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Alan W. Frank

The word ‘maverick’ got a bit worn out in the last presidential
election, but the concept of a fiercely independent individual
who does not go along with the pack remains the ideal
description for Alan Frank. The longtime Post-Newsweek chief,
who wraps up a storied career in local television at the end of
the year, has always defied the conventional approach—whether it was giving up a
prime network affiliation to succeed as an independent station; charging his stations
with creating fresh, homespun local programming; or setting up corporate
headquarters in a downtown long vacated by seemingly everyone else. “Alan is
brave, he’s outspoken, he’s a deep believer in what local broadcasting stands for,”
says Donald Graham, chairman and CEO of
parent Washington Post Co. “We’ve not been
a conventional company because Alan is not
a conventional leader, and his judgment has
proven out over the years.”

The people Frank has impacted over the
decades are, to say the least, sorry to lose
his leadership, his guidance, his companionship
—and his apparent ability to make the
right decision darn near every time. Marla
Drutz, vice president and general manager
of WDIV Detroit, mentions a giant desk
drawer filled with slips of paper on which
she scribbled decisions, from personnel
to programming, where her boss was almost
wrong—as in, right yet again. Unless
Frank has a colossal lapse in business judgment
over the next 2½ months, the drawer
may never harbor an example of the Post-
Newsweek chief making a misstep.

“He has this uncanny ability to be right,”
Drutz says. “It’s almost impossible to think
of Alan as retired—he’s such an integral
part of the DNA of this building.”

Frank’s career started in sports, producing
Pittsburgh Pirates games as a “kid,”
he says, essentially a dream job for a Steel City native just out of local
Duquesne University. After heading to Syracuse, N.Y., to obtain his master’s
in journalism, Vietnam intervened, and Frank was off to Southeast Asia,
where he toiled in mechanized infantry. When his unit was deactivated, Frank
convinced his superior to give him a few days to create a new assignment.

The young soldier finagled a helicopter ride to Saigon and, with his broadcast
journalism experience, talked his way into the Armed Forces Vietnam Network
made famous in the film Good Morning, Vietnam. He produced a Bob Hope
Christmas special and a handful of documentaries, and before long, was running
the place. “It wasn’t a stress-free environment; it wasn’t that there weren’t problems
in Saigon,” Frank says. “But it was certainly better than being up-country.”

After his military service, Frank worked on the comedy series The David
Frost Revue
, but found he wanted to do more than entertainment, and more
than sports. Local television—combining entertainment, sports and news—
met all of his career ambitions. “The biggest difference is, you’re part of the
community, you can make something happen for the
good,” Frank says. “You can affect people.”

Frank worked on programming at some of the nation
’s top stations, including KPIX San Francisco
and WBZ Boston, before becoming programming
manager at WDIV in 1979, and eventually, GM.

“WDIV was fourth in a three-station market,”
Graham quips. “Alan taking over is what propelled
WDIV from 20 miles behind to a No. 1 station.”

His colleagues say talent on both sides of the camera found new levels
of achievement when they came to work for Frank. “He inspires you to be
better,” Drutz says.

Frank also had a four-year run as vice president of programming for Post-
Newsweek, and was named president/CEO of the six-station group, which
includes WPLG Miami and KPRC Houston, in 2000. His model for success
involved rock-solid local news as well as homegrown non-news programs,
which included sitcoms, talk shows and an American Idol-esque performance
show called Gimme the Mike! The stations air local specials, such as fireworks
shows and parades, that others tend to avoid, and Post-Newsweek
general managers go on-air for editorials twice a week. “Everyone needs to
know that someone runs the stations,” Frank says.

When the other Detroit stations, along with much of the population, vacated
the city for the suburbs, Frank chose to set up Post-Newsweek headquarters
downtown—a significant commitment to the beleaguered Motor City.

“Alan Frank’s participation in the decision to locate WDIV in the heart
of downtown Detroit is a genuine indication of his commitment to the city,”
says Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. “The station has been a good corporate citizen
and is connected to the community and our citizens.”

Frank again showed his independent streak when, following a stalemate
with CBS regarding affiliation terms for WJXT Jacksonville in 2002, he
severed ties with the network. While that would spell doom for most stations,
“Channel 4” remains a power a decade later. “The station is the runaway
leader,” Graham says, “to the amazement of everybody except Alan Frank.”

Frank also has emerged as one of the industry’s leading voices on policy
issues. Gordon Smith, National Association of Broadcasters president and
CEO, says Frank provided “mentorship, support and friendship” when the
former senator came on board at the trade organization. “Alan truly leaves a
remarkable legacy as one of our great local broadcasters,” Smith says. “He
believes in his heart in the importance of community service, and that commitment
is reflected every day in the values of Post-Newsweek.”

Frank is training Emily Barr to take over Post-Newsweek, and is discreet
about what he’ll do after he retires. It may involve broadcasting. It may
involve children’s charities. It won’t involve elected office, or golf. “I don’t
think I’ve played since I was 14; it makes me crazy,” he says with a laugh.
This much we know: Frank and his wife, Ann, will stay in Detroit. His son
Alex, who sadly died of cancer in 2005 at 29, is buried there. Frank loves the
city’s sense of style, its passion. “I always felt I understood Detroit,” he says.
“I understood how it works, I understood the people. I seem to fit the town.”

Local broadcasting will be poorer with Frank’s departure. “I don’t honestly
know anyone I’ve ever run into in this business that had a bad word to
say about Alan,” says Michael Fiorile, vice chairman and CEO of Dispatch
Broadcast Group. “He’s a man of his word. He’s the guy you call for help,
and he’s there. He’s the real deal—I wish everybody in the business was like
Alan Frank.”

Michael Malone
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, Playboy and New York magazine.