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Why I'll Miss Jeff Murri

The broadcast community is mourning the death of Jeff Murri, and so am I.

The WJBK Detroit general manager was 50. No cause of death has been reported.

B&C named Jeff our General Manager of the Year in December, for his tireless dedication to the Fox owned station, and to the Detroit community. As I’d said in his profile at the time, Detroit station chiefs are “fully immersed champions for the struggling market–extensions of the Chamber of Commerce, benefactors of the region’s considerable downtrodden public and advocates for a city besmirched by corruption”–and Jeff Murri was every bit of that.

I’d gotten to know him fairly well through writing that GM of the Year story about him in December, and doing another profile about him in May of 2011. I probably wrote more about Jeff Murri last year than any GM in America.

Jeff entered my thoughts yesterday, before I heard the awful news from Detroit. I was writing about how the Detroit viewing market is gripped by the murder of Jane Bashara, from suburban Grosse Pointe. I looked on Google Maps to see how far Grosse Point is from Detroit proper, and I saw Shelby Township on the map–and remembered Jeff saying he was from there.

I meant to give him a ring yesterday, and get his take on the Bashara murder. I never got a chance.

I interview hundreds of station general managers each year, and ask every one what’s new and different at their station, and in their market. Some don’t come to the table with much; I hear “pretty much the status quo” more than I’d like. Jeff, on the other hand, would get on the phone with a dozen or so bullet points about what was going on at WJBK–community outreach, digital initiatives, yet another expansion of WJBK’s news. (Does any station do more local news than WJBK’s 63 1/2 hours a week?) He’d go through each one with ebullience, telling me about his reporters teaching a media class to inner city kids, his station adopting a needy family, and constantly spotlighting successful efforts to improve the market through segments like “Made in Michigan” and “Redefining Detroit.”

I used to joke with Jeff that speaking with him was the equivalent of downing a big cup of Starbucks–you simply couldn’t interact with Jeff Murri without his energy and his enthusiasm rubbing off on you.

When we’d speak, Jeff would repeatedly apologize for giving me too much information, for his unyielding exuberance, for making our phone calls one sided. But I loved it. I loved his passion for the business and for his community, which served as a reminder for me to stay passionate about my business.

I love the story Jack Abernethy, Jeff’s boss, told me about Jeff painting a new office the day before a Detroit LNS partnership was to move in. That’s what Jeff did, Abernethy said–he rolled up his sleeves and got to work, in all aspects of the TV station.

For Jeff Murri, working in Detroit, and being in a position to make Detroit better, was a dream come true.

“It’s home,” Jeff told me last spring. “I love the people, the energy, the passion, the can-do attitude. We’re fighters. We’ve been through hell and back, and that gives you an extra layer of skin–and one helluva sense of humor.”

Warm thoughts to Jeff’s wife, his kids, his co-workers.