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Local TV Awards: WBRC’s Collin Gaston Keeps His People in Focus

Collin Gaston of WBRC Birmingham, Alabama
GM of the Year, Markets 26-50: Collin Gaston, WBRC Birmingham, Alabama (Image credit: Gray Television)

Twenty years ago, when Collin Gaston was in sales, he asked a general manager, “What do you spend your time on?” The answer she gave, that 85% of her energy was devoted to her employees, provided a glimpse of his future.

Gaston, general manager of WBRC, Gray Television’s Fox affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, for the last seven years, said: “That lesson has been codified for me time and time again: Focus your attention and resources on your people and they will have a fulfilling work life and your business will prosper.”

That concept took on a new, deeper meaning in 2020, with George Floyd’s murder as an inflection point. “I needed to make sure we did not just move through the news cycle,” Gaston said. “We had to stop and look at ourselves and ask, ‘How can we be better?’ ”

Having worked in Montgomery and Birmingham, Gaston had always been acutely aware of the civil rights movement and the way Blacks had suffered in this country, but it felt like something was happening out there so he set about changing things in-house. WBRC hired a diversity consultant and created a Diversity Council. A series of programs throughout 2020 and 2021 encouraged employees to examine difficult issues like unconscious bias. 

“Before 2020, that was an issue we didn’t talk about at all,” Gaston said, adding that he also wanted everyone’s voices to be heard and for other people to understand why Black employees might have a different opinion on an array of topics. Workshops and programs also dealt with dynamics between men and women and older and younger employees.  

“It’s no longer an acceptable excuse to say, ‘I didn’t know,’ ” Gaston said. “Creating dialogue on race is complicated and emotional, but this is some of the most important work we’ve been doing.” ■

Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.