There were plenty of fun angles to choose from when profiling Eric Land, new general manager at Gannett’s duopoly in Jacksonville: his passion for piloting airplanes, the way a key mentor kept popping up in his life, and his career, his (very) early exposure to the world of local TV, and certainly his stint as COO of the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Tim Busch, co-COO at Nexstar, was Land’s GSM in Buffalo years ago. Busch mentioned hopping a plane with Land at the controls, en route to a sales call in Pittsburgh. The weather was miserable, the wings were covered with ice, the engine sputtered, and the flight was an absolute white-knuckle nightmare, says Busch.
Even the usually stoic Land, Busch says, was anxious.
Yet he brought the plane down safely and, playing on his passengers’ agitated state, turned around and said, “Did y’all like that?”
(When your name is “Land,” it seems as though a lifetime spent flying, and successfully landing, planes is something of a given.)
Land learned the biz from his father, who was general manager at WHIZ Zanesville for decades. And the mentor that kept popping up in Land’s life, at key times, is Jim Saunders. Saunders was a grad student at Ohio U. when he contacted Land, then a high school senior, to tell him he’d won a scholarship to OU.
Saunders ended up departing school, grad degree in hand, before Land arrived in the fall. Yet the two reconnected, or simply connected, when Saunders reached out to him 12 years later to offer him a sales job at WAVY in Norfolk. Land ended up following Saunders to several new markets and positions.
One such position was general manager at what was then called WBMG Mobile Birmingham (AL), which is now WIAT. News ratings were so bad, says Land, that even the anchors’ parents were not watching.
Land initially expressed disinterest to Saunders, but Saunders persisted with a line both recall 15 years later.
“I said, it’s one of the worst stations in the country,” says Land.
“Well,” replied Saunders, “you can’t fall off the floor.”
Saunders was pleased to see his protege re-enter the broadcast business a few months ago. “Eric has got extraordinary ethical commitment,” he says, “and at the same time is a very creative problem solver and a good people manager. I have great respect for him.”