Gene McHugh last week officially retired after 14-plus years as general manager at Fox affiliate WAGA-TV.
The 63-year-old television executive can look back with pride. The station held its own as a solid No. 2 behind perennial leader WSB-TV the entire time he was there while carving out more news hours than any local news operation.
“It’s been one of the more stable environments,” he said, in a business notorious for turnover.”I count myself among the lucky ones.”
WAGA-TV has been one of the strongest Fox affiliates in the country. Shows tend to do better here than they do nationally across the board, from “The Wendy Williams Show” to “House” to “American Idol.” And its 10 p.m. news show, especially after “Idol,” often draws 300,000 or more viewers.
In recent years, the station has increased the number of broadcast news hours on air including an 11 p.m. news show and an extra 9 a.m. hour in the morning. But it hasn’t increased on-air staff very much. “It doesn’t change people’s workloads,” McHugh said. “It increases productivity and provides the market with more information.”
He’s also happy with the way the day-time line-up has worked out over the years, heavily focused on court shows. “Judge Judy” actually does well against “Oprah” on WSB-TV, he said.
Morale at the station was poor before McHugh arrived in the mid-1990s, said Dan Keever, a former video journalist for WAGA who now works at the University of Georgia. But he said staff morale “jumped to the ceiling” after he arrived. “He’s much loved,” Keever said. “He’s even. He’s fair. He’s calm. And he cares about the people.”
He is being replaced by Bill Schneider, who was general sales manager at the station a decade ago and knows the market. He has since worked in Denver and Tampa.
“Gene’s done a remarkable job with this station,” he said. “He’s recruited some really talented people. The station’s in a terrific position.”