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Local TV stations plan
extensive funeral coverage


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 1998

All Tampa Bay area TV stations with news departments have planned wall-to-wall broadcasts of Gov. Lawton Chiles' funeral Wednesday, scrambling to marshal resources for live coverage of the ceremony.

Lawton Chiles
For a time Monday, WTVT-Ch. 13 was the lone holdout among the four area broadcast news outlets, planning a return to The Jenny Jones Show after the noon news, just before Chiles' funeral would begin at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

But general manager David Boylan eventually decided WTVT would join other TV news outlets in continuous coverage, though he denied rival stations' coverage plans influenced his decision.

"We're really in the process of firming things up right now," Boylan added Monday evening. "We've been aggressive about covering this story from the beginning . . . and we'll continue that."

Early on, rival stations WFLA-Ch. 8, WTSP-Ch. 10 and WFTS-Ch. 28 had already decided on continuous live coverage of the funeral, starting in their midday news programs and lasting until the ceremony ends.

All stations also plan reports today during morning and noon news shows as Chiles' body is moved from Century to Tallahassee.

"There's a wealth of material out there on Lawton Chiles. . . . We won't have a problem (filling time)," said WFLA news director Dan Bradley, who added that the NBC affiliate's funeral coverage will begin Wednesday at 11 a.m. featuring anchors Bill Ratliff and Gayle Sierens in Tallahassee.

WUSF-Ch. 16 will present a half-hour retrospective on Chiles' career at 7 tonight and three hours of funeral coverage at 1 p.m. Wednesday, both assembled by Tallahassee-based Florida Public Broadcasting System.

At WFTS, anchors Martie Tucker and Brendan McLaughlin will report from Tallahassee on Wednesday, while anchor Dave Wagner heads WTSP's efforts at the Capitol.

"It's a logistical nightmare," says WFTS news director Steve Majors, noting efforts to organize pool cameras at the Capitol building, Faith Presbyterian Church and Roselawn Cemetery in Tallahassee. Each station also has scrambled to arrange helicopter coverage and send satellite trucks north.

Local 24-hour cable news channel Bay News 9 also will present the funeral live but may not send reporters to Tallahassee -- focusing instead on public reaction locally and in Lakeland, Chiles' birthplace.

"We plan to . . . just play it (Chiles' funeral) with a minimum of anchor chitchat," said Bay News 9 news director Melissa Klinzing, noting they broadcast the funeral for Tampa police officers Ricky Childers and Randy Bell in the same way.

Plans for extensive coverage Wednesday continue area TV outlets' aggressive efforts following Chiles' death Saturday.

WFLA broke the news first just before 5 p.m. Saturday, tipped off by the Tallahassee-based cable outfit Florida's News Channel, which has a cooperative agreement with the NBC affiliate.

But by Saturday evening, most other TV stations had swung into high gear, with WFLA, WTVT and WFTS presenting special reports or extended newscasts outlining Chiles' legacy.

However, CBS affiliate WTSP moved slowly Saturday night, offering viewers just a quick bulletin in its 6 p.m. newscast, the victim of "a delay in getting our troops together on a weekend," according to vice president of news Kevin Brennan.


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