It's been nine months since Don Perry left the massive Clear Channel Television operation to run little KPSP Palm Springs, and he says life in the Coachella Valley suits him. Perry is transforming the CBS affiliate into a local player—overhauling its news, fine-tuning its Web presence and setting out to make the station's branding second to none.
“I'd always been a station guy,” says Perry, who had run WOAI San Antonio and WNYT Albany, N.Y., before moving up to be president and CEO of Clear Channel TV in January 2006. “It's nice to be a player in the community, and it's fun to be a part of a living thing.”
Perry's southwesterly shift was hatched when Clear Channel was being sold to Providence Equity Partners and its Newport Television subsidiary—a sale that went well past deadline and saw Clear Channel knock $200 million off the price before finally pushing it through last March. Perry's father had recently passed away, and he was intent on taking time off to be with his elderly mother in Palm Springs. An astute headhunter heard whispers of the TV vet heading west, and dangled the KPSP job.
Six-year-old KPSP is a low-power station in the No. 144 DMA, located about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. It and its sister Azteca America station are part of Desert Television, one of myriad businesses owned by billionaire couple Jackie Lee and Jim Houston. The Houstons have everything from gold mines to restaurants in their portfolio, and are also active in philanthropy.
Perry, 57, was interested for several reasons: It was close to his mother, it was a return to station-level business, and early indicators of rough economic times ahead told him it might be a good idea to break from large station groups with a national footprint.
Perry met with the Houstons, who had bought the duopoly to give Palm Springs locally based owners after NBC affiliate KMIR was acquired by Wisconsin-headquartered Journal Broadcast in 1999. Everyone seemed to hit it off. “I like to say we were bringing A-Rod to play for the [local minor league] Palm Springs Power,” Jim Houston says with a laugh.
Perry came aboard in January, and promptly set about remaking KPSP. He ordered extensive research to gain insights into the community, brought in former Clear Channel senior VP Steve Minium to head up news and oversaw a redesign of cbstv2.com that now offers a less cluttered look. And he showed the 75-person staff how serious he was about breaking news on the Web by making the Webmaster a department head—reporting directly to the general manager.
“That sent a signal that 'this guy is not kidding around,'” Perry says. “I told him to get everyone in the newsroom trained to report for the Web.”
Media rival News-Press & Gazette is a multi-tentacled monster in Palm Springs, with ABC, Fox, CW and Telemundo affiliates, not to mention radio properties. Its ABC outlet KESQ is the news leader, but KPSP has emerged in the race for No. 2 with well-established KMIR, which has a new general manager in Lyle Schulze. “Don is making a big effort to change the culture there,” acknowledges KESQ VP/General Manager Bob Allen. “It's a real horse race now between KMIR and KPSP—I'm glad I'm not competing for second.”
DRIVE TO BE NO. 1
Perry, however, says his goal is to be No. 1 in Palm Springs, which local managers say is moving up to DMA No. 142 thanks to an explosion of new arrivals. But Perry is chasing an even bigger prize: He wants KPSP to be the “most innovative and best branded” station in the country. He scrapped its CBS TV2 tag for KPSP Local 2 and is reviving its moribund Eye on the Desert program. “In a tumultuous time in the business, I want people to watch and right away say, 'I get what the brand is,'” he says. “We're wrapping our arms around the Coachella Valley and being as local as we can be.”
Jim Houston gives his hire high marks. “Don's done extremely well in giving up the 'corporate approach' to run a TV station,” he says. “We're thrilled.”
Perry, who cops to occasionally missing the deep resources and macro-level strategizing at a 50-station group, is energized by his return to truly local television. “My heart is at TV stations,” he says. “I like seeing results on a regular basis, and seeing the community react to what you're doing.”
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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.