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November 8, 2006
Playing hardball at Channel 3

Tuesday's Media Savvy column about Channel 3 anchor John Alston's departure from the station after it rebuffed his salary demands prompted an e-mail to us from former KCRA meteorologist Steve Swienckowski.

Swienckowski shares his story of negotiating with Channel 3, he says, to illustrate that the station has a long history of playing hardball when it comes to salaries.

His e-mail (trimmed and sanitized for a PG audience) reads:

"Although the names have changed, my KCRA story is similar, but made even more colorful with the addition of one very key player: former KCRA owner Jon Kelly.

"It was November of 1991 and I was the weekend meteorologist at KCRA. News Director Bill Bauman took me to lunch and offered me the Chief job. I was shocked. They had told me all along that Rick Griffin would remain as Chief and I had been sending tapes around the country looking for a better job.

"I was even more shocked by the money: $70k. Now, mind you, this is seventy thousand dollars a year to be the Chief Meteorologist at the top-rated, powerhouse station in Sacramento (even stronger in 1991 than it is now). At the time, I was already earning nearly $53,000.

"So, I discussed it with friends and family. My co-anchors at the time, Dave Walker and Lois Hart, urged me to ask for more money. They assured me that this was all part of the game when it came to the mercurial Jon Kelly: He makes an offer, you counter, and the two of you settle somewhere in between -probably closer to his offer.

"So, I asked for $80k.

"Not long after that, Bill Bauman said, 'Jon's waiting for you in his office.' Soon after I sat down before him, Kelly started with this: 'Bobby Bonilla signs with the Mets for twenty-nine million dollars. What kind of a message does that send to people like you, Swienckowski?!'

"It's true: Just days before my meeting with Kelly, Bonilla did indeed become the richest man in baseball. But, what kind of a message did that send to me? I suppose, I should have played more baseball."

Shortly thereafter, Swienckowski was out of a job. (The Bee's Dan Vierria ran a story at the time, detailing the impasse and with Bauman declining to comment.)

Maybe if Alston had spoken to Swienckowski, he would've learned that KCRA is where the news comes first - and salary considerations are apparently much further down the list.

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