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New WTVI leader wants to emphasize local programs

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Amy Burkett set a personal goal to be general manager of a television station by the time she was 40.

“I’m a crazy over-achiever,” she says.

Though she hit her goal five years late, Burkett takes over WTVI (PBS Charlotte, Channel 42) on May 28, nearly a year after the independent station, which has struggled financially for years, was turned over to Central Piedmont Community College. She replaces the retiring Elsie Garner, who has led WTVI since 2003 and has been on a one-year contract with CPCC since the takeover.

Burkett comes to Charlotte from WLTV, the PBS affiliate in Bethlehem, Pa., where she has worked since 1999, most recently as executive vice president. Bethlehem’s station was on the fringe of the Philadelphia TV market, and the station competed against the region’s powerhouse PBS station WHYY.

In Charlotte, Burkett faces a similar situation. Statewide public networks in both Carolinas, UNC-TV and SC ETV, compete with WTVI.

In Bethlehem, the strategy was to focus on local programming.

“I know a lot about overlap markets,” she says. “We’ve done a lot to differentiate between the us and the gorilla, the station in Philadelphia.”

Burkett hosts a magazine show in Bethlehem, and the station tries to focus on local documentaries. An important one recently was on how Rust Belt brown-fields are being redeveloped, and PBS may pick it up for national distribution.

“I always call them gifts to the community because no one else is telling those stories about the people, the impact, the history.”

Since the CPCC takeover, WTVI has begun broadcasting shows from its cable channel on history, cooking and other topics. It has added a Friday night news roundtable called “Off the Record,” but development of local documentaries has been on hold.

Burkett, with 23 years in television as a reporter, producer and executive, said raising money for such productions will be a key part of her job in Charlotte. She’s been successful at that in Bethlehem.

“No one was more passionate about the stories than me. I had a lot of success at finding the money and sharing the passion.”

She wants to raise WTVI’s profile and have it perceived as an asset the community could not do without. In Bethlehem, the station’s mascot is TeleBear, and 10,000 people turned out for the critter’s last birthday party.

CPCC president Tony Zeiss has repeatedly said that the college’s goal is to make WTVI the best public TV station in the country.

“I’m a big thinker,” Burkett says. “I’m pretty tenacious. I’m coming to be successful.”

Burkett is an advocate of leadership development and has blogged on the topic at amybtv.blogspot.com. Next month, she is going on a church mission trip to an orphanage in Haiti to teach youth leadership.

“Everything rises and falls on leadership. Good leadership helps everyone and everything,” she says.

A native of Uhrichsville, Ohio, Burkett has a degree in broadcast journalism from Bowling Green State University, where she met her husband, Rob, a professional photographer. They have a 12-year-old son.

Burkett has worked in North Carolina before. In the early 1990s, she was a reporter and anchor for a station in Greenville.

Media Movers

WBT-AM’s (1110) Jeff Sonier won two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards from Radio Television Digital News Association this week, for investigative reporting and continuing coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Also winning RTDNA awards locally were Stuart Watson of WCNC (Channel 36) for news documentary on judicial campaign financing; Bill McGinty of WCNC for news series on Jeep fires; Tanner Latham, formerly of WFAE-FM (90.7), for feature reporting on an airport shoe shiner; and WFAE’s Julie Rose for reporting on protests in advance of the DNC. ...

WBT’s Keith Larson will lead his annual “Keith’s Ride” April 27 to benefit the March Forth with Hope Foundation and the Zach Ramsey Children’s Cancer Fund. This is the 11th year for the charity fundraiser. ... Lisa Dillon joins WCNC as assistant news director on Monday from a station in Salt Lake City. ...

Lauren Johnson of Charlotte will be a contestant on “Let’s Make a Deal,” airing 3 p.m. Tuesday on WBTV (Channel 3). ... Appearing on “Family Feud” at 2 p.m. Wednesday on WJZY (Channel 46) will be the Lincoln family of Charlotte including Jaracz Lincoln, a fire chief; cousin Angela, a nurse; cousin Dejuan, a UPS air handler; sister Anissa, an X-ray technician; and cousin Ebony, a pharmaceutical marketer. ...

Marking their first anniversary at WNKS-FM (“Kiss” 95.1), P.J. “Drex” Rener and Steve Maney are taking their “Drex & Maney” morning show on the road. This week they were in Albemarle, where they were to get a call from hometown “American Idol” favorite Kellie Pickler, now on “Dancing With the Stars.” Also joining the show was Woody Durham, longtime voice of the Tar Heels. And they are hitting the road another way, too: the station has bought space on CATS buses to promote the show. ...

WDAV-FM (89.9) is close to finishing tower repairs that have reduced the classical station’s coverage in some areas, says interim general manager Frank Dominguez.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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