Before a record overflow audience inside the WNED Studios, Jim Toellner, president and general manager of WGRZ-TV, was extremely humbled and honored to be inducted recently into the Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. His several tables were occupied by family, friends, golfing buddies and his team from the station—truly his second family.
What made Toellner’s entrance into the hall so special is that he grew up in Western New York and now has spent the past 16 years in his current position at Ch. 2, the local NBC affiliate. He began his media sales career at The Buffalo News before moving to sales for Buffalo’s two other network affiliate stations.
“I don’t recall any other Buffalo native being a GM of a network affiliate here for as long as Jim,” confirmed veteran media critic Alan Pergament of The Buffalo News
It is extremely rare for someone in the turbulent media business today to lead an affiliate station in his hometown for as long as Toellner has.
“It has been extremely exciting to do this job in my hometown and to lead and motivate a team that can truly make a difference for people and can make this a better place to live for all of us,” the North Tonawanda native said with extreme pride. “I have been vested here and it is great meeting people on the street or in the grocery store with story suggestions or comments about how we are doing.”
How exactly can a local television station truly make a difference in our community?
“Our brand statements of ‘Holding People in Power Accountable,’ ‘Asking the Tough Questions’ and ‘Celebrating all that is going on in our community’ are more than just words. They are our action. They are whom we are,” he continued. “We took the ‘On Your Side’ brand to get answers to the tough question that face our community.”
Pergament, a media critic not known for heaping praise, had this to say about Toellner’s career at WGRZ-TV: “Jim’s strongest quality is he had a five-year plan to get WGRZ out of the basement and he followed it. Jim also has a very creative mind, as evidenced by all the new local programs he has commissioned.
Jim’s strongest quality is he had a five-year plan to get WGRZ out of the basement and he followed it.
“More importantly, he is a very good judge of talent and has made some very good hires that fit the station’s mission. He also — with the help of the news directors he has hired – has gave the station a news identity that it didn’t have before he became its GM,” Pergament added. “In short, he is on the short list of the very best general managers in WNY television history.”
John DiSciullo, promotion and production manager at WBBZ-TV, was the AM Buffalo Producer at ABC affiliate WKBW-TV when Toellner was an account executive in the sales department. DiSciullo, who was inducted into the BBAHOF in 2008, had this to say after Toellner’s induction: “A very talented group of men and women make up the world of Buffalo Broadcasting. Many of us worked together along the way as our careers intersected. That is the case with Jim, who is extremely sharp and successful. It is no surprise to me that he rose to the ranks of President and General Manager at WGRZ. Along the way, Jim never forgot those he worked with, and he always treats everyone with courtesy and respect.”
In the late 1990’s Toellner left town for a short stint in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a General Sales Manager at WOOD-TV before returning to serve as General Sales Manager of WGRZ in 2001 for two years before being promoted into his current position.
He considers everyone inside the Delaware Avenue newsroom and corporate offices as members of a team, adding: “Television is the ultimate team sport—you need producers, writers, editors, marketers, a sales team and then those behind the camera, reporters and anchors. Communication and teamwork are vital.
“It’s all about the people,” he adds. “Putting the right people in the right position, finding them, nurturing them, keeping them, pushing them and hugging them is what it is all about.”
“Mr. T.V, as I call Jim, is the consummate professional who leads by example, said Scott Levin, who co-anchors the evening newscasts with Maryalice Demler. “He loves to say ‘Teamwork’…and without the ‘Team’ it is just ‘Work.’”
Reporter Dave McKinley adds: “There is a certain esprit de corps in his management style. The team building concept he continues to employ, contributes greatly to the overall success of our station.”
WGRZ-TV purchased two full pages in the BBAHOF program book to congratulate its President and General Manager on his induction. On the first page, it reads: “Your Friends and Family From 2 WGRZ On Your Side Are So Proud of You, We Needed An Extra Page to Show Everyone!”
That page contained 14 creatively designed messages from members of his team inside the station. They included such passages as: “Jim truly cares