Tuned In: Could Bologna's return forecast a change in the ratings?
"It had always been a hope to come back," says meteorologist Julie Bologna, who has returned to WPXI after four years in Dallas.
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When meteorologist Julie Bologna left WPXI and Pittsburgh in the summer of 2004, KDKA's 5 p.m. news routinely ranked third during sweeps months and WTAE and WPXI often jockeyed for first place.
But after a slow, steady decline, KDKA has since rebounded and is now usually ranked first, with WTAE second and WPXI third or tied for second.
So it's no surprise that WPXI would hire Bologna back to offer forecasts at 5 p.m. on Channel 11 and at 10 p.m. on WPGH. Her popularity helped Channel 11 to successful ratings in the mornings during her 1999-2004 tenure at the station.
Bologna acknowledged there's always pressure in TV news, but she's not dwelling on it.
"All I can say is I'm just going to be myself. That's what I've done every place I've been," she said. "Hopefully, people want to tune in."
Bologna, 36, is expected to debut on air Monday. This week she was settling in to Channel 11's new facility, getting trained on the computers -- a new system since her departure, she said.
She's being trained by chief meteorologist Mike LaPoint, which could be an uncomfortable situation since LaPoint may be the odd man out if Bologna's presence draws more viewers. But both of them seem to be clear-eyed about the goal (win in the ratings), and LaPoint shrugs off questions about his future with WPXI, saying he hasn't put out feelers to other stations.
"We're both professional," LaPoint said Wednesday. "This is just part of the business. You see this stuff everywhere you go.
"Julie and I will offer the strongest combination team," he said. "I think we'll be great together. We'll be able to help each other out."
Bologna said she looks forward to working with another meteorologist, something she didn't have the chance to do on the morning shift.
"I couldn't bounce meteorological questions or forecast questions off anyone else or share in graphic making," Bologna said. "This kind of situation will be nice for me."
Already they've been trading stories about their children. LaPoint has three kids -- a 4-year-old and twins born in May -- while Bologna has two boys, a 2-year-old and an infant who was born in February.
It's family that motivated Bologna's move back to Pittsburgh. A native of Center, Beaver County, she wanted her children to grow up near her family. Her husband, Phillip, a pharmacist, is currently searching for a job in the area, preferably one that will allow him to be home with the children while Bologna is at work in the evening.
Bologna graduated from Penn State University after studying communications/journalism (with a minor in theater). Prior to her first stint at WPXI, she gained broadcasting experience in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Altoona, Steubenville, Ambridge and State College. In 2004, she left No. 22 Nielsen market Pittsburgh for Dallas, which was market No. 7 at the time.
Bologna said climbing to a larger market was not her goal.
"I was blessed to have several opportunities in my hand from several different markets," she said. "During the four years I've been gone, there were opportunities along the way to come back to Pittsburgh. I've never stopped the conversation with this market, which is wonderful. It had always been a hope to come back."
Bologna's return won't be the only factor that could play into local news ratings shifts this fall. WPXI may already have benefited ratings-wise from being the first station to launch local news in HD. WTAE is expected to begin HD news within days or weeks. But KDKA won't make the switch until early next year.
Former WTAE meteorologist Don Schwenneker, who moved to Chicago's WBBM in January and already has held two different weather time slots (first weekends, then weekday evenings), will become a weekday morning news anchor Monday. Schwenneker worked in news early in his career and has already done some news anchor fill-in work on WBBM. ... A tribute to the late Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch is expected to air Tuesday on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (4 p.m. weekdays, WTAE). ... TBS has ordered a 10-episode, third season of "The Bill Engvall Show," executive produced by Pittsburgh native James Widdoes, to air next summer. ... CBS is developing a TV version of the public radio series "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me!," according to the Chicago Tribune.
Today's TV Q&A responds to questions about the new fall TV season, "Swingtown" and "Oprah" in HD. Read it online at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's Tuned In Podcast includes conversations about "Mad Men," "Entourage," "True Blood" and the new "90210." Listen or subscribe at post-gazette.com/podcast.
First Published September 12, 2008 12:00 am