The welcome mat is out in Pittsburgh this week as former WIVB-TV anchorman Joe Arena made his debut on WPXI Channel 11.
Arena, 36, signed off at Channel 4 earlier this month after four years with the station. His departure came after he and the station failed to reach agreement on a new contract.
Arena said his desire to remain in Buffalo was strong. His wife, Mary Claire, is from Buffalo and is pregnant with their first child.
In the end, Arena said, Pittsburgh made the better offer – by a mile.
“When I was hired [at Channel 4], I was told I’d be the face of the station,” Arena said over the phone from Pittsburgh. “I knew they had plans for me, taking me off ‘Wingin’ It’ to promote a more serious, main-anchor type. For the last year, I was anchoring as much as I could, and I thought I did a decent job.
“I did my year, and thought I was in line for a decent-sized promotion,” Arena said. “I didn’t get much of an offer from Channel 4. I was hoping they would give me some reason to stay, but they really didn’t give me one.”
Joseph D. Schlaerth, Channel 4 news director, describes the station’s offer to Arena as “terrific.”
But, he said, “We did not come close.”
Neither did WGRZ-TV Channel 2, confirmed Arena.
“I definitely told my agent to check [Channel 2] out, and they liked what they saw, but I had a great offer from Channel 11 here in Pittsburgh on the table,” Arena said.
Arena grew up five blocks from the NBC Studios in midtown Manhattan.
After attending Syracuse University, he was offered a job as desk assistant to “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw.
“I wanted to be a reporter since I was 15 years old,” Arena said. “After breaking it to my parents and upon the advice of my school counselor, I left Syracuse. I did everything with Brokaw, from open his mail to log his interviews for his book ‘The Greatest Generation.’ ”
He said Brokaw told him that experience, more than classses, would teach him how to act in front of a camera. Arena said, “He also told me to move to the middle of nowhere to be a reporter, and I did. In Bluefield, West Virginia. I ended up being a main anchor right off the bat, which was kind of creepy.”
At WPXI, Arena is replacing Buffalo native Todd McDermott, a Canisius College graduate, who went to WPBF Channel 25, the ABC affiliate serving the West Palm Beach, Fla., area.
nnel 4 is continuing its anchor search after the departures of Arena, Victoria Hong and Melissa Holmes.
Filling in as morning co-anchor on “Wake Up” is Ed Drantch, who started at the station last October. Drantch also anchored at his former station, WHSV-TV, an ABC affiliate in Harrisonburg, Va.
Also at Channel 4, Schlaerth says it is now official: Steve Vesey has been named sports director, succeeding John Murphy, who left the station in July for a media job with the Buffalo Bills.
Vesey, who previously worked as sports director for WETM in Elmira, joined the station in May, after sports anchor Paul Peck left for a career as a financial planner.
Channel 4 also has a new night assignment editor, Adam Francis. Francis had been employed at WKBW Channel 7, where he worked several jobs including news reporter and photographer.