Ray Schonbak, a broadcast television professional who most recently served as VP-general manager of KSWB TV, the Tribune-owned Fox affiliate in San Diego, died Wednesday of cancer at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. He was 70.
Schonbak joined KSWB in 2008, transforming the station into a top-performing Fox affiliate.
Born in Pittsburgh, Schonbak served two combat tours in Vietnam as a Green Beret. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh on the G.I. Bill. After opting not to complete law school, Schonbak began his TV broadcasting career as an account executive at a local station in Portland, Me.
During his five-decade career, Schonbak served with General Electric, Metromedia, News Corp., Emmis Communications, Koplar Communications and Tribune Broadcasting, among others.
His early work included working in sales management at KOA TV in Denver, Colo. He served as general sales manager of WRGB TV in Albany, N.Y., and later tried to buy the station. He was g.m. of NBC affil WTCN In Minneapolis/St. Paul, and he led the team starting KDAF TV in Dallas, one of the first Fox Network affiliates in the country.
Schonbak formed Triad Communications and consulted at numerous stations, even helping to build a cable startup in the U.K. Later he worked in broadcast acquisitions as a broker and buyer of TV stations. At Benedek Broadcasting he served as group VP. He went on to lead stations at Koplar Communications in St. Louis, Mo., and served as chief operating officer of Emmis Communications, leading its then 16 Fox affiliates. He was at the Emmis station WVUE TV in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, working to keep the station on the air.
During his more than five years leading KSWB, the station’s audience grew. He recently served on the Fox Network Affiliate board of governors.
Schonbak was also the driving force behind the TV show “San Diego’s Most Wanted,” produced in association with the FBI.
He is survived by his wife Deborah.