Fifth Estater

High-Flying Gannett Exec Lands on His Feet

Jacksonville GM back in local TV after ventures into NFL, aviation 10/01/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Eric Land

Title:

President and GM, WTLV-WJXX Jacksonville

Education:

Ohio University, B.S., 1973

Employment Highlights:

WCPO Cincinnati, reporter/ producer, 1973; local sales rep, 1974-76

WEWS Cleveland, local and regional sales rep, 1976-79

TeleRep, station representative, 1979-81

WAVY Norfolk, local sales manager, general sales manager, 1981-84

WISH Indianapolis, general sales manager, 1984-87

KTSP Phoenix, general sales manager, 1987-89

WEYI Flint, vice president, GM, 1989-95

WGRZ Buffalo, president/GM, 1995-97

WIAT Birmingham, president/ GM, 1997-2001

WFLA Tampa, president/GM, 2001-05

Media General, VP of broadcast, 2002-03

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, COO, 2006-07 (consultant through ‘10)

Aztec Air Aviation, COO, 2007-09

Walkabout Air Aviation, president/CEO, 2009-12

Current title since August

Personal:

born April 3, 1951; wife, Cindy; sons Garrett, 35, Jordan, 34

While other 13-year-olds in Zanesville, Ohio, spent their summers
playing ball or swimming, Eric Land was working at the local
TV station. His father, Allan, was the general manager, and
Eric made 50 cents an hour sweeping WHIZ’s floors and wiping
down the weatherboard.

This unique vantage point enabled Land to
see up-close how on-air talent—his dad had
been a news anchor—could make the jump
to station management, a vital life lesson for
the youngster. “My dad had never sold a spot,
never managed people,” says Land. “But they
saw talent in him and gave him the [GM] job,
and were never in the red again.”

The younger Land also took to running TV
stations, following a detour that involved Csuite
posts with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers
and in the aviation industry.

In August, Land was named general manager
of Gannett Broadcasting’s WTLV-WJXX Jacksonville,
and the longtime pilot is pumped to
get the NBC-ABC duo flying high.

“I think [the stations have] tremendous upside,
not only in the traditional elements of
our business, but with the vast investments
Gannett has made in digital and social media,”
he says. “The company is really poised to be a
leader in what we evolve this industry to be. I find that very exciting.”

Television industry brats are not uncommon,
but Land is one of the few who can (and
does) call his dad a “television pioneer.” After
World War II, Allan was a radio announcer in
Lewistown, Pa.—commuting from Brooklyn,
four hours away, as he did not earn enough to
move his wife, June, to Pennsylvania.

That is, until a radio station general manager
driving through Lewistown heard Allan’s voice
and offered him $20 a week more to come to
Zanesville. When the company built a television
station, Allan ended up anchoring, then
running the operation until he retired at age 81.

Eric earned a scholarship for his radio announcing
prowess to Ohio University, being
contacted with the good news by a grad student
named Jim Saunders, who had left the
university for a television job before Land arrived
in the fall of 1969. Land anchored at the
Ohio U. TV station—a position later filled by
an ambitious undergrad named Matt Lauer.
“He had real talent,” says Land. “I didn’t.”

Land parlayed an internship at WCPO
Cincinnati into a reporter job. Six months in,
he was called into WCPO general manager
Bob Gordon’s office. Gordon saw a future GM
in the 22-year-old. “He said, ‘You have to understand—
17 people are waiting for [legendary
WCPO anchor] Al Schottelkotte to step
in front of a bus,’” recalls Land, who jumped
to sales.

Stints at WEWS Cleveland and rep firms followed,
before that same Jim Saunders called—12
years after they almost met at Ohio U.—about a
local sales manager job at WAVY Norfolk.

Land’s first GM jobs, meanwhile, were at
WEYI Flint (Mich.) and then WGRZ Buffalo.
Colleagues from Buffalo remember newscasts
that had been “unwatchable” prior to Land’s arrival,
and a live truck that had to be towed to the
Bills’ NFL games due to a blown engine. While
rebuilding moribund relationships with NBC,
syndicators and viewers, Land’s steady leadership
helped turn WGRZ into a winning station.

Tim Busch, Nexstar executive VP/co-COO
and Land’s general sales manager at WGRZ,
recalls a creative problem-solver. “He was sentimentally
tied to the business,” says Busch.
“To have the station fail on his watch was just
not gonna happen.”

Following WGRZ came another turnaround.
WBMG Birmingham’s local news was so bad,
says Land, that the anchors’ parents didn’t even
watch. He shut down the news operation for 35
days and ran a countdown slide on-screen in
the newscasts’ place. Then, with Birmingham’s
community leaders assembled in the parking
lot, he pushed a plunger, blowing up the
WBMG logo. When the smoke cleared, the new
WIAT (“It’s About Time”) logo was revealed.

WIAT’s current management credits Land
with energizing the staff and getting the CBS
affiliate moving in the right direction.

Land’s career detoured after running WFLA
Tampa, when the Glazer family, owners of the
Buccaneers who knew him from negotiating
TV rights, asked him to be COO. “I told them,
‘You don’t understand—I don’t know anything
about football,’” he recalls. “They said, ‘That’s
exactly why we want you.’”

The Glazers wanted a savvy business type
to sell tickets, sponsorships and hot dogs.
With a copy of Football for Dummies in his
briefcase, Land put in two seasons, then three
more years as a consultant. “I enjoyed every
minute of it,” he says. “The Glazer family is
extremely generous.”

Next up on Land’s wild ride were stints as
COO, then president/CEO, at a pair of aviation
companies. He knew more about airplanes
than he did football, having tagged along in his
father’s company plane as a boy. “Eric is a very
good pilot,” says Busch, “even though he’s got
a little bit of cowboy in him.”

Land’s diverse background was a plus in
his recent hiring, says Lynn Beall, executive
VP at Gannett Broadcasting. “Eric brings such
rich experience and leadership from so many
different business scenarios,” Beall says. “He’s
an innovator and focused leader who has the
know-how to build strong local brands.”

Land spends his downtime flying his Cessna
402. He and his wife of 39 years, Cindy,
are expecting their first grandchild. He also
enjoys golf, though his handicap has edged
upward with his return to station management.
“My game was OK in the airplane business,
but now that I’m back in television, it
may suffer for a while,” Land says. “We have a
lot of work to do, but I’m really excited about
where we are.”

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

Eric Land

Title:

President and GM, WTLV-WJXX Jacksonville

Education:

Ohio University, B.S., 1973

Employment Highlights:

WCPO Cincinnati, reporter/ producer, 1973; local sales rep, 1974-76

WEWS Cleveland, local and regional sales rep, 1976-79

TeleRep, station representative, 1979-81

WAVY Norfolk, local sales manager, general sales manager, 1981-84

WISH Indianapolis, general sales manager, 1984-87

KTSP Phoenix, general sales manager, 1987-89

WEYI Flint, vice president, GM, 1989-95

WGRZ Buffalo, president/GM, 1995-97

WIAT Birmingham, president/ GM, 1997-2001

WFLA Tampa, president/GM, 2001-05

Media General, VP of broadcast, 2002-03

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, COO, 2006-07 (consultant through ‘10)

Aztec Air Aviation, COO, 2007-09

Walkabout Air Aviation, president/CEO, 2009-12

Current title since August

Personal:

born April 3, 1951; wife, Cindy; sons Garrett, 35, Jordan, 34

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