BY BARBARA MARSHALL – PALM BEACH POST STAFF WRITER
By 4:30 a.m. each weekday morning, Dave McBride records a high school sports report for radio listeners in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., from his condo overlooking a Boynton Beach golf course.
“In the mid-Hudson Athletic League’s soccer division three title, Webutuck came back to beat Ellenville, 3 to 2.”
A few minutes later, he’s the morning drive newsman in Ashtabula, Ohio.
“Several fire companies were battling the blaze at Jekyll’s Kitchen in Chagrin Falls.”
At 6:50 a.m., the sun has just hit the tops of the palm trees outside when he broadcasts hometown updates to coal country in Pennington Gap, Va., and Albertville, Ala., “the fire hydrant capital of the world.”
By the time the former Chicago radio news personality finishes his shift around 8 a.m., he has pronounced, “You’re up to date with Dave McBride” at eight small stations in small towns arcing across the eastern half of the country from the Hudson Valley to the Deep South.
His recorded broadcasts originate from a neatly organized wooden desk in his spare bedroom, where a microphone hangs above his computer and CNN beams from a muted TV.
“I call it Radio Boynton,” he says.
McBride, 64, is one of more than 25 radio reporters and anchors for Virtual News Center, a six-year-old company that supplies about 150 mostly independently owned stations in 100 small markets with something most can’t afford: big market talent.
Most of the anchors work from their homes, which could be a thousand miles away from their listeners.
“The idea is to save money for radio stations because they don’t have to have someone in-house to gather news reports. It’s a way for smaller markets to have major market talent like Dave McBride, they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford,” says Jen Austin, VNC’s executive vice president of content.
Austin manages the company’s far-flung talent from her house outside Dallas, where she also records 10 newscasts a day from her home broadcast studio.
“Even though I get up at 2:45, the schedule still allows me to be at home to raise my three kids,” she says.
In the pre-dawn darkness of a Wednesday morning at Radio Boynton, McBride, whose real name is Dave Pollock, searches for breaking news of the rural towns outside of Cleveland.
He combs local newspaper and television station websites, along with city meeting agendas.
He knows the names of the local high school sports stars and regularly calls city clerks for information on local issues.
He tries to inject some good news into the daily recitation of crime and mayhem.
When a teen from Powell Valley in Virginia’s coal country receives a full scholarship to the University of Virginia or two high school students in Albertville, Ala., get a scholarship to the local community college to study air conditioning repair, McBride slips it into his broadcasts.
VNC tries to make listeners feel as if the newscaster is coming to them from down the street or the next town over, until the inevitable mispronouncement.
“I found out that the ‘l’ is silent in DeKalb County, Alabama,” he said. “New Prague in Minnesota is pronounced New Prayg. You only make the mistake once, because the listeners let you know.”
He started his career at small stations in Ohio in the early 1970s. Ted Kennedy was his first interview.
McBride went on to spend 21 years in major market radio in Chicago at WCKG and WKQX.
“I was everybody’s witty news sidekick,” he said.
He’s won several national and regional awards for his writing. His humorous spoken word essays were once nominated for a Grammy award.
“A talent to amuse and do news,” read his business cards.
But the changing media landscape and the desire for “a February weather upgrade” led him and his wife, Anita, to Florida 10 years ago, where he worked for a variety of stations, including WJNA-AM, where he did news and humor for the Mo & Sally Show, now on KOOL 105.5.
“He always finds the quirky little things about a story that make it interesting,” said show co-host Sally Sevareid.
After stints at a variety of stations in South Florida and one in the Florida Panhandle, McBride joined VNC four months ago.
“Some people might think of us as carpetbaggers, but I really care about what’s going on in these small towns. They’re a lot like Canfield, Ohio, where I grew up,” said McBride.
He calls himself “a nomadic newsman wandering the land across the broadband superhighway.”
But when his day is over is cold and gray Cleveland, the sun is usually shining in Boynton Beach.