Ed Ansin Dead: Massachusetts TV Pioneer Dies at 84 in Miami

Ed Ansin

Getty Ed Ansin, TV news pioneer, died on July 26 at the age of 84.

After the death of Regis Philbin, the television industry has lost another icon. Ed Ansin, the television news pioneer and media mogul, died at his home in Miami on July 26. He was 84 years old.

Ansin’s company Sunbeam Television, which owns local stations WHDH, WLVI, and WSVN, confirmed his death with the Boston Globe. Paul Magnes, executive vice president of the broadcasting company, told the Globe that Ansin “got out the way he wanted to.” He said Ansin had been healthy and was still at work last week, but didn’t feel well during the weekend.

In a memo to Sunbeam employees, Magnes wrote about Ansin’s passion for his profession, according to the Boston Globe:

Ed was a broadcast pioneer and a true leader, at WSVN, WHDH and WLVI, in the community, and in both the real estate and broadcast industries. Besides his family, Ed loved nothing more than owning and operating his television stations. We are all so fortunate to have worked for a man who truly cared about his employees and the industry.

Ansin is survived by his three children, Andy, James, and Stephanie, WSVN said in a statement. His two sons will take over Sunbeam Television.

Here’s what you need to know:


Ansin Worked With His Father, Who Accumulated Wealth Through Real Estate

Born in Worcester and raised in Athol, Ansin was a native of Massachusetts but spent much of his childhood in Florida, according to Boston Magazine. His father Sydney Ansin was a shoe manufacturer in New England, but started to buy property in South Florida in the 1940s and gradually got into the real estate business. The Ansin family vacationed in South Florida for years before finally moving there, the South Florida Business Journal reported.

He went to junior high school on Miami Beach and returned to Massachusetts to attend prep school at Andover Academy. He went on to study at Harvard, where he crammed three years’ credits into four semesters because the undergrad there “bored” him, according to Boston Magazine. He graduated from the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania in 1957.

In the years after World War II, Ansin’s father expanded his real estate business and developed the first residential neighborhoods in southwest Broward, Florida. Ansin had considered going to Wall Street, but eventually decided to be in the business with his father, he told the South Florida Business Journal. The Ansin family bought thousands of acres of land in South Florida and accumulated wealth that later helped make Ansin a billionaire.

In 1962, his father won a license for Miami’s WSVN Channel 7 and founded Sunbeam Television, where Anson was installed as the executive vice president, according to Boston Magazine. He went on to amass real estate holdings before he devoted himself to transforming television news in local stations.

Today, Sunbeam remains a family business involving television and real estate, the Boston Globe reported.


Ansin Transformed Local Stations With the ‘Miami Model’

WSVN was “very much the traditional network affiliate,” as Ansin put it in an interview with Boston Magazine, but things changed when it lost its affiliate contract with NBC in the 1980s. After losing hope to partner with CBS or ABC, WSVN ended up signing a contract with Fox, according to the Miami Herald.

However, Fox, then a new player in the national market, only offered two hours of prime time programming a week, which left Ansin “few options” to attract viewers, he told the Miami Herald in a 2013 interview.

Ansin abandoned the conventional programming for successful independent stations and focused completely on local news, Boston Magazine reported. WSVN recruited young, recognizable anchors, and featured crime-heavy, fast-paced news coverage.

Newsweek said that for eight hours of WSVN’s programming day, it pumped out “creepy” and “scary” newscasts that covered murders, rapes, and stalkers, etc. One of the signature shows was Crime Check, in which reporter Rick Sanchez would report from a bloody crime scene, according to the Miami Herald.

WSVN Fox Miami Rick Sanchez "Crime Check" PromoThis is from around 1990. Courtesy: Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archive2007-09-15T04:52:35Z

“Maybe in a perfect world everyone would be watching MacNeil/Lehrer,” Ansin said in an interview with Newsweek in 1994. “But we can’t afford to be boring.”

