J. Michael Early former president and gm of New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL has died. He was 99.
“I have never seen somebody who just personified leadership the way he did,” WWL gm Tod Smith told The Times-Picayune. “Totally unselfish. It was always about WWL-TV and its people, never about him.”
To staff, he was known as “Mr. Early” which the Times-Picayune said was “a measure of their respect, bordering on reverence, for him even long after his retirement.”
“There was not a person in the building that referred to him any other way, whether it was Garland Robinette or Angela Hill or production assistants,” said Keith Esparros, WWL’s news director.
“More than anyone I have ever encountered in this business, Mr. Early was incredibly successful at creating the culture here that excellence was simply expected, and that you would be excellent and you would succeed if you followed the WWL way,” he said.
“When you walked in this building, you realized you were on this big team and that no one here was going to let the team down,” Esparros said. “That was just the culture. No one told you this was what was expected. It almost just oozed through the walls, and it was directly from him.”
Early, who was known for his eye for talent, retired from WWL when he was 82 after leading the station for 37 years.
After working for two decades as a lawyer, he started his broadcasting career at age 45, when WWL’s then-owners, the Jesuits of Loyola, gave him management of the local CBS affiliate at a time when local NBC affiliate WDSU was the legacy local ratings champion. WWL’s broadcast partners at the time were WWL AM-870 and WLMG FM-101.9.
Mr. Early eventually led WWL-TV to a ratings winning streak unparalleled in the TV industry, which continues today. According to WWL’s obituary, awards won by the station during his time there included two national Edward R. Murrow Awards for overall excellence, and five George Foster Peabody Awards.