by Lance Turner
Posted 6/3/2013 05:05 pm
Updated 9 months ago
Dale Nicholson, who presided over one of Arkansas' most influential television stations for 25 years as general manager, died at his Little Rock home on Saturday. He was 74.
Little Rock ABC affiliate KATV-TV, Channel 7, where Nicholson spent nearly all of his professional career, announced Nicholson's death on its Facebook page Sunday afternoon.
"We have some sad news to pass along ... we're saying goodbye to an old friend of KATV's tonight," the Allbritton Communications-owned TV station said. "Our Chairman and former General Manager Dale Nicholson died at his home in Little Rock last night. He was 74."
The station aired a tribute to Nicholson during its 10 p.m. Sunday newscast, which is embedded at the bottom of this story.
Nicholson retired as general manager in October 2009 after 25 years in the top position. He was chairman of the station at the time of his death.
On Monday, KATV said visitation is scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Roller Chenal Funeral Home in Little Rock. A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. on Thursday at First United Methodist at 723 Center Street in Little Rock. Both events are open to the public.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., called Nicholson "an icon of television management and a wise risk-taker." He also noted Nicholson's contribution to the Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History, which is named for Pryor's father, former Arkansas Gov. David Pryor.
"My family will be forever thankful to Dale for his efforts through KATV and Allbritton Communications to share Arkansas video archives with the Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History, giving all Arkansans access to generations of television history," Mark Pryor said. "Dale made the world around him a better place, and he will be sorely missed."
University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long said Sunday that for more than half century at KATV, Nicholson helped shape television in Arkansas.
"When I first met Dale it was clear he had a tremendous passion for the Razorbacks and for serving the people of Arkansas," Long said in a prepared statement. "He was instrumental in the success of our longtime partnership with KATV, a partnership which allowed fans throughout the state to follow the Razorbacks.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Nicholson family and his many friends and colleagues at KATV and around the state."
Mark Rose succeeded Nicholson as general manager at KATV and worked for him for 25 years. On Monday, Rose said he learned "thousands" of business lessons from Nicholson over the years.
"One which comes to mind first, he once told me, 'Hire good people and stay out of their way ... coach, support, and encourage. But allow people to lead or they will never become a leader.'"
Steve Sullivan, KATV's sports director, said in a post Monday on KATV's website that Nicholson was a "TV giant" who was to television in Arkansas what Frank Broyles was to UA athletics.
"Coach Broyles had his hands over just about every big decision that was made in Fayetteville during his long run," Sullivan wrote. "The same can be said about Dale Nicholson and KATV. He was the right guy for the right time."
Bob Steel was news director for KATV from 1994-2001. On his "First News" radio show Monday on KARN-FM, 102.9, in Little Rock, he called Nicholson "a terrific individual and just a great broadcaster."
Speaking to Arkansas Business, Steel said Nicholson had "a great broadcast gut" and instinctively knew what worked and what didn't when it came to newscast personalities, content and ideas.
"His management style motivated you and really convinced you that this was a great business," he said.
Steel said he'd had lunch with Nicholson last week, and that his friend had traveled to Germany and Spain in the last year, been playing golf and working on his new house.
Nicholson began his career in broadcasting in 1960 at KTVE-TV in El Dorado. He began working for KATV in 1962 as a booth announcer. In an interview with Arkansas Business around the time he retired as general manager, he recounted his early days at the station, where did everything from serving as a sports anchor to working in sales.
By 1974, Nicholson had been promoted to local sales manager. Two years later, he left KATV to form Roberts Mitchell & Nicholson, an advertising agency that he later said "couldn't make ends meet." Eight months later, he was back at KATV, learning how to run the station under Robert "Bob" Doubleday, who was then general manager.
In 1983, Leake Industries of Muskogee, Okla., which started KATV in 1953, sold the station to the Allbritton family. After the deal was complete, Nicholson became general manager in 1984. He would go on to become the longest-serving general manager in the Little Rock television market.
(Allbritton Communications Co. of Arlington, Va., continues to own KATV, along with WJLA in Washington D.C. and Politico, an online political news website. In May, it announced plans to sell all its TV properties and focus on Politico.)
When serving as KATV vice president in 1977, Nicholson had to decide whether to air "Roots," the groundbreaking miniseries that chronicled the life of slaves in the American South. Nicholson decided to air it.
"It was a very controversial program at the time," Nicholson said in the 2009 Arkansas Business interview.
Nicholson faced a similar decision in the 1990s, when ABC began distributing "NYPD Blue," an edgy police drama that included adult language and nudity. While stations in some markets, including Dallas, chose not to air the drama, Nicholson did.
"It was just always my feeling if something that's really bad you should at least give it a try," he said. "If it is bad, nobody will watch it. It's all driven by ratings."
Nicholson also drew political criticism during the 2000 presidential election, when he appeared in an on-air endorsement of George W. Bush. Democrats accused the station of bias and not giving equal time to their party.
In a 2008 interview with Little Rock Soirée magazine, Nicholson mentioned that endorsement as his "most memorable."
"...[T]he FCC took away the requirement of equal time," he said. "I was the only one in America who took advantage of the decision and endorsed George Bush for president."
Eye for Talent
Talented anchors also drive ratings, Nicholson told Arkansas Business in 2009. And during his tenure, several big names were brought to the market.
Nicholson hired the late Paul Eells, who became a beloved sports anchor and announcer, as well as weatherman Ned Perme, whom then-news director Jim Pitcock lured away from a station in Mobile, Ala.
Nicholson also brought B.J. Sams to Little Rock. Sams also retired in 2009, after 56 years in television, ultimately as a morning anchor for Little Rock CBS affiliate KTHV-TV, Channel 11.
While Nicholson was around for television's switch to color and several other developments, he told Arkansas Business that he happy to retire and leave current GM Rose to take on new challenges.
KATV's Obituary Video