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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sloan Alone

She didn’t even apply for the job! A few on-air lines on someone else’s audition tape were all the brain trust at Channel 6 news needed to see. When Dick Descutner phoned WFBC news anchor Barbara Sloan and asked her if she’d be interested in a job--solo anchor on the station’s prime time newscast—it was quite a surprise! But not so fast. If she were to say yes, certain assurances on the station’s part would need to be met. If she were to say yes, it would also mean anchor Larry Klaas would be told his services were no longer needed.

Location was a big plus. Sloan had already served time at WPTV in West Palm Beach, so she had some understanding of the area. The chance to move from Greenville, South Carolina to a top 15 market was certainly another plus. With the station agreeing to a 3-year contract (a rarity at WCIX) and agreeing to let Sloan pursue human interest stories, it became official. Klaas was dismissed; Sloan was in.

After three weeks of working the streets, and familiarizing herself with the station and its philosophies, Barbara Sloan made her solo anchor debut on the night of October 18, 1982. In a Miami Herald review, critic Sandra Earley wrote “Sloan delivered the news straight and clearly, and with a measure of authority. Sloan can go the distance.” It was a very good start.

(Click images to view them full screen)

Sloan and I immediately became good friends, and even dated a few times. She accompanied me to the station Christmas party that year, where it was clear that many at the station—particularly those who worked in other departments—still did not know what to make of the new anchorwoman. A silly mock news promo that I produced for the occasion helped show those in attendance that the new hire, so serious on the air, had a very good sense of humor. (Sloan at first was apprehensive about us showing this piece, at one point asking, mockingly, “Why is that woman shouting?”) But it worked.

Sometime during the party, Lee Bookman pulled me aside, concerned about the news blooper (and commentary) piece he had produced. It was set to the tune of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”, and Bookman had used video of Sloan for the line about the “bubble-headed bleach-blonde”. He was concerned that she’d get angry, or feel disrespected. Sloan just laughed along with the joke. After just two months at the station, people were now getting a sense that the new hire wasn’t just a quality anchor, but a quality person as well, with a warm and funny side.

Sloan would be tested time after time. She was thrown into the center of our Overtown riot coverage, in just her third month at the station. She had to give up a share of the anchor’s desk when Solon Gray came aboard in 1984. Gray would come and go, as would his replacement, and his replacement, and his replacement. And his replacement.* Through several ownership changes, a switch from independent to CBS ownership, and challenges galore, one thing remained constant at Channel 6 news. The woman who insisted on a 3-year-contract because she wanted job security, wound up spending more than thirteen years at the WCIX anchor desk. Such longevity should have made her a Miami legend, spoken of in the revered tones of an Ann Bishop or a Tony Segreto. But this is WCIX we’re talking about! With our tower located way down in the Redlands, away from heavily-populated areas, our ratings were always poor. If the people can’t watch, then the people can’t care!

Still, you would think with so much going for her that Sloan would have felt secure… or at least a little serene. But like everyone, she had her moments. Like everyone, she had her demons. Viewers didn’t know that this pretty young woman had her face reconstructed, after a terrible car crash during her college years. Sloan’s car hit a tree, while driving to Memphis on a rain-slicked road, and in her words, her “face caved in”. Months of pain and surgery followed. Sloan also suffered from anxiety, and at times could be a little tough to deal with. One time I went out to get interviews for a series we were working on and she scolded me afterwards because my “hairy arms” could be seen holding the microphone. Times like that are what help a young producer grow, and learn. Our first series together (the clumsily-titled “Speeding to Danger”) resulted in a Suncoast Regional Emmy award, but that wasn’t the real prize for me. My series-producing skills improved by leaps and bounds, thanks in part to Sloan’s high expectations, and yes, even her occasional insecurities.

For a time, Sloan lost her spot on the A-team. CBS brought in some of its own hires, including upcoming stars Giselle Fernandez, J.D. Roberts (now CNN’s John Roberts), and former WTVJ superstar anchor John Hambrick. When we produced a town hall meeting on the issue of abortion, Sloan was left off the main anchoring team, instead being relegated to off-site, peripheral reporting. But to be fair, she was a damn good reporter, and it could be argued those decisions were based on strengths, not weaknesses. Whatever.

Barbara Sloan’s time at the station finally came to an end, when her contract wasn't renewed just before Christmas 1995. Up until then she’d survived challenges from younger, more glamorous reporters, but… I hate to say this… most TV news honchos think a female anchor is over the hill, as she approaches her mid-40s. Ann Bishop was clearly an exception, but this market has certainly changed a lot since her heyday. No one ever came close to anchoring the news on WCIX/WFOR for as long a period of time as Barbara Sloan Cox. I’d be willing to bet nobody ever will.

* For those keeping score: Jim Dyer, J.D. Roberts, Ken Matz, Stan Miller.


Anonymous said...

Is Barbara Sloan still in the TV News arena or has she retired. Such a shame that her contract wasn't renewed in 1995 as she was a very good news journalist and TV anchor.

Jeffers66 said...

Barbara got out of the news business. Yes, she was a very good journalist, and is an even better person.

Anonymous said...

She is a high school teacher in Virginia

Unknown said...

Jeffers66..if your in contact with Barbara please let her old roomie Susan Hoerber (Winters) would love to catch up.