A number of well-traveled and equally well-respected local television executives are planning their final days in the station world, and reflecting on the astonishing changes during their time in the business. Arnold Kleiner, longtime KABC Los Angeles president and general manager, retires at the end of January, and has plenty of wisdom to pass along to the next generation. “Always do the right thing,” he says. And while KABC is one of the winningest stations in the nation, Kleiner says it’s not win at all costs. “If it’s not honest, and ethical, and legal,” he says, “it’s not worth it.”
Kleiner wraps up 19 years atop KABC. Other GMs who had set retirements for the end of 2014 include Don Carmichael of WBAY Green Bay, Dan Bradley of WCMH Columbus, Carol Rueppel of KMSP-WFTC Minneapolis and Dan Modisett of Mississippi’s WLBT Jackson. Leon Long, Raycom group VP, wraps up 46 years in the game at the end of January, the same time WBRC Birmingham GM Lou Kirchen steps offstage. Down the road, Michael Jack, WNBC New York president and general manager, retires June 6—both D-Day and his birthday.
With a few weeks of retirement under his belt, Modisett, 64, offers some perspective. “Getting used to being unplugged is the biggest adjustment,” he says, citing the hundreds of daily emails, countless conference calls and relentless pressure to improve revenue and ratings.
More Platforms, More Stress
Nearly all the departing executives mention the dramatically shifting nature of the local television business, with competition from a vast range of media sources, and the challenge of contending in the hectic social media sphere. “The world is changing quickly. There are a lot of [distribution] alternatives,” Jack says, mentioning mobile and taxicab screens, among others, “and you have to stay in front of them all.”
All of the executives entered the business when it was a handful of TV and radio stations and a newspaper or two in a given market, and no one spoke of retrans or digital. But several say television remains a vital— perhaps the vital—medium. Long, 66, says new challenges mean new opportunities. “It’s a stimulating and exhilarating business,” he says. “Cinch up your seat belt because the rate of change is faster than it’s ever been.”
Despite his success, Kleiner, 71, is reluctant to take much credit. But he does say the team-first culture that’s been vital to KABC’s reign is, in large part, his handiwork. “There are no turf battles,” Kleiner says. “Everyone knows we all win or we all lose. I think that comes from me.”
The retiring executives will sleep in, travel, consult and serve on boards. Kleiner, a New Yorker by birth, will remain in Los Angeles and ramp up his charity work and motorcycle riding. Rebecca Campbell, ABC Owned Television Stations president, says he’s where he belongs. “Arnie is a rock star and a legend here,” she says. “He will be remembered by how passionately he cared about his employees, the community, our viewers and the terrific relationships he has with everyone at Disney/ABC.”
OH, THE PLACES THEY’LL GO!
For some TV execs winding down their careers, the free time means more time to hang around the house or the golf course. Others are eager to hit the road. Leon Long, Raycom group VP, will travel with his wife, but home is Biloxi, Miss.—where he broke into the radio business 46 years ago. Arnold Kleiner, KABC president and general manager, will ski in Vail for a month to give his successor a chance to grow into the position before he returns to L.A. “I’ll always watch the station, and the urge to call up is more than I can handle,” he says.
Michael Jack, WNBC president and general manager, will find a new country to live in with his wife, and the plan calls to change countries every year or so. Their (not so) short list includes Ecuador, Panama and New Zealand. “I’m an army brat, and my wife happens to have some of that same vagabond in her too,” Jack says.