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Weatherman Bob Ryan leaving NBC4, possibly paving way for move to rival WJLA

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010; C01

Bob Ryan, Channel 4's popular weather forecaster, will retire from the station after 30 years, a move that may free him to join rival WJLA (Channel 7).

Ryan has no agreement with WJLA yet, but the station has talked to the veteran weatherman recently about taking over its late-news forecasts and sharing airtime with its chief meteorologist, Doug Hill, a longtime friend.

His last broadcast on Channel 4 will be Friday night, or more likely early Saturday, following NBC's prime-time broadcast of the Olympics. The station had no immediate plans to honor Ryan on the air, though he is likely to thank viewers and the station's staff and management for his long run.

Ryan has been part of a news team that has led the local ratings for well over a decade. Along with co-anchors Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler, and the late sportscaster George Michael, Ryan made Channel 4 the most-watched station in Washington, despite recent budget cutbacks at the station and NBC's weak prime-time programming.

The 67-year-old meteorologist had been in contract renewal talks with WRC's owner, NBC, but was unable to reach an agreement.

Ryan was represented by super-agent Bob Barnett, who has handled book-contract negotiations for such clients as Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, former British prime minister Tony Blair and former first lady Laura Bush.

Under terms of his expiring contract, Ryan may have to stay off the air for several weeks -- and potentially several months, according to a local broadcast source, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak about contractual matters. The standard "cooling-off" period can run anywhere from 60 days to six months, the source said.

Ryan has been unhappy with an increased workload on the air at Channel 4, and his diminished presence on the station's Web site. WRC has been using weather data supplied by NBC-owned Weather.com on its site, which has reduced Ryan's profile online. During the contract negotiations, NBC offered to cut Ryan's workload, according to a source at the station, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.

His departure is perhaps the biggest in a string of defections and layoffs that have hit WRC since NBC began its cost-cutting program several years ago. Michael parted ways with the station in 2007, peeved at NBC's demands that he reduce his production staff.

At the same time, adding Ryan to its roster could help WJLA overtake WRC in the local news ratings. The station, owned by Allbritton Communications of Arlington, typically finishes second to WRC in the evening news race and hasn't been able to catch up for years.

Reached at WRC on Wednesday, Ryan declined to comment. The station's management also declined to comment.

Fred Ryan, vice chairman of Allbritton Communications, stressed Wednesday that no deal has been made with Bob Ryan (the two men are not related). But he said of the weatherman, "We think Bob Ryan is a class act and wish him the best of luck in everything he does in the future."

In a memo to newsroom staff announcing his departure, Ryan said: "Even for a snow-loving meteorologist this has been some winter. And for this snow-loving and every other kind of weather-loving meteorologist this has been some ride. It's also been more fun than one person should have over 30 years in the same job with some of the same friends and colleagues for 20 to 30 years. But this winter's snows are now pausing and so will I.

"Yogi Berra said, 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it.' I'm going to take that great philosopher's advice. This fork leads to more time with my wonderful wife, Olga, who has had to deal with more storm-related power outages and unshoveled walks alone than any spouse should ever have to put up with."

He thanked his on-air colleagues -- Gentzler, Vance, Wendy Rieger, Jim Handly, Tom Kierein, Veronica Johnson and Chuck Bell.

"If anyone asks," he wrote, "tell them let's meet upstairs at Guapo's when the snow melts, after this winter we all need a beverage and I know I still owe [reporter Pat] Collins another Jameson."

In a separate statement to WRC's newsroom, News Director Camille Edwards said: "Bob Ryan has been an important fixture in our newsroom for [30] years. He has covered everything from tornadoes to hurricanes and of course the occasional blizzard. Millions of area residents have come to depend on his forecast. After much discussion with him, Bob has decided it is time for a change. So Friday will be his last day at NBC4. We can't thank him enough for his dedication and passion. He will certainly be missed."

Ryan was a strong presence on WRC during its coverage of the snowstorms in early February. News4 was the leading station among viewers during those storms, with almost twice the audience of runner-up WJLA when the region came to a virtual standstill on Feb. 9 and 10.

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