CINCINNATI, Ohio — The Scripps/WCPO family is mourning the loss of former WCPO Vice President and General Manager Bill Fee, who lost his battle with cancer.
Fee served as General Manager for WCPO for 11 years, starting in 1999 and remaining until he retired in 2010.
WCPO has had nine General Managers since it began broadcasting in 1949 and all have made serving the community a top priority. Fee was no exception to this and was quoted during our 70th Anniversary Special, "The news product that comes out of Channel 9 reflects the community. It reflects the values of the community. The news management of this station, over the decades, has always been plugged into the community to find out what's going on and what's important to people who live here. I'll cite a non-journalistic example of how it's important. When the station, back in 2000, developed a program called 'Careers In Media,' which was designed for high school minority students to come to the station for a summer of internships prior to going to college to see if they were thinking about journalism as a college major, WCPO and Scripps would give them a taste of that and we've had some remarkable success stories from that to show the ties between the station and Cincinnati."
During Fee's tenure at WCPO, he oversaw the growth and change of the station:
—The physical move of the station to its current location, in Mount Adams
—The "Newsroom of the Future" project began, helping implement the Multi-Media Journalism Era
—The move to digital journalism and the creation of Cinci-Now, which is now WCPO.com
Fee famously said that running a television station was like "changing a tire on a moving car."
Channel 9's current G.M., Jeff Brogan, agrees with that, saying, "It totally is and Bill handled it so well. He was very passionate about this business and making sure we had an impact on the community. So, he really took the strategy of running WCPO in a whole different direction than many of his peers, I would say. It was all about making sure that we were relevant."
Long before Fee was running WCPO, his experiences helped to groom him to be a strong newsroom leader. His world was changed by the Vietnam War. Fee volunteered for infantry duty in January of 1967 and reached the shores of Vietnam in July at the age of 20. Fee would come home in November, after being wounded by a rocket propelled grenade. Fee would often reflect on his time and fellow soldiers in the war, "We were all the same. We loved each other no matter what backgrounds we came from."
Just as much as the war impacted Fee, coming home to a country conflicted about the war, and those who fought in it, encouraged him to find his voice. When Fee returned, he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, "I wore my first infantry combat jacket on campus the first day of school and found out that was not a very good thing to do. I was ridiculed and spit on," said Fee.
Fee would eventually write a book about the Vietnam War and his experiences. It became an integral part of a grass roots effort for a memorial in Eden Park. It was launched by fellow Vietnam Veteran, Earl Correll. Fee, Correll, and former Cincinnati Mayor Tom Bush were the driving forces behind the marketing, fundraising, and construction of the memorial. Correll would later say, "We worked day and night on this for two years and we've become better friends. It's just we've got so many people to do so many things wrong and just get away with so much, but I don't think Bill Fee hurt anybody in his lifetime. He was so good to people."
Correll now thinks a name change is in order for the memorial, "It's called the Greater Cincinnati Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but I think it ought to be called the Bill Fee Veterans Memorial. That's how I feel about it."
As passionate as Fee was about news, he was even more passionate about Cincinnati. This was evident on September 11th, 2001, after the attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Fee personally passed out American Flags to drivers on Fifth Street and made sure the community knew WCPO backed the Red, White and Blue. In an interview from WCPO's 70th Anniversary Special, Fee called September 11th a pivotal moment, "It was 24/7 news coverage. Tremendously challenging, but that saying about 'what is global is local' was borne out by the news management at the time of keeping the local area informed of what was going on, locally as well as nationally."
No matter Fee's accomplishments at WCPO or for his community, his biggest accomplishment was his family. He celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary on August 29th with his wife, Sally, in a surprise gathering. He was surrounded by children, grandchildren, and friends who loved, honored, and cherished him.
"I think he's going to be remembered in many different ways, whether it be here at WCPO or with his work with Vietnam Veterans. But, I think, he's just a really good guy who cared not just about doing things right, but making our community better," said Brogan.
Correll is planning a memorial vigil for Fee at some point in the future. "Bill Fee was just so original, so genuine an individual, a good father, a good husband, a good grandfather, a good friend," said Correll.
This was read on-air when Fee retired in 2010, "Speaking of making a difference, we're feeling a little sad here at Channel 9 today, as we say goodbye to our boss. Vice President and General Manager Bill Fee is retiring today. He has been with the E.W. Scripps Company for 32 years, the last 12 as GM here. The station has grown under his leadership, but his legacy will be the emphasis he's placed on Channel 9 being involved in the community. The causes he championed and the high standards of news coverage he has demanded, have made him a valuable asset to those of us who work here and the entire Tri-State. We will miss you, Bill. We are all are all better off for having been touched by your leadership."
As we say goodbye to a leader and friend, those sentiments are still held close. Thank you, Bill Fee, for your service to the news business and to Cincinnati.