WNWO-TV, Channel 24, news director Lou Hebert has a great appreciation for history and is fascinated by technology. Tomorrow those divergent interests will intersect, resulting in a first for Toledo's television newscasts.
Weather permitting, the NBC affiliate will have a live underwater remote from a shipwreck area near Kelleys Island.
Why? Because it's there.
It's no coincidence that WNWO is attempting this during the July sweeps. Hebert knows he'll be accused of trying to pull off a ratings stunt, but his interest in the project is genuine.
“I feel it transcends the publicity-stunt charge because there's legitimacy here,” he said. “This is a story that hasn't been told all that well over the years. The Great Lakes have a deep history of treacherous shipping. The lakes are littered with thousands of ships. ... This is a great opportunity to see what's down there.”
Hebert, a self-described history buff, said there are six vessels -- including a steam barge that sank in 1903 and the William Prince, a 230-foot freighter that went down in 1911 -- in the 40-square-mile area near Kelleys Island. They are resting in 15 feet of water.
Reporters from Toledo stations have gone underwater before to tell the stories of Lake Erie shipwrecks, but none has attempted to do it live.
“I think we're always interested in knowing how far we can push the envelope as far as technology is concerned,” Hebert said. A test shoot on June 19 proved that it can be done. Now it's just a matter of doing it with about 20,000 people watching.
Hebert estimated the horizontal visibility in the lake to be between 20 and 30 feet. “Ten years ago, on a good day, I think you were looking at five feet,” he said.
Viewers probably will be surprised by the quality of the video and sound, Hebert said.
“You can actually see the fish and tell what color they are. But a lot of it will depend on how much daylight we have. If we have a cloudy day, it will be a little bit more difficult,” he said. “The sound quality is very good, too. It doesn't sound like a bad imitation of Jacques Cousteau.”
NORA'S SHOCKER: By all accounts, WNWO anchor Nora Murray has what it takes to make it to a major market. That's why her decision to leave the television business, at age 30, was so shocking. (She explained her decision in Wednesday's edition.) I asked former WTVG-TV, Channel 13, news director Janet Hundley -- now assistant news director at Chicago's top-rated WLS -- her impressions of Murray, whose last day on the air will be Aug. 7.
“Do I even get a chance to talk her out of it?” Hundley said. “Nora proved herself as a competitive street reporter before taking over anchor duties. Even suffering from sleep deprivation [as she reported to work twice each day, 3:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., to anchor the 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. newscasts], she shined on the air morning and night. I certainly expected to see her reporting and anchoring in a major market. As a manager, it's frustrating and disappointing to see a talented journalist leave the business.”
STAYING PUT: After receiving jolts in back-to-back months, when both of its primary news anchors (Murray and Jon Clark) announced they would be leaving the station, WNWO received some good news on Thursday -- Bill Spencer, arguably Toledo's most popular weathercaster, agreed to a five-year contract. “We're tickled pink,” Hebert said. “Bill is a big part of our future here.” Spencer said: “I'm sorry to see Nora and Jon go, but as far as the weather, I'm happy with that side of it.”
MOVING ON: WTVG reporter Nina Virdi -- who was born and reared in London and retains her distinctive accent -- will be leaving the station at the end of the month. News director Brian Trauring said Virdi will be moving to New York City with her husband, who recently received a master's degree in business. She has been at WTVG since October, 2000.