Dave Lougee's secretary was accused of making him up after having to reschedule his interview a fourth time. He seemed an elusive notion rather than a guy in charge of 23 TV stations and an 8,000-screen digital signage business.
He finally insisted on going through with the interview from his home in Great Falls, Va., even while recovering from the flu.
"I was on a station visit when I lost my voice," he said. It turned out he had Influenza B. "The hardest thing was that I refused to shake anyone's hand."
Eight months into his tenure as president of Gannett Broadcasting, Lougee had two more stations to visit. He took the reins last July following the retirement of Roger Ogden, who mentored Lougee years ago.
Stepping into Ogden's role was "an honor," he said, "but as fast as this business is moving, there's not a lot of time to dwell on it."
During his first 25 years in TV, Lougee said the industry evolved at a steady pace. People watched TV on TVs. Then digital technology occurred. People can watch TV content in elevators, on buses or using cell phone screens. One thing Lougee reckons has not changed so much in that landscape is the inherent value of local news.
"The role of news was very important in 1981 and it's very important today," he said. "Stations had just started to discover then how important it was to have a strong local news brand."
Lougee witnessed that discovery first hand. After taking an undergrad degree in English from the University of Colorado in Boulder, he scored a news internship at KMGH-TV in Denver. Within two weeks, John Hinkley, Jr. pulled a revolver on President Ronald Reagan and squeezed off six rounds. The gunman's parents lived in Evergreen, Colo., just outside of Denver.
It was a life-changing experience for the young intern. One taste of the newsroom, and he was hooked.
"I knew that was the business I wanted to be in," Lougee said.
ALWAYS A NEWSMAN
Lougee may have awakened to his calling in a mobilizing newsroom, but his career started in a classic, old-school fashion. He delivered newspapers in East Lyme, Conn.
"We were a bedroom community of New London, where there's a submarine base," he said "My father worked for the company that developed the Trident subs. I delivered newspapers and read about Watergate every day, and the Symbionese Liberation Army."
His brother, 11 years older, was also drafted into Army.
"Like a lot of families in the '60s, Vietnam was being discussed at the dinner table, with the grainy black-and-white TV in the corner with Walter Cronkite on it," he said. "I intended to be a lawyer like my brother."
Instead, he would excel in the TV news business, at KCNC-TV and KUSA-TV in Denver, then later as vice president of news at WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. From there, Lougee moved to Seattle to be news director of KING-TV, a Belo station. Before he left Belo for Gannett last year, Lougee had become senior vice president of media operations.
At Gannett, his operational approach is holistic. News shouldn't be judged by revenue alone, he said, "Because it's the overall strength of your local brand."
Likewise, Lougee said a station's reach should no longer be judged by the implied boundaries of the designated market area.
"We have always defined local by what is the reach of our transmitter. That doesn't necessarily define our customers' definition of local," he said. "If I'm a 25-year-old libertarian, it's not Great Falls, Va., that interests me, it's other 25-year-old libertarians."
Such are the folks likely to find one another on the Internet.
"I don't think broadcasters have done a very good job with that platform, and I think it's the broadcast model--pushing out one to many. That's not the power of the Internet. It's about one-to-one engagement."
Dave Lougee, it turns out, is very real after all.