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Best Local Newscaster 

Sal Castaneda

A recent survey of local television news broadcasts said what's been on most viewers' minds for ages: The local TV news is a putrid, sensationalistic, dumbed-down, underreported wasteland that substitutes fluff for issues, idiotic anchor chitchat for ideas, and stuff that's caught fire for hard news. We'd work up the energy to be mad at KGO's umpteenth tie-in "story" about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire if its advertorial policy wasn't so deeply entrenched, what with Dr. Dean Edell's drug plugs and "Seven on Your Side"'s Michael Finney telling the entire Bay Area the great lie that he's doing serious consumer reporting -- shoving a camera in the face of a fraudulent businessman offers no context, no analysis, just gotcha journalism. We get a good laugh out of KPIX's graphics, which make each city look like a target for a bomb drop, and, given KRON's propensity to devote most of its time to lightweight reports punctuated by the incessant ums and ers that pollute Gary Radnich's sports segment (watching him trying to keep up with the highlight reel can be a painful experience at times), we occasionally wonder if Pete Wilson's "circular file" isn't a redundancy. We giggle further at WB 20's "news" reports, the highlight of which are Catt Sadler's "Bay Beat" segments, which mainly involve Sadler sitting on a stylish couch reading press releases about pop bands.

But when it all gets to be too much, we simply do what most intelligent, news-hungry people do. We watch KTVU.

Oh, how our hearts thrill to the deep authority in the voice of Dennis Richmond ("Does the Bay Area need another 6 o'clock news? It needs this one." Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr.), who not only knows how to read but also knows how to ask questions of a reporting team that's allowed more than two minutes to cover a story that's actually important. We do confess that we get Leslie Griffith and Julie Haener confused sometimes -- perhaps one of them could agree to never wear a powder blue blouse on the air? -- but both are strong and informed anchors as well. We could go on forever, swooning over Thuy Vu's intensity, Tom Vacar's ability to make his competitor Mr. Finney look like a drooling twit in comparison, Brian Banmiller's Statehouse smarts, Mark Ibanez's way of taking the frat-boy brewski attitude out of the sports report, and Ross MacGowan's ability to interview more than one level deep (even if he can often be overly pushy in getting there), but our hearts and ongoing respect belong to one local news reporter and one alone:

Sal Castaneda.

Sal's the traffic guy. Backup on 280? He'll get you on 101 in a jiffy. Muni Metro delays? Of course there are, but Sal's got details where most folks offer shrugs. From road construction to airport hassles to fog on the Golden Gate Bridge, Sal not only knows what's happening, he knows why. And unlike every other traffic reporter around, there's a sense of compassion in his voice when he reports, a feeling that he's putting his hand on your shoulder and telling you, "Hey, I know you hate driving. Maybe you even feel bad about driving in this environmentally threatened world. But I know you've got places to go and I know they're important. I feel that, and I want to help." It's a geniality that's usually seen only in priests -- who, come to think of it, also have to reassure the confused, energize the weary, and explain the consequences of transgressions. Sal seems to love his job, and as a result, viewers love him back. People who have to drive in from Walnut Creek love Sal. Unpitied techies who slog their way to the Peninsula love Sal. We haven't confirmed this, but we're going to come right out and say it: Puppies and small children love Sal. And, most important, people who don't even drive love Sal. No snappy chitchat, no insulting clichés ("It's a madhouse out there"), just simple facts, simply and compassionately spoken. Plus, he's got cute eyes. May he never enter a helicopter. Indeed, a man of Sal's stature certainly deserves more than a plug in an altweekly. Might we suggest a statue on the Sunol Grade?


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