Channel 9 made it official yesterday. Jess Atkinson, the former Maryland Terrapins and Washington Redskins place kicker turned sportscaster, as expected, will come home to fill the main weekday sports anchor chair at WUSA-TV in early February, the station announced.
"I'm just ecstatic," said Atkinson, a Camp Springs native who got his start in television working for sports director George Michael at Channel 4 in 1990. He's been the lead sports anchor at WPRI-TV in Providence, R.I., the last four years.
Atkinson has signed a three-year contract with the station and will handle sports Monday through Friday at 5, 6 and 11 p.m. He will report to work in early January for several weeks of meetings, computer training and a chance to renew old sources and contacts. He'll go on the air during the February sweeps period, the better to have an impact on the ratings.
Dick Reingold, president and general manager of the Gannett-owned CBS affiliate, said yesterday that veteran sportscasters Frank Herzog and Ken Mease will remain in the sports department, working as weekend anchors and reporters. Herzog has filled in as the main sports anchor since Ken Broo's contract was not renewed in September. Mease has handled the weekends and reporting during the week.
"Jess is from this area and he has a lot of experience on TV and on the field," Reingold said. "One of his greatest attributes is that people just like him. It's a great fit for the station. He knows what he's talking about, and people really take to him."
Atkinson attended Crossland High School before becoming one of the country's premier place kickers at Maryland, setting a number of school records. He spent three years in the NFL with the New England Patriots, New York Giants and Redskins. He severely broke an ankle in the Redskins' first game of the 1987 season. He never fully recovered and was cut by the team at training camp in 1988.
Two years later, Atkinson was hired by Michael, and he spent the next six years at the NBC owned and operated station, working in both sports and news. He left Channel 4 to take the sports anchor job in Providence to get more experience in the studio.
He paid tribute yesterday to both Michael, the longtime dominant sportscaster in the Washington market, and the late Glen Brenner, the popular Channel 9 sports director who died from a brain tumor in 1991, as his role models in television.
"George taught me so much about what it takes to get along in this business," Atkinson said. "And for a guy who watched Glenn Brenner do his thing, to be able to sit in his seat means more than I can express. To me, that's always been the best seat in the city. And I get to come home--Wow!"