Tag Archives: WCAX

Marselis Parsons’s final broadcast

Marselis Parsons of WCAX-TV

Marselis Parsons of WCAX-TV

When long-time news anchors retire, big deals tend to be made about them, the drama played out over days or even weeks. Compare this to a long-time executive producer or director, who if they’re really lucky might get a 20-second goodbye at the end of their final broadcast. Such is the difference between on-air and off-air personalities: we don’t identify with the latter.

Thursday night is the last broadcast of long-time WCAX-TV news anchor and news director Marselis Parsons, and the small Burlington station is following the standard script, going through the archives for some favourite memories (you can see text and videos of them online: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) and bloopers, collecting goodbye messages from important people (you know, the governor, both U.S. senators, their U.S. House representative, Howard Dean, freaking Ben & Jerry!), and hyping up his last show.

Then again, it might be hard to overstate this particular journalist’s mark on this station. He was first hired in 1967, became an anchor in 1972 and the news director in 1984. It’s noteworthy that we’re talking about someone who for more than 40 years stuck to a station in a market that barely cracks the top 100 in the U.S. It wasn’t because he wasn’t good enough to work in a larger market, it was because he became attached to his community and stuck around.

After the cancellation of WVNY’s newscast in 2003 and before WFFF’s News at 10 began in 2007, Parsons and WCAX were the only real voices for Vermont (NBC’s WPTZ is based in Plattsburgh, N.Y.) outside of Vermont Public Television and community stations. Even many Montreal TV watchers should recognize the name and the face.

The decisions about who will replace him were made months ago. Anson Tebbetts becomes the new news director, while Darren Perron replaces Parsons on the anchor desk.

For more on Marselis Parsons, I’d strongly recommend watching an hour-long interview he did with Lauren-Glenn Davitian of community television station CCTV two weeks ago, this short behind-the-scenes story by Kitty Werner, or his appearance on his own station’s weekend news show You Can Quote Me.

Marselis Parsons’s final newscast was Thursday, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. on WCAX-TV, Channel 3.

UPDATE: His final goodbye at the end of that newscast is online: text, video.

Analog shutdown going on as scheduled next week

Despite the extension of the deadline to June 12, television broadcasters in the Burlington and Plattsburgh areas have agreed to shut down their analog transmitters at 11:59pm on Feb. 17 as scheduled.

This means that Montrealers who watch TV over the air with an external or internal antenna will no longer receive programming on these stations unless their TV is digital-ready or they have a digital converter box.

The following stations, which count Montreal as part of their markets, are among the 25% of U.S. broadcast TV stations whose analog transmitter will stop programming on Feb. 17:

  • WCAX-3 (CBS)
  • WPTZ-5 (NBC)
  • WVNY-22 (ABC)
  • WETK-33 (PBS/VPT)
  • WFFF-44 (Fox)
  • WCFE-57 (PBS/Mountain Lake)

Associated Press has a running list of the stations shutting down next week.

People who get television by analog cable, digital cable, pirated cable, direct-to-home satellite, illegally-pirated U.S. direct-to-home satellite or by Torrenting it off the Internet will not be affected by the change (except to see all those DTV shutdown reminders on the local stations).

New Fox 44 newscast still has kinks to iron out

Tonight was the premiere of WFFF Fox 44‘s ingeniously-named 10pm local newscast “Fox 44 News at Ten.”

Before today, the Burlington/Plattsburgh/other small Vermont/upstate New York towns nobody’s ever heard of market (ranked 92nd in the U.S.) had only two local newscasts, despite its five network stations (six if you count PBS twice):

The premiere was preceded with what I’d like to say was great fanfare, but was really just a brief by Associated Press and a story in the Burlington Free Press. I didn’t even hear about it until I noticed it was on.

The format is pretty basic. Two anchors, one male (Greg Navarro) one female (Lauren Maloney), a weatherman (Jason Caterina) whose accuracy has to be constantly reaffirmed through mentions of SkyTracker technology, and a sports guy (Kristian Read) who talks about local minor sports leagues and some major-league stuff out of Boston.

The newscast’s set is just as generic. The same red, blue, white and black colours of Fox News, graphics with blurred swooshes and 3D lines and all sorts of unnecessary noise. The set itself consists mainly of large flat-panel HDTV monitors that the anchors stand in front of.

The only particularly interesting thing about the show is the use of high-definition (WFFF-44 is available in HD on channel 43 over the air, or Videotron Illico channel 654). Anchor segments and even most (but not all) locally-produced reports are in HD format. (To demonstrate how much this matters to them above everything else, take a drink every time this story mentions that the program is in HD.)

The station hired 22 people to prepare the newscast, which is three less than what WVNY fired when it cancelled theirs.

The Free Press story notes that they’ve been preparing for the newscast for a month, even doing rehearsals. So when it came to actually airing the newscast, it should have been down to a science, right?


The premiere half-hour broadcast was riddled with technical glitches and timing flubs. Some of these are to be expected from a team that was just built from scratch, but the sheer number was kind of embarrassing, considering how important first impressions are. (My favourite was a reporter introducing a local business story by saying “It’s retail central in downtown Berlin.”)

Among some of the problems:

  • Dead air (shots would continue far longer than they were supposed to with no audio)
  • Sound cut-outs (one report was almost unintelligible)
  • Video cut-outs
  • Mid-sentence sound level changes
  • Overlapping audio feeds
  • Control room orders making it to air
  • Static image where video (of something else) should be
  • Jumping the gun on timing between segments
  • Music being played over anchors’ voices

These things are all forgivable and will no doubt get better as the show matures (though I’d argue that trying to run a local newscast with only 22 people is part of the problem). What annoyed me most though is how the anchors handled the situation. Rather than acknowledge their technical clutziness and relax, having some fun at their own expense, they put on fake smiles, telling bad pre-written fake-ad-libbed jokes. Hopefully it was just first-show jitters and that too will improve.

At the very least, the anchors have to start developing personalities. Maloney in particular has the same annoying mannerisms that other anchors feel makes them somehow communicate better: A head tilt any time she speaks, asudden lateral head-movement mid-sentence, followed by a nod at the end, as if to reaffirm what she just said. Words are overemphasized, and she has the same tone and expression for every kind of story, which sucks when she’s reporting on bad news or fatal accidents because her expression includes a slight smirk.

Editorially, the show was entirely forgettable. News stories focused on the fact that snow fell today, and that Christmas is coming up, and then a bunch of briefs. That’s all I can remember. No investigative journalism, no in-depth reports. Nothing that would make me want to watch this show on a regular basis, much less a compelling reason to switch from WCAX or WPTZ.

The team clearly hope that smoke and mirrors are going to get them viewers. Everything is either “team coverage” or “continuing coverage” (and includes the time-wasting giant graphic to remind you about that), which is kind of laughable considering how woefully understaffed they are.

They’re going to have to do better than a cookie-cutter format in HD if they want to be successful.

Fox 44 News at Ten airs at 10pm daily on WFFF Fox 44.

UPDATE (Dec. 4): The second episode was a bit better technically. Still some video and audio problems and still plenty of timing issues (a segment starting up half a second before the previous one has finished).

A couple of additional things I noticed this time around:

  1. They have segments that include video from across the country (I imagine from other Fox affiliates and Fox News). For some reason a lot of these are police videos.
  2. Republican presidential candidates are really milking this show, trying to get into the heads of New Hampshire primary voters.

UPDATE (Dec. 12): Vermont’s Seven Days has a short interview with General Manager Bill Sally and News Director Kathleen Harrington.