WBAY 70: Commitment to the community
By Kris Leonhardt
Part VII and final part of our series on WBAY’s history
The 1960s also brought about color television at WBAY and the station’s growth continued to take off.
In the early 1970s, Jerry Burke came to WBAY from FM radio, when FM was fairly new, and worked as news director.
He was contacted by two different television stations to come work for them on the same day.
After interviewing with both stations, he selected WBAY.
“I chose Channel 2 because it was the station I grew up with,” Burke recalled.
The station soon realized that it needed to increase the stories coming out of the Fox Valley area, where they had a large viewership, and the Fox Valley Bureau was created.
“Tim Ryan started the ball rolling,” Burke added.
“Our first day was Halloween in 1977, and we had a bureau office in Oshkosh. We moved twice in Oshkosh, and then we moved the bureau to Appleton in 1990. The bureau is still running to this day. I was in charge of the bureau from 1977 until I retired.
“The ratings went through the roof for Channel 2,” Burke said and other stations soon followed.
But that was a different time, Burke said.
“Back when I started, reporters, we all did what they called a turnaround. I would go out and somebody would shoot my story, then I would take the camera and shoot that person’s story. And that’s the way we did business for a long time.
“But after a while, we realized we had to have just a photographer staff and just reporters.
“A lot of the reporters now shoot their own stuff. And the camera size, cameras have gotten much smaller.”
Burke’s career with WBAY spanned nearly 34 years, from 1973-2007, a longevity seen often throughout the station’s history, according to current WBAY Vice President/General Manager Steve Lavin.
“When I became GM nine years ago, I was sales manager. So I was here for 10 years as a sales manager. So I knew people in the building.
“I took the first five, six weeks of just scheduling one-on-one meetings with people, current employees, every one of them. I think there were 95 at the time, and I learned the pride that the people in news had for working for WBAY. It was just incredible.
“You know, nine years later, some of them retired, some of them moved on, but the longevity and the passion that they had.
“We have a commitment to our community.
“When they turn the TV on every night they expect to be informed, and over the last several years in TV, it hasn’t been really easy because there’s some perspective that we’re a liberal. We get lumped into the national stuff and that’s not the case… We could not be slanted one way or the other, because we would lose half our viewership.
“We take a lot of pride in being down in the middle.”