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A few weeks ago, billboards sprouted up all over town touting the arrival of news anchor Fred Powers, Channel 5's latest addition to its 9 p.m. weeknight newscasts with Karen Carns.
Never heard of the guy? Welcome to the club. Up until he accepted the job at KPHO earlier this year, neither had Powers--who was actually born with the name Fred Fife. That was the handle he has used throughout his entire TV career, most recently during a three-year run on the Orange County News Channel in Southern California. All that changed when he arrived at KPHO, whose management believes the city is already rife with Fife.
"After talking it over with management, I agreed that Fife might not be the best name to use at this station," says the newly christened Powers of the Fife amendment. "KPHO's No. 1 daytime program is The Andy Griffith Show, so naturally, Barney Fife's name has become closely associated with the station. It just seemed like a good idea for me to come in with a name that wouldn't get in the way of doing the news."
While the use of stage names is hardly an uncommon practice in the broadcasting biz, Powers' new nom de video may be the only midcareer name change in TV history to be prompted by the popularity of a sitcom second banana.
Still, was KPHO honestly concerned that viewers might actually think Fred Fife was related to Don Knotts' fictional TV character? Or truly worried that the name Fife is now so inextricably linked to buffoonish behavior that no one could possibly take a same-surnamed anchor seriously? Hard to say. "The consideration was that all these names were so phonetically similar," explains KPHO station manager Pat North. "We just didn't want any confusion. We're starting out with a new product and we wanted a new identity."
Powers also reports that the commonality between his surname and Governor J. Fife Symington III's middle name played a definite role in the name-switch decision.
Still, the former Fife insists that his manufactured moniker is not an attempt to distance himself from the less-than-favorable news items about the scandal-plagued governor that are bound to cross Channel 5's news desk in the near future.
"I want to make it clear [the name change] has absolutely nothing to do with any controversy surrounding Symington," stresses Powers, who hammers the point home with a rather unfortunate analogy. "Part of the reason I did this was for the same reason someone named Kennedy might change his name were he to go into broadcasting."
Explaining that he's long since tired of references to the Mayberry character every time he meets anyone, the real-life Fife claims he was already considering a moniker makeover prior to receiving an offer to work at KPHO.
"The Barney Fife thing always comes up, even when I've worked at stations that didn't run The Andy Griffith Show," says Powers. "In the past, I've had people ask me if Fife was really my name--some people really believed I might have changed it to Fife because of Barney Fife. So you can't win.