Sit Down with Sandy: Behind the Scenes with Local Leaders – Bill Fine

As we continue to celebrate 20 years in business, our own Sandy Lish sat down with the General Manager of WCVB, Bill Fine, to talk about his defining moments over the past 20 years, his incredible team, and how the station as a whole amplifies itself within the community.

Sandy Lish & Bill Fine

 

Sandy:We’ve been in business for 20 years –WCVB far longer. From 1996 to now, has there been one defining moment in WCVB’s history that speaks to what you represent and what’s important to WCVB? 

 

Bill: It would be impossible to identify one defining moment. I know there was a defining year of coverage in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and Boston hosted the Democratic National Convention. There was just an extraordinary amount of activity requiring our staff to work virtually all day and all night for long stretches. I would say, more recently, it would have to be the [Boston Marathon Bombing]. And then, as a sports fan, the Red Sox winning the 2013 World Series at home. There was such a strong need for the city to recover, and the Red Sox provided an incredibly positive distraction.  It really started that Saturday after the bombing, when Big Papi took the field during the extraordinary pre-game ceremony. I remember saying to some folks, “Did he just say what I thought he said?” And the reaction in the park was just spectacular, they won the game and the tone was set for a championship season.

There are people here at WCVB who, from that day (the day of the bombing) forward, I said, “Those are our go-to people.” I was really proud of everybody and the job we did collectively, and how we stayed calm and focused; striving to be accurate in everything we did. So, when you say “defining moment,” to me [as the general manager of the station], that one crystallized exactly who I had here and what they were capable of. And I came away more impressed and more proud of this entire group than at any point prior to that. This was the ultimate team effort. Another thing I’ll say: it crystallized, for me, the need to know that your staff has a lot of local knowledge.

 

Sandy:That leads to my next question, because you are very connected to the community–WCVB, and you personally–and you talk a lot about having reporters on staff who are native to the region. How is that an advantage over some of the other outlets?

 

Bill:When breaking news is unfolding, and when they were basically piecing together the timeline on the day of the bombing, I remember, as just one example, {anchor} Ed Harding looking at a relatively narrow picture of downtown and saying, “That is the corner of Exeter and Boylston.” For the vast majority of our employees, this is where we’re from and we know our area because it’s home. As a lighter example, Ed tries to stump Lynchie asking him to name the mascots of high schools all over our viewing area. I can’t remember Lynchie ever not knowing one. He can tell you that Needham is the Rockets, that’s an easy one, because it’s in our back yard; but he can also tell you what Manchester or Peabody’s is. That’s the type of local knowledge I’m referring to. That gives us credibility. You can also become an educated Bostonian who really understands the market, and, once you’re here–by that I mean in this city and at this station–people tend to stay for a long, long time.

 

Sandy:Why do you think that is?

 

 

Bill:I hope–truly feel–it is because our people are proud of the mission of the station as a true community partner in Boston, that the environment working here is considered pretty good, if not excellent, and that they truly like who they work with. The biggest predictor of success or enjoyment at work is not money, believe it or not. Almost any study you look at asks “Do I like where I work and do I like the people I work with?” If those two things correlate, then the longevity of the employee is going to be high. Probably the biggest reason is the stability and consistency of the station. I’m the fourth general manager here in 45 years. My news director is the sixth in 45 years. When you come to work here, you know what you’re getting into, there’s no mystery. So the stability, the consistency, and the quality of the station is attractive to anyone who wants a career here.

 

Sandy:Can you talk about your commitment to the community through your support of different causes and events? You’re such a visible partner and you have so much power to help organizations amplify their own messages, how do determine your role is in the community?   

 

Bill:That goes back to my predecessors and the charter of the station. We won our license back in 1972 by promising to do more local programming than any other television station in the country, more innovative local programming. Fast forward to today, and the contrast of how local stations have changed to the point where you can’t brand them as easily… We have “Chronicle” entering its 35th year next January. Chronicle is the extraordinary type of local programming that the FCC had hoped would be the result of primetime access reverting back to local stations. We recently added a 7 pm news leading into “Chronicle,”–the first station to do that. So it’s an all-local hour. Others run game shows, sitcoms, and other nationally syndicated programming. “Chronicle” is a locally-produced show with a local budget going up against these behemoths that have extraordinary resources and national reach and profile.

The historic nature of the station was in our charter, a promise to the community that we would do more. That doesn’t mean quantity, it means quality. What we do – the filter that we put it through – is to help as many as we can, but not so many that it’s diluted. We have a very strong campaign in conjuncture with the Department of Public Health called “5 on Opioids.” That’s morphed into the “stigma” campaign that we’re running now. The Governor told me–and I think this has been shared publicly–that awareness has gone up by 30 percent in the state. That’s a huge number for a campaign which originally ran only a few months. As a result, we’ve extended it.

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