While a TV news executive in Chicago, Phyllis Schwartz’s favorite focus group were cab drivers.
“They’ll tell you everything you want to know about television and what they hate, what they like,” Schwartz said.
Now, as the San Diego native returns to run KNSD Channel 7/39 and re-acquaints herself with the market, she’s wondering what the taxi driver equivalent will be.
Schwartz won’t be settled in the local NBC station’s offices as president and general manager until mid-December, and doesn’t expect to have specific plans for the station very soon.
At first, she’ll be watching a lot of local TV and getting to know the station, community and San Diego businesses, she said.
She was vice president of news and creative services at the NBC affiliate in Chicago.
This is the first time Schwartz, 44, has had a station’s top position, although she said it’s been her long-term goal. In her two previous positions at NBC and ABC, she worked closely with the stations’ general managers.
‘Community Of Employees’
“You’re the business leader of that station,” she said, describing her new job. “It’s a community of employees, and you’re their leader financially, emotionally, editorially and ethically.
“You want to make San Diego (viewers) feel that this is a place that they want to watch that is responsive to their needs , and you want to be on the positive side, financially.
“I’m a true believer that if you do excellent programming, people are going to want to pay you to be associated with it, and people are going to want to watch it.”
She grew up in San Diego, and it’s where she launched her career before moving to the Windy City 19 years ago.
“I think San Diego’s probably been, for the last few years, on the cusp of turning into a bigger, more crowded city,” she said. “It’s something that people have resisted the idea of that for a long time.
“I think that makes this a beautiful and wonderful place to live, but also very interesting.”
San Diego’s a contrast to the market Schwartz has known for the past 20 years. “When you’re in Chicago, there’s many months when you have a captive audience for your news and TV viewers,” she explained. “When it’s 20-below and there’s a few feet of snow, you tend to watch more TV.”
Here, there’s a lot of competition “for people’s eyeballs,” she said, and it’s not just the weather.
“In San Diego, not only are you challenged because it’s one of the most-cabled cities in the country, and also very wired up,” she said.
“If people can get up on their computers and they can watch HBO, and it’s gorgeous outside, you’re really challenged to do some excellent programming.”
Schwartz had left San Diego at age 25 for a what was known as a grittier local news environment, she recalled.
Rose Through Ranks
At the time, she was a producer for KFMB-TV, having risen through the ranks of producing news segments for a morning feature show and weekend broadcasts.
Schwartz grew up in the College Area, graduating from Crawford High School. After two years at UCSD, she transferred to SDSU because of its broadcast journalism program.
When Schwartz headed to Chicago, she worked in news and producing positions at the city’s NBC station, WMAQ, then the ABC affiliate, WLS. She returned to the NBC station about a year ago. By then, she was on the leadership track, she said.
“For me, it’s the right time to come back,” she said. “I think I’ve grown up in the business, and I think San Diego is growing into a place that has a lot of interesting things to cover from a news and a station perspective.
“So, I feel like it’s a really good time for me, and it’s a really fun time to be back in San Diego.”
‘I’m a true believer that if you do excellent programming, people are going to want to pay you to be associated with it, and people are going to want to watch it.’
KNSD Channel 7/39