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Will the Real Juan Conde Please Stand Up?

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Will the Real Juan Conde Please Stand Up?
World-Record Hopeful Swimming in Poe's Wake
Rough Riders Damage War Horse
WXGI Marches On Richmond
VCU Holds the Line Above Oregon Hill
Search Narrows for Walker Sculptor

Will the Real Juan Conde Please Stand Up?

he lines between news programming and advertising are continually blurring. If you watch WRIC Channel 8 news, they may seem to disappear altogether.

WRIC anchorman Juan Conde can be seen in Circuit City commercials running nationwide and throughout the Richmond market.

Conde filmed the ads for Circuit City's DIVX system in October 1998, when he was a DJ for radio station Power 92. He was hired in mid-April as WRIC's anchor. A Circuit City spokesman says that nationwide ads are running on several local channels, including Channel 8, and that Circuit City has no immediate plans to stop using the ads.

"We discussed [the ads] with Juan before he came to work for us," acknowledges Tom Best, WRIC's vice president and general manager. Best doesn't see any problem with his anchor as pitchman in this situation.

"Our policy is that employees don't do commercial endorsements," Best says. "But we couldn't penalize him for what he'd done before he came to work for us."

Best says that Conde won't be asked to report on news involving Circuit City, a potential ethical morass that both he and Conde say they are very sensitive to.

"I think that the timing of the whole thing doesn't lend itself to a conflict of interest," Conde says. "Then I was able to do that, and now I'm working with 8 news."

But Steve Nash, coordinator of the University of Richmond's journalism program, has some concerns about Conde's dual role, regardless of the timing.

"These conflicting roles are hard for journalists to untangle," Nash says. "And they're impossible for viewers to untangle."

Nash says that while excusing Conde from Circuit City stories is a step in the right direction for Channel 8, it's not enough. "An anchor in this situation will also have to avoid any discussions of what news stories merit coverage on any day when Circuit City might make news. And that could be any day of the week," Nash explains. He says that in just the last month, Circuit City has appeared in stories in The Richmond Times-Dispatch 16 times.

"Channel 8 can mitigate the problem, of course, by acknowledging it openly and regularly for as long as the commercials are aired," Nash says. "The station can also fight, in the future, to gain a reputation for keeping a Chinese Wall between news on the one hand, and public relations and advertising on the other."

— Mark Stroh

World-Record Hopeful Swimming in Poe's Wake

If only Edgar Allan Poe had had access to a video camera ...

Thom Stanton, a 31-year-old Internet developer for Philip Morris USA, is trying to get into the Guinness World Book of Records for an eight-mile upriver swim on the James River. On June 5, he plans to swim against the current and rapids from Mayo Island to Bosher's Dam in Henrico County.

There's no Guinness record of anyone else completing a similar upriver swim, but Stanton does have some unofficial local competition from a pretty prominent Richmonder. According to the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, the famed author swam six miles up the James as a teen, a feat he described as more difficult than Byron's swim of the Hellespont.

But poor Edgar didn't have the kind of documentation Stanton plans. In keeping with the Guinness rules, Stanton will have a minimum of two witnesses watching him at all times from shore and from a safety boat. He'll also have someone videotaping his swim, which he anticipates will take at least eight hours.

The James is an important part of Stanton's life. As a student at VCU, he wooed his wife on summer expeditions at the river, and now they take their two kids there. His office even has a riverfront view.

As for his hopes to have his feat actually listed in the world-famous record book, Stanton acknowledges it's not a sure thing. Guinness is reluctant to add new categories, and a committee is studying whether or not to include his accomplishment.

"Just for the fact that this is man against nature," Stanton says, "somebody, I believe, should take note it has been done."

— Richard Foster

Rough Riders Damage War Horse

It seems the war horse outside of the Virginia Historical Society is fighting a losing battle. On May 20, security guards at the museum found the horse's stirrup broken off and lying on top of the monument's pedestal.

The stirrup apparently broke when someone tried to ride the horse the previous night. The rider probably tried to brace himself by placing his feet in the stirrups, says Robert Strohm, the museum's associate director.

