With flames shooting 20 feet above the roof line, the Feb. 6 fire at the Hidden Cedars Condominium complex made for compelling television.
For the first 75 minutes, anyway.
By then, viewers learned that no one had died.
This meant that the final hour of commercial-free coverage by three Toledo stations — WTOL-TV, Channel 11; WTVG-TV, Channel 13; and WNWO-TV, Channel 24 — was little more than a contest to see which one would blink first and join network programming.
The three aforementioned stations provided continuous coverage from about 6:45 to 9 p.m.
WUPW-TV, Channel 36, was last on the air (7:42) and the first to leave (8:08). The Fox affiliate joined Skating with Celebrities in progress.
WUPW news director Steve France said: "I wasn't going to have us sit there and rehash it over and over and over again."
But that's just what WTOL, WTVG, and WNWO did from 8 to 9 p.m. Instead of airing network programs, they stayed with a story that, in terms of news value, had reached the point of diminishing returns.
From a marketing perspective, however, they had no choice but to wait each other out. Their credibility was at stake — or so they perceived.
It was no coincidence that the three stations ended their coverage within three minutes of each other: WTOL at 8:58; WNWO at 8:59; WTVG at 9:01.
In a move that was impressive for its quick turnaround but borderline tasteless for its timing, WNWO ran a promo about its fire coverage immediately after anchors Jim Blue and Jennifer Stacy signed off at 8:59. WNWO's coverage was worthy of a promo, for sure, but it could have waited until the next day.
It's rare when local stations interrupt prime-time network programming. The last time all four did it was Jan. 26, 2005, for the shooting at the Jeep Assembly Plant in North Toledo.
They didn't provide continuous coverage on Oct. 24, 2004, when a fire killed seven children in a South Toledo apartment.
They didn't do it on Nov. 16, 2002, when 250 University of Toledo students were displaced by a fire at the University Circle Apartments complex.
By going without commercials for 2 1/4 hours, industry sources estimate that WTOL, WTVG, and WNWO had a combined $30,000 in lost revenue.
It wasn't the wisest time investment the stations ever made.
LOVE STORY: Jim "The Night Owl" Michaels, who covers the 4-to-10 p.m. shift on Fostoria's WFOB-AM (1430), is getting married tomorrow — Valentine's Day — on the air. The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m.
"This is a first in the 53-year history of WFOB," said general manager Greg Peiffer, who has worked at the station for 26 years.
POLITICAL BID: Former WSPD-AM (1370) program director Steve Sinton has entered the race to represent Georgia's 6th Congressional District. (Sinton went by the name of Steve Sutton while at WSPD, where he worked from 2000 to 2003.)
Sinton is the lone Democrat to challenge incumbent Tom Price, a Republican who was unopposed in the 2004 general election. The 6th District, long regarded as a Republican stronghold, was once represented by Newt Gingrich.