Yet another CBS46 news director departs, this time after 20 months

Frank Volpicella takes over as new news director at CBS46.

Frank Volpicella takes over as new news director at CBS46.

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Larry Perret has been replaced as news director at CBS46, the perpetual fourth-place performer in the market.

Perret lasted 20 months. That isn’t a lengthy tenure but on par with his two predecessors Lane Michaelson (15 months, April, 2013- July, 2014) and Eric Ludgood (22 months, March, 2011-January 2013). Before them were Steve Schwaid (two years, 10 months, May, 2008-March, 2011) and Rick Erbach (three years, four months, January 2005-May 2008).

In a memo sent to employees today, GM Mark Pimentel wrote, in passive tense: “The decision has been made that to continue moving forward, a change is needed in newsroom management.”

Senior executive producer Leesa Dillon was cut as well.

Perret’s replacement is Frank Volpicella, who has been a news director at the ABC affiliate KVUE-TV in Austin for nearly 16 years until last month. As part of Tegna, Volpicella took a system-wide early retirement package, the same one 15 11 Alive (WXIA-TV) employees also nabbed last month, including Kevin Rowson, Keith Whitney and Donna Lowry.

Volpicella will be CBS46’s sixth news director since 2008. He starts July 11.

He and Pimentel worked together in the late 1990s at WAFF-TV in Huntsville, Al. when Pimental was GM there and Volpicella was news director. They also both worked at WSB-TV in the late 1980s when both were executive producers. Clearly, they have mutual respect for each other. And Volpicella was reportedly very well liked in Austin.

“Frank is a content and product guy who knows Atlanta well,” Pimentel wrote me. “We have worked with each other twice before and share a vision of successful news products.”

According to the Austin 360 story: 

During Volpicella’s time at KVUE, he was responsible for hiring almost all of the reporters and news anchors on the air today and oversaw newscasts that have received countless awards and have consistently ranked at or near the top of the Austin Nielsen ratings.

“Our station has undergone many changes over the years,” Pimentel wrote in his memo. “I hope you will share the same optimism that I do that the change will continue our forward momentum.”

“We thank Larry Perret and Leesa Dillon for their hard work making the initial improvements that were needed,” he continued. “Larry is headed home to California to be nearer his aging mother. We wish them well.”

Perret has been unable to consistently lift CBS46 out of its perpetual fourth-place doldrums behind Channel 2 Action news, Fox 5 and 11 Alive.

One insider wrote: “He covered himself with layers of management to protect himself… not a great communicator and was reactive instead of proactive… The order of the day was consistently low staffing and high levels of frustration to do the basics in the newsroom.”

The CBS affiliate overhauled much of its staff last year, bringing in a raft of new anchors, reporters and behind-the-scenes crew. A year ago, they introduced their Just a Minute commentary crew, made largely of former journalists and local personalities such as Bill Nigut, Hollis Gillespie and Frank Ski. They created an investigative team and hired well-known names such as Fred Kalil and Karyn Greer, formerly of 11 Alive, and Sally Sears, formerly of WSB.

Recently, they’ve invested in a major billboard campaign touting their evening anchors Sharon Reed and Ben Swann.

The powerful, well-promoted Amanda Davis first-person story earlier this month gave the station a one-night boost but it didn’t last. Their overall May numbers in fact were lower than they were in May, 2015, according to Nielsen data.

The station did garner far more Southeastern Emmy nominations this past month (winners to be named June 11) than it has in recent years.

 

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