Long-time news director Budd McEntee resigned today from his post at Fox affiliate WAGA-TV this afternoon.
He’s leaving at the end of the week. A WAGA spokeswoman said a replacement is being sought but has yet to be named. This is the second major shift in management in just a few weeks. The station’s veteran general manager Gene McHugh stepped down last month, replaced by Bill Schneider.
McEntee, 55, said his decision to retire was independent from McHugh’s.
“It’s been a fascinating opportunity and a great ride,” McEntee said in an interview today. “I need some time to throttle back a bit and take care of me and my family.” He will take some time off before deciding what his next step will be.
McEntee, who joined the station as a producer in 1982, has been news director at WAGA since 1991. His proudest accomplishment: turning I-Team investigative team into an award-winning powerhouse. (”That team is so bloody committed!” he said.)
WAGA runs more local news than any other station in town and is a strong second place behind ABC affiliate Channel 2 Action News in overall ratings.
Its 10 p.m. news often beats scripted fare on other networks, especially if Fox airs a strong 9 p.m. program such as “American Idol.” Its morning “Good Day Atlanta” show has been consistently popular for years, anchored currently by Mark Hayes and Suchita Vadlamani.
Brett Martin, the former “Good Day Atlanta” Road Warrior features reporter who was let go from the station in 2007, said McEntee was liked by some, not so much by others. Martin said he hardly ever dealt with McEntee because McEntee was not a fan of feature stories.
“He was passionate about being first, getting it right and getting it on the air,” said Angeline Hartmann, who worked at WAGA-TV from 1996 to 2005 and is now a correspondent at “America’s Most Wanted” in Washington D.C.
She said for people he knew were loyal to WAGA, he treated well. And even when she left, he would joke to her, “You’ll always work for me.” Years later, he would still call her for tips and would ask her when she was returning. (”When you leave WAGA, you have a little 5 carved in your heart,” McEntee added. “It’s a special place where people take care of each other and turn out some of the best storytelling and reporting I’ve ever seen.”)
“The longer you’re there, the more you can appreciate him,” Hartmann said. “I’ve had my share of him calling me into his office letting me know he wasn’t happy about this or that. But he made me a better reporter and helped me develop a thick skin.”
She said she was shocked he was stepping down: “We always thought he’d die there!”
McEntee admitted he could be tough on his people. “It’s not nirvana,” he said. “It’s not heaven. People may say, ‘I didn’t care for Budd or care for Channel 5.’ But I have to tell you: I have been blessed with an incredible team of people who are just so good at what they do. They will continue to be great at what they do. And it doesn’t hurt to have a corporation stand behind you [like News Corp.]”
He also thinks the growth of Fox News during his tenure WAGA has only helped the station. “It’s a very strong name and a name people instantly recognize,” he said. “And to be honest with you, a lot of people call us with tips we wouldn’t have gotten in other instances.”
He has built some loyalty. “Why do they stay?” he asked, jokingly adding, “Must be my cheerful personality!” He said: “I want to be the best it can be. I don’t want viewers to have to work. I don’t want viewers to have to sit there and figure out what we said. We were fair and balanced at WAGA before fair and balanced was cool!”
McEntee, as a background guy, didn’t embrace the front of the camera. A quick Google image search for him landed exactly one tiny single shot, taken for the Live Apartment Fire blog, written by former WAGA-TV reporter Doug Richards, now at WXIA-TV:
There is video of him at an Atlanta Press Club meeting from 2009 responding to a question of whether local news “stinks,” a statement a rival news director said in general.
And for folks who like seeing old promos, here’s one for the I-Team circa 1994.
Here’s when the station moved from CBS to Fox: