Call it the Walter Cronkite factor: that dicey combination of grin and grit that makes people tune into their favorite TV anchor every day.
BronxNet, the community cable station that operates 24/7 — the first such station to occupy six channels — traffics in just that savvy as evidenced by the high-profile careers of two alumnae: Shiba Russel and Darlene Rodriguez.
Russel and Rodriguez both work for WNBC news in New York and both are reported to be vying for one of the most prestigious jobs in TV journalism as co-anchor of the station’s main nightly news program with Chuck Scarborough. The seat has been filled by Sue Simmons, a 32-years WNBC veteran, who is leaving the broadcast.
The station remained mum on the choice of a replacement. “We’re working on identifying Sue’s successor and will announce it at the appropriate time,” said Dawn Rowan, WNBC’s director of comunications.
Russel studied at BronxNet in 1997. The station’s executive director, Michael Max Knobbe, said, “She was very focused and efficient and professional. She was an excellent news gatherer and journalist.” She grew up in New Jersey.
Rodriguez, a Bronx native, joined BronxNet at its inception in 1992. “She was among the first Bronxites to present Bronxites with their first local news as a reporter,” he said. “She had tremendous ability. She really demonstrated what the people of the Bronx could do. She’s a community exemplar.” Her toughness shone through when an angry dog would not deny her the shot she needed.
Russel now co-anchors WNBC’s 5 p.m. news show.
Rodriguez co-anchors the early-morning news show, called “Today in New York.”
There have been other successes at BronxNet, Knobbe said alumni have landed jobs at other top-tier stations including BET, CNN, MTV and CBS. “We have alumni on-air — such as Shiba and Darlene — and we also have editors, producers and management,” he said.
BronxNet occupies about 10,000 square feet of the sub-basement of Carman Hall on the Lehman College campus. Knobbe said BronxNet is working now to partner with Mercy College on a satellite facility in the east Bronx. A second south Bronx satellite also is planned. The Lehman facility will be upgraded this year,according to Knobbe.
The annual budget is $2.4 million. There is a staff of 24. Since its founding — on the air since 1993 — the station has trained “thousands of Bronxites” in modern media production as on-air reporters, producers, videographers and editors.
Knobbe said 3,500 Bronx college, high school and intermediary students are currently enrolled in study with BronxNet. The public, too is welcome to train, with quarterly classes of 48 hours of class time costing $90.
Knobbe boils down the polylingual BronxNet mission, which runs the gamut from news to government access to youth programs to shows in Albanian — to “community development through media.”
The school’s highest accolade perhaps came from WNBC’s Rowan. Without tipping her hand on Simmons’ replacement, she acknowledged the size of the shoes to be filled. “We have tremendous respect and admiration for Sue Simmons,” she said “For decades, Sue has been a critical part of New York’s longest-tenured anchor team in the city and has more than earned her iconic status.”
BronxNet began as part of the agreement that brought CableVision to New York City. Besides Cablevision, BronxNet also appears on Fios.