tampabay.com

WFLA's Hill becomes weekday forecaster

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published May 12, 2007


The one word everyone is careful to avoid is "replacement."

After more than a month with no permanent successor named for John Winter, the personable meteorologist who took his own life in April, officials at WFLA-Ch. 8 have named longtime weekend forecaster Jennifer Hill to join the weekday morning crew.

But since Hill's appointment will simply continue her stay on the morning shift she's been working for the last two weeks, station officials have been careful not to trumpet the change too loudly.

News director Don North announced the promotion in a memo to staffers Friday, though he doubted anyone mentioned it on air.

And even though the move represents a step up for Hill, everyone at WFLA is aware of the tragedy that precipitated the change.

"If I had my choice, of course, I'd rather John was here, " said Hill, who began working at WFLA on weekends about five years ago. "And there's no way I could fill his shoes. He was larger than life."

Winter's death left WFLA with just three full-time meteorologists weeks before the June 1 start of hurricane season.

"Obviously, John's position is very hard to fill ... but Jen is awesome and already a part of the family, " said Steve Jerve, WFLA's chief meteorologist.

Peter Bernard, who once worked as a substitute forecaster at rival WFTS-Ch. 28, is filling in weekend mornings. WFLA hopes to hire a fourth meteorologist soon, North said.

The advancement of Hill also helps diversify WFLA's anchor ranks, which previously featured no anchors of color permanently assigned to weekday jobs. Now, she might be the first black female to ever to fill a weekday forecasting job at the station.

"I don't want to characterize (diversity issues) as why she got the job ... (but) I think a staff that represents the community is a good thing, " said North. "Jennifer deserves the opportunity. She's worked hard."

Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521, deggans@sptimes.com or on his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.