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Fifth Estater: WGHP's Karen Adams

Much has changed since Karen Adams started at WGHP 33 years ago. The North Carolina station has had two different affiliations, ABC and Fox, and 10 different owners including Fox and, most recently, Local TV. Adams' duties in that time have includedeverything from running a camera to promotions, news and, since 1997, general manager.

The one constant at the Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem station remains Adams herself. “I've seen every important event of the last 33 years through the monitors of WGHP,” she says. “From the death of Elvis through the Challenger disaster and 9/11 and the historic presidential election—right from this television station.”

And thanks to Adams, WGHP has experienced another constant: ratings success. That would hardly surprise her onetime managers, who always saw big things for Adams. “You'd give her a project and then just forget about it,” says former WGHP broadcasting director Larry Blackerby, now running KPRC Houston. “The project would come back done, and done better than you'd ever expect it to be done.”

Raised in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Adams came to the market as a student at High Point University. She studied theater arts and figured to follow in her father's footsteps into the U.S. Army—her plan was to work on video and live productions around the globe for the Army's Special Services division.

But a friend at WGHP told Adams that her skill set might be a good fit in local television. “He said, 'We've got lights, we've got sets—why don't you come work here?'” she says. “On the very first night, I was bitten by the broadcasting bug.”

Adams speaks fondly of her days “running camera”—something she still does on rare occasions when the station is short-staffed. “It's an absolute blast,” she says. “Having a firm foundation in television production is what's made everything since then so exciting.”

While the traditional route to station management involves traversing the country for bigger jobs in larger markets, Adams fell in love with the generosity of residents of the Piedmont Triad, and WGHP's integral role in the community. Over time, Adams learned that her intense connection to the region predated her arrival at High Point University by a few hundred years; around five years ago, she traced her genealogy to a North Carolina Cherokee tribe, and would explore her ancestors' home sites with her father before he passed away last June.

Each time new owners came on board—they included, through the years, Gulf Broadcasting, Taft and Great American—Adams was able to survive the regime change. Her chance to run the show came in 1997. When then-GM Dave Boylan was shifting to run Fox's Tampa station, he told Fox brass there was only one choice for his successor. “Karen's one of the gold standards of local broadcasters,” says Boylan, now running Post-Newsweek's WPLG Miami. “She's been part of that station from the beginning—I'm surprised there's not a 'KA' in the call letters.”

Adams has helped boost WGHP's daily news output from 2½ hours back in the ABC days (which ended when the station switched affiliations in 1995) to more than seven today. She says the station has been the top-rated Fox affiliate in the country in the last several sweeps by all measures, including primetime and late news. She's also ramped up community service efforts: A recent food drive collected 650,000 cans of food, and Adams is spearheading a “Buy NC” program that showcases products made in the region and helps local businesses pull themselves out of their economic doldrums.

Adams credits Local TV, which acquired WGHP last summer, with instilling a strong sense of collaboration among its stations. Best practices are bandied about on internal “wiki” Websites modeled after Wikipedia. “Let's face it—we can share and steal great ideas from each other,” Adams says.

When not working, Adams enjoys downtime with George III and George IV (her husband and son), reading, watching 24 and House, and getting caught up on WGHP's morning news on her DVR. Despite her long career at the station, Adams says she's far from done. “I'm still in the 25-54 demo,” she says with a laugh. “I have a long way to go and a lot of things to do.”