By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010; C05
Veteran weathercaster Bob Ryan will join WJLA-Channel 7 beginning next week, giving the station a second popular forecaster in its effort to close a ratings gap with rival WRC-Channel 4, sources close to the talks said Thursday.
Ryan is expected to sign with the station shortly and an announcement is expected within days, sources said.
Ryan, 67, probably will take over the 11 p.m. weekday shift from WJLA's lead weatherman, Doug Hill, with Hill moving to the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. broadcasts on the station, known as ABC7, the source said. It's not known when Ryan will begin appearing on Channel 7.
He spent 30 years at Channel 4, and helped News4 become the most-watched news station in town -- a title it has held for more than a decade despite weak prime-time ratings and a long series of cutbacks by its owner, NBC Universal. He was unable to reach an agreement on a new contract with WRC in February. The expiration of his contract triggered a "cooling off" period that required him to remain off local TV for 60 days.
WJLA is already home to some of the area's most experienced and familiar TV news people. In addition to Hill, who is an old friend of Ryan's, he will work at a news operation that employs anchors Gordon Peterson, Maureen Bunyan and Leon Harris, sports anchor Tim Brandt and entertainment reporter Arch Campbell, another News4 alumnus.
WJLA declined to comment on its plan.
Ryan has been represented by lawyer-agent Bob Barnett, who has represented such high-profile clients as Bill and Hillary Clinton, former first lady Laura Bush and former British prime minister Tony Blair.
WJLA's owner, Allbritton Communications of Arlington, is amid an aggressive local-media expansion push. The privately held company, run by family scion Robert Allbritton, owns the NewsChannel 8 cable channel and the Politico Web site and newspaper. It plans to fold WJLA's and NewsChannel 8's Web sites into a new local-news Web site called TBD.com. The new site, which is scheduled to launch this summer, hopes to compete against The Washington Post and other local news sources.
Ryan would play an important role on the new Web site, which plans to emphasize crime, traffic, sports and entertainment stories, in addition to local weather. If nothing else, his familiar face and name would give TBD a strong figure to build its promotional campaigns around.
He also does the same for WJLA, which has been unable to overthrow Channel 4 in the news ratings, despite years of heavy investment by Allbritton. WRC has proved to be quite resilient, enduring the loss of its longtime sports anchor, George Michael, in 2007, among other staff losses.
Ryan's potential hiring caused a stir among several people in WJLA's newsroom Thursday.
"We're putting all of [the viewers'] favorite people on the air in one place," said one person, who requested anonymity because the station hasn't authorized him to speak publicly about the move. "The idea is that any time you tune in, you're going to see a Hall of Famer sitting there."
The loss of talented news people from WRC, said this employee, makes the station "a decaying element."