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8 losing Gtv jobs look back as they also look forward

The Baltimore Sun

Pia Jordan knows all about dedication to her job.

The veteran of nearly two decades as a reporter for Gtv, Howard County's soon-to-be extinct government cable television station, gave birth to her daughter Christina, now 17, on camera.

The Pregnancy Watch was one of Jordan's early shows - a weekly 30-minute segment packed with helpful information for pregnant women and their families based on her experience.

"It was done tastefully," Jordan said recently. "We were talking about pregnancy one day and somebody said, 'That would be a great show.'"

After weeks of shows, she took a camera operator with her into the delivery room at University of Maryland Medical Center, and the cable-equipped residents of Howard County got to see an edited version.

Today, as her daughter prepares to graduate from high school in the spring, Jordan is preparing herself for a new future. That is because she is one of eight people who will lose their jobs June 30 when the station, which has its studio on the edge of Columbia, closes in a money-saving move.

County Executive Ken Ulman said he hopes to save about $500,000 a year by merging the station, which began in October 1984, with the five-employee station operated by Howard Community College. He said it makes no sense for the county to have a separate station when the college, the school system and Comcast Cablevision also have them.

Details have not been worked out, but the college is expected to continue broadcasting the same public meetings, adding County Council work sessions, while perhaps maintaining at least some of the local shows and the bulletin board of events and information that appears now on Comcast Channel 70 and Verizon Channel 44.

Meanwhile, Jordan and her compatriots are searching for new employment.

"As soon as they gave us the word, I got on the phone and started e-mailing everyone, laying the groundwork," Jordan said. "I always have a resume ready. I'm considering the nation. I'll consider anywhere."

First, she felt shock, she said, and then sadness. Somehow, it didn't seem real, but she is bouncing back quickly.

"That's life," she said. "The administration has its own agenda. I don't mind being a sacrificial lamb if it's going to help Grassroots or Citizen Services."

Grassroots and Citizen Services are human services agencies that use county revenues to help the poor, the elderly and the homeless.

Jordan, 51, recalled a five-day unpaid vacation courtesy of the 1991 recession and state budget cuts, adding that she knew in the back of her mind that something like the station's demise could happen.

Tara L. Gary, 47, the station manager, has been at Gtv since the start. She began as a production assistant and took over as manager in 1999.

"I feel a great attachment to Gtv because I've been here from the beginning and seen it grow," she said.

She had plans to start producing a new show focused on environmental and energy-saving issues, but that has been shelved, she said. In addition to the hearings, the station produces shows including On the Horizon, a monthly interview program hosted by Horizon Foundation President Richard M. Krieg; Probe, which focuses on government agencies; Inside Howard County, a weekly news magazine; and a rotating list of programs that have come and gone over the years. In addition, the station records county executive announcements and news conferences.

"So far, everybody's here, but everybody's looking." It may be hard to find another job as a broadcasting station manager, Gary said, so she is considering a career change.

While there are no ratings numbers to measure viewership, Gary said, "We do know a lot of people watch." Jordan said she is often recognized when she is out working.

Part-time reporter Anna Lucente Hoffmann of Edgewater, the mother of two young children, has worked three days a week since 2001 and wants to find another job in broadcast journalism or public relations.

"I hope I can find a job as rewarding for me as this is," she said.

David Ryan, 32, a jack-of-all-trades who does graphics, camera work, editing and directing, is thinking about how to pay the mortgage on his house in Westminster and those $800-a-month bills for day care for his 3-year-old daughter. The house came right after the county job in 2001.

"It's been a shock," he said about learning the station will close. "We just bought the house a few years ago." Then came the baby. "Things seemed to start falling into place. Now the rug's been pulled out from beneath you."

Patrick Reese, 41, of Ellicott City, a 17-year station veteran, said he is not feeling sorry for himself.

"You have to roll with the punches," he said. "I'm proud of the work I've done here and grateful for the people I've known."

Reese, who works from a motorized wheelchair, said he hopes his cerebral palsy will not make his job search more difficult.

Geren Mortensen Jr., 45, of Columbia is a three-year employee and is the station's engineer. His last job was sound engineer for a model-train business. He has no idea what he will do next, he said.

"I'm still trying to decide what to do when I grow up," he joked. "This week, growing up is winning."

Susan Poole, 50, of Sykesville might have the easiest job search because her skills are administrative rather than television-oriented. An 18-year county worker, she has been at the station for a year.

"I have some good possibilities," she said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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