Media Guru Elliott Wiser Celebrates 25 Years of Bay News 9
If you bump into Tampa Bay’s media guru and Beach Drive resident Elliott Wiser walking around downtown St. Pete on September 24, don’t be surprised if you see a big smile on his face. It was on that day in 1997 he launched Bay News 9, the popular 24-hour news channel here in Tampa Bay.
Yes, 25 years ago Wiser had a dream. A vision. And while retired now, it is with a sense of accomplishment and pride that he describes a project that seemed surreal at the time.
“This idea started out as a new concept for a TV station,” he explains. “We had 82 employees and [were] seen in only four counties, with 550,00 viewers. We ended up 25 years later with 1.1 million viewers and an expansion throughout Tampa Bay to Manatee, Polk, Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus counties.”
Wiser was the creative force behind the channel’s popular news and weather programming that includes “Weather on the 9’s,” and “Klystron 9,” offering extensive political coverage, community bureaus, an award-winning website, with constant 24/7 breaking news coverage. He also created Bay News 9 en Espanol, which was the country’s first 24-hour Spanish local news channel. Wiser developed Bay News 9’s Travel Weather Now, Tampa Bay on Demand, and Info Mas, a regional Spanish language network. In 2008, he launched Florida’s first 24-hour local sports channel, Bright House Sports Network. In 2012 that channel won rights to all Florida high school playoff games.
Those of us who know of Wiser’s extensive background admire his nearly 40 years in the media business. Wiser revolutionized local news and weather coverage, and he could have settled anywhere to enjoy his semi-retirement. So why St. Pete?
“We have lived in DC, outside New York City, Seattle and Atlanta,” says Wiser, “and have found this is the best city we have ever lived in.”
Today, he can be found around town with his wife Barbara, walking his 9-year-old golden retriever Lou along the bay, or riding his scooter to the USF-St. Pete campus, where he currently teaches journalism.
As a couple, Elliott and Barbara embraced the waterfront, downtown St. Pete condo life exactly a year ago. “We are blessed with the best view of Tampa Bay,” he says, “and enjoy the quality of night life, cultural opportunities from the Florida Orchestra to the Dalí and James museums, to dozens of dining options.”
Wiser is also a wine connoisseur and appeared for years on a Bay News 9 segment called Vino Vino. “My producers and I quickly found out that St. Petersburg features a number of great wine bars. My two downtown St. Pete favorites are Try Wine and Sauvignon,” Wiser notes. “There is nothing better than walking to a wine bar, opening your favorite bottle, and then walking home in a bustling city.”
A Prestigious Past
Wiser spent 11 years as vice president and general manager of Bay News 9. It’s hardly bragging when he says, “Bay News 9 was profitable by its third year, unheard of in the local 24-hour local news business.” Over the years, he won numerous awards, including the prestigious Edward R. Murrow national award for best local website in 2010.
For eight years Elliott served as corporate vice president of news and local programming for Bright House Networks, overseeing 350 employees. Previously, he served as a corporate vice president for Time Warner Cable and was responsible for 12 news channels nationwide. He has consulted for news channels around the world, including projects in China and Sweden. In 2011, Broadcasting and Cable Magazine named Elliott the “Next Wave of Leaders” in the media business.
While his resume is truly remarkable, it was likely Wiser’s early work history that set him up for success. In college, Wiser covered the White House as a young reporter.
“My senior year in college while attending George Washington University was so very unique. I spent three days a week covering the Jimmy Carter White House for the college radio station WRGW and a weekly college TV newscast,” Wiser recalls. “Here I was in my 20s, attending daily press briefings and presidential press conferences.”
The Carter Administration was just Wiser’s first taste of presidential access in his career. “President Carter was one of four presidents I have interviewed,” he says. “You never forget that. Who did I interview? Nixon, Carter, Ford, and H.W. Bush.”
Wiser made his move to Tampa from Seattle where, as news director, he helped create another 24-hour news channel, Northwest Cable News. Previously, Elliott was news director at WTVR-TV in Richmond, Virginia, and worked as a producer at WSB-TV in Atlanta, as well as a producer/reporter at CNN Headline News. He also spent three years as president and general manager of WTSP in Tampa.
Wiser is still very involved in the Tampa Bay community. He is on the board at Bayfront Towers, chairman of the board at Pasadena Hospital, and a member of St. Petersburg’s City Beautiful Commission. He is also a former Trustee at the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Dali Museum, and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, amongst other past local community service.
Elliott and Barbara have been married for 37 years and are the proud parents of 28-year-old Ashley, who works for Paramount Corporation in New York City. For now, the couple seem quite happy to enjoy semi-retirement in the Sunshine City.
“I live along the waterfront, and it is like walking through a museum with great paintings,” he says. “Every day there is a spectacular picture of St. Petersburg, especially The Pier. The colors of the day from the 17th floor of my condo showcase the city in a unique way.”