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Fresh recruit joins WBAL lineup for nightly news wars

There's going to be a new face on the front line of Baltimore's local television news wars next month. WBAL-TV yesterday named 35-year-old Marianne Banister, of KABC-TV in Los Angeles, as its new first-string co-anchor.

Banister will be teamed with Rod Daniels at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. weeknights starting Sept. 18. She replaces Carol Costello, whose last day on-air at WBAL will be Sept. 1, according to Costello and vice president and general manager Phil Stolz.

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WBAL (Channel 11) did not renew the contract of Costello, who has been at the station since 1992. Costello yesterday said she was leaving to "pursue other opportunities in broadcast journalism" but declined to discuss specifics.

Banister's hire is an important one. How viewers react to her may affect the bottom line of both WBAL and its competitors. WBAL has been battling WJZ this year at 11 p.m., the most lucrative newscast because it commands the highest advertising rates.

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For its part, WJZ has been interviewing candidates over the summer in an effort to fill the hole at its anchor desk left by the death of Al Sanders. Marcellus Alexander, WJZ's vice president and general manager, said yesterday that no announcement on a replacement was imminent.

In moving from Los Angeles to Baltimore, Banister goes from an ABC-owned station in the country's second-largest TV market to a Hearst-owned station in the 23rd-largest market -- a big difference. But she also moves from doing mid-day reports to doing the most important newscast, at 11 p.m.

While all parties declined to comment on the specifics of her contract, it is a multi-year pact, and no first-string anchorperson in Baltimore makes less than $150,000 a year. Banister's salary is reportedly near the middle of the $150,000 to $250,000 range.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Banister said she and her husband, who also works in television, had visited Baltimore several times in recent years to see friends in the area.

"We fell in love with Baltimore the first time we were there," she said. "We have a daughter who is 3, and we just thought it would be a great place to raise a family. When you couple that with the opportunity to be part of the news team at WBAL, it is just too good an opportunity to pass up."

Banister, who earned a bachelor's degree in speech education and journalism from Colorado State University in 1983, has been at KABC for six years. Before that, she anchored the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts at KMJH-TV in Denver. She also was a first-string anchorwoman in Sacramento, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo.

"She's a proven journalist," said WBAL news director David Roberts said. "In her six years out there, she's covered everything from the mini-riots to the earthquakes to the O. J. Simpson trial. She has extensive experience reporting under pressure and anchoring in an extended live situation."

Stolz said tapes of Banister's anchoring live coverage during last year's earthquakes helped convince him she was the anchorwoman they wanted.

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"My husband I were laughing about the earthquakes yesterday," Banister said. "In the six years we've been here we've had earthquakes, riots, floods, fires, O. J. I mean, it's been a phenomenal amount of news. And it's all very exciting to cover. But, with the natural disasters, you have to live through them, as well, out here."



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