Abroadcaster to the core, Jack Sander is doing more in semi-retirement than many others do in full-time jobs. His advisory role at Belo Corp. involves everything from meeting with vital lawmakers in Washington to being a sounding board for senior management, and even stepping in as general manager when the situation calls for it. Belo's Phoenix duopoly KTVK/KASW was between GMs last year, so Sander—who lives in the area—ran the stations for 10 weeks.
He couldn't have picked a more tumultuous time. Phoenix had recently shifted to Nielsen's controversial Local People Meters, and the stations required substantial downsizing. “People were probably glad to see me leave,” he says. “But I felt it was important that the staff reduction was done by me—it would have been unfair for the new GM to come in and do it.”
While others' idea of semi-retirement probably includes more relaxation, Sander, 67, wouldn't have it any other way. The former vice chairman of Belo—considered by many the gold-standard company in local TV news—now holds the title of senior advisor. Sander recently served as NAB joint chairman, and is currently a member of its executive committee. He's also chairman of the board at music-rights organization BMI.
And now, to honor all these many roles, he's a B&C Hall of Fame inductee.
In this paradigm-shifting time, Sander's experience, perspective and upbeat nature are needed more than ever. “He's a tremendous asset,” says Belo President/CEO Dunia Shive. “I don't think anyone else has experience that's as deep or as broad as Jack's.”
Honest hard work has been a Sander staple for generations. Jack's mother took care of the kids while his father worked atop telephone poles for Cincinnati Bell before becoming a manager. Jack worked through college, hanging clothes at a men's shop and doing laundry at a community pool.
He also toiled at a public television station, doing a little of everything—traffic, producing, directing. “I got to learn a little about television, but more importantly, I got to see what television could do,” he says. “I really became enthralled by what impact it could have on people.”
Sander's first post-college job, paying $85 a week, was with WLWC Columbus in 1965. He held the archaic title of sales service director, working with the various departments to gather materials for local spots. He shifted to Cosmos Broadcasting's WTOL Toledo a short while later, moving up to general sales manager over the course of a dozen years.
After a two-year stint as station manager at WDSU New Orleans, Sander came back to WTOL as general manager. He learned a critical lesson after Ohio government officials announced they needed to build an office on the WTOL site, and the station had to move. Sander oversaw the building of a new facility from the ground up that took all of eight months. “It was a great learning experience,” he says. “It was very frustrating at the time, but we did it.”
Sander shifted to Phoenix in 1982, running Gulf Broadcasting's KTSP for three years before being promoted to Taft Broadcasting's TV president after Taft acquired the station. It was there that Sander got to know current Fox Networks Group Chairman and fellow 2009 inductee Tony Vinciquerra, who says no one had a better knack for running stations. “Jack's been a real resource to me to talk issues through because he is just one of the best station general managers ever,” Vinciquerra says. “He's taken stations from very bad to being very good.”
After Taft sold a number of its stations, Sander opted to get back to running a local TV outlet. Relocating to Atlanta to run WAGA, Sander was invigorated to be serving a lone community again. “I loved the fact that at a local station you had a report card every day,” Sander says. “You knew what the ratings were, you knew the quality of the newscasts you put on, you knew whether you were having an impact on the community.”
That lasted a decade, before Belo came calling. The station group had just doubled in size, and Sander was tapped to provide leadership. He was named executive VP of the TV Group in 1997 and president a year later, overseeing 19 stations, and added newspaper and interactive properties to his watch in 2001.
Belo managers credit Sander with bringing the business side up to the same level as news. He pushed to get maximum revenue out of Belo's local content, expanding sales forces and honing training programs. “Jack brought to Belo the same sense of excellence in sales as we had in news,” says KVUE Austin President/General Manager Patti C. Smith. “We knew the journalism was sound, but Jack got us to pay the same attention to sales.”
Belo's journalistic chops shine brightest at the darkest moments, such as during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, when WWL was the lone local station to stay on throughout the storm. Sander said folks from all over “Belo Nation” pitched in. “It was 'park your ego at the door,'” he says. “You had a photographer from New Orleans, a reporter from St. Louis, a news director from another city. It was a great moment in local broadcasting.”
Despite the lumps broadcasting has taken of late, Sander insists that savvy stations will still thrive. “The key is local—local TV, local radio, local newspapers serve a consumer and advertiser base that really can't quite be served in the same magnitude in any other way,” he says. “I am optimistic about local television.”
Now that he's got more time to unwind, Sander enjoys spending it with his family—a group that's notable for its lack of males. He and his wife, Jeanne, have three daughters on the West Coast, and seven grandkids, too—all of them girls.
“I am the king,” Sander says with a laugh. “I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.” —Michael Malone