He heard his calling
ABC's Berry aimed to be a newspaperman, but radio got his ear
By P. Llanor Alleyne -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/2/2001 8:00:00 PM
In the wild presidential battle for Florida last year, one day remains golden for ABC News Radio Vice President Chris Berry. On Dec. 1, the Supreme Court, for the first time, lifted its veil of secrecy and allowed audiotapes of oral arguments by Bush and Gore lawyers to be released to the public. ABC Radio handled the pool feed, but it was lobbying by Berry, along with Radio-Television News Directors Association chief Barbara Cochran and others, that helped persuade the court to relax its rules.
"I see that as the high point of several years," Berry says, recalling that day when an ABC Radio producer exited the Supreme Court building and headed for the radio division's mobile van, where the pool coverage originated. "It set the stage for further public exposure of what happens in the federal court system."
Berry's youthful thirst for current events led to adulthood hopes of being a newspaper reporter. But fresh out of the University of Mississippi's journalism program, he found himself in the television business, as a weekend news-producer at HBQ(TV) Memphis. Within six months, he was producing the weekday 6 p.m. telecast. He was only 21.
A year later, Berry's childhood reporter dreams took him to Los Angeles, where he got a job as a news writer, albeit not at a newspaper. He was hired at CBS's all-news KNX (AM). Finding the experience rich with an intimacy that he knew could not be delivered with paper and ink, Berry suddenly found himself attracted to audio.
"I fell in love with radio," he beams. "When you listen to the spoken word on radio, you are listening with both ears. It is such a personal medium."
Following his four-year stint in Los Angeles, CBS radio transferred Berry to its Washington bureau, where he served a brief term as executive producer of the news department.
In 1986, Berry left Washington's news hub for CBS's longtime all-news leader in Chicago, WBBM(AM). By 1990, he'd risen to news director and was delighted with the competition that Westinghouse had engendered with its own all-news WMAQ(AM)—while beyond the industry, the U.S. was starting a war with Saddam Hussein.
Although the competitive environment of the Windy City was providing Berry with excitement, a lunch date with longtime friend and former CBS cohort Bernard Gershon during the 1996 Democratic Convention brought his 14-year relationship with CBS to a close.
"When I became vice president of ABC news radio, I began a nationwide search to find the best person to be second in command," says Gershon, now senior vice president of ABCnews.com. "I was impressed with Chris's work at WBBM radio. I convinced him that working for me would be rewarding and fun."
Berry signed on at ABC as general manager of news operations, and, instead of one station, he had the heady responsibility of directing nearly 3,000 affiliates and the freedom to pursue national news stories.
Now, having been vice president of news at ABC for the last three years, Berry is riveted on stretching the format's potential.
"I'm bullish on radio, "he says. "I believe it is right now—even though radio is 75 years old—we are scratching the surface of what we can do."
With both XM and Sirius poised to deploy satellite radio into car and, eventually, home stereos, Berry has left the boot-quaking to the short-sighted. In fact, ABC radio has five networks on XM radio, which will begin beaming this month.
"I believe that satellite radio will become another item on America's menu of media choices," Berry says. He is also confident that terrestrial radio will be on that menu. He thinks it has key elements to sustain it: It's local, ubiquitous and portable.
"As radio continues to evolve and news appetites change, information programming will evolve also," he predicts. "At ABC News Radio, we are uniquely positioned to develop the products that will meet the local stations' programming needs and grow together."
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