Tuned In: Local TV stations feature new people in news, weather and traffic

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In the past couple of months, new faces have been popping up on local newscasts, most notably in the morning, the most competitive time period in local news.

Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
New members of the KDKA-TV team -- Jim Lokay, Keith Jones and Alison Morris.

Click photo for larger image.

WPXI and WTAE have been trading the leadership position back and forth for a couple of years already, and KDKA has begun to make a stronger showing of late.

Morning is also the time period when more people are watching more often. While other newscasts see overall declines in viewership, more people are clicking on the TV in the morning for the top news, weather and traffic, which get repeated on a seemingly endless loop.

Who are the newcomers and where are they from? Read on.

Demetrius Ivory, WTAE

Senior year of college is a busy time for any student, but it was probably more hectic for Demetrius Ivory, the new morning meteorologist on Channel 4.

While completing his degree in atmospheric science at Ohio State University, Ivory began working at WOHL in Lima, Ohio, market No. 185 (Pittsburgh is No. 22). He was the station's evening and late news forecaster, driving almost two hours every day from the OSU campus to the station.

Although he was learning technical meteorological terms in school, he quickly figured out that wasn't what he should share with viewers.

"No one's giving you credit for saying words they don't understand," Ivory said. "Your education and the things you know, that's what goes into the forecast. You have to give viewers useful information."

A Cleveland native, Ivory said he had offers from stations in comparable markets, but he came to Pittsburgh based on the strength of Channel 4's weather team and the name Joe DeNardo, the station's longtime lead forecaster who's now retired but remains with the station in a consulting capacity.

After college graduation, Ivory worked for three years at WYTV in Youngstown, where he was most recently the morning meteorologist.

"I don't think you can ever adjust to this schedule," he said, laughing.

Ivory replaced Jerry Martz, who in recent Channel 4 tradition got bumped to weekends, just like Stephen Cropper before him. In both cases, station executives gave no reason for their changes.

"It was awkward for a couple seconds," Ivory said of his first meeting with Martz, "but then it was comfortable. He's an excellent meteorologist. And I realize, too, things can change. They could call next week and say, 'You're doing weekends.' I'm happy to be here. Whatever shift I'm on, that's fine."

Learning to tiptoe through the minefield of TV station politics is new for Ivory, who grew up watching the weather on TV and making his own weather maps, noting how high and low pressure systems moved from day to day.

"I was a kid who would go out and play all day and then come home at night and read earth science books. I was a closet nerd," Ivory said. "I didn't know if I could make it a career. I didn't get into television until I got an internship [at a TV station] in college. From there on it was, 'Well, this might not be so bad.' "

Keith Jones, KDKA

Landing in the TV business hasn't been a bad gig for Jones, either. A popular weekend anchor on WPXI from 1999 to 2003, Jones returned to Pittsburgh (after a stint in Charleston, W.Va.) on former rival KDKA last month, joining Kelli Olexia at the anchor desk in the morning and at noon.

But at Barry University in Florida, where Jones played baseball, he didn't have a grand plan of a broadcast journalism career. Jones, who grew up in Westerville, Ohio, was planning a business major when he had to take a prerequisite in impromptu speaking.

A self-described smart aleck, Jones said he had to speak off the cuff for 30 seconds. When the professor told him his time was up, Jones said he wasn't done. The professor challenged him to keep going, first for 60 seconds, then for two minutes.

"She was trying to bust my hump, and I wasn't going to let her do it," Jones said. "I got up to five minutes, all off the cuff."

The professor told Jones he had "the gift of gab" and suggested a career in broadcasting.

"I'd never thought about it," he said. "I wanted to write for newspapers or magazines after I learned the power of the word. Then everything just sort of fell in line."

Jones said it was a little strange to return to Pittsburgh and be in a one-time rival's newsroom, at least at first.

"I watched all these people through the TV, and now we're in the same newsroom, part of the same team," he said. "Now when I turn the knob on the TV, the competition is where I used to work. It is kind of odd. The roles are flipped. But KDKA has been great. Everybody here has been very welcoming and excited and that makes it great."

Jim Lokay, KDKA

Learning to get around in any new city can be daunting, but Pittsburgh, with its stairway streets and undulating topography offers a particular challenge for any newcomer, but especially for a traffic reporter whose job it is to know the area's roads.

None of that is an issue for Jim Lokay, KDKA's new morning traffic and transportation reporter. He's an East McKeesport native who previously worked in Pittsburgh on the radio as a news and traffic reporter for Metro Networks.

Lokay was hired as part of KDKA's morning news expansion, which also includes a 7 to 9 a.m. newscast anchored by Sonni Abatta and John Cater on sister-station WNPA.

A 1998 graduate of East Allegheny High School and a 2002 graduate of California University of Pennsylvania, Lokay could be heard on Pittsburgh radio stations Y-108 and Star 100.7 during his first local media stint.

"When I left Metro, the main reason was I knew if I wanted to come back home, I'd have to pay my dues somewhere else," Lokay said. He ended up working for a cable news channel in Syracuse, N.Y., as a reporter and weekend anchor before returning to Pittsburgh.

While traffic reporting is probably not considered a plum job by many in the TV news business, Lokay said he saw it as an opportunity.

"One of the best parts about this beat is, after doing those traffic reports, you realize this is something that really affects everybody," he said. Plus, Lokay's family is here, running Lokay Lanes, a bowling alley in Monroeville.

As a morning person, the hours don't bother him too much, and he doesn't have to arrive at the station as early as meteorologist Rebecca Hower because, well, you can't really forecast traffic, you just have to wait for it to happen.

But working at the TV station with Pittsburgh's most veteran reporters has taken some getting used to.

"It was a bit intimidating to be working with all of these people who I grew up watching," said Lokay, 25. "But they've treated me very well."

Alison Morris, KDKA

A new morning reporter for KDKA and WNPA, Morris graduated from Yale University in 2001 and went to Paris (her mother's family is French), thinking she'd just travel around Europe. But one of the former editors of her college newspaper coaxed her into writing for Wall Street Journal Europe.

With an interest in television, Morris kept dropping in to visit CNBC to see about job opportunities. She was eventually hired as a producer and a year later she moved into a reporting role.

"I loved it, but as an American in Europe, there's no real mobility," Morris said. "No French station will hire an American."

She returned to America in 2004 and landed at WLNY, an independent commercial TV station on Long Island, where she grew up.

"I was in the No. 1 market, but it was a very small station," Morris said. She hadn't originally considered Pittsburgh while searching for new opportunities, but after an interview with KDKA news director John Verrilli, Morris said she came away with a good feeling about the people and the place.

"I didn't know that much about the city as a whole. It gets the old 'steel city' rap, but everything has been such a pleasant surprise because that's not what the city is like at all," she said. "And the people are warm and friendly, especially coming from New York where people can be quick and curt sometimes."

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.


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