He believes in local TV

Frank Quitoni started out in local television, doing equipment maintenance in Savannah, Ga., and he plans to finish his career in local television in Johnstown, Pa. This time, though, he's a station owner.

In between, he has served several stints as an executive running operations for two networks and major projects like political conventions and the Olympics. And he ran a group of 11 TV stations for River City Broadcasting and a similar-size regional group when River City was bought by Sinclair Broadcast Group.

An equity stake in River City gave Quitoni the wherewithal to join River City founder and CFO Larry Marcus in his next project, Peak Media of Pennsylvania. For that project, Quitoni moved to Johnstown, Pa., where he runs WWCP-TV Johnstown for Peak and WATM-TV Altoona for Palm Media.

"You hear so many people saying you shouldn't go into business with a friend. But Larry and I have become close friends, and his style of management is the same style I have. And it works.

"I knew production and engineering, how to do big shows. Larry was the one who gave me the understanding of the financial side of the business," Quitoni adds, noting. "We all work for sales. That may be a little easier to get across in a smaller company. The big guys tend to operate their companies by looking at the expense side before looking at the revenue side. We always look at maximizing revenue potential before we look at expenses."

After years running TV- station groups, Quitoni has a new understanding of local television. "There are very few TV stations left where a general manager really operates it locally. An out-of-state owner or a publicly traded company has a much harder time making quick decisions. I don't have to say, 'Hold on, I have to call corporate.' Larry and I can make decisions instantaneously.

"I still think local ownership has a valid business plan," he continues. "Sometimes, [groups] get too big, unwieldy. You can't manage that many people and that many assets. Look at some of the big players today. They don't have a good time going to the bank every day."

In most stations, he says, a visit from the ownership or corporate management brings with it anxiety. "My door's wide open every day. Most general managers don't take on the responsibility of the TV station as their own. They pass on the responsibility to the corporation. Then the employees wonder what the general manager's even doing there."

David Price, news director for the two Peak stations and anchor for one, sees it the same way. "So many people from the outside buy television stations. Frank doesn't have to be here. But he bought the station, and he came here. He lives here, likes it here and is part of the community. Consolidation creates a money vacuum. Companies come in and suck local dollars out of the economy. Here, the money stays; it helps fuel the local economy."

Peak Media of Pennsylvania was inextricably drawn into the biggest story in years on Sept. 11. As the story began unfolding that morning, Quitoni recalls, "we got together with all the newspeople. We talked about how do we get the story; how do we bring it home, other than talking about the shock value? What can we do; who can we call? We decided to personalize it for the market, talk to victims' relatives who are in our area."

But it wasn't long before the story burst, literally, into the market, crashing down in a field just 10 miles from the station. "We staked out that area. Larger stations relied on us to help them out," Quitoni says, again extolling the value of localism. "Our people know the area."