KING's Local Hero
Heacox feels right at home plotting vital Belo growth strategies
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/3/2008 8:00:00 PM
Ray Heacox is home again. Two decades after he left the Pacific Northwest for the East Coast, he's more than happy to be back in the corner of the country where he grew up, running Belo's multiple media outlets in the region. “This is my hometown,” he says. “With the complexity of properties we have in the building, I just love being here.”
The president/general manager of Belo's NBC affiliate KING, independent KONG and Northwest Cable News has indeed come full circle. Not only has he returned to Seattle, but Heacox works out of the old King Broadcasting building—where he used to attend meetings as an account executive for the former King Broadcasting's KGW Portland, Ore., some 25 years before.
Besides managing the three TV outlets (KING claimed $91 million in revenue in 2007, according to BIA Financial, easily tops in the No. 14 DMA) and various Websites, including the ground-breaking blog aggregator CitizenRain.com, Heacox has additional oversight of Belo stations in Spokane and Boise. He's built a reputation as a progressive thinker in terms of digital media, so much so that Belo brass constantly look to him for insights. “Ray can think in different spaces,” says Peter Diaz, Belo's executive VP of television operations. “He always has a different perspective—and it's a good perspective. We include him in the big conversations, especially if it's in the digital space.”
Heacox's long and varied career started in radio in Portland. After shifting to television in 1977 at KOIN, he then managed sales for Northwest Television Sales before taking on the local sales manager post at KGW in 1981. Heacox jumped to a general sales manager gig at rival KPDX two years later. After a six-year management stint at MMT Sales, which brought him to Los Angeles, Heacox headed to KNBC in 1991. Eight years later, he was president and general manager at the giant NBC O&O.
While he speaks fondly of his time with NBC, Heacox's career took an interesting twist in 2000. As the dot-com bubble expanded, he signed on as president (and later CEO) of MediaOcean, splitting time between New York and Atlanta for the startup, which he describes as “a B2B play in the advertising business.” When MediaOcean was acquired by Donovan Data Systems in 2002, Heacox stayed on the East Coast, consulting and bouncing between Manhattan and Philadelphia as he helped launch the television management graduate program at Drexel University.
He did a little teaching as well. “I like to remind people that I came up through sales, but the first class I got to teach was on media ethics,” he says with a laugh.
Heacox, who's 54, and his wife, Cynthia, loved the energy and diversity of Manhattan, and swore they'd never leave—until the opportunity to move back to the Pacific Northwest presented itself in 2005.
Wired Into Seattle
While digital represents a drop in the revenue bucket for even the most forward-thinking stations, Heacox is bullish about KING's new-media properties—which is fitting for an exceptionally well-educated and wired market such as Seattle. (Microsoft is, of course, based in Redmond, Wash.) He says digital revenues are growing at around a 23% clip this year, after 30%-40% growth the last few years.
Former KING Digital Director Cory Bergman, who recently left to head up business development at MSNBC.com, appreciates Heacox's respect for the digital side of the station business. “Ray's first week at KING, the management team gathered in a conference room for an annual strategy session led by the station's consultant,” Bergman recalls. “While the discussion centered on trends in the local television industry, Ray spoke up about the importance of local online search. I was thrilled.”
Bergman reminds that the meeting was way back in 2005.
While few stations are exempt from the nation's economic slump, Heacox is optimistic about broadcasting. He's convinced TV (and its digital offspring) is still the best game in town—for consumers and advertisers alike. “Viewing has not gone down one iota. Television is still a very powerful medium,” he says. “We're in the business of getting content out there regardless of the pipe.”
These days, Heacox, whose viewing tastes range from Heroes to The Closer to Eureka, is focused on boosting the stations' Olympics coverage, with the Games starting Aug. 8 and airing locally on KING. A crew has been in Beijing for about a year, he says; the anchors made the trip this week, and stories on local athletes involved in the Olympics will continue to flavor the stations' news programming. “It's all hands on deck for the Olympics,” he says.
Like the sprinters and swimmers in China, time will tell if KING will snag some shiny hardware for its Olympics coverage. As the various Murrows, Emmys and EPpys that line the hallways of the Seattle headquarters indicate, the stations claim an inordinate amount of awards, including a Murrow for Overall Excellence in 2006 and another that year for KING5.com. Heacox credits Belo for providing the resources for the enterprise journalism that has long been a company staple. “It's a mindset [here] that it's important to do really strong journalism, and everybody is hired through that lens,” he says. “Once you catch that fever, I think you keep that fever.”
As he oversees Belo's media outlets in the region and adds to the KING trophy case, it is quite evident—not to mention noteworthy—that Heacox has hardly let a 2002 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis slow him down. The board vice chair of the Greater Washington chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, he gets around with the help of crutches or a scooter, but otherwise says he's unimpeded in his day-to-day affairs. “Knock on wood, but for somebody with MS, I'm very fortunate,” says Heacox, one of some 400,000-plus Americans with the disease. Sliding tongue firmly into cheek, he adds, “What irritates me most is that I can't just go for a jog.”
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