Every station in America plays up its hyper-local attributes. But only a handful of big-city general managers can make a stronger claim to community roots than WFSB/WSHM Hartford VP/General Manager Klarn DePalma.
He has spent all of his 37 years in Connecticut: He was born in West Haven, later moved to North Haven, attended the University of Connecticut, and got his M.B.A. at Rensselaer Polytechnic's Hartford campus. DePalma was two weeks out of college when he took an entry-level sales position at Meredith's WFSB in 1993.
A little less than three years ago, he took charge of WFSB and sister WSHM (both are CBS affiliates), the latter covering Western Massachusetts. DePalma says local cred is infinitely important in the No. 28 Nielsen DMA, which is situated between New York and Boston and varies from the big commerce of Hartford to the New York suburbs of Fairfield County to the Indian casinos in the southeastern part of the state.
"A lot of people have been born and raised here, and it's much easier to talk to them when you speak the language," he says. "When you've been here your whole life, you know where the skeletons are."
WFSB continued its domination in the May sweeps, with a No. 1 finish in households in all newscasts—a position DePalma says the station has held for much of the past decade. He's tapping more local programming to seal WFSB's place in Hartford-New Haven viewers' hearts.
In September, the station launched Better Connecticut, which DePalma calls "a real local lifestyle show," that airs daily at 10 a.m. and often beats Rachael Ray and Today.
Next fall, WFSB launches a joint venture with Connecticut Public Television—a high school sports-themed digital channel.
"We're trying to super-serve the local audience," he says. "You can't control what's on Oprah or the network, but you can control your local content."
Meredith Broadcasting president Paul Karpowicz sees a bright future for his young GM. "Klarn is very energetic, as befits his age, and has a great passion for the stations and the employees," Karpowicz says.
"His instincts are very good—99.9% of the time, he's right on target." —Michael Malone