Master of all trades
O'Reilly's career spans the disciplines of the broadcast industry
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/9/2001 8:00:00 PM
Over the course of his career, Terry O'Reilly, president of Conus Communications, has done just about everything in broadcasting. From radio to television to cable, reporting to producing to selling, he has consistently expanded the scope of his activities.
Through the years, he has learned his strengths and weaknesses, but it was his move to Conus that allowed him to pull together all his disciplines. The multifaceted company has a variety of products for TV broadcasters and viewers, from news feeds to a 24-hour news channel on DirecTV, production facilities and satellite truck rentals, even a New York-based advertising sales company.
He joined Conus in 1998. He was beginning his second year at The Weather Channel as senior vice president, production and programming, his first senior-level cable-management position, when he got a call from Conus Chairman and CEO Stanley S. Hubbard and faced a difficult choice.
"I was approached by the Hubbards with the chance to work at Conus," he says. "If anyone else had called, I would still be in Atlanta at the Weather Channel."
What attracted O'Reilly to Conus was that Hubbard made it clear that integrity was an important part of the business equation. Before O'Reilly began working for Conus, Hubbard told him that, if he were hired and gave his word about a business deal or anything else and then tried to get out of it, he would be fired immediately. "Talk about refreshing," O'Reilly recalls. "There are lots of businesses where honesty and integrity aren't the most important thing you do."
O'Reilly, a Bronx, N.Y., native who grew up in Pittsburgh, developed an interest in broadcasting in college when he worked at WNDU, Notre Dame's radio station.
"I was an engineer, doing radiocasts at WNDU," he says. "After college, I was offered the chance to work at the TV station. So, from 6 to 9 a.m. I would do drive-time radio, and then, in the afternoon, I would pick up a camera and be a reporter."
O'Reilly says there's a novelty that comes with being on the air but, by 1980, he had decided he was through with being on television and the radio. "I figured I could probably make a better contribution in another way."
That was when he heard of an opening for a producer at KDKA-TV Pittsburgh. He drove his unreliable 1972 MG to the station, got the job, and began working with one of the more influential people in his life: KDKA-TV anchor Bill Burns.
"Burns had been an institution in our house," he recalls. "He was the big guy in town."
O'Reilly says that working for someone he had watched on television while growing up was nerve-racking at first. "He was a tall Irish guy with curly gray hair, and he could dress you down with a look. Once you broke through the tough exterior, though, he had a heart of gold and would do anything to help you out."
One thing O'Reilly learned from Burns was the importance of good storytelling. "It's one thing to go out and report the stories of the day," he says. "It's another thing to relate them in an interesting fashion that is not just informative but entertaining. Watching Burns do the newscast I learned that every day."
O'Reilly spends as much time as he can with his wife, Donna, and their two teenage sons. But, when he can find the time, he likes to be a "mediocre" fly fisherman.
"It's one of the few things in my life that, if I slip off on a morning and climb waist deep into a trout stream, I won't even notice the passage of time," he says. "I'll look at my watch, and it will be seven or eight hours later. I completely get lost in it. And a few hours in a trout stream is an awfully good way to recharge my batteries."
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