newscast.
Villarreal's departure makes new director Corrie Harding's job easier. With the addition of Bologna and the dissolution of Weather Plus, a stable of five meteorologists, including weekend forecaster Kevin Benson, was untenable.
"She came to me while I was, quite frankly, trying to figure out how to make five fit," Harding said. "There are always a million scenarios: What if X-person leaves or Y-person leaves. This one was truly Krista's personal situation and choice with her family. I had several ideas of how to make it all fit, and this just meant I had to adjust a little bit."
The remaining meteorologists will settle into their new roles over the course of the next month due to previously scheduled vacation time. Villarreal's last day is expected to be Dec. 12.
"It truly was my decision to leave and the decision has been made for a while," Villarreal said yesterday. "My husband found another opportunity and he's been in Dallas since October with my daughter."
Villarreal's mother-in-law has been watching 14-month-old Abigail.
"I work very strange hours and I would have had to quickly find and hire a nanny," she explained.
Villarreal said she never had a formal conversation with WPXI executives about her role at the station going forward, but based on casual comments about plans for the future, all indications were that she would remain part of the station's weather team if she'd stayed. The timing takes some pressure off station management and the other meteorologists.
"I considered that in the timing of when I told them because I was hoping it would make it easier on everybody," she said.
Villarreal doesn't yet have a job lined up in Texas. She'll "never say never" to a TV job, but she's also considering other opportunities to meld her weather experience with her MBA degree.
She said she'll miss the friendliness and approachability of Pittsburghers as well as her WPXI co-workers.
"When I flew in two weeks ago for the last time, it didn't hit me until I landed, but then I realized it's the last time I'll be landing in Pittsburgh, and I got a little teary," she said. "It's always sad when you're closing a chapter in your lives, and this has been a great chapter for us."
November ratings are in and KDKA remains on top at noon, 4, 5, 6 and 11 p.m., but the big question among viewers may be what impact anchor changes at WTAE and WPXI had on the ratings compared to a year ago.
The answer: Not much.
Of course, ratings fluctuations cannot necessarily be ascribed to anchor changes alone, but such alterations can be a factor among many. Still, stations' rankings changed in none of the news time periods as each maintained its first, second or third-place finish from November 2007.
Mike Clark moved to mornings on WTAE and Channel 4 solidified its ratings lead, improving from year-ago ratings by three-tenths of a ratings point at both 5 and 6 a.m. WPXI, which traded in Newlin Archinal for Jennifer Abney in the mornings, was off one-tenth of a point at 5 a.m. but Channel 11 improved by four-tenths of a point at 6 a.m.
Ratings improvements for WPXI and WTAE took their toll on KDKA's morning show, which replaced Valerie Abati with Dennis Bowman this summer. KDKA was down one-half a ratings point at 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.
KDKA's 7 a.m. news on WPCW was up one-tenth of a ratings point, but "Pittsburgh Today Live" on KDKA declined two-tenths of a ratings point.
Ratings released yesterday by Nielsen Media Research are household ratings that reflect more a measure of popularity rather than a basis for advertising rates. TV commercials are generally sold on demographic ratings, which won't be available for several weeks.
WTAE's evening anchor changes appeared to have less impact. Andrew Stockey replaced Michelle Wright at 5 p.m. and ratings rose two-tenths of a point, but KDKA improved more, jumping from an 8.7 rating to a 9.5 rating. WPXI, which added meteorologist Julie Bologna, was up by one-tenth of a point.
At 6 p.m., where Michelle Wright replaced Sally Wiggin, WTAE's ratings were flat from a year earlier. KDKA declined one-tenth of a ratings point in the 6 p.m. half-hour while WPXI grew by one-half a ratings point. KDKA's 6:30 p.m. half-hour declined by three-tenths of a ratings point.
At 10 p.m., both WPGH and WPCW grew by one-tenth of a ratings point year-to-year.
KDKA was off one-tenth of a ratings point at 11 p.m. while both WPXI and WTAE gained four-tenths of ratings point.
Overall, November 2008 offered, on average, better ratings news for all of the local stations. Newscast ratings were up more often than they declined, a rarity in recent years, even in Pittsburgh, where local news tends to get higher ratings than in many other American cities. My guess is local newscasts drew more viewers because of threats of snow earlier in the season than usual.
"Friday Night Lights" returns with new episodes on NBC Jan. 16. ... Glenn Beck, late of CNN Headline News, launches his new program at 5 p.m. weekdays on Fox News Channel beginning Jan. 19. ... "Rosie Live," Rosie O'Donnell's bid to bring back a live, prime-time variety show on Thanksgiving Eve, was a bomb, averaging a little more than 5 million viewers.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Dec. 3, 2008) A TV news ratings graphic as originally published with this story on Dec. 2, 2008 transposed two TV station rankings for 5 p.m. newscasts. WTAE should have been listed in second place with WPXI in third place.