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Date Posted:
March 1, 2004

“Frank Comerford: More Than Just Business”
By: Danya R. Steele

The first thing you may notice about Frank Comerford, President and General Manager of WNBC-TV, is that he’s busy. Really busy. Dressed to the nines as you’d expect any station president and manager to be – cuff links, and all -- he nonetheless comes off as the kind of man who’s incredibly proactive, a man who isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves. In fact, he comes off as the kind of man who likely rolls up those sleeves rather often.

Sitting across from the network president, one would notice that Comerford invariably looks at his watch. He also insists on sitting with his back faced to his dozen or so television screens lined up to the right of his desk. “[If I sit facing my televisions], I’ll get distracted; something will bother me,” says Comerford. He tries to appear authentically in tune with the conversation at hand though his mind is working; his clock is ticking; he turns his head at the possibility of his next appointment showing up a bit early. He is, well, a New Yorker – one who just so happens to head the number one network in the nation.

But don’t mistake it for being rude. Despite what initially appears to be a lack of concentration in the interview, Comerford actually pays quite a bit of attention to what you’re saying. He will likely manage to even ask your camera man about his day -- inquiring as to who he is, where he’s from, and what’s he’s into. It’s this sort of mind-on-all-things-at-all-times style -- a delicate, precarious balance that nonetheless has proven strong, steady and rewarding -- that has made Comerford such a renowned success. The WNBC President is worth writing about because he’s successful in a vicious world – media, marketing, and advertising – though still manages to be down to earth. Classic city slicker style. “I love New York,” says Comerford. “I understand New Yorkers – the way they think, what they enjoy, what they want.”

Well, New Yorkers have shown, consistently, that if it’s one network they “want”, it’s NBC. In recent years, Comerford has led NBC to incredible, record-breaking sales, a huge achievement in a challenging advertising market. It’s interesting to see the business of media up close and personal. After all, Comerford isn’t a film maker, writer, journalist, editor, web designer, or photographer; he isn’t what comes to mind when most think of media makers. He’s a businessman. High up in a Rockefeller office bedecked with old New York memorabilia, Comerford came to NBC from Storer Broadcasting Company, working his way through the corporate ladder after having held a myriad of sales and management positions in a variety of firms. With a degree from Georgetown University in business administration and finance -- yup, you betcha, he was all about business. Yet, he’s more than that.

Having been in the television business for a near quarter of a century – though he doesn’t appear a day over 30, I swear – Comerford has used his success to give back. Honored as “Volunteer of the Year” for his work as a volunteer at the Manhattan School of Science and Math in East Harlem, Frank is a well-known advocate for child development and education. In October of last year, The Child Abuse Prevention Program – a non-profit that provides critical child safety information to both youngsters and parents -- held its 17th Annual Benefit Dinner in honor of Comerford for his tireless efforts to the benefit of innumerable children. After all, it was Comerford who oversaw the WNBC launch of “Wednesday’s Child”, one of the most successful – and visible – programs in the U.S. to help place foster children in permanent homes. Wednesday’s Child comes on every Wednesday on NBC evening prime time. It isn’t shuffled to the weekends, where all of the other charitable causes and programs often go with networks. It’s smack dab in the middle of your week.

It doesn’t stop there, either. In November 2002, Comerford was honored as one of “Brooklyn’s Favorite Sons.” Considered a “tireless volunteer” with tons of selfless work helping foster and at-risk children, Comerford is a great example of how business doesn’t have to be boring. A passionate, down-to-earth New Yorker, Frank Comerford reminds me of the sort of mentors I’d often seen at my own grade school, growing up. Escorted in luxury vehicles, they’d step out with smiles, their sleeves rolled up, brief cases pushed to the side, ready to work and answer your questions. They had a vision with teaching, on giving back, on being fierce advocates for child development, and they weren’t being paid for it.

At NBC, Comerford has stepped into big shoes; his predecessor was Dennis Swanson, a current bigwig at media giant Viacom, and the guy most frequently known as the one to discover Oprah Winfrey back as general manager of the ABC station in Chicago. Comerford doesn’t seem bothered about the pressure on the President’s seat, though. After all, he’s doing an incredible job. Really, if you didn’t pick it up by now, with a potent mixture of passion and professionalism, Frank Comerford is a great example of media managing at its best.

© Copyright 2004

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