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Hoffman Piles More on Plate

As if Bill Hoffman weren’t busy enough running WSB, Atlanta’s leading station, and overseeing the rest of Cox Media Group’s TV outlets as its “champion of television,” he recently tacked on another giant time-eater as chairman of the ABC affiliates board. With vital issues such as the FCC’s spectrum acquisition and the pending NBCU-Comcast merger’s effect on the competitive landscape looming, representing ABC’s 200-plus affiliates looks more and more like a full-time occupation, too.

“That job is driven by the kinds of events and issues that happen to be swimming around on your watch,” Hoffman says. “Right now, it seems like quite a few things are going on.”

WSB has one of the longest-running and most popular anchor duos in John Pruitt and Monica Pearson, and Hoffman is managing the tricky task of breaking in new front-line talent as the duo eases toward retirement. “The transition is working exceptionally well, thanks to Bill,” says Pearson, a WSB anchor for 35 years. “I’ve had good GMs before, but this one is outstanding.”

Hoffman was raised in the local television world; his father Pete was half of the well-regarded McHugh & Hoffman news consulting firm in the 1960s. “At dinner, my dad would talk about newses across the country,” Hoffman recalls, “using all the newsroom vernacular.”

After getting a master’s in telecommunications from Michigan State, the Michigan native landed his first job at the Detroit offi ce of sales-rep firm TeleRep in 1979, working with the Cox group. After sales jobs at stations in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, Hoffman came back to TeleRep a decade later, this time in Atlanta. His first GM job was at WFTV-WRDQ Orlando in 2002, then WSB in 2006.

WSB is a monster in DMA No. 8, grabbing the lion’s share of revenue against stations owned by Fox, Gannett and Meredith. When the other three partnered on a content share last spring, WSB declined the invitation, with Hoffman stressing the importance of WSB’s independence.

The station thrives on its extraordinarily established anchors and rock-solid Action News format. “The content surrounding those anchors has been very consistent over the past couple of decades,” Hoffman says. “People know what experience they’re going to get when they watch Channel 2.”

Hoffman’s upbeat nature also helps keep WSB on top. “Bill is an exceedingly positive guy—I’ve never heard a discouraging word from him,” Pruitt says. “He’s a great guy to share a beer with, or a drift boat if you’re fly-fishing for trout.”

Cox thought enough of Hoffman’s management skills to name him VP of the Media Group; he now studies the 15 Cox stations for best practices, works out group syndication deals and oversees the Washington bureau.

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, in which WXIA News Director Ellen Crooke derided local news as “boring, repetitive, irrelevant and too depressing,” made waves in Atlanta’s newsrooms. Hoffman staunchly disputes Crooke’s account and expresses his faith in the evolving news model. “People have more contact with their station of choice than they ever had before, and I think that’s enormously exciting,” he says. “But you have to manage a lot to be relevant, constantly updating across the platforms. It’s the absolute opposite of what that article stated.”

Hoffman is not one to shy from a challenge to his livelihood. Pearson calls her boss a “hockey nut,” and says his manner at times resembles that of an NHL player: aggressive and adrenaline-fueled, but not enough to get pinged by the ref. “Bill’s a very physical guy,” she explains. “I think he likes the pressure.”

Hoffman escapes the pressure with his wife, Joan, at the Montana log home where they hike, bike and fish. “Some people are beach people,” Hoffman says. “We happen to be mountain people.”

He’s got multiple mountains to climb in his various roles, but Hoffman says he’s up for the challenge. Atlanta’s fatal floods last September reminded him why he got into the business in the first place. “It was an opportunity for a television station to step up and show the way,” Hoffman says, “and we did an incredible job of superserving the community and reinforcing the strength of the station.”

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