Most people say goodbye to their work when they leave for the day.
Not Steve Pontius.
The news industry has long been a 24-hour business, and that’s never been truer than today. But the executive vice president and general manager of Waterman Broadcasting Corp. doesn’t mind the fast pace. The 64-year-old Pontius, who began his broadcasting career as a junior in college at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, thrives on it.
“Local television is a very exciting business,” he says. “It’s almost a lifestyle, because you eat it, sleep it, breathe it all day long.”
He arrived at Waterman in 1985, right after Thanksgiving Day, and initially served as as director of sales. In his current role, Pontius oversees hundreds of employees, including about 250 in Fort Myers, where Waterman owns station WBBH-TV NBC2 and operates station WZVN-TV ABC7 for Montclair Communications on a local marketing agreement. In Charlottesville, Virginia—home to the University of Virginia—Waterman also owns another NBC affiliate, WVIR-TV, and Pontius oversees a team of about 85 to 90 employees there.
Leading so many people calls for embracing their “rich personalities,” he explains, and building a strong work family in an environment where there is frequently a high level of job stress.
For Pontius, that means a wide variety of tasks: holding a cookout for staff and serving hamburgers at 7 a.m. to feed the morning crew; welcoming new employees at the monthly staff meeting; and answering employees’ questions, such as where they can find a good dry cleaner in a new town.
“If it’s important to your employees, it’s important to your business,” Pontius says. “My job is to give them the tools and support to do a great job.”
It also means encouraging them to get involved in the community they serve, he adds.
“I ask every employee to give something back. I don’t care if it’s to their church or a Boy Scout troop,” Pontius says. “As you do that, you make your community stronger and that’s going to make your business stronger.”
And make no mistake: Pontius views himself—and Waterman— first and foremost as public servants.
Pontius notes that the airwaves belong to the public, and that Waterman’s three stations can still be watched free of charge, unlike cable news—a service that must be purchased—or social media news feeds, which are not governed by the government’s Federal Communications Commission. Waterman operates on a platform that’s regulated by the FCC, and required to act in “the public interest, convenience and necessity,” he says.
He believes that when you cover the news that matters to a community—the news that helps them protect and educate themselves— success will follow. NBC2 recently earned eight Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio Television Digital News Directors Association for its local reporting. Pontius believes those accolades reflect the station’s commitment to giving Southwest Florida top-quality news and information.
“If you serve the community, the rest of the stuff will take care of itself, including the revenue,” he says.
There’s no doubt that the news landscape has changed since Pontius started. He remembers a time when covering the local news meant a newscast at 6 p.m. Now, in Fort Myers alone, Waterman produces 13 total hours of local news every weekday, and must also manage its online platforms. Juggling all that requires skill, talent and an understanding of the latest technology.
But what hasn’t changed is the need to stay current.
“It’s really pretty simple,” Pontius says. “Whatever your product is, keep it relevant and valuable to your community. Whether it’s a local television newscast, whether you’re running an oil-change shop, you’ve got to make people feel like they receive value from your product.”