Gannett-Belo: Jack Is Back

Former Belo group chief Sander and ex-Fisher boss Ben Tucker to expand their local TV roles when the megadeal closes

RELATED: Gannett Acquiring Belo for $2.2 Billion
Gannett/Belo: Station Consolidation Nation

While the proposed Belo-to-Gannett deal has numerous juicy aspects to it, including the price tag, another compelling angle is the big-name broadcast veterans it will put back in the spotlight.

Jack Sander, former Belo group chief, and Ben Tucker, former chief at the Fisher group, were tapped by Gannett for new roles. And if their track records are any indication, it won’t be as figureheads.

When the deal is signed off on by the FCC, Sander Media will hold the licenses to six current Belo stations in five overlapping markets, while Tucker Media Management and Consulting will own one. Gannett will provide services to the stations.

Sander, 71, stepped down as Belo vice chairman at the end of 2006 and has been enjoying family time while working with Phoenix production outfit MagicDust Television. “I’ll be fully engaged,” vows Sander of his new role.

Respected Voices

Gannett gets a pair of executives who command considerable respect on Capitol Hill, which should facilitate regulatory matters. Sander and Tucker are also well-known quantities to Dave Lougee, Gannett Broadcasting president. Sander hired Lougee to run KING Seattle in 1998, and Tucker was running the Fisher group in Seattle at the time.

“Jack and I brought a trust factor to the table,” says Tucker, “and Dave was able to move forward [with the acquisition].” Lougee did not respond to a request for comment.

Sander is a former National Association of Broadcasters joint board chairman and a member of B&C’s Hall of Fame. He calls himself “a small, insignificant part” of the megadeal, but those who know him insist he’ll be hands-on. “Jack is a great broadcaster, and I can’t believe he’s just going to sit on the sidelines,” says a group chief who asked not to be named. “Whether it’s the NAB or BMI [Sander is a board member of Broadcast Music Inc.], Jack really goes in there.”

Sander’s station markets are Phoenix, St. Louis, Louisville, Portland (Ore.) and Tucson. “They’re familiar markets and familiar stations,” he says. Sander agrees he will be active, but says he knows enough about local television to know when to leave them alone. “A good general manager knows what the needs are in that community better than someone at headquarters,” he says.

Fully Licensed

While Sander is pegged to own KMSB Tucson, Tucker will own the license to KTTU, the MyNetworkTV station in Tucson. Tucker has played a similar role at WGTU Traverse City (Mich.), which Barrington has serviced. (Sinclair has agreed to acquire the Barrington group.)

Tucker, 66, says he will help KTTU with sales and social media strategy as well as programming decisions, but starting up local news is unlikely. “I’ll make sure our strategy is serving the local community and that we are aggressive in the market,” Tucker says.

Gannett’s $2.2 billion deal dominated local TV discussions until news broke July 1 of Tribune acquiring Local TV for $2.7 billion.

Sander believes the Gannett-Belo deal is a win for local broadcasting. “I’m thrilled for both companies,” he says. “I’m optimistic they’ll be able to sustain the good local news and community service they’re known for.”

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