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Local TV Legend Calls It a Career - Broadcasting & Cable

Local TV Legend Calls It a Career

One-of-a-kind news exec/GM Applegate made his mark in multiple major markets
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As winter finally breaks in Cleveland, a grizzled TV gunslinger walks off into the sunset. Bill Applegate, who has made a substantial name for himself both in news and management, retires from WOIO-WUAB Cleveland, and the industry loses another of its great characters.

“It’s my stop—it’s time to get off,” said Applegate, 68. “I’ve loved every second of every minute I’ve been in this business. But you wake up one day and realize you love it a little less.”

Friends in High Places

His Cleveland colleagues threw Applegate a rocking retirement party April 11, with many boldface names flying in or making sure they appeared on a video reel that included David Friend, CBS Television Stations executive VP of news; Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News; Lynda King, Tribune COO; Regis Philbin; and another TV personality named Oprah Winfrey, who teased Applegate for taking her off the news after giving Winfrey her first break. “Things worked out OK for me, and I’m glad things also worked out for you,” said Winfrey, before belting out a hearty “Have a great liiiiifffffe!”

It’s been a great one and then some. Applegate got his start on the air at WJBK Detroit in 1968 and went on to run news in San Francisco and New York, among many other markets. He was GM at WBBM Chicago, KCBS Los Angeles and other major market stations. Highlights include running the 170-person WABC New York newsroom (“a hoot,” he said) and turning around WOIO. “You could hide from the police in our 11 p.m. news 13 years ago,” Applegate said, noting that profitability and key demo ratings have doubled in that time.

Don Richards, regional VP at Raycom, is tasked with replacing his star GM. “He’s a tough act to follow,” said Richards. “You don’t try to replace Bill with Bill, or you’ll just be disappointed.”

‘Popular Press’ 0n-Air

Applegate established a trademark newscast over the years—bold, noisy and active, with plenty of point of view. He referred to the style as “popular press.” “I select stories based on level of interest,” he said, “not educational value or global importance.”

His three children have followed him into the business—daughter Elizabeth, for one, is a producer at KNBC Los Angeles—but Applegate hesitated when asked if he would make the same career choice today. He said network or cable news would probably be a smarter choice amidst all the consolidation and uncertainty in the station world. “You just don’t know what the future is,” he said.

His advice for current GMs is, simply, hustle every minute. “Don’t steer the ship as though you’re in calm water,” he said. “You’re not.”

Applegate’s end date is fluid until his successor is named. Upon relocating to Fort Myers, he plans to travel with his wife, Kathy, golf, take photos, write—and perhaps finish his college degree. How much schooling does he have to go? “Almost all of it!” said Applegate. “I’m functionally illiterate.”

After 46 years in the business, Applegate awaits his final day with mixed feelings. “Knowing that any day now, I’ll get up and not go into a television station is jarring, it’s unsettling,” he said. “But I’ll be OK.”

PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR’S RACE DEBATE GETS STATEWIDE CARRIAGE

A May 12 Democratic debate for governor is getting considerable interest in Pennsylvania. While stations often host their own debates—ABC’s WPVI Philadelphia and Hearst TV’s WGAL Lancaster are hosting the same four candidates in earlier debates—the “Final Faceoff,” as it is being called, is hosted by Drexel University and Democratic City Committee, underwritten by sponsors, and is available free of charge to stations.

Larry Kane, former Philly TV anchor, will moderate and executive produce the 7 p.m. showdown. Twenty one stations have signed up, representing all of the state’s DMAs. “This could be a model for the rest of the country,” he says.

Some will air the debate on tape delay or on a subchannel to avoid conflicts with scheduled programming. WCAU Philadelphia and WTAE Pittsburgh are among the many planning to air it live. “It’s obviously gotten a great response,” says Richard Wyckoff, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters.

As winter finally breaks in Cleveland, a grizzled TV gunslinger walks off into the sunset. Bill Applegate, who has made a substantial name for himself both in news and management, retires from WOIO-WUAB Cleveland, and the industry loses another of its great characters.

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