Two local TV execs score national honors in wake of CBS swap

Last year's CBS affiliation switch from WISH-TV Channel 8 to WTTV-TV Channel 4 caused a lot of tumult in the local television market. It also brought two national broadcasting awards to this market.

Les Vann

For his efforts leading WISH through the dramatic change, Les Vann this month was named General Manager of the Year (for U.S. television markets No. 26-No. 50) by Broadcasting & Cable, a national trade publication chronicling the business of the television industry.

WTTV Vice President of News Kerri Cavanaugh was named News Director of the Year (all market sizes) by Broadcasting & Cable.

It was an interesting—and challenging—year for Vann.

In August 2014, he replaced Jeff White as WISH general manager less than a month after it was announced that the CBS affiliation would be moving to WTTV-TV Channel 4 on the first day of 2015.

The move ended WISH’s 64-year relationship with CBS. Still, Vann said he had no hesitation about taking the job.

Due to the affiliation change, Vann increased local news coverage time in 2015 by 42 percent, to 64.5 hours a week.

“It was an obvious choice. We didn’t have a lot of time. We only had four months,” Vann told Broadcasting & Cable. “The question was how to structure it; how to put it together; how to market it; and how to present it to everybody. We spent a lot of time last fall getting ready to do that.”

Vann filled the CBS programming gap—and steadied the station’s cash flow—by bringing in CW syndicated content and a bevy of sports programming including 57 Chicago Cubs and White Sox baseball games, 19 Chicago Blackhawks hockey games, Indiana Fever basketball games, Atlantic Coast Conference football and basketball games, Butler University basketball games and horse racing.

WISH made the post-CBS transition, Vann said, by becoming “hyper-local.”

“We can control our own content—how we produce it, how we market it,” he said. “I feel like we control more of our destiny with the localism and the local news presence that we have created.”

The increased news offerings have kept WISH competitive in this five-station local TV news market.

kerri cavanaugh mugKerri Cavanaugh

In August 2014, Cavanaugh was tasked with creating a new CBS news department at WTTV in time for a Jan. 1, 2015, launch.

Broadcasting & Cable lauded Cavanaugh for creating a whole new department; hiring managers, producers, photographers, reporters and anchors, in less than five months.

She defined a separate WTTV news brand strategy from its sister station, WXIN-TV Channel 59, assisted with the development and design of a set and graphics, and launched three web sites for the Tribune Broadcasting-owned station.  

Amid the changes at WTTV, she oversaw the launch of a 7 p.m. newscast on WXIN.

As the head of WTTV and WXIN newscasts, Cavanaugh is responsible for the production of more than 90 hours of weekly local news.

In a few short months, Cavanaugh hired more than 60 people, including former WISH anchor Debby Knox and popular local meteorologist Chris Wright. She paired Knox and Donaldson with Bob Donaldson from WXIN to form WTTV’s new nighttime news team.

“What Kerri accomplished in 2015 was unprecedented,” Bart Feder, senior vice president of News for Tribune Broadcasting, said in written comments. “We’re not only proud of what she pulled off, but how she did it.”

In the first year that WTTV’s new CBS4 News has been on the air, it has risen to No. 3 in early-evening news, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research, and is in a nightly fight for No. 3 at 11 p.m.

This fall, WXIN has seen 50 percent year-over-year increase in ratings during its 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. newscast and 30 percent year-over-year growth in its newscast from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. WXIN is No. 1 in ratings in this market at 10 p.m. and No. 2 to WTHR-TV Channel 13 at 11 p.m., according to Nielsen.   

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