TV news anchor Tony Cipolla leaves San Luis Obispo's KSBY after 20 years

Longtime anchor blames dispute over contract that included a 40 percent pay cut, but station says that isn’t the whole story

mcleveland@thetribunenews.comMay 18, 2010 

After 20 years at KSBY as news anchor and reporter, Tony Cipolla is leaving the San Luis Obispo station. His last day will be June 3.

“Management and I could not agree on a new contract,” Cipolla said Tuesday.

“It’s been a great ride, and I’m very proud of the fact I was the longest-serving anchor at KSBY and that we were number one in the ratings all those years,” he said.

Cipolla is in discussions with KCOY, a CBS affiliate based in Santa Maria, about a possible anchor job, he said, but added that “nothing’s been signed or anything like that. I’m talking to other people outside of broadcasting as well. … I’m looking at all my options.”

KCOY officials could not be reached for comment.

Cipolla has been in broadcasting for 25 years, starting out as a reporter for CNN and then at a CBS affiliate in San Diego. He began working at KSBY — an NBC affiliate — in 1989 as a weekend anchor and reporter, then moved in 1994 into the prime-time weekday anchor job, where he has remained ever since. For two years, from 2003 to 2005, he was also the station’s news director, responsible for all the news.

Cipolla said the KSBY newsroom is different today from when he began there. For starters, there were a lot more reporters then, he said.

“It was fun TV; I had a blast,” he said. “Now they (management) told me they’re looking out for their business, and I know that advertising hasn’t been there for any media. I understand that. I think that because of the cutbacks we’ve had recently, that has affected the type and quality of our news coverage.”

Negotiations broke down when KSBY offered him a 40 percent cut in salary, which, he said, “was on top of a 25 percent pay cut I had already taken three years ago.”

“I really couldn’t do that to my family,” he said. He declined to disclose his salary.

KSBY General Manager Evan Pappas called Cipolla “a nice guy” and “a great professional for many years.” He said he was surprised at Cipolla’s comments to The Tribune.

“We are very disappointed that Tony has decided to leave KSBY after 20 years,” he wrote in an e-mailed statement to The Tribune. “Although we understand why he is leaving, we believe his comments are misleading. The bottom line is Tony continues to want to be paid the salaries of both a news director and a news anchor. However, he has not served in the role of a news director since 2005. We thought that his request was unfair to both his colleagues in the newsroom and the company.”

Pappas also emphasized that economics and changing consumer behaviors have required KSBY to transform itself into a multimedia journalism enterprise — extending beyond TV into online and social media. This is a change for long-term anchors, such as Cipolla, but Pappas said the quality of KSBY’s coverage has not suffered.

“This decision wasn’t based on revenues going up or down,” he stressed. “It’s based on Tony being paid for two jobs instead of one.”

Pappas would not address questions about the station’s revenues or profit.

Cipolla stressed he did not want to disparage the place he has called home for so long.

“I have too many good memories,” he said. “I’ve been lucky, traveled to China and Cuba and sent back reports. I was able to interview my idol, Tom Brokaw, a couple years ago.”

Then he added, “I know this sounds very sweet and sappy, but honestly, the relationships I developed with people in the community, it’s been great, that’s why I’ve stayed here. I love this area. I really like the people I work with at the station.”

Cipolla’s co-anchor, Jeanette Trompeter, said she was sad to hear the news. “He’s fun, professional and smart, and we’ve had fun reliving old memories,” she said.

Trompeter was a news producer and general news assignment reporter at the station when Cipolla started working at KSBY in 1989. She then went on to anchor positions in Des Moines, Iowa, and Minneapolis before returning to KSBY to replace Shari Small as Cipolla’s co-anchor in January. Richard Gearhart, a morning anchor, will fill in on the nightly newscasts until a replacement for Cipolla can be found, Pappas said.

Cipolla has received three Golden Mike awards from the Radio and Television News Association. In addition, the Associated Press has recognized him with five awards. Cipolla has also been honored with the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in broadcast journalism.

Cipolla and his wife, Karen, have three children — Anthony (A.J.), 14, Chiara, 12, and Dominic, 7. They live in Pismo Beach.

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