Big-Time GMs Step Off Stage

Several prominent station execs will call it a career on Dec. 31
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As fading NFL star Brett Favre has realized, there’s something to be said for going out on top. And after the blockbuster revenue performance across local media in 2010, several prominent station general managers, including WCPO Cincinnati’s Bill Fee, KITV Honolulu’s Michael Rosenberg and WHIO Dayton’s Harry Delaney, are doing just that this month.

After living the high-stress life of running stations, all are curious how they will fare in idle mode. “It’s feast to famine, going from the hectic, manic, 24/7 lifestyle of a general manager,” says Fee, who does plan to work again, outside of TV. “I’ll have a lot of time on my hands—something a general manager does not have experience with.”

The end of a year always marks the end of a number of veteran general managers’ TV careers. But the rosy 2010—and challenging 2011—may have conspired to make the current batch even larger. Others stepping off the GM stage include KOAA Colorado Springs’ David Whitaker, WRTV Indianapolis’ Don Lundy, WTEN Albany’s Mike Sechrist and WJAC Johnstown (Pa.)’s Dick Schrott.

The execs leave a station world that’s vastly different from when they broke in—and different even from a few short years ago. “The days of three or four stations in a market with very little competition and double-digit revenue increases are long gone,” says Fee. “It’s a multiplatform media environment now.”

The short-timers agree that the upside for local media outlets is huge— even if they have smaller staffs carrying out greater responsibilities, and more competition. GMs must know how to manage the creation and distribution of content for the various digital screens at their viewers’ disposal— and how best to monetize it. Besides the on-air product and station Website, there are multicast channels and niche Websites, and full-blown mobile DTV is just around the corner.

“We deliver information and entertainment on a number of platforms,” says Rosenberg. “We’re not just broadcasters anymore.”

Yet despite the myriad choices vying for viewers’ short attention spans—all representing competition for local TV—the retiring GMs say the community’s connection to compelling, journalistically sound local product is as robust as ever. “Local news is still king—people have a huge appetite for it,” says Delaney. “There’s still great value in it, which puts television in a great position.”

With a combined 112 years in television, Fee, Rosenberg and Delaney all intend to at least dabble in the work world. But the hard labor that defi ned the past few decades for them may no longer be required. They’ll serve on community boards, hit the gym, drive their partners crazy, buy a racehorse (Delaney), cruise the Amazon (Rosenberg) and take piano lessons (Fee). After the nomadic existence of a station GM, all plan to continue living in their local markets. “I’m proud of our product,” says Rosenberg. “I can look my neighbors in the eye and tell them I worked at an ethical station.”

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

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