When the terrorists struck Boston on Patriots’ Day, it was more than just a massive breaking news story for Bill Fine. After all, he was born in the market, has lived there a halfdozen times and has no plans to leave.
The attack was personal. “Everybody knew somebody who was running the Boston Marathon,” Fine says. “It was not six degrees of separation—it was one or two.”
Fine sparked WCVB into coverage mode. Up against stiff competition, including a pair of network owned stations, Hearst Television’s WCVB held the ratings lead from when the news broke and never let go, doing some 78 hours of coverage that week. The station’s reporters, with their deep knowledge of the quirky market, showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time, breaking into network news when one heard gunshots during the April 19 manhunt. Taking cues from their unflappable boss, the WCVB anchors’ tone was the right mix of informative and measured throughout.
Fine kept staffers focused. He shared key community sources with his news team. He helped sales work out the tangle of new schedules for displaced advertisers. He answered the phones. “My role was to make sure every department sees that they have a role in something like this,” says Fine. “When disaster strikes, we put all of our resources against it.”
He credits all Boston stations for nobly serving the market. “It reaffirms the power of broadcast and the need to keep localism alive,” he says.
But to be a Hearst TV general manager is to be much more than that. The company way is to give back through industry leadership positions, and Fine was elected chairman of the trade association TVB in January. He led an initiative to promote live-plus-same-day ratings and emerged as an invaluable sounding board to president/ CEO Steve Lanzano. “Bill runs a station—he’s on the ground every day,” Lanzano says. “That’s very helpful in defining what our strategy is.”
Fine also serves on the ABC affiliates board; the innovative inventory swap between network and affiliates around peak ad times was the brainchild of Fine and ex-board chair Dave Boylan.
A former sports anchor, Fine is conversant in all aspects of local TV. He encouraged producers to contemporize WCVB’s iconic access program, Chronicle, bringing in a younger audience. He was the face of WCVB’s suit against Aereo. When the Boston Strong benefit concert had no TV partner due to lack of sponsorship, Fine stepped up and put the four-hour show on in primetime.
All the while, he is a confidant to his Hearst TV GM colleagues. “I can personally attest to Bill’s mentorship and coaching of broadcast management throughout our company and industry,” says Jordan Wertlieb, Hearst TV president. “Having worked for Bill, I have been a direct beneficiary of his tutelage and encouragement, as have so many others in our business.”
The Whitey Bulger trial. The blizzard that dropped a few feet of snow. The Red Sox’ championships. WCVB covered them all with style and savvy, and kept its long sweeps streaks intact. The ABC affiliate last month took “Station of the Year” honors from the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association. Like their GM, the WCVB talent is largely homegrown. “Viewers know that our people know Boston,” Fine says.
Friends call him “Boomerang Bill” for the way he keeps moving back to Boston. Fine is delighted to be just the fourth general manager in WCVB history. “It is an honor that comes with a strong challenge and obligation,” he says, “that is never lost on me.”