Broadcasting is a family affair in the Karpowicz clan. Paul Karpowicz grew up a broadcasting brat, pitching in at KSD St. Louis when his father Ray was the general manager. He’s established industry relationships that are nearly as tight as any family bonds, and currently runs the broadcast division of a familyfocused media company whose holdings include, among other things, Family Circle magazine.
As much as Karpowicz does for Meredith Local Media, he does for the greater broadcasting business. He’s a frequent visitor to Washington, where he represents the industry on key issues such as retransmission consent and broadcaster spectrum. But the D.C. trips serve a second, more personal purpose. “My daughter and sonin- law live there,” Karpowicz says with a smile from his office overlooking Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal. “It’s a great excuse to go visit them.”
So much a part of the family’s DNA is broadcasting that Paul’s mother, Ginny, refers to it as the family’s “country store.” The eldest of five, Paul was a frequent attendee at Romper Room tapings at KSD as a boy, then lugged gear for the news crews. Ray Karpowicz later ran the six-station Pulitzer group and remains in the business at 85, renting out broadcast tower space.
Ray says being the first-born Karpowicz kid prepared Paul to run a company. “Being the oldest gives you that responsibility, or should give you that responsibility,” says Ray. “Paul really took advantage of it.”
Former LIN TV CEO Gary Chapman first met Paul in 1967. Chapman worked for Ray at the time, selling time at KSD, and knew Paul as the GM’s kid running around the station. The two would later work together to redefine the local TV industry. Now retired, Chapman is something of an honorary Karpowicz: “I worked with a Karpowicz— either Ray or Paul—for nearly 38 years,” he says.
While general manager of WLNE Providence, Chapman hired Paul to sell local spots in 1979. He saw a young man who got involved in every aspect of a station, not just the one he was assigned to. Karpowicz spent one Thanksgiving helping the station’s engineers drive a six-foot satellite dish—a “parabolic reflector, ” says Chapman—to the station. Sticking out from the top of the truck, the dish smashed into a tollbooth and bounced around the highway. “It made the most godawful noise,” says Chapman. “The toll collector thought the Russians were coming.”
That mission didn’t work out so well, but nonetheless showed the dedication Karpowicz brought to the job. “He never saw himself as just a salesperson,” Chapman says. “He has this ability to get involved in all the departments and reach out and touch the general manager, the news director, down to the guy who sweeps the floors.”
Karpowicz eventually ran WLNE and WISH Indianapolis, then returned to Providence as VP of LIN in 1994. He worked side by side with Chapman in more than doubling the size of the group. The two spent countless hours in airports, on planes, and driving the lonely American landscape through the wee hours, in search of the next acquisition. An experience on a malfunctioning jet free-falling above Indiana, both men sure they were goners, reminded Karpowicz to always make time for his wife, Lisa, and kids Michael and Katie —not to mention his mercurial golf game.
On those travels, Karpowicz showed an uncanny knack for sussing out a good station. “Paul could find out more about that television station by walking through it, and basically just talking to everyone, than any prospectus would tell you,” says Chapman. “He would come away with more and better information in that one hour.”
The two men showed tremendous innovation at the time, LIN pushing pay-television operators for retransmission payments, working out what’s believed to be TV’s first local marketing agreement, in Grand Rapids–Battle Creek in 1991, and negotiating with the Texas Rangers in 1997 for a blockbuster deal to obtain rights to all 162 season games for five years—and later flipping some rights to cable for a hefty profit. “Paul helped me on all these projects,” said Chapman. “It was like a family affair.”
Karpowicz got a chance to run his own group in 2005. Meredith’s broadcast division was in disarray, with numerous general managers and division chiefs upended during his predecessor’s rocky tenure. But Karpowicz’s steady hand let managers concentrate on improving local news and growing revenue.
Karpowicz brought that same spirit of innovation to Meredith. Its in-house production outfit, Meredith Video Studios, produces the lucrative syndicated show Better and video for broadband channels like Parents TV. “It started from nothing and grew to a very significant entity, ” says Karpowicz.
Meredith has found untapped revenue in the obituary business previously owned by newspapers, and Karpowicz says every section of a newspaper is fair game for Meredith’s dozen TV outlets. “In this day and age, we have a better connection to people in our markets than the newspaper does,” he says.
His general managers say Karpowicz encourages them to think creatively about content and revenue. “Paul is the kind of guy who hires you and expects you to do your job without holding your hand,” says WNEM Flint VP/General Manager Al Blinke. “He lets his GMs take chances as they look for non-traditional revenue.”
B&C’s Broadcaster of the Year in 2008, Paul’s industry knowledge has been critical in Washington too. He’s chairman of the NAB’s influential television board and former chairman at TVB, and holds considerable sway on Capitol Hill. NAB President Gordon Smith says broadcasting couldn’t have a better representative. “I’m always struck by Paul’s inherent decency and understated integrity,” says the former Oregon senator. “Maybe it’s a Notre Dame thing, but Paul’s earnestness and belief in doing the right thing always comes through. Free and local broadcasting could not have a better ambassador than Paul Karpowicz.”
A youthful 57, Karpowicz says he’s unlikely to work for as long as his father has. He says he’s honored to be inducted into a group that contains so many broadcasting legends (even if he claims he’s “way too young for it”) and plans to continue making his mark in the family business. “These are people I have tremendous respect for, people who paved the way in the industry and have been involved in lots of important decisions about how our industry is run,” Karpowicz says. “I’d like to think I’ve contributed to that process, and hopefully I’m around for a while.”
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below
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.