On a WISH and a Commitment to Localism

Les Vann jumps at chance to reimagine Indianapolis station in post-CBS era
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Les Vann did not hesitate to take the reins of WISH-TV in Indianapolis mere weeks after the bombshell news that WISH was about to end its 64-year affiliation with CBS.

“Having the chance to come to a great city with a heritage station and increase our commitment to localism, making it the backbone of our entire operation, was too good of an opportunity for me to pass up,” Vann says.

Vann’s first priority was convincing skeptical staffers that the station would retain its relevance in the Indianapolis market, and he did that in part by increasing local news by 42% to 64.5 hours a week.

“It was an obvious choice. We didn’t have a lot of time; we only had four months,” Vann says. “The question was how to structure it; how to put it together; how to market it; and how to present it to everybody. We spent a lot of time last fall getting ready to do that.”

Vann set about regaining the promotional voice the station lost post-CBS by revamping the sales management team and marketing staff and by increasing the external marketing budget. He hired about 20 new people, including eight new on-air staff.

In December 2014, Media General’s acquisition of WISH along with the LIN station group closed and soon after Media General made a deal for WISH to become The CW affiliate, effectively swapping affiliations with Tribune Broadcasting’s WTTV, which nabbed the CBS affiliation. With CW programming in primetime and local news expansion underway, the next step was local sports.

WISH added 57 Chicago Cubs and White Sox baseball games, 19 Chicago Blackhawks games, Indiana Fever WNBA games, ACC football and basketball, Butler University games and horse racing, among others.

The local bent extends to its community engagement initiatives. “We’ve done three different days where we’ve tackled a single issue in all of our newscasts. We’ve done crime, we did family safety, and in November we did veterans,” Vann says. “At 6:30, where we would have had a network newscast, we do a half-hour town hall.”

Vann says the opportunity to build on localism that brought him to the station will remain the focus. “Syndicated programming is hit or miss, and we can control our own content—how we produce it, how we market it,” he says. “I feel like we control more of our destiny with the localism and the local news presence that we have created.”

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