This news model, now known as the “Miami model” or “Miami style,” brought WSVN “enviable ratings and a blueprint soon followed by stations across the region and the country,” said the Miami Herald. However, what Newsweek called “tabloid sensationalism” also drew criticism.

In 1994, at least 10 of South Flordia’s major tourist hotels boycotted WSVN’s crime-driven coverage and blocked the station in 3,000 rooms in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West, according to the Los Angeles Times.

When Ansin bought WHDH in 1993, some Boston pundits worried about the invasion of sensational news, Boston Magazine said. But Ansin watered down the sensationalism and chose a different approach, providing the audience with more good stories, more live reporting, and flashy graphics.

In 2017, WHDH parted with NBC and became an independent station after more than two decades. Ansin doubled down on local news and increased the number of staff to make sure the station remained competitive, in the hope of finding another partner one day, according to the Boston Globe.


‘I Want to Die With My Boots On’

Before his death, Ansin already had a succession plan. Both of his sons worked at Sunbeam and were set to take over the leadership, while Magnes, Sunbeam’s executive vice president and general manager of Sunbeam Television, would continue to oversee the company’s television business, the Boston Globe reported.

But Ansin didn’t step aside. Ansin remained involved at Sunbeam Television at an age when most people are retired. A WDHD statement said that Ansin was “far from a hands-off owner.” He showed up at the station every day and didn’t look forward to many holidays, because that meant he wouldn’t have enough people to talk to at work.

“Most people think I’m crazy not to retire,” Ansin said in an interview with the Globe last December. “Tom Brady plays football until he’s 42, and that’s crazy too. I’m obsessed with television. I just like it.”

“I want to die with my boots on,” he said. And he did. Ansin kept working until his death.

“He got out the way he wanted to,” Magnes told the Globe.


Ansin Devoted Himself to Philanthropy

Ed Ansin

GettyAnsin (second from the left) saw philanthropy as a way to relate to the audience.

Apart from his television business, Ansin also devoted himself to philanthropy. He donated to charity organizations including United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Feeding South Florida, Boys and Girls Club, and Best Buddies, according to a WDHD statement.

Ansin received the United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Award for philanthropy in three different cities, and he donated $1 million to build a radio and technical communication building at Emerson College, Boston Magazine reported. He and his brother also gave $2.6 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston and their Youth Service Providers Network, after making that money from selling land.

Ansin saw charity as a way to help him establish a successful relationship with the audience, according to a WDHD statement.

“In terms of philanthropy, I feel that I’m in position to be philanthropic and I should, and I enjoy being philanthropic,” Ansin said. “For an audience to relate to you, you have to relate to the audience.”


Many People Mourned the Passing of Ansin on Social Media

As the news of Ansin’s death spread, tributes appeared on social media. Boston mayor Marty Walsh described Ansin as “a trailblazer in the Boston media market,” and said he left a “lasting mark on the entire television industry.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker talked about Ansin’s love for local TV in a press conference on July 27. “I think we were way better to have somebody like that who cared so much about serving the people of a community, of a commonwealth, and focused like a laser on that,” he said. “His enthusiasm for what he did, and who he was serving, and what he thought local news was supposed to be all about will be terribly missed.”

Many of his current and former employees tweeted about Ansin’s influence on them and his caring personality. Phil Ferro, the chief meteorologist for WSVN, recalled that during the coverage of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Ansin let him sleep in his office for a few hours because that was the quietest area.

Jonathan Hall, a reporter for WDHD who was hired by Ansin in late 1993, remembered sharing a bagel and coffee with his boss when he was waiting for a pending assignment. WSVN anchor Craig Stevens said he owed “a good deal” of his career to the opportunity Ansin gave him.

Joe Sciacca, the enterprise editor at WDHD, also praised Ansin for standing out for his “unwavering personal commitment to broadcast journalism” in a time when local news is endangered.

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