After 17 years running Austin ABC affiliate KVUE-TV, president and general manager Patti Smith says she’s ready to “hit the pause button.”
Smith told staffers this week that she will leave the station at the end of May, with plans to travel, spend more time with her family and continue to hone her photography skills.
After that break, Smith said, she’ll be open to whatever opportunities come her way.
“This is the end of a chapter,” Smith said. “It’s not the end of the book.”
Smith took over KVUE in 1999, arriving from the NBC affiliate in the Rio Grande Valley, where she spent about a decade heading up that station. Colleagues say she’s a rarity in broadcast TV, where figures show only 13 percent of general managers are women.
The average stay for a TV general manager is just five years, according to the National Association of Broadcasters.
“Patti is a pioneer in this business,” said Jenelle Shriner, KVUE’s assistant news director. “It’s because of Patti that women have a voice as news managers in journalism. Not to say there aren’t other women who have helped blaze the trail, but I can’t say ‘women like Patti’ because there is no one else like Patti.”
Getting to where she is today wasn’t easy, Smith said. One of the first of many challenges she faced was a discussion over grades with a college professor who bluntly said, “Women don’t belong in this business. It’s about time someone told you that.”
“I decided to live to prove him wrong,” she said.
Over the past four decades, Smith has held a variety of positions at stations in both Austin and the Rio Grande Valley, including directing live news broadcasts, overseeing commercial production efforts, working in sales and serving as a news director, creative services manager and video operations manager. She also started a production company and worked for Austin Cablevision for a time.
“In the years that Patti has been a driving force here at KVUE, we’ve relied on her strength, her wisdom and her love for this community to help us serve our viewers,” 5 p.m. news anchor Quita Culpepper said. “I’m honored to call her my boss – and my friend. We’ll all miss her very much.”
Smith’s first general manager gig, at KVEO-TV, came in 1990 when she was 35 years old.
“That was one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “I like to say we were the No. 4 station in a three-station market, but we turned it around. If you hire great people and treat them with respect, they can do magic.”
The magic worked. It wasn’t long before KVEO was the Valley’s top-ranked station.
Smith said she was very happy where she was, but when the opportunity to head to Austin came up, she knew she had to act. KVUE had a stellar reputation in the industry, she said, and she’d always wanted to work for Belo, the Dallas-based company that owned the station at the time. So she took the leap.
KVUE is now owned by Tegna, which was spun off from Gannett Co.
“That was the most difficult decision of my career,” she said. “But both my kids were here in Austin for school. The timing was perfect and KVUE has a long history of excellence. It’s that reputation that really sealed the deal.”
During Smith’s time at KVUE, she’s helped oversee the station’s transition from analog to digital broadcasts and the addition and expansion of several newscasts, among other accomplishments. The station is regularly recognized for its community service efforts and it has long been the home of many of the city’s highest-rated news and entertainment programs.
“The moment I met her, I knew she was someone I had to work for,” said Shriner, who first got to know Smith in 2010, while interviewing for an executive producer position. “She is dynamic, smart, engaging, down to earth, loyal to the core and a born leader with a magnetic personality. Patti has a heart the size of Texas and the amount of pride she has in KVUE, its employees and this community is evident in everything she does.”
Smith said one of her proudest moments was helping to introduce the station’s slogan: “Where Trust is Earned.” It’s something the station’s news team strives for each and every day, executive news director Frank Volpicella said.
“Patti Smith’s impact on KVUE is immeasurable,” he said. “She’s led KVUE for 17 years during a period when the station experienced unprecedented success. But most importantly, Patti always puts people first. She cares about her employees as if they are members of her own family. She recognizes their contributions. She honors their achievements. And she always credits her staff for any success the station achieves. It has been an honor and a privilege to have worked with Patti. She is a trailblazer and the broadcast industry is losing a remarkable person.”