God’s Bad Advice Ends Up Fox’s Good Fortune
A sign on Byron Harmon’s office wall says: “The bad news is, time flies. The good news is, you’re the pilot.” If ever anyone has shown a knack for getting more out of the given day than any human can reasonably expect to, it’s the WNYW New York news director. An author, playwright, film producer and soon-to-be ultra-marathoner, Harmon is happiest when he’s mega-tasking. “I try to use almost every minute of the day to do something,” he says. “It’s rare I’m not doing anything.”
It’s also rare that one lands their first news director job in the No. 1 market. But that’s how it works for Byron Harmon. “He knows news, he’s opened bureaus and managed large groups of people,” says Lew Leone, VP/general manager of WNYW-WWOR. “Byron is a guy who gets things done.”
Raised in rural Louisiana, Harmon joined the army to pay for college, and learned to relate to people from all cultures. His roommates at Fort Riley, he says, included a neo-Nazi, a guy from the Appalachians who’d never known a black person, and a Satanism devotee. Making matters more complicated, Harmon was in a Black Nationalist phase. “Over time, we started having interesting conversations about race, class, identity,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I respected them, but I understood how they became that way.”
Harmon spent two years in Germany, and was counting the days until his release when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and Harmon—who scouted bomb targets—was needed in Iraq. Eight months later, he was free, and off to college. He took a communications class, and realized his military training—monitoring several radios, making decisions with senior officers breathing down his neck—might work in the TV world. He rose quickly, from a “glorified PA” at WBRZ Baton Rouge, to producer at KJRH Tulsa, and on to major markets.
Back on the East Coast, Katherine Green, then news director at WFLA Tampa, kept notes on all the producers nationwide who caught her eye. Harmon’s work, full of emotion and energy, got him in her giant notebook. When Green became news director at WBAL Baltimore, she enticed Harmon to join her. About a year in, Harmon had an offer to work at WCBS New York. He told Green that God told him to take the job.
“She said, ‘God gave you some bad advice,’” recalls Harmon with a laugh.
Many years later, Green brought Harmon on at CNN International. “In a business filled with aggressive and assertive, Type-A personalities, he’s one who is thoughtful,” says Green.
The learning curve in international news is massive, but Harmon soaked it up. “Byron was never afraid to say, ‘What’s the thinking behind that, how does that come together?’” says Tony Maddox, CNN International executive VP and managing director.
But the globe-hopping flights were constant, and a near breakdown, he says, prompted his resignation. Harmon unplugged from the media world—and the world at large—for months, and was watching a special on solitary confinement when he says he saw bits of himself in the inmates. “I said, ‘I have to get back into television,’” Harmon says.
He landed at WNYW in 2012, and a year later was named news director. Good Day New York is up 23% since then, and he’s overseen the launch of Fox Docs, the behind-the-scenes news franchise Big Idea, and freewheeling Friday Night Live.
The consummate polymath, Harmon has authored several novels and a memoir, fittingly titled God Gave Me Some Bad Advice, along with a play. A murder mystery is set for a May publication. By then, with any luck, Harmon will have run a 50-mile ultra-marathon. He is skipping those 26.1-mile endurance tests altogether, he says, because “everybody does marathons.”
Harmon isn’t one to stay put for too long, but he’s enjoying his time at Fox 5. “Maybe some great adventure will come along,” he says. “But right now, I’m in a great space.”
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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.