Alan Frank Signs Off

Alan Frank, president and CEO of Post-Newsweek and one of the most influential figures in local broadcasting, wraps up a standout career in television at the end of the year. Since taking over the station group in 2000, following a colorful run turning WDIV Detroit into a leader, Frank fashioned Post-Newsweek into a collection of top-flight news outfits and fierce allies for the communities in which they are licensed. He was also a vital voice for local broadcasters in Washington, D.C., and for affiliates in the network meetings on the coasts as well.

“I’ll cherish his friendship, and the NAB family will never forget his years of distinguished service on the board of directors and his advocacy on behalf of broadcasters across America,” says Gordon Smith, National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO.

This distinguished service got the 68-year-old Frank inducted into the B&C Hall of Fame this year. The universally respected TV executive, who has been training Emily Barr to run the Post-Newsweek group, spoke with B&C deputy editor Michael Malone about his time in broadcasting, and his time after broadcasting.

How has the role of local TV changed since you broke in?

There was a moat around local television in those days, depending on the company you were with. I was with Group W and then Post-Newsweek, and we did a tremendous amount of local production, and it wasn’t news. It wasn’t until the mid-’70s that news really became an entity in and of itself. News used to report to the programming department; now there is no programming department. It wasn’t live, because we didn’t have mini-cams. It was a different day and time. The energies of the local station were a daily talk show—some stations had more than one—music shows, comedy shows, traffic court, quiz shows, Bowling for Dollars, travel shows, children’s shows. A lot of your identity came from your local production—the local things certainly helped establish a brand much more than news did.

There didn’t used to be a [local] morning news—it started with the Today show at 7. Then you did a halfhour at 6:30 in the morning, then you expanded to 6, then you expanded to 5:30, and 5, and now it’s 4:30 or 4 [a.m.]. It was just a different time. You weren’t on 24 hours a day. You’d play “The Star Spangled Banner,” have footage of jets streaming, and the station went off the air.

With all the changes, is a good TV station a larger or smaller part of people’s lives now?

There was a point, I would say, in the ’80s and ’90s, when local broadcast television was really the choice. All the other choices weren’t there. Starting in the mid-’90s, the other cable channels, then satellite channels, started catching on. In some ways it mirrors retailing. It used to be every town had its neighborhood with local shops. You go to many cities in this country now and you can’t tell where you are. You walk up and down the shopping areas, and it’s all the same retailers. Having news now distinguishes a local station, though in most markets, only two or three are really distinguished.

What’s your biggest regret as you step down?

That I never worked directly for Broadcasting & Cable. [Laughs] I don’t have big regrets. There were many different paths I could’ve taken, but you choose your path, and I’m happy with mine. I don’t have regrets about it.

What does retirement hold—travel, relaxation, that sort of thing?

All those things. A number of people have told me they’re surprised that I’m [retiring] because I didn’t seem to slow down. I know myself and I’m a guy who’s all-in—it’s just the way I do things. I decided when the Army was happening for all of us in the ’60s—I could’ve gone to the Reserves, but I went in full-time. I wanted to get it over with—I wanted to have it happen. So I don’t want to do something parttime. I’ve been very involved up until the end, then I intend to be very not involved.

Will you take on some business ventures?

I have a number of ideas and I’m not sure whether I’ll do any of them. A number of people have talked to me, and there are some interesting things. I just want to take six months and do nothing and see what happens.

After that, do you think you’ll run a station or two?

No. I would do something totally different if I did something.

How will Post-Newsweek be different with Emily Barr in charge?

Everyone has their own style. I followed Bill Ryan, who was an astoundingly great CEO. I did it somewhat differently from him, and I’m sure Emily will do it differently than me. My assumption is that the values will stay the same, because I know Emily rather well. After that it depends on the circumstances and where the industry goes and other things, but I think it will be the same values for the stations.

What’s your proudest moment, professionally?

[Pauses] I don’t know. I’m proud of the success our station group has had. I’m very proud of WJXT [Jacksonville] and the success they’ve had as an independent. It’s a very unique station in the country. [WJXT split with CBS in 2002.] I’m proud of WDIV, a station I had a lot to do with building and determining its character and culture and putting together the team and overseeing that team to re! ect the Detroit market. I’m very proud of the other stations and what we’ve done there, and the stations we acquired in the mid-’90s. [KSAT] San Antonio is a big No. 1, and our station in Houston [KPRC], the last two years, has become very close to No. 1. They’re very successful, and I feel very good about that. There’s been a lot of success.

Will you miss hearing and using terms like “retrans” and “FCC” and “spectrum”?

You left out root canal. [Laughs] You know what, a lot of people complain about Washington, but I don’t. It is what it is. I spent a lot of time on the Hill and with the FCC, chatting with the great folks of the NAB— Gordon Smith and the spectacular team he has put together. It’s part of what we do, and if we don’t do it, shame on us. You have to be involved, and so I don’t mind it at all…I didn’t mind it.

You’ve got to start talking in the past tense.

Yeah. There you go.

You’ve made a lot of friends over the years in the business.

I really did—a lot of people I really like, that I hope I’ll stay close with…that I know I’ll stay close with. Some of them retired years ago, and we’re still close— and I intend to do that. I was, for a minute and a half, in national syndication, and enjoyed it a lot. But I loved local broadcast—it was a place where you could really make a difference. Local stations—our local stations— made a difference. We made a difference in the community with the quality of our news, the quality of our commitment, the quality of what we did in the community, the contributions we made. It was very fulfilling, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I feel lucky about it. Actually—I feel real lucky. I wandered into television and I feel lucky that I was able to carve a career out of it. One of the things I say when I talk to college students is, if you don’t have a passion for the business, get out of it, because there are people lined up who would love to be in it. If you really do have a passion for it, it’s a great place to be.

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Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.