Also Read: Welcome to the 27th Annual ‘Broadcasting & Cable’ Hall of Fame
A fair number of people follow a parent into the television business. But very few quite literally follow in a parent’s footsteps, as Peter Dunn has at CBS. His father, John, was an engineer for WCBS New York and the network, working out of the same broadcast building on West 57th Street in Manhattan where the younger Dunn is now based.
Peter makes a point of often entering the building from its further-out 11th Avenue entrance, same as his dad did decades before.
His father’s love for CBS struck Dunn at a young age. “Any time you’d come into our house, no matter when, CBS would be on,” he said, noting that he’d typically find his dad tinkering behind the TV in an effort to get the best possible picture. “He just loved CBS.”
Today’s television business is vastly different than when John Dunn was plying his trade, and the younger Dunn welcomes its new opportunities. While CBS All Access is best known for originals such as Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Wife spinoff The Good Fight, Dunn noted how the group’s local news runs on the streaming platform. A user in the Twin Cities will get WCCO Minneapolis news. A user in Los Angeles can see KCBS content.
“We’re making sure that for everyone who wants to see our content, no matter where they are, we’ll be there for them,” he said.
Dunn was named president of CBS Television Stations in 2009. His love of local news, and tireless devotion to community events, such as the Tunnel to Towers run that raised more than $2 million for those injured on Sept. 11, 2001, and the children who lost parents that day, has rubbed off at the local level. Joel Goldberg, CBS’s senior VP of station operations, credited Dunn with giving stations across the group a shared look and feel, which he said has been “a huge step” in unifying the stations.
Dunn is a passionate consumer of CBS local product, Goldberg added, constantly searching for something fresh that can be shared throughout the group. “It doesn’t matter if it comes from our smaller markets, such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh, or larger markets such as New York or Los Angeles. If they do something and he likes it, we run with it,” Goldberg said. “It’s refreshing to work with somebody who’s so passionate about the local television business.”
While some group chiefs are obsessed with the bottom line, Dunn’s colleagues describe him as a leader who puts the whole of the group’s might behind a significant local story, such as the hurricanes that struck in late summer. “Peter is a true believer in the mission of local news,” said David Friend, the group’s senior VP of news. “He’s lived in the local news world for so many years — he gets it.”
Dunn got his start in upstate New York, as the national sales manager at WUTV Buffalo. After stints at WABC New York and WNBC New York, and an executive VP of sales position at NBC’s owned stations, he jumped to CBS in 2002, to the delight of his mother, taking on the general manager position at KYW-WPSG Philadelphia. He became the CBS group’s president of sales, then was named general manager of WCBS New York in 2005. Dunn has retained his GM job at WCBS since being named head of the group.
CBS Corp. chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves gives Dunn high marks as group chief. “Peter is as competitive as they come and is always focused on doing what’s best for CBS, our stations, viewers and advertisers,” he said. “I appreciate his love for CBS.”
Consolidation has besieged local television, but CBS, one of the nation’s largest groups, appears committed to the business. The group has invested heavily in new research, sets and other features. “We feel our business is going strong,” Dunn said. “We want to continue to invest. If a station made sense to buy, we’d buy it.”
Dunn credits his boss, Moonves, for his devotion to local television. “He’s incredibly supportive of everything we do,” Dunn said. “He cares so much about the station business.”
As group chief, Dunn spends much of his time traveling the country, visiting the CBS stations. The travel may grate on some, but Dunn sees it as an opportunity. “You wind up learning something new every time you go to a different market,” he said.
Outside of work, Dunn enjoys watching sports and CBS series on TV, and playing golf. “I play terribly, but I try to play as often as I can with my son,” he said.
His father died at age 48, when Dunn was a freshman in high school, but John Dunn’s memory lives on. Peter carries his father’s CBS ID card from the mid ’60s. He recalls how his father’s sister, his Aunt Anna, was exceedingly proud of her nephew’s career strides, even if she didn’t fully grasp what he did. Dunn had mentioned that he sold TV time, and that was shortened to Peter selling TVs. “Whenever someone needed a new TV, she’d say, ‘My nephew gets good deals,’ ” Dunn said with a laugh.
He fondly recalls accompanying his father to the CBS Broadcast Center, where what was the set of children’s series Captain Kangaroo is now where WCBS delivers its news. As a child, he remembers getting lost in the basement, and ending up at the front desk, where a receptionist would call his father to retrieve him.
Dunn knows his father is smiling from up above as he runs the station group, and is inducted into the Hall of Fame. “His life was CBS,” Dunn said. “To have his son work in this position at the company he felt so loyal to, he’d be so proud.”
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