LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – After 17 years at the helm of WDRB Media, Bill Lamb is headed west to run the TV stations owned by the Fox Network in Los Angeles, KTTV and KCOP.
Lamb, 64, has led WDRB, Louisville’s Fox affiliate, through an unprecedented period of growth in revenue, TV ratings, newscast hours and digital coverage.
WDRB’s newsroom will soon eclipse 100 employees, up from 34 when Lamb arrived in 2002.
The station’s nearly $30 million in sales last year – just shy of $37 million with sister stations WBKI and WMYO – has also about tripled during Lamb’s tenure and tops the local market, he said.
Lamb is best known in Louisville for his "Point of View" editorials on the political and cultural issues of the day, a segment Lamb pioneered and one he plans to continue in Los Angeles. (In fact, the general manager of the Los Angeles stations, Bob Cook, does editorial segments under the ‘Point of View’ brand. Cook is taking an executive role with Fox Network Stations, the company said Thursday.)
Lamb said in an interview Wednesday that WDRB has “never been stronger,” but that he’s not content to “coast” into retirement.
“I want to climb another mountain; I want to take another big challenge and see what I can do,” he said.
Lamb’s destination has been a closely held secret since June 17, when he told WDRB employees he was leaving July 3 to run a station in a “top 10 market.”
Speaking to employees by video conference that day, Allan Block, chairman of WDRB parent company Block Communications Inc., credited Lamb with transforming WDRB into “one of the best” Fox stations in the country.
Block said it will take three or four months to find a general manager to replace Lamb. Ricky Joseph, the general manager of WAND-TV, the Block-owned station in Decatur, Illinois, has been named acting general manager of WDRB.
Block said despite Lamb’s departure, the family-owned company based in Toledo, Ohio remains committed to its broadcast division, of which WDRB is the flagship station.
Lamb credited the privately held Block company with giving WDRB the resources necessary to grow with an eye on longer-term returns, a luxury not always available to competitor stations owned by bigger companies.
In September, WDRB will add a 5 p.m. newscast, bringing its total newscast hours per week to 64, up from 34 when Lamb began.
Lamb’s philosophy about news?
“Instead of trying to do it on the cheap, you hire people to do it right, and guess what? If you do it right, people will watch,” he said.
In 2013, WDRB spent $1.7 million expanding its downtown building to accommodate the additional employees.
The hires have included not only television journalists, but former newspaper writers. In 2012, Lamb convinced Block to follow through on WDRB news director Barry Fulmer’s idea to lure away The Courier-Journal’s two sports columnists, Eric Crawford and Rick Bozich.
They remain with WDRB today, along with four former newspaper reporters.
“The vision there is, the city needs what a newspaper does for it, but the newspaper isn’t going to be around forever… Let’s be the ones to fill that void,” Lamb said. (To be sure, Lamb’s prediction in 2012 that the newspaper would be “dead” in “two or three years” turned out not to be true.)
In his “Point of View” segments, Lamb took on everything from the state pension crisis to road construction to “the unintended consequences of political correctness” and “Gov. (Matt) Bevin’s alternative facts.”
He said the segments are meant to provoke and stir debate, and that he’s developed “the skin of a rhinoceros” over the years after taking heat for his opinions.
Lamb remembers a call from a viewer shortly after he started the segments.
“She said, ‘I don’t like your Point of View and your ears are too big, you shouldn’t be on camera,’” Lamb said. “… She thought she was insulting me; I thought it was hilarious. It’s true. You can’t insult someone with the truth.”