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Ex-Ch. 2 GM Kevin O'Brien to head Ch. 20

The FCC on Friday (June 23) approved the sale of KBWB Channel 20 and a sister station in Detroit to an investor group led by former KTVU Channel 2 General Manager Kevin O’Brien (pictured) for $150 million. O’Brien is a legendary figure in San Francisco broadcasting, as this 2001 article by Chron TV writer John Carman attests.

O’Brien and now-retired Channel 2 news director Fred Zehnder built KTVU’s “10’O Clock News” into a ratings powerhouse that was held out nationally as an example of how quality local TV news should be done. O’Brien paired anchors Dennis Richmond and Elaine Corral in 1986, and launched “Mornings on 2.” O’Brien was instrumental in persuading KTVU parent Cox Broadcasting to buy a piece of the Giants in 1992 in an effort to stop the team from moving to Florida.

In late 2001, he took a job as president of Meredith Broadcasting, which owned 12 TV stations in markets such as Atlanta and Phoenix. Within a couple of years, he was credited with turning around a money-losing company. But on Sept. 23, 2004, one of the managers he supervised, who headed Meredith’s Atlanta station, wrote a letter to O’Brien’s boss accusing him of making negative comments to employees based on their race, sex and ethnicity. On Oct. 28, 2004, Meredith fired O’Brien. O’Brien denied all of the allegations and fought back in court. In May 2005, Meredith settled with O’Brien. Terms were not disclosed.

If O’Brien was a bigot, as some had claimed, then it was surprising that three months later an African-American owned company, Granite Broadcasting, would hire O’Brien as a consultant.

He led an effort at Granite to spin off its San Francisco and Detroit stations — a move that would provide $190 million cash for Granite and allow some of Granite’s shareholders to own a piece of the two stations, along with a consortium of investment groups. The proposed $180 million deal was originally disclosed in January, but it fell apart when the WB and UPN announced they were shutting down and would merge into The CW. Both the SF and Detroit stations were WB affiliates. The CW affiliations in Detroit and San Francisco were awarded to CBS-owned UPN stations.

The transaction approved by the FCC on Friday had a $150 million price tag — $84.25 million for the Detroit station and $65.75 million for Channel 20 in SF. The buyer is DS Audible, a new company headed by O’Brien.

A footnote — Jim Gabbert and Mike Lincoln sold Channel 20 to Granite in 1997 for $173.75 million. Gabbert now flys around on a Boeing 737 and does occassional talk-show shifts at KGO 810.

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