Two of the Twin Cities' most respected, longest-serving anchors are planning their final signoffs in two very different ways. Don Shelby, a fixture at WCCO-TV for more than 30 years, confirmed Tuesday afternoon that he'll retire in November, setting up a gradual handoff to his expected successor, Frank Vascellaro.
But Robyne Robinson's announcement late Tuesday that she'll depart at the end of May was a shocker. The Fox 9 anchor, who will cap a 20-year career at KMSP, said she was leaving to focus on her creative pursuits, which include designing jewelry for her company, ROX Minneapolis.
"I'm so scared because it's so different from what I've done for 30 years, but I really feel good about it," said Robinson, who plans to split her time between Minneapolis and Santa Fe, N.M., where she recently bought property.
While Robinson will be gone in a matter of weeks, Shelby plans to stick around, giving viewers several months to get used to the idea that he'll no longer be a part of their weeknight routine -- a luxury that wasn't afforded Shelby when he took over from his beloved predecessor, Dave Moore.
"I knew that when that time came for me, I didn't want the next person to go through the three years of hell I did because I wasn't Dave Moore," said Shelby, who has received three national Emmys and all five of the nation's top journalism awards since joining the CBS affiliate in 1978.
Ron Handberg, who hired Shelby when he was WCCO's news director, said the transition strategy was a sound one, giving both the anchor and his audience a chance to get used to the change.
"This gives advance notice to the public who didn't know that Don was planning on leaving," he said. "It really is a changing-of-the-guard situation. It's a big deal for them."
During Shelby's tenure, the station was a perennial No. 1 or 2 in the ratings. But Handberg said his gifts as a reporter will be missed even more than his presence as an anchor.
'I don't know how I feel'
"He had a greater sense of what really was a story than almost anybody I've known in my career," said Handberg, referring to Shelby's significant contributions to the station's investigative unit. "One of the sad things about his elevation as an anchor is that he had less time to do that reporting."
Shelby, 62, will make his plans official Wednesday at a station gathering that will serve as both a staff meeting and a news conference.
"I've been talking about it for so long, I don't know how I'll feel," said Shelby, who also was a weekday radio host on WCCO (830 AM) for nine years, but retired from that job last year. "I do know that was my decision -- emphasize and underline: My decision."
Clearer picture at Channel 4
Vascellaro, who is scheduled to be at Wednesday's meeting, was hired from KARE, Channel 11, in 2006 and was instantly dubbed the heir apparent to Shelby, who vacated the 6 p.m. broadcast so Vascellaro could co-anchor with his wife, Amelia Santaniello. In a 2007 interview, Vascellaro praised Shelby for the willingness to look forward.
"Usually people in this business want more airtime, so for Don to look at the big picture, I have huge respect for him for doing that," he said. "It's almost unprecedented."
The picture is murkier over at Fox 9, where no succession plan has been announced. Robinson and her co-anchor at 9 p.m., Jeff Passolt, have been together 14 years, making them the longest-serving news team in the Twin Cities.
Robinson, 48, said she's been contemplating the move for some time, but made the final decision last month. "It's one of those things where I thought that if I didn't do this, I would kick myself forever." Her jewelry line is already in a number of boutiques nationwide and overseas.
The most recognizable African-American on Twin Cities TV and the recipient of an Upper Midwest Emmy for best anchor in 2005, Robinson also has been heavily involved in the local arts scene, and owned a gallery in Minneapolis for several years.
"Robyne's influence goes well beyond the anchor desk because of her strong interest and involvement in the community and its issues," KMSP's general manager Carol Rueppel said on the station's website. "She's truly been an integral part of the Twin Cities for the past 20 years."
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