This Local TV Dean Really Wants to Be Frank

It was at the 2004 Fox affiliates meeting in Las Vegas, which featured an American Idol competition with the station executives doing the performing, that Spencer Koch showed his true mettle. Armed with musical genes and a deep knowledge of the Frank Sinatra songbook, Koch agreed to belt out a tune in front of the packed Bellagio ballroom.

Ryan Seacrest was there. So was News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch—Koch’s boss at the time. “When I saw Mr. Murdoch walk in,” he says, “I called my wife and said, “My career is officially over.”

In fact, Koch nailed Ol’ Blue Eyes’ “Luck Be a Lady” and won the GMs’ Idol competition handily. “It came off pretty well,” Koch says with a laugh. “Everything worked out fine.”

While some reluctantly face their challenges, others, such as the KTVI-KPLR St. Louis president/GM, relish the opportunity to tackle something difficult. WGHP Greensboro (N.C.) President/ GM Karen Adams, who has known Koch for 34 years, calls him the “dean” of Local TV general managers due to his vast experience. “Spencer’s been in so many markets and roles, and has made a tremendous impact everywhere he’s gone,” Adams says. “He knows this business, and knows how to move it forward.”

Koch faced an even stiffer challenge when he was tasked with merging Local TV’s KTVI and Tribune’s KPLR into the same facility in 2008, meshing disparate cultures and dealing with downsizing while keeping both stations on the air. (Tribune and Local TV stations share services in a unique arrangement.)

The move capped off an eventful year, to say the least. “The market went to [local people meters], digital television went into effect, and we had the worst economy in the history of the country, outside of the Great Depression,” Koch recalls. “All that was going on while we moved KTVI in with KPLR.”

New York, New York
Koch’s career started at WWOR New York, working on Mets telecasts. The job offered the Staten Island native a frontrow seat for the historic 1969 World Series. “Being a Yankee fan,” Koch quips, “working for the Mets was a challenge.”

Koch moved on to WAGA Atlanta, and later hopped to the sales-rep side with Storer TV. His first GM job came when he was named boss at KTVI in 1995. Koch has survived several ownership changes; the station was part of New World, then was acquired by Fox, before Fox sold it to Local TV in ’08.

KTVI competes against one of the true legacy stations in St. Louis NBC affiliate KSDK. Koch is quick to voice respect for the market leader, but feels his duopoly can offer things the Gannett powerhouse cannot. As befits the Local TV name, KTVI- KPLR blankets the airwaves with 70 hours of local programming each week. A partnership with DataSphere offers hyper- local Websites covering community news, and its takes the fight directly to KSDK’s MomsLikeMe. com. “When you give viewers nine hours of content a day, hopefully you start to get them on your side,” says Koch.

Pam Taylor, Local TV president/ COO, says the group’s GMs take their cues from the golden-throated guy in St. Louis. “Spencer straight-up knows the markets, the stations, the business, the people,” Taylor says. “We let him do what he does, and don’t get in his way.”

Love and Marriage
As he showed that night at the Bellagio, music—along with his wife of 30 years, Laura—is a constant in Koch’s life. He’s a student of St. Louis’ rich musical heritage. A vintage Steinway piano sits in the stations’ library, and the morning and 4 p.m. local programs are loaded with live performances. “It can be distracting when you have a meeting and you hear a parade going through,” Koch says.

Adams, for one, says Koch always has a forum for his talents in Greensboro. “Spencer is a mensch,” she says. “I’d have him on my morning show every day.”

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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.