NEW YORK — CBS Television Stations president Jonathan Klein has decided to retire from the company and could announce his decision as early as today, Eye web insiders said.
Klein, who also serves as general manager of Eye flagship WCBS, is expected to stay on the job until a successor is named and assist during the transition period.
There’s no word yet on who will replace him, though Post/Newsweek stations group topper Bill Ryan — whose company owns CBS affils in Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla. — has been mentioned as an exec in whom CBS officials have expressed interest.
A broadcast veteran with 30 years of experience at CBS and one-time Eye parent Westinghouse Broadcasting, Klein, 56, has been saddled with the Herculean task of revitalizing the 16 CBS-owned television stations since being named president of the division in 1995. Insiders said Klein may have wanted to simply move on to other tasks and devote his time to personal interests.
Still, Klein’s status at the company has been the topic of regular speculation since 1997, when CBS chairman and CEO Mel Karmazin first began to wield serious influence. Many Eye insiders believed that Karmazin immediately would seek to replace Klein with an exec groomed outside the Westinghouse/Group W stable.
The rumors heated up again late last year with word that Karmazin was talking to Kevin O’Brien, veep and general manager of Cox-owned Fox affil KTVU in San Francisco, about taking over the top position at KCBS or an expanded position within the CBS Television Stations division. O’Brien eventually dropped out of the running.
Since Klein took over the CBS Television Stations group in 1995, the division has made notable progress in boosting revenue and profits. In Gotham, Klein hired former “Today” exec producer Steve Friedman to serve as veep and station manager, putting the outspoken exec in charge of revamping the station’s third-place news operation.
Less than two years later, WCBS — while still behind the competish in several key timeslots — has regained its status as the noon news ratings leader and is poised to score its second consecutive second-place finish in the 5 p.m. news race, while Friedman will soon leave the station to reinvent CBS’ “This Morning” with Bryant Gumbel.
Significant problems remain within the division, however. KCBS is still without a leader, while WCBS will also now be in search of a topper. In addition, the Eye’s stations still lag behind the enormously profitable ABC and NBC station groups in terms of revenues and ratings.
The problems are particularly acute at KCBS, which regularly finishes a distant third in all key news races and has been in particular disarray since John Culliton was axed from the g.m. position last September. And despite the progress at WCBS, the station still ranks fourth among the Big Six English-language commercial broadcasters.
Before heading up the CBS stations, Klein was president of Group W Television from 1993-1995 and veep and general manager of Group W stations KYW in Philadelphia (1989-’93) and WJZ in Baltimore (1986-1989.)
Neither Klein nor a CBS rep were available for comment.
(Cynthia Littleton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)