The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which awards the national and regional Emmy Awards, established the Silver Circle to recognize and honor outstanding individuals who have devoted 25 years or more to the television industry and who have either made significant contributions to broadcasting or who have spent the formative years of their career in in the area. On Oct. 13, the 2013 Milwaukee Silver Circle honorees were presented the award, placing them among the most influential industry leaders in the market. Last week and this week, OnMilwaukee.com will profile this year's inductees.
Andrew Potos knew what it meant to get the job done well, even if it meant dealing with challenges.
That was true when the history and English teacher at Washington High School joined the sales staff at WITI-TV Ch. 6, as it was true when he was the president and general manager that led the station from 1981 to 1997.
"As a boss, I had high expectations and I know we had something special at WITI," Potos said at the 2013 Silver Circle induction ceremony. He was given the honor for his career that spans more than three decades, as well as his leadership in making Milwaukee a better community.
I asked him what went through his mind when he heard he would be receiving the honor.
"The award means that we had a great TV station staffed by very talented people. The award provided a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate the outstanding work we did as well as the terrific times we had together," he said.
Those times included leading the station at a very competitive era in the market. The industry itself saw tremendous growth, but had its transformations and transitions, as well.
"The most significant changes were the births of cable and satellite TV," Potos said of the largest broadcast development in his tenure.
"These new media gave broadcasting the opportunity to expand its coverage of news and public affairs far beyond anything we had ever imagined, gave many more talented people the opportunity to find a place in broadcasting and, of course, drastically changed the economics of commercial television."
Potos had a great deal of influence on and support for many of the other people already inducted into the Silver Circle, as well as directly working with three of his fellow 2013 inductees – Charles Benson, Mike Miller and Jim Paschke.
Previous inductee Jill Geisler, who is now a member of the faculty at the Poynter Instiutute, was the News Director at WITI when Potos was the GM. I like to think that many of the ideas gathered in Geisler’s book "Work Happy, What Great Bosses Know," comes from Potos’ influence.
"I was delighted when he asked me to be the presenter for his award," Geisler said. "Andy Potos is a lion. Ferocious. Protective of his territory. Capable of great roars. And at the same time, he is capable of great generosity."
Geisler said that working for and with Potos was a wonderful adventure.
"He was as demanding as he was supportive. At a time when women were often left out of key management roles in our industry, Andy filled his team - news, sales, promotion, programming, community services, with female leaders," she said.
"We know it sometimes took visitors by surprise when they'd meet the management team. And in such meetings, Andy always made sure he poured the coffee for everyone, so no one would think it was a role he relegated to women."
That sentiment was also shared by Potos at the ceremony where he enjoyed, "Seeing friends I hadn’t seen in a long, long time."
He said that candy was one of his 10 secrets of success.
"Yes, candy," he said.
"Load your desk with treats for the taking! Give people a reason to stop in, to talk, to share a guilty pleasure. Like my father always said, be a good host."
I shared with Geisler that I actually met her and Potos many years ago when I urged my parents to take me to the WITI studios on Green Bay Avenue, just north of Brown Deer Road, to see the local broadcast of the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon.
"Andy was generous to community organizations – contributing to, participating in, or chairing events for the Heart Association, Cancer Society, Junior Achievement, and of course, the Muscular Dystrophy Association," Geisler said.
"New Berlin's Mike Neufeldt, a former national MDA Goodwill Ambassador, was also at the Silver Circle event Sunday to applaud Andy. And I told the story of how Andy would sit with Mike at MDA dinners, bid high in auctions for cool things like autographed sports memorabilia and then simply hand those items to sports-loving Mike as gifts."
Potos’ work in community service for the city he grew up in was well known.
"There is much more to Andy than just television. He is as committed to Milwaukee as anyone I know," said state Rep. Gerald D. Kleczka at the time of Potos’ retirement in 1997.
"Over the years he has taken a proactive role in improving our community at all levels. … Whether it was managing a television station, or raising funds for charity, Andy Potos has been there for Milwaukee."
For Potos, it was just him, being the person he is.
"Community – I grew up in Milwaukee, so this one was easy for me," he said. "Open your station doors to people who need your ear and your voice. Treat your viewers like they are your neighbors."
In his speech, Potos summed up his top ten list with thanks and love to those gathered around him.
"We worked hard and we played hard. Success and laughter make perfect bedfellows," he said. "Many of my closest friends are people I worked with – people who are here today. And I wouldn’t have it any other way."
Media is bombarding us everywhere.
Instead of sheltering his brain from the onslaught, Steve embraces the news stories, entertainment, billboards, blogs, talk shows and everything in between.
The former writer, editor and producer in TV, radio, Web and newspapers, will be talking about what media does in our community and how it shapes who we are and what we do.