"Occasionally we've had people insisting on climbing up on it," he says. "The bronze will only take so much stress."

The statue has suffered damage before. People attempting to ride the horse have broken a cup on the saddle as well as rivets on one of the flanks. "You really get frustrated. You fix it, and someone else climbs on it and it gets more damaged," Strohm says. The museum has planted Chinese holly around the statue to discourage people from climbing on it.

Fortunately, the unwelcome rider did not take the stirrup as a souvenir. It will be reattached by a metal specialist, Strohm says.

The monument was erected in 1997 to memorialize the horses and mules that died or were wounded in the Civil War. It has received much attention from museum visitors, who often have left flowers on the statue's pedestal. A visitor once left a bag of sugar cubes with a note attached that read, "You gave so much and asked so little."

This time, the Historical Society is stepping in to ask that the horseplay end.

— Lee Williams

WXGI Marches On Richmond

WXGI 950-AM is returning to its down-home roots.

The oldest full-time country music station in the country is returning to playing classic country music after two years of its controversial modern-hits dominated "Country Gold" format.

Mark Majors, the station's new program manager and morning host, says the station will play music recorded before 1995, though it will concentrate largely on artists of the 1970s and 1980s such as Alabama, Charlie Daniels and Waylon Jennings. It will also play music back to the 1940s, something many old-time listeners complain has been missing in recent years.

New country music will be limited to a "future picks" show on Friday mornings from 9 to 10 a.m. Starting June 16, in cooperation with Plan 9 Music owner Jim Bland, the station will also air a one-hour show of local music, focusing on country gospel and Southern rock.

Perhaps the biggest change will be the morning show, "Around the Town With Mark Majors." The station will dust off its cowboy boots and broadcast from a remote location every morning, usually at a commercial location of a paid advertiser.

"We'll be the only morning show on the street every day, guaranteed," says Majors, who comes to WXGI from WJRV 105.7-FM The River. On Memorial Day, he scheduled a broadcast from the Virginia War Memorial. Future sites include The Diamond and Virginia Lottery chains.

"If there's something going on with more than 100 people there," Majors says, "I'd like to say we're going to be there."

— R.F.

VCU Holds the Line Above Oregon Hill

It was a flirtation as heady as it was short-lived. But like so many springtime flings, passions flared and then died out quickly.

Virginia Commonwealth University won't be moving into Oregon Hill.

VCU had been eyeing the Advance Electric Building, on the corner of Belvidere and Cary streets, just south of the school of engineering. But the prohibitive cost of restoring the Advance Building, and the historic Charles Phillips House partially contained within, will keep VCU away, says Kelley Lane, executive director of Save Oregon Hill Organization.

A VCU spokesperson confirms that the property is back on the market.

"They agreed to respect our wishes and not cross the customary boundary under the conditions we had set, and so we want to congratulate them," Lane says.

"It was a difficult situation for everybody, and I think they did very well, actually," Lane adds. "So my hat's off to them."

— M.S.

Search Narrows for Walker Sculptor

The effort to build a monument to pioneering black entrepreneur Maggie Walker is moving so fast that the statue may end up with scorch marks. The nonprofit group raising funds for the statue has already raised half of the monument's $250,000 budget and has narrowed down the search for a sculptor to four finalists.

Massachusetts sculptor Robert Shure, Los Angeles sculptor Tina Allen, New York sculptor Vinnie Bagwell and Richmond's own Arthur Ashe monument sculptor, Paul Di Pasquale, are the finalists, according to Alfred "Doug" Goodwein, one of the statue organizers.

Shure's work includes the Boston Irish Famine Memorial. Bagwell's sculptures include a statue of Ella Fitzgerald, and Allen is the sculptor of the Alex Haley monument in Knoxville, Tenn.

The four sculptors will present their designs this summer and a winner will be chosen by early August, Goodwein says. Work on the statue of America's first female bank president will likely begin in September, aimed at an Oct. 2000 completion date, timed to coincide with Walker's induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

The group plans a press conference in early June to announce the identity of the corporate donor who has contributed half of the statue's $250,000, Goodwein says.

— R.F.

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