Fifth Estater

Fox Go-To Guy Made in Michigan

WJBK Detroit General Manager Jeff Murri is never afraid to Let it Rip 5/09/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Jeff Murri

Title:

VP and general manager, WJBK Detroit

Education:

Oakland University, B.A. in Mass Communications, 1985

Employment Highlights:

WJBK Detroit, local account executive, 1984-1986

Storer Communications (Atlanta), national sales representative, 1987-1988

WCBS New York, account executive, 1989-1990

WJBK, national sales manager, 1991-1993; local sales manager, 1994-1996; VP/ general sales manager, 1997-2001; current position since October 2001

Personal:

Married to Heather; sons Luigi,17, and Dominic, 12

Running WJBK Detroit is, for Jeff Murri, nothing short of a dream job. He's working in his home market, he has one of the liveliest newsrooms in the U.S. and he spends each day focused on making Detroit a better place. Murri is passionate about local news and community service, and WJBK delivers both by the boatload; the Fox O&O
produces a whopping 57½ hours a week of local
news (and growing), and actively mentors
the challenged market’s youth.

Competition is extraordinarily close in DMA
No. 11. WJBK competes against what are
considered flagships of the Post-Newsweek
(WDIV) and Scripps (WXYZ) groups, as well
as a CBS-owned duopoly. Murri believes an
outsized—and innovative—local news presence
is the smartest strategy. “If you’re truly
engaging the community and telling stories in
a different way and trying to make the market
a better place, there is never enough news,” the
exuberant GM says. “What might appear to be
exhausting for others is energizing for us…at
least we’re nuts enough to think it’s energizing.”

Murri’s promotion to WJBK vice president
and general manager in 2001 was the culmination
of a hometown dream. He grew up in
Shelby Township, a little north of Detroit, and
learned to be a broadcaster in high school,
hosting “Murri in the Morning” on the school
radio station. The program featured music,
banter and a little news. “If the ink cartridge
worked, I’d read copy from the AP wire,” he
says. “If it didn’t, I’d grab whatever I had. It
was great experience for broadcasting.”

Murri learned the business side from his
older brother Michael, who sold time at
WXYZ Detroit (and is now the station’s general
sales manager). His first job was at WJBK in
1984. The station was a weak CBS affiliate at
the time, and Murri was handed a phone book
and told to drum up new business. In 1987,
he jumped to Atlanta to sell national accounts
for Storer Communications, then hooked up
with WCBS New York two years later.

Murri returned to WJBK in 1991 as national
sales manager (the station became a Fox outlet
in 1994) and worked his way up over the next
decade to the top spot.

Upon becoming GM, Murri set out boosting
the station’s news output, including a 5 a.m.
show in 2002, two additional hours of weekend
morning news in 2005, an 11 p.m. newscast
in 2007, a 4:30 a.m. (first in the market
and first in the Fox group) in 2008 and a 9
a.m. Monday through Friday news in 2009.

This September, WJBK will add an hour of
news at 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, giving
it a 6½ hour morning behemoth; the move
will boost the station’s its weekend-morning
output by 30 minutes a day and bring its total
weekly news output to 63½ hours, among the
highest in the U.S., Murri says.

It’s a crush of work for the WJBK staff, including
news director Dana Hahn. But Murri’s
Detroit crew always has his back. “Jeff’s
energy and management style have helped
grow WJBK into the news leader it is,” says
Sharri Berg, senior VP of news operations at
Fox Television Stations. “His drive to be the
best is infectious—if you’re around him, he
lifts the room.”

Beyond the loads of news, Murri strives to
make WJBK’s content stand out in the noisy
media environment. One innovation includes
the Thursday-night program Let It Rip; the unscripted
issues show made national news on
April 21 when notorious Koran-burner Terry
Jones, following an on-air debate with a local
Muslim leader, accidently fired a handgun in
his car in the WJBK parking lot. “It’s different
every week,” Murri says of the show, adding
that the “let it rip” attitude is present in every
“Fox 2” newscast. “But it’s always informative,
sometimes crazy, and definitely entertaining.”

Other innovations include the daily e-newsletter
“My Fox Morning News,” designed to
capitalize on the diminished presence of Detroit’s
local newspapers (the e-newsletter taps
Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper vet Charlie
LeDuff to deliver offbeat reports) and switching
up the morning and late news anchors for
a week in January—just for the heck of it.
Berg calls Murri a “go-to GM” for Fox, and
says corporate often looks to Detroit for ideas
that might work systemwide. Murri says the
mandate to be different comes from Jack Abernethy,
Fox Television Stations CEO. “When Jack
says, ‘What are you doing that’s different?’—boy,
you’d better have an answer, and it had better
really be different,” Murri says with a laugh.

But as much as Murri is trying to shake
up the marketplace, he’s trying to promote
the good things going on in the beleaguered
metropolis. “Made in Michigan” segments
celebrate local merchants doing interesting
things. The station throws its weight behind
an “Adopt a School” program, with staffers
mentoring students at Communications and
Media Arts High School. WJBK addresses
poverty with Operation Backpack and a thriving
food drive, and community health with
Healthy Heart Project. “We have the ability to
make a difference, and engage others to become
involved,” Murri says. “When you can
use the power of the medium to make the
community a better place, that’s nirvana.”

Being the son of an auto industry worker,
there’s no place Murri would rather be than
Motown. “It’s home,” he says. “I love the people,
the energy, the passion, the can-do attitude.
We’re fighters. We’ve been through hell
and back, and that gives you an extra layer
of skin—and one helluva sense of humor.”

E-mail
comments to
mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him
on Twitter:
@StationBiz

Jeff Murri

Title:

VP and general manager, WJBK Detroit

Education:

Oakland University, B.A. in Mass Communications, 1985

Employment Highlights:

WJBK Detroit, local account executive, 1984-1986

Storer Communications (Atlanta), national sales representative, 1987-1988

WCBS New York, account executive, 1989-1990

WJBK, national sales manager, 1991-1993; local sales manager, 1994-1996; VP/ general sales manager, 1997-2001; current position since October 2001

Personal:

Married to Heather; sons Luigi,17, and Dominic, 12

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