By Paula Hendrickson
Over two years ago, when news broke that WREX-TV had let go its longtime and well-respected co-anchor Eric Wilson, like most WREX viewers, I was shocked, especially since there had been no warning. At least not publicly. One of the first things I said was, “If WTVO pairs him with Mimi Murphy, they will be an unstoppable team.”
Apparently the powers that be at WTVO had the same idea.
At the end of the 10 p.m. newscast on May 19, Murphy’s out-going co-anchor, Nick Toma, announced his departure and introduced his replacement: Eric Wilson.
Now that’s how you handle a smooth transition.
The station’s parent company, Nexstar Broadcasting, offered Toma an anchor seat at WBRE-TV in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a larger market that’s closer to his family. And who better to fill Toma’s chair than Wilson, who will co-anchor Eyewitness News Local at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. with Murphy, and with Christie Nicks he’ll co-anchor the 9 p.m. edition airing on WQRF Fox-39.
It’s a win-win situation for Toma and Wilson, and for WTVO as well.
I feel bad for the news teams at WIFR and WREX, because they’re now competing against a team of local broadcasting legends. Of course, the decision makers at WREX set the pieces in motion for this inevitable partnership more than two years ago, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for them. But their anchors – Kristin Crowley and Sean Muserallo – will have a tough challenge ahead. Hopefully their “Digging Deeper” investigative reports will pull some viewers back.
WIFR’s Mike Garrigan has a long history in local news, and his co-anchor, Whitney Martin – like Murphy – grew up in Rockford. Deep local roots like that engender trust from viewers. So I’m betting WIFR is better positioned to face off against Murphy and Wilson in the race for ratings.
Meanwhile, the high-turnover at WREX over the past few years has decimated what you might call its local currency. Reporter and weekend anchor Kelsie Passolt very well may be the longest-running on-air personality the station has. I can’t speak for anyone else, but once Eric Sorensen left WREX, so did I – and I’d been a loyal viewer for years.
Judging by how seamlessly Wilson slipped back into place at his new post with the Eyewitness News team, WIFR and WREX may have to up their games a bit to compete with Rockford’s new anchor team. And that’s good news for everyone.