Several years ago, after leaving CBS for Hearst-Argyle Television, Tony Vinciquerra had a chance encounter with his former boss, Mel Karmazin. They stopped and chatted briefly, and Karmazin introduced Vinciquerra to his entourage, describing him as a "terrific broadcaster." Or words to that effect.
That's not faint praise from one of the toughest bosses in the broadcasting industry, but it's not surprising. Karmazin is known for his obsession with boosting sales quarter in and quarter out, with "no excuses," as he has put it more than once. And Vinciquerra early on made a name for himself excelling at the bread-and-butter part of local broadcasting: selling ad time.
In fact, he put himself through college selling radio at the then-Capital Cities radio combo WRW-AM-FM Albany, N.Y. He started at the station full time his junior year, attending school at night.
After graduating in May 1977, he shifted to TV sales, joining then-GE-owned WRGB-TV in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy market. In 1979, he was promoted to local sales manager and, a year later, became general sales manager. Even back then, GE knew a thing or two about cost control. When Vinciquerra moved up to general sales manager, the local sales manager job wasn't filled. "So I became local, national and general sales all at the same time."
In 1981, Vinciquerra moved to a bigger market, to Hearst's WTAE-TV Pittsburgh, and, within a year, moved from national sales manager to general sales manager.
After four years, it was off to an even bigger market: eighth-ranked Washington, D.C., and the then-Taft Broadcasting-owned WDCA-TV. About a year later, the station (and its group) found itself in rough financial straits.
Vinciquerra accepted an offer at Westinghouse's WBZ-TV Boston as general sales manager. In 1990, he got his first shot at running a station when he was promoted to vice president/general manager of WBZ-TV.
Two years later, he moved south to run Group W's KYW-TV Philadelphia. Westinghouse's 1995 merger with CBS brought him more management responsibilities as he became executive vice president of the merged CBS-Westinghouse station group, overseeing the stations in the West.
Though successful at CBS, he didn't find it personally satisfying. He and his immediate boss, Jonathan Klein, who headed the station group, "didn't get along," as one CBS insider put it. Whatever differences he and Klein might have had, Vinciquerra says, didn't prevent their having a "good professional relationship."
When Hearst executives approached him in 1997 to help launch and expand publicly traded Hearst-Argyle Television, he jumped at the opportunity and, in '99, was promoted to chief operating officer.
Hearst-Argyle President and CEO David Barrett says of his former number two: "He's got a great sense of product and marketing and sales and understands every nuance of the television business. He helped grow this company in a very effective and positive way."
Personal lives, though, have a way of interfering with careers. New York-based Vinciquerra found himself in a long-distance romance with a Los Angeles-based cable advertising rep executive. After three years, the pair decided that one of them had to change coasts. His better half couldn't because her company was rooted in Los Angeles. Vinciquerra told Barrett that he'd be heading west. They discussed moving his job there but ultimately concluded that wouldn't work.
Meanwhile, Vinciquerra and News Corp. President Peter Chernin began discussing opportunities at Fox. "This came up," says Vinciquerra, who oversees everything at the Fox network but programming. "It was a personal decision that a terrific professional opportunity grew out of."
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