WBZ Gears Up for Emotional Patriots’ Day

While no amount of time or plaudits will erase the sadness stemming from last year’s Boston Marathon, WBZ Boston’s Peabody award for standout coverage of the bombings and their aftermath is at least recognition that the news crew’s extraordinary efforts in April 2013 were noticed and appreciated. All the Boston broadcasters had moments of heroism, but WBZ—the exclusive local broadcaster of the marathon and centerpiece of CBS’ batch of local media outlets in the market—was uniquely positioned to cover the story.

With anchors Lisa Hughes and Jonathan Elias at the finish line and a helicopter shooting video from above, the CBS-owned station tackled the intense story with its full might. “There was a unique and very personal perspective that we were able to translate to viewers,” says Mark Lund, WBZ TV president and GM.

It was a story that Lund, son of former CBS president Peter Lund, was perhaps born to manage. His career started off in the WBZ promotions department back in 1983.

From Celebration to Sadness

The Boston stations pulled off an abrupt pivot last April 15 when Patriots’ Day—a beloved tradition involving a Red Sox game, the marathon, a drink in the pubs and simply being out and about in the historic city—went from jubilation to breaking news and tragedy. Upon hearing the bombs, Lund—who had been chatting with Thomas Grilk, executive director of marathon host Boston Athletic Association, about what a wonderful day it had been—bolted across Copley Square to the finish line at Boylston Street. “It was a sight you’d never think you’d see on the streets of America,” he says.

His first thought was the safety of WBZ staffers, especially since no one knew for sure if more devices were set to explode. His second was getting the story out to the market. Three or four minutes after the fatal explosions, WBZ was live, he says. It stayed so for much of the next several days, including a stretch of 23 hours during the frenzied hunt for the bombers, with staffers sleeping at station headquarters.

CBS also owns WBZ News Radio and another radio station called The Sports Hub.

Lund says WBZ’s coverage has basically never stopped, and has ramped up even further recently with segments in each newscast since March 31. On April 8, the special The Boston Marathon—The Road Ahead ran on WBZ from 7-8 p.m. and sister MyNetworkTV affiliate WSBK at 10:30 p.m.; the special won its time period and had a combined 117,000 viewers, says Lund.

While Boston is a Top 10 market, it in many ways feels like a small, provincial town. It seems everyone knew someone who was directly affected by the terrorist act, which killed three and injured 264. Grief counselors have helped staffers process the tragedy, which many compartmentalized to get the job done. “It was incredibly gratifying to see how our station reacted,” says Jackie Connally, senior sports producer.

The Commish

Rival stations have featured their own notable special coverage; WCVB, for one, won a Gracie Award for its Boston Strong United special.

But WBZ has a unique voice in Ed Davis, who was the commissioner of the Boston Police Department during last year’s tragedy, and a frequent onair presence at press briefings. He joined the station as security analyst in late February. “Who better to provide insight and analysis on this tragic event?” says Lund, who compares Davis’ role at the station to that of former CBS News senior correspondent John Miller.

On April 15, the anniversary of the bombings, WBZ will be live 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. While specials offer heartbreaking testimony from first responders and survivors, WBZ’s 2014 Patriots’ Day coverage April 21 will be a celebration. A crew of eight WBZ staffers will put on their shorts and sneakers for the 118th running of the marathon, the most that ever have. “Everybody wants that day to be a celebration of all that is great about Boston,” says Lund.

Much of the nation will be watching, if not on channel 4, then on the Web or mobile. Connally has covered 21 Boston Marathons and executive produced seven of them. But 2014 stands out. “Race day this year,” she says, “is going to be an incredible experience.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone is content director at B+C and Multichannel News. He joined B+C in 2005 and has covered network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television, including writing the "Local News Close-Up" market profiles. He also hosted the podcasts "Busted Pilot" and "Series Business." His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Boston Globe and New York magazine.