After a year off the Baltimore TV airwaves, Sandra Pinckney will return today as co-anchor with Keith Cate for the 6 p.m. newscast for WMAR (Channel 2).
Lest anyone not know that the longtime former WJZ reporter and anchor now works for the competition, WMAR has been hyping her debut with a big promotional campaign -- including a Sandra Pinckney-themed song set to the "Flintstones" theme. So all of pTC Bedrock, as well as all of Baltimore, has gotten the word.
"I've been off the air for a year and now, not that gently, but all at once, it's boom! Just jump in!" Ms. Pinckney observes with a laugh from her anchor chair after a recent newscast run-through.
During that rehearsal, her electric smile instantly appears when the bright studio lights come on. Looking very much the pro in a red "power" jacket, she displays the split-second timing an anchor needs. She acts like she's been off the air for, oh, maybe a day. Certainly not a whole year.
One of the few instructions she gives the crew is to move the camera toward her more often. "I am a close person," she tells them. Sandra Pinckney wants to be up close and personal with her audience.
In the same bright light, Mr. Cate, her co-anchor, notes after the rehearsal that "she has a good spirit and she'll be easy to work with."
Whether good on-air chemistry will translate into good ratings will be determined from the real newscasts ahead.
"She brings a lot of recognition," says Joe Lewin, WMAR vice president and general manager, of his decision to hire Ms. Pinckney. "She is well-known and liked among the viewers in the community."
Mr. Lewin liked her so much that he was willing to hire her last July despite a non-compete clause in her WJZ contract. That clause kept her off the local airwaves for the past year. Off-camera, Ms. Pinckney participated in WMAR's community activities and familiarized herself with the new station.
With a year largely to herself, she also took outside employment. She spent six months reporting from various cities for the Fox network series "Encounters: The Hidden Truth."
Of her interviews with people claiming to have had encounters with aliens, she says: "I talked to them without judging them. These people believe these things happened."
Ms. Pinckney says she has "mixed emotions" about leaving WJZ.
"I grew up there and learned the ropes there," Ms. Pinckney says of WJZ. "I grew up with friends there and lost dear friends [to death] there. I have a history there. But there comes a time to leave home in order to grow up. I had to leave in order to pursue larger horizons."
Now in her 40s, Ms. Pinckney truly did grow up professionally at WJZ. Her career began there as a management trainee in 1977. Although she had later stints working elsewhere -- including WDVM-TV in Washington and Black Entertainment Television -- most of her career has been spent at WJZ in roles including health reporter and anchor.
Early on, it was then-WJZ employee Oprah Winfrey who encouraged Ms. Pinckney to follow through on her wish to switch from a management career path to on-air reporting and anchor duties. Looks like Oprah's advice paid off.