News Vet Looks at Big Station Picture

Dave Lougee, who runs KING-TV and KONG-TV in Seattle, is one of those rare TV executives who hasn't had to learn how to lose. "There are managers who like to go to start-ups," he notes. "I enjoy stations with strong brands and good depth and content, and trying to improve them."

His career path has certainly been accommodating. In his 12-year career as a station executive—which followed a decade as a newsman—he has picked nothing but winners.

His first news-director job was at Gannett-owned KUSA-TV Denver, one of the nation's top-performing stations. From there, he moved to the same job NBC-owned market leader WRC-TV Washington.

And now he's with another news-oriented group, Belo, and another of the nation's top performers, KING-TV.

He believes that even a downturn can provide an opportunity to advance.

"The late '90s were great, but it's been a tough couple of years since. Seattle has been hit disproportionately hard financially by both the dotcom collapse and 9/11. We decided we were going to take our great journalism and programming assets and grow our position during the downturn.

"We're all in the same storm," he says, "but we have a bigger boat. Through the problems in the marketplace, we've grown our share of audience and our share of revenue.

"You can't control the economy," he continues. "There used to be only a couple of stations in the market, and you could just take orders over the phone. Now it's about creating opportunities, getting people to move their budgets to television."

Lougee came to television from an interest not in programming or even journalism but in public affairs.

His mother was a probate judge and his father a local officeholder in his hometown of East Lyme, Conn. He believes he naturally gravitated toward the public policy and intended to become a lawyer.

As chairman of Colorado's consumer-oriented Public Interest Research Group during college, he got an internship with consumer reporter Dave Minshall at KMGH-TV Denver, and there his plans changed.

When Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, Denver stations found a local angle in attempted assassin John Hinckley's roots in a suburb, Lougee recalls, "and here I was working with Dave, who was ready to go live with Dan Rather." As soon as he got inside a television newsroom, he recalls, "I knew that this was the perfect business for me."

As a young newsman in Denver, Lougee got to work with local TV legends Roger Ogden and Marv Rockford, both newsmen who, like Lougee, either were or would be running TV stations. Both were good mentors, he recalls, in teaching both news and the big station picture.

"I was always interested in how the pieces came together. I thought Roger was ahead of his time, with an integrated strategic marketing plan that pushed the local news product.

"When I became a news director, I became part of station management, and my interest in running a station, in the business of the business, only grew. I loved being a news director. I enjoyed the strategy, the tactics. And I was always good with numbers: I started in college as a math major."

Despite his years in the nation's news capitol, he is enjoying the "other Washington."

"When you go to a town like Washington, D.C., you envision covering stories like Watergate. Our major story turned out to be Monica Lewinsky.

"When I got to this Washington, the major story in Seattle was about the Makah Indians seeking the right to their ancient whale hunt. It was certainly a change. Politics here is not the spectator sport it is in Washington, D.C. Here the interest in the political process is about the issues themselves."