Jess Atkinson, the former Maryland and Washington Redskins place kicker now working as a sportscaster in Providence, R.I., has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Ken Broo as the main sports anchor at Channel 9 (WUSA-TV).
Sources indicated last night that Atkinson is the first choice of station president and general manager Dick Reingold. No deal has been completed, but Atkinson likely will be in place early next year handling sports at 6 and 11 for the CBS affiliate owned by Gannett.
Atkinson and Reingold declined to comment last night.
Atkinson is a native of Camp Springs and attended Crossland High School before becoming one of the country's premier kickers at Maryland, breaking a number of school records. He spent three years in the NFL with New England, the New York Giants and Redskins and suffered a severely broken ankle in the Redskins' first game of the 1987 season. He never fully recovered and was cut by the team in training camp in 1988.
Two years later, Atkinson was hired by Channel 4 sports director George Michael, and he spent the next six years at the NBC station, working in sports and news. He covered the Redskins as a beat reporter his first two years, then did features and was the weekend and early morning sports anchor before he moved into the news department, where he also was a feature reporter.
Atkinson, 38, moved to Providence in 1996 to take over as sports director for the CBS affiliate there. At the time, he said he knew he needed more experience as a sports anchor but also indicated he hoped to return to the Washington area at some point in his career. His parents still live in Camp Springs.
WUSA dominated sports in the Washington market in the 1970s in the heyday of Warner Wolf. Channel 9 competed head-to-head with Michael at Channel 4 when the late Glenn Brenner moved into the anchor chair in the 1980s. Brenner died in 1991 from a brain tumor, and the station has never been able to find a replacement to match him in viewer popularity.
Michael continues to dominate the local sports market at Channel 4, with a bigger budget and a much larger time period for his sports reports at 6 and 11 than any other station.
Channel 9 did not renew Broo's contract after a three-year stint. Since he left in September, the station has moved veteran sportscaster Frank Herzog into the main sports anchor chair during the week, with Ken Mease continuing as the weekend anchor and reporter.