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  The Year in Review


Paper Trail

Despite new leadership, Knoxville's only daily paper continues to look and feel like a bland product, rather than a thought-provoking newspaper that reflects its community. Owned by E.W. Scripps, the Sentinel (like most dailies in the country) suffers from corporate control. With management emphasizing the bottom line and advertising dollars over news content, there is little incentive or time for reporters to tackle resource-consuming investigative stories.

The Sentinel isn't bad because it lacks talent, and several reporters shine. The paper won awards in the state's Associated Press contest, most notably for publishing a court-appointed attorney's fees in the highly publicized "Zoo Man" trails—despite a restraining order. That story was written by John North, who turned in several investigative stories on Cathy Quist's management of the court clerk's office and the Sheriff Department's controversial "SORT teams" and lawyer visitation policies. Schools reporter David Keim uncovered a attempt by Knox County superintendent to circumvent the state's sunshine laws by sending board members excerpts from his "diary." Add Seymour Jr. beefed up coverage of UT and offers periodically insightful commentary in his Sunday column.

Still, other stories were completely ignored by the paper, including plans being developed for Market Square. And the paper remained silent on Scripps considering building a major adult theme attraction related to its cable channel, Home & Garden TV, nearly five months after Metro Pulse broke the story.

On Sept. 1, there was change in editorial management, but since then few changes have taken place. Lara Edge became the new managing editor, replacing Frank Cagle, who was named associate editor. Reporters were worried about Edge's lack of writing and editing experience—her forte is design and layout—but most saw her as an improvement over Cagle.

Meanwhile, reporters have been working without a contract for almost two years, and many believe publisher Bruce Hartmann is trying to break the writer's guild.

Scripps Media Empire Expands

E.W. Scripps continued building its media empire—which more and more seems to have an effect on Knoxville. In September, the company launched the Do-it-Yourself (or DIY) digital-only cable channel. Scripps also increased its ownership share of The Food Network, the New York-based cable channel it bought in 1997. Both of its established channels continue to grow—The Knoxville based Home & Garden Television reaches 58.9 million subscribers and The Food Network reaches 43.5 million.

Good Beat But Can't Dance To It

When we left last year, Dick Broadcasting's 98.7 "The X" WXVO had only begun to fight against South Central Communication's 94.3 "Extreme" WNFZ over who would win the hearts and minds (such as they are) of the 18-34 male demo. The battle ended this year when 98.7 decided to switch formats from hard alt.rock to "smooth jazz," effectively ceding the fight to 94.3 and their morning jock Mancow. But, just when it looked like it was over, a new contender bounced into the scene, in the form of 106.7, a new Jonathan Pirkle product that has taken over the WXVO call letters and currently plays an intriguing mix of popular rock hits from the '90s. Who will win this new battle and come out victorious? Stay tuned...

Bye Bye Bill

Not many things actually qualify for the phrase "end of an era," but as far as local broadcast media goes, the announcement of Bill Williams' retirement from WBIR Channel 10 comes as close as anything. After working as a reporter and anchor for the region's top-ranked station for 22 years, Williams reduced his duties this fall to only doing the six o'clock news. Next year, he'll exit completely, leaving a pretty big chair to fill and rival stations with their first real chance in years to chip away at WBIR's dominance. Moving into Williams' spot will be chipper, sometimes wacky, usually fluffy Live at Five guy Ted Hall; whether viewers can take him seriously (never a problem with the gravely avuncular Williams) is the big question facing the "Straight from the Heart" gang.

Trailer Trashing

You wouldn't think such a humble radio station could cause so many bareknuckled battles, but WDVX—the tiny Americana station that could—was the center so much sturm und drang you'd think lives depended on it. On one side, you had former disc jockeys and board members who accused station manager Tony Lawson of all sorts of malfeasance, from misusing funds to giving away donated prizes to his pals. Station records were turned over to the Tennessee Secretary of State by board member Joe Chasteen, and a lawsuit was filed against Lawson and two other board members by James Stair, who claimed that he was the original founder of station's corporation and that Lawson had essentially pirated WDVX away. On the other side were Lawson loyalists who claimed that the defectors and critics simply wanted the prize plumb of WDVX to themselves and were fabricating their accusations—and that by reporting the story, Metro Pulse was in fact part of the conspiracy. In other words, it's been a big mess with little foreseeable resolution. Through it all, the little station located in a trailer near Norris has been playing its mountain music at 89.9 FM, giving aural proof of its importance to the Knoxville cultural scene. Despite the differences of opinion over its management, that's one thing its listeners can agree on.

Canned Air

Public radio station WUOT turned 50 this year in a flurry of celebration and controversy. Early in the year, when news leaked out that the station was canceling two popular locally produced music shows, Live at Laurel and Music of the Southern Mountains, the public outcry seems to have prompted a compromise, the launch of a new local show that promised to serve the same audience as both the old ones, in half the time.

Ironically, the change coincided with adding a weekly rerun of the two-hour Prairie Home Companion, which celebrates local music and culture.

All that happened before June, when Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion crew arrived in town for the first-ever Knoxville broadcast of the popular national show. Keillor and the crew spent two steamy days downtown working on a show featuring mandolin wizard Sam Bush, the Lantana Drifters, and 98-year-old fiddler Bob Douglas. Among the local references we'll remember were a skit about the Tennessee Valley Authority, a Guy Noir sketch with a talking postcard ("Howdy! From Knoxville!"), and Keillor's closing recitation from James Agee's "Knoxville: Summer 1915."

A New Voice

How hard is it to fill the shoes of a legend? Ask long-time local sportscaster Bob Kesling, who took over this year as Vol Network radio announcer, a position previously held by the venerable John Ward. In our estimation, Mr. Kesling did an admirable job with his thoughtful commentary and evenly modulated tones; some fans, however, complained he lacks the "give-him-six" flamboyance of Ward, the network's football and men's b-ball announcer for more than 30 years. But in the wake of Ward's legend, any attempts at mimicry would ring hollow and contrived. Kesling's directness is refreshing; style will come with time.