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Charles Fishburne making a return to local TV

Street Talk

'Charlie's Camera' Shoots for Comeback
Neighbors Scowl as Mansion Idles
Kaine Sweats it to Keep Homeless Warm
Airport Gets a Little Help from its 'Friends'
Modlin Center Gears Up for NPR Show'Charlie's Camera' Shoots for Comeback

The deal is all but done: Charles Fishburne, the indefatigable broadcast personality whose 15-year run as prime anchor at WTVR Channel 6 ended in June, is about to become the city's only newscaster to have served at each of the Big Three network affiliates.

WRIC Channel 8 Station Manager Dan Klintworth says the local ABC outpost, following several detailed discussions last week, is waiting for a final, written document from Fishburne on his proposed role. But Fishburne won't replace departed Channel 8 anchor Ric Young, who returned to the small screen this weekend on Channel 6.

Instead, Fishburne most likely will do "a weekly report for us and possibly some other things," Klintworth says.

Is it the return of "Charlie's Camera," the signature set of periodic human interest pieces Fishburne has produced since his days at stations in North Carolina? That's how it looks from his resume package, which includes a tape of the program's highlights and reference letters from local nonprofit organizations pushing for a return of the series.

The auteur himself is enigmatic: "I'm really excited about what's happening," Fishburne says. "This is a real exciting concept. It's really going to blow your mind and everyone else's, I hope."

Fifty-something Fishburne's enthusiasm sounds completely undiminished by his ups and downs over the years. WWBT Channel 12 hired him out of Washington and Lee University in 1966 and he rose to weather anchor. After getting dropped and doing a short stint in Roanoke, however, he returned to the station and hosted the edgy, successful "The Scene Tonight," once NBC's best share-grabbing 11 p.m. affiliate broadcast in the country.

From there it was back down again, to a little UHF station in Charlotte, N.C., owned by an energetic broadcaster named Ted Turner. That's when Fishburne started his Charles Kuralt impersonation, producing human interest stories under the moniker "Charlie's Camera." He slipped further into obscurity, though, passing through High Point, N.C., on the way back to Richmond and his comeback anchor spot in 1984 at WTVR 6.

— Rob Morano

Neighbors Scowl as Mansion Idles

It hovers next to River Road like a humongous gray elephant, alone and perplexed-looking. It's really kind of sad, and a little bit spooky. This house — if you can call such an enormity a house — just wants to be lived in. But it'll take a lot more than TLC to get it right.

The house is a sore subject behind the gates of the Windsor on the James community, so much so that it is at the center of an ongoing lawsuit filed by neighbors. The home, in the 8000 block of River Road, is owned by Stephen and Marylin Fenyes and has been under construction since 1996. The suit, filed by the Windsor on the James Homeowner's Association in 1998, alleges that the Fenyeses, who bought adjacent lots in the subdivision in 1993 and 1995, have been remiss in abiding by standards spelled out in the neighborhood's strict standards policy. Plaintiffs say the house's exterior is deteriorating, lack of landscaping has caused drainage problems and the lot is eroding. It says, too, that the Fenyes' construction activity has damaged the Association's common area. (The house rests next to the subdivision's only entrance that is a common area shared by residents.)

In August, a court injunction ordered the Fenyeses to resume construction on the idle property by Oct. 8 and finish by Dec. 31.

Neighbors say not much has changed. None of the plaintiffs would comment on the record, but a neighbor who asks not to be identified says, "We're very concerned and want to get this eyesore fixed. I'm sure there'd be a lot of offers on that land, and if they can't finish it, it should go to someone else."

Numerous attempts to reach the Fenyeses were unsuccessful.

Construction on the house started early in 1996 by Amason Properties Inc., the original developers of the subdivision, and from the looks of it, there's a long way to go — cinder blocks are stacked up, chains rope off the driveway, and debris and dirt mounds abound. Not exactly what these neighbors want to see on their way to and from their own $750,000 homes.

In addition to complaints about the property's unfinished state, members of the homeowner's association are taking the matter personally. "Their continuing failure to comply is causing irreparable injury to the association and its members," states the lawsuit.

— Brandon Walters

Kaine Sweats it to Keep Homeless Warm

There's a distinct nip in the air these days, but come Nov. 15, Tim Kaine can only hope someone lets in a draft.

The mayor will be roasted at a Jefferson Hotel benefit for Emergency Shelter Inc., becoming the 13th public figure in Richmond to undergo the annual treatment of gentle jibes and jests. The action heats up with a 6 p.m. social hour, followed by dinner at 7 p.m. and the roast, which Kaine's father-in-law Linwood Holton — yes, the former governor — will emcee.

At $60 a person, organizers expect turnout to be on a par with the approximately 200 people who attended last year, but they can accommodate many more. (RSVP at 782-9276 by Nov. 10.)

Sounds like a good time for a good cause. But how, exactly, can one criticize the apparently squeaky clean burgomaster?

Mum's the word from the roasters (Holton will be aided by Kaine's pastor, Sister Cora Billings; Vice Mayor Rudy McCollum; Del. Viola Baskerville; law partner Tom Wolf; and neighbor Freddy Cobb.) Kaine will admit only to equivocating tendencies — he is a consummate conciliator, but agrees there's "at least a perception" of him as a fence-straddler.So he's not fearing a Richmond reprise of shock jock Don Imus' merciless, even tasteless charity roasting of President Clinton a while back.

"I don't know what dirt to confess," he pleads. "I've lost my temper once or twice that I can recall."

Past victims have included Sen. John Warner, Rep. Tom Bliley and various state government officials. With Kaine, however, the roast turns its spit to the local level. That gets us thinking about who we'd like to see seared next year — someone who would really take some heat.

Bring your stuff, Mr. El-Amin.

— R.M.

Airport Gets a Little Help from its 'Friends'

More than 700 corporate and community leaders have signed up for a new group to help land Richmond International Airport — and their own travel budgets — a low-fare carrier within a year.

Friends of Richmond International Airport, the new marketing and lobbying arm of the Capital Regional Airport Commission, has been "overwhelmed with the positive reponse" to a recent mailing seeking members, says John Sherman Jr., chairman of the group.

Sherman says thanks to the efforts of coordinators Bill Axselle and Mark Christie, who serve as legal counsel and lobbyists for the commission, Friends of RIA has swelled from a free-standing board of 12 to a group with hundreds of prominent members representing thousands of local employees.

The airport can use some friends about now. Three weeks ago it was hit by the last-minute closure of a promising charter service, and it continues to suffer from low demand due to high fares arising from a lack of competition for most destinations.

Sherman, who also is chairman-elect of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce, says Friends of RIA will work closely with the chamber to help bring fares down and keep the government funds flowing for continued capital improvements. He emphasizes that RIA is the key to increasing tourism, economic development and quality of life here, and therefore should work more closely with the chamber.

A chamber study last year found RIA's rates are among the highest in the nation and the airport is missing out on millions from turned-off travelers. Axselle says the reason is "very simple — it's a lack of competition," noting travelers departing RIA have no choice of carrier except for two destinations — New York and Washington, D.C.

That soon could change. "Within a year, we think there is a realistic opportunity" to land a major low-fare carrier, like a Southwest Airlines, Axselle says.

— R.M.

Modlin Center Gears Up for NPR Show

Late next spring when you tune in to NPR's "Performance Today," you just may hear host Lisa Simeone mention that the classical concert you're enjoying was brought toyou live — not from Carnegie Hall or the Lincoln Center but from University of Richmond's Modlin Center.

"We will record three performances in spring, but we haven't gotten the dates of when the broadcasts will run on NPR," says Kathy Panoff, director for the Modlin Center. So far, the concerts to be recorded are part of the Modlin Center Series and include Western Wind, an a cappela sextet performing Jan. 24, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax on Feb. 29 at the Carpenter Center, and the Shanghai Quartet with violinist Marcus Thompson and cellist Alisa Weilerstein on March 15.

Ed Kelly, who has recorded for the Richmond Symphony, is in charge of making the performers sound acoustically perfect. Kelly will record the concerts on DAT tapes and send them in to "Performance Today" with bio information about the performers that can be written into a script.

"As long as you have a good broadcast recording they'll be played. And at very little cost to them," says Panoff. "That's how they're able to get the recordings out there to so much of the public."

— B.W.