Even among today's mega-media companies, Belo stands out: The broadcast group's 17 television stations (it also manages three LMAs) are often leaders in the marketplace. Industry insiders credit Jack Sander, executive vice president, media operations, and president of Belo's TV Group, with helping the company maintain that competitive edge.
Sander also takes an active role in broadcasting industry affairs. Last week, he testified at a House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee hearing on campaign-finance reform (see page 24). He is current chairman of the NBC affiliate board of governors and was a TVB chairman in the early '90s.
Belo, like other midsize to large TV groups, is a member of the National Affiliated Station Alliance (NASA), a coalition formed to help restore the balance of power between the affiliates and the networks. It's an important coalition, says Sander, who believes that, right now, stations need a strong and separate voice from the networks.
"We want our network partners to be successful, profitable and healthy, as we want the same for ourselves,'' he says. However, he also believes that some issues need to be resolved so that "we can all get on with our business."
A seasoned broadcaster, Sander's career spans more than 35 years. He entered the business during his college days at the University of Cincinnati, working at educational station WCET(TV) Cincinnati during his junior and senior years.
In 1965, after a brief stint in graduate school (he ran out of funds), Sander joined WLWC-TV Columbus, Ohio, as a sales service director. A year later, he was an account executive at WTOL-TV Toledo, Ohio. By 1978, he was assistant general manager and general sales manager at the Toledo station. He subsequently moved to then co-owned WDSU-TV New Orleans.
Returning to Toledo in 1980 to run WTOL-TV, he oversaw construction of a new facility for the station. "We started from scratch, built it and moved into it within eight months," he recalls. "It was a very challenging and extraordinary feat."
Two years later, he joined KTSP-TV Phoenix as president and general manager, staying until 1985, when Taft Broadcasting bought the station and picked Sander to head its television division. He ran the 12-station group until 1988, when Taft sold its TV interests.
Sander then joined WAGA-TV Atlanta as president and general manager. During his nine-year tenure there, the station's ownership shifted from Gillette Communications to New World, and WAGA-TV switched its affiliation from CBS to Fox. "I always say, I was there nine years but ran two different television stations.''
He joined Belo at a crucial time. In 1997, the company was in the midst of a major merger with the Providence Journal Co., and he arrived to help manage the transition. Once a small group with only seven stations, Belo emerged as a far more significant force in the television business. As a result of the merger, its TV holdings grew from seven to 16 stations (plus two LMAs). A cable news channel was also part of the deal; Belo already had an interest in two other cable news channels.
Today, Belo is No. 11 among the nation's Top 25 TV groups, according to BROADCASTING & CABLE's latest compilation. Sander heads the TV group.
Belo also owns Northwest Cable News and Texas Cable News and is a partner in four other channels. Since January, Sander, as exec VP of media operations, has overseen the Dallas Morning News, the Providence Journal and the Riverside, Calif., Press Enterprise.
As for the future, Sander thinks Belo must be prepared to stay focused on "who we are and what we do best. We can still communicate information better than other media."