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For more than 30 years, John Kiesewetter has been the source for information about all things in local media — comings and goings, local people appearing on the big or small screen, special programs, and much more. Contact John at

Catching Up To Cincinnati TV Changes

Before the July ratings sweeps start tomorrow, here’s an update on the changes at TV stations since the first of the year:

WKRC-TV: The biggest news by far is that Channel 12, first in the news ratings for years, is changing news directors. Kirk Varner’s last day is Friday. I can’t remember a TV station letting the news director go  during a sweeps month.

I’m told the Sinclair station wanted to change directions – although what direction is there to go from No. 1? Varner put it this way in his staff memo: “In the growth and development of any organization, there are times when it is appropriate to bring in a new coach to help lead the team to the next level. After discussing it with (GM) Jon Lawhead, we’ve agreed that this is that time for WKRC-TV.”

At 4-1/2 years, Varner was the longest-tenured of the four TV news directors in town. It’s a high pressure, high turnover job.

The arrival of a new news director usually means more changes, as the new boss tweaks staffing and style. Can the next news director keep the uniquely veteran Local 12 staff (Deb Dixon, Jeff Hirsh, Rich Jaffe, Joe Webb, Howard Ain, Larry Davis) intact? Will the new boss air more reports from owner Sinclair, or give Sinclair stories more prominence than airing them on sister WSTR-TV (Channel 64)?

The new boss also has a couple of holes to fill: Weekend anchor Curtis Jackson recently moved to WXYZ-TV in Detroit, and WKRC-TV posted an opening for weekend meteorologist/feature reporter on June 17.

Channel 12 added two new faces to the sports department in April: Anchor/reporter Brad Steinke, who filled the void from Sports Director Brad Johansen moving to weekday 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. news co-anchor; and former Enquirer Bengals reporter/talk host Richard Skinner started as a Local digital sports columnist and sports anchor.

WXIX-TV: In February, Fox 19 named Debbie Bush vice president and general manager to succeed Bill Lanesey. Weekend anchor/reporter Amy Wagner left in May, after two years, to become Thomas More College public relations director. New Orleans native Frankie Jupiter joined the Fox 19 news team in May.

WCPO-TV: Primary co-anchor Craig McKee arrived from Milwaukee in June, nine months after Clyde Gray handed off the evening news to Carol Williams and Tanya O’Rourke. McKee anchors with Williams at 6 and 11 p.m. O’Rourke goes solo at noon, and works with McKee at 5 p.m.

Versatile reporter Bryce Anslinger, who also had anchored morning weekend newscasts, quit in June to do public relations for Northlich. He also had filled in on sports until Channel 9 recently hired sports anchor/reporter Keenan Singleton from Lexington’s WQTV-TV.

“The new (PR) job is great,” Anslinger tells me. “I would have liked those jobs too... But they never wanted to give me the positions full-time. I just wasn't what they were looking for.”

Channel 9 also lost experienced sports videographer Mark Slaughter to WLWT-TV. I can’t tell you how many times Sports Director John Popovich thanked Slaughter at the end of sportscasts.

WLWT-TV: In addition to Slaughter, Channel 5 has hired former WCPO-TV videographer Larry Deal, who had been working at WRTV-TV in Indianapolis.

More changes could be coming at the four stations. Last July Larry Handley left Channel 9, and Kit Andrews retired from Channel 12. Stay tuned.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.