NBC-17's Leffler to run WCHL

Staff WriterOctober 3, 2009 

Barry Leffler, president of TV station NBC-17 since 2005, is stepping down to run 1360-WCHL, Chapel Hill's community radio station.

Leffler bought a minority stake in the radio station from owner Jim Heavner. Eventually, Heavner plans to sell the whole thing to him.

Heavner will continue as WCHL's chairman for now, with Leffler as CEO and managing partner.

"The opportunity to become a media owner doesn't come along very often," said Leffler, who has worked in television for nearly 25 years. "To be able to do it in a community I love makes it even better."

Leffler lives in Chapel Hill and has been friends with Heavner for some time. The two men recently started discussing a partnership that gives Heavner a succession plan. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

"He's an extraordinarily capable broadcaster, who I learned along the way has an entrepreneurial bent," Heavner said. "He's the next generation."

Heavner bought the station in the 1970s, sold it to Raleigh-based Curtis Media in 1995 and then repurchased it in 2002. The station's lineup includes news, talk shows and UNC-Chapel Hill sports coverage.

The station has benefited during the downturn from being a "local medium in a prosperous town," Heavner said. "Local advertisers find that their ads on WCHL continue to work."

Leffler, 46, said he plans to quit NBC-17 in several weeks. He has worked for NBC for 14 years, with stints in Miami, London and New York.

Like most broadcasters and newspapers, NBC-17 has been hurt by the recession and advertising slump, forcing Leffler to cut about 20 percent of the station's staff in March. Leffler said his departure is voluntary.

Officials with NBC-17's corporate parent, Richmond, Va.-based Media General, will start a search for Leffler's replacement, said spokeswoman Lou Anne Nabhan.

At WCHL, Leffler plans to use the station's focus on "hyper-local" news and information and expand it on new platforms such as social media Web sites.

"We've been spending a lot of time in the TV business looking at ways to do more hyper-local news," he said. "WCHL is living and breathing that concept every day."

alan.wolf@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4572

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