Bill Shaw has experienced the good and the bad during his tenure in the ever-changing television industry. He saw what he viewed as the high-water mark of the business during his days in New York with national television-commercial firm Petry, and later with the Tribune Company, when he had a hand in the day-to-day operation of Chicago-based cable superstation WGN.
But when Tribune was sold, Shaw says it went from being one of the great broadcast groups to a place he didn't want to be, as the company became a victim of the new-media-conglomerate climate that plagued the operational functionality of numerous organizations.
"You start to look at the companies you want to work for, and quite frankly, the numbers have dwindled dramatically based on who owns and who runs these companies, so what I did was look at markets I wanted to work in. I got tired of the New York three-hour-a day-commute. I contacted (Evening Post Publishing Company's Cordillera television wing, which owns and operates KVOA Channel 4) and three other groups," Shaw said. "My youngest is in college, so I was free to take a chance on something different, so here I am."
Despite what might be construed as culture shock, Shaw has not dramatically changed the working environment at KVOA since he took the general manager reins after Gary Nielsen's retirement a few months ago.
"The station is well-run and very buttoned-up," Shaw said. "Gary Nielsen is a very well-organized, detail-oriented general manager, so when I got here, he had quite a few systems already in place. Not having to fix something broken was a plus."
Shortly after arriving, Shaw implemented what he calls a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.
"You capitalize on the strengths, and figure out how you fix the weaknesses," Shaw said. "I've done this a few times, and what happens is you get input from everybody, and there are a lot of very good suggestions that come out of that, and it allows people to take ownership of some of those suggestions, which I want. If I came in and said, 'You're going to do this; you're going to do that,' their position might be, 'Oh, brother, we've been doing great for so long, and then this guy comes into town and wants to change everything.' This allows people to become part of the solution, not part of the problem."
Overall, Shaw feels KVOA has endured a difficult patch reasonably well. The station was dealt something of a double-whammy: a crappy economy and an unenviable affiliation with NBC and its Jay Leno primetime experiment, which significantly eroded local TV-news viewership in many of the nation's major markets. Remarkably, KVOA was one of the few stations that actually saw better numbers during the Leno lead-in, so Shaw is hopeful that more competitive network programming can be a precursor to even better viewership results, which could help the station weather the economic storm.
On the sales side—Shaw's obvious area of expertise—he's pleased with what he calls KVOA's good reputation and strong standing in the business community.
"We can capitalize on getting some new money from the market based on what I know about the national side of business," said Shaw. "Every business is facing the same economic things. You can see people are kind of demoralized, but once you get through the really bad stuff, OK, this is what we're dealing with. This is a new paradigm, and we'll try to build off it. I do think there's growth potential."
The more visible difference in KVOA under Shaw will be community involvement. KVOA, like every other station in the market, has participated in its share of Tucson-driven activities and fundraising endeavors, but in terms of combining its news product with the marketing potential of event visibility, it took a backseat. This is an area of strength, for example, for CBS affiliate KOLD Channel 13, which makes a commitment to get its weather personalities in the field and on hand at community activities whenever possible. Shaw looks to significantly increase KVOA's personality and visibility in that capacity.
An initial step is through the station's "4 Tucson" marketing campaign, an effort to show how the news personalities are connected to the community.
"The 4 Tucson campaign brings recognition for the talent," Shaw said. "I talked to my creative-services director, and he said you can't believe the reaction we get when we're out there. We were on a commercial shoot with (news anchor) Martha (Vazquez), and we couldn't get it done. You couldn't go two seconds without someone waving to her. I do think there's a big opportunity there. I'm going to definitely emphasize something like that. ... (Weather personality) Jimmy Stewart, who is an icon here, he's as friendly and as personable as you can get. I'm not in sales prevention. I don't want to hide people. There's definitely going to be an emphasis there."
There will also be a continued emphasis on local-news coverage, Shaw said.
"I think the cardinal sin is to pull back on your news product. Then you're just another video entity. News helps you distinguish yourself. A lot of stations around the country started to pull back on the news product to save money when times were tough, but it's a short-term fix," Shaw said. "I think local stations are still dominant, and I think they're going to be around for a long, long time. They really dominate the local marketplace.
"Most people spend 90 percent of their time on 12 channel positions or less, even with cable. I think stations are strong. It's tougher than it ever was, but it's still good going forward."