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General manager going home to Raleigh after 15 years at WTAE-TV

Monday, January 21, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Only a month after Pittsburgh's most veteran TV station general manager left town, the current GM with the longest tenure is on his way out, too.

John Howell departed WPXI in December after almost 18 years at the station. On Friday, Jim Hefner announced he will leave Hearst-Argyle-owned WTAE-TV after 15 years.

In early March, Hefner will return to Raleigh, North Carolina's WRAL, owned by Capitol Broadcasting Company, where he worked as news director before coming to Pittsburgh in 1983 as news director at KDKA-TV.

In 1986, Hefner moved across town to WTAE and became general manager there in 1987.

Hefner leaves WTAE on a high note, following a winning November sweeps period for the ABC affiliate.

In a letter to the Channel 4 staff, Hefner called the decision to leave "gut wrenching."

"With fewer years ahead of me than behind me -- professional and personally -- it feels like the right place to conclude my career and raise my family," Hefner wrote. He has six children ranging in age from 9 to 24.

Hefner said he was contacted about the WRAL job just a few weeks ago.

"This is the only position I would have considered outside of Hearst," Hefner said. "I was pretty settled here and within Hearst-Argyle. This is kind of going home. We have deep roots there. My parents are two hours away. I have a grandmother an hour away. There are a lot of ties."

Hefner spent most of his life in the Raleigh vicinity and received his undergraduate degree from the nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Hefner said WTAE has succeeded in its three-pronged mission to deliver a credible newscast, offer public service and operate as a good business.

"I take pride in where the station is right now," Hefner said, reflecting on his time at WTAE.

"Strategically, we did a lot of expansion, the first to do an hour of local news in the morning and then two hours."

He's particularly proud of Channel 4's community service programs.

"I think our community service has continued while others have cut back," he said.

" 'Healthy 4 Life' may seem sappy to a lot of people, but it's something we need to be paying attention to."

Hefner said the sudden upheaval in local TV management is simply cyclical.

"It just seems to happen that way. We've seen it happen in on-air talent here. We go along with few changes in on-air talent for 20 years, and then it all changed. It's a normal, natural cycle," Hefner said. "Our television station is not going to miss a beat, and I'm proud of that."

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