ABC 7’s new boss hopes to ‘reconnect with everybody’

John Idler knows he has a tough act to follow, but it’s one he’s been watching — and learning from — for years.

As the new president and general manager of WLS-Channel 7 (and only its third in the last 25 years), Idler succeeds Emily Barr, one of the most dynamic and well-regarded executives ever to work in Chicago television. It was Barr who first hired Idler as an account executive in 1998, promoted him to vice president and general sales manager, and helped prepare him to run WTVD-TV, the ABC-owned station she once headed in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.

“There’s nobody else I’d rather follow,” Idler said in his first public comments since his promotion Monday. “Emily is a friend and a mentor of mine, and she has set the bar incredibly high not only for the television station but for broadcasters around the country."

The feeling clearly is mutual: "John is a terrific leader who's demonstrated that he can handle tough assignments, and I think he'll do a terrific job," said Barr, who stepped down after 15 years to become president and CEO of Post-Newsweek Stations. “I really do think the world of him."

Colleagues describe Idler, 46, as thoughtful and deliberate — putting him somewhere between a confident schmoozer like NBC 5’s Larry Wert and a cerebral egghead like CBS 2’s Bruno Cohen. Thanks to his earlier tenure here, Idler has the advantage of already knowing the market as well as all of ABC 7’s current department heads (except for the man who replaced him as sales chief, Vincent Sollecito).

“Everything came flooding back as far as the folks there,” he said of his first day back at the station. “It was great. My head was spinning a little bit, but it was a great day.”

Echoing the humility of his mentor, Idler acknowledged that maintaining ABC 7’s ratings and revenue lead has always been a team effort. “I think that my predecessor would be the first to say that it’s the people in that building that make that station what it is,” he said. “As much as it’s a challenge, I’m certainly looking forward to it.”

Given Idler’s reputation for careful analysis before taking action, it’s unlikely we’ll see radical changes soon. If he does have a notion to alter the station’s winning lineup, he’s keeping it to himself for the time being.

“The first thing I’m going to do is to reconnect with everybody in the building and figure out where the departments are strategically. Beyond that, as far as any long-terms plans or specific goals for the station, it’s way too early to talk about them.”


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)