B+C Hall of Fame 2022: Emily Barr

Emily Barr
Emily Barr (Image credit: Graham Media Group)

The career hallmark of longtime Graham Media Group president and CEO Emily Barr, who just stepped back to serve as a consultant before she retires, is that she has kept her stations connected to their communities while encouraging journalism to thrive.

“She is truly motivated by the mission of broadcasting,” National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO Curtis LeGeyt said. “That’s always been larger than her role at her specific company. She knows the importance of having a medium that unites and serves as a real local nexus to which people can turn to find the resources they need.” 

That’s on the macro level. On the micro level, to a person everyone notes Barr’s warmth and authenticity. 

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“The first thing that strikes you if you spend time with Emily is that she’s a very good listener,” LeGeyt said. “Her role at NAB [as chair of the Television Board] was to find common ground on advocacy solutions. She’s someone who can do that because she’s willing to put herself in others’ shoes.” 

Catherine Badalamente just succeeded Barr as Graham’s president and CEO after working closely with her as Graham’s VP and chief innovation officer. 

“She’s everything that you see and more,” Badalamente said. “I always tell the story about how I worked closely with Alan Frank [Graham’s CEO before Barr] and he told me that I was going to love working with her. I read every article I could find on her and I went to the comments, because that’s where you get the real story, and every story about her was how she was real and genuine and hard-working. All of that turned out to be true.” 

She knows the importance of having a medium that unites and serves as a real local nexus to which people can turn to find the resources they need.”

— Curtis LeGeyt, president and CEO, NAB

After graduating from Carleton College in Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in film studies, Barr got a job as a news editor at KSTP St. Paul in 1980. 

She decided to get her master’s degree in business administration (MBA), starting first in Minneapolis and then transferring to George Washington University after she was hired as writer and producer at WJLA Washington, D.C. She transferred again to the University of St. Thomas in Houston when she was hired as promotion manager at KHOU, later moving up to creative services director.                   

MBA finally in hand after four years, she began to look around again, landing a job as director of broadcast operations at WMAR Baltimore working for then-general manager Arnie Kleiner. 

 She remained in Baltimore for six years, rising to assistant general manager. “I felt like Baltimore was the place where I really got involved in the community and started to understand the nuance of what it took to be a general manager,” Barr said.

Kleiner departed WMAR five years later to run KABC Los Angeles, and Barr started setting her sights on a GM position. WMAR’s owner, Scripps, thought that at 35 Barr was too young to run a TV station, but Kleiner tipped her off to a position at ABC’s WTVD in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Just after she got married in October 1994, she and her new husband, Scott M. Kane, a freelance videographer, moved to Raleigh where she ran the station for just under three years. 

Getting Rooted in Chicago

In 1997, at seven and a half months pregnant with her first child, Barr decamped again, this time for Chicago, where she lives to this day. She ran ABC’s WLS Chicago, well-known as Oprah Winfrey’s home station, for 15 years. 

“I was very happy working for ABC and Disney for all those years,” she said. “I really got connected in the city and the community. I knew everybody — I was connected to the mayor and knew the governor — and I was on a lot of nonprofit boards.”

In 2011, Frank was due to retire and was helping Graham find his replacement when Barr’s name came up. After discussing the move for a year, Barr finally agreed to leave WLS to run Graham Media’s seven TV stations, remaining in Chicago even though the company was headquartered in Detroit. 

“When you are running seven stations versus running one, you have a slightly wider viewer of the industry and of the issues concerning the industry,” she said. “I also had to learn how to deal with the people directly at corporate and on the board of directors. It adds a different layer of complexity to what you do.”

After that full career, her guiding principle hasn’t shifted. “The ability to hold important people accountable in your community and celebrate and uplift your community — that’s the key to being a great local broadcaster,” Barr said. ■

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for more than 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for The Global Entertainment Marketing Academy of Arts & Sciences (G.E.M.A.). She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997 - September 2002.