“Hey @danhellie,” former WUSA sports director Brett Haber wrote on Twitter last week, “turn the lights out when you leave.”
No, sports segments on local broadcast news have not gone extinct. And no, Dan Hellie — the beautifully coiffed sports anchor at WRC — is not the last remaining high-profile sports anchor in Washington.
But the news that WTTG sports director Dave Feldman would be leaving his perch after 12 years in the D.C. market was yet another sign of Washington’s new sports media landscape.
Remember, George Michael worked at WRC from 1980 to 2008. Glenn Brenner was at WUSA from 1977 until his untimely death in 1992. Steve Buckhantz was at WTTG for 13 years before taking another job in Washington, as the Wizards’ play-by-play man. WJLA has had just three lead sports anchors over the past three decades: Frank Herzog, Rene Knott and Tim Brant.
But the past year has brought what feels like a mass exodus of Washington’s network sports anchors. In July, Lindsay Czarniak left WRC for ESPN; the network has yet to hire her replacement. In August, Haber announced he was leaving his role as sports director at WUSA; he has since become a commentator for the Tennis Channel and will call Olympic tennis for NBC. Sara Walsh left WUSA for ESPN in 2010, and Hakem Dermish left WRC for ESPN earlier this year.
Then on Wednesday, Feldman told viewers that he would be leaving Washington for a job in his native San Francisco. The 47-year-old declined to discuss his new gig, but multiple sources said he’ll be working for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, where he’ll be reunited with 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh, his basketball teammate at Palo Alto High.
“My feelings are mixed, because [Washington’s] been home for 12 years, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere,” Feldman said. “I made some of the best friends I ever had, and I love the people I work with. It was not an easy decision. But it was a chance to go home, to where I’m from, to work in the Bay Area, where I grew up. I wouldn’t have left this job to go anywhere else.”
When Haber left, he openly expressed a concern that covering sports for local news broadcasts was “not as relevant as it once was.” Feldman, though, said the time WTTG allocated to sports did not shrink during his tenure, and that his departure was not a larger statement about the role of sports at Washington networks.
“I still think local sports is important, and I still think people care about it,” he said. “Certainly you’re getting more choices and more volume of places to get your sports, but I still think local sports matters, and D.C. is still a good local news town, where people do care.”
Feldman came to Washington after four years at ESPN; when he arrived in D.C., the competition included Jess Atkinson at WUSA, Knott at WJLA, and Michael and Wally Bruckner at WRC. He covered his share of big events over the past 12 years, from Maryland’s national championship in basketball to George Mason’s run to the Final Four, from the return of Joe Gibbs to the return of the Nats, from the rise of the Caps to the implosion of the Wizards.
And while it didn’t affect his decision, Feldman said on the air that this was a tough time to leave, with the Nats gearing up for a genuine pennant race and the Redskins welcoming perhaps their first franchise quarterback in a generation.
“RGIII’s here, the Caps are doing well, the Nats are doing great,” he said. “This is a good time to be in D.C.”
Feldman’s last broadcast at Fox 5 will be Wednesday; expect a tribute of some sort.
“I’m sure it’ll be a little emotional, wrapping up 12 years,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll cry . . . but I can’t promise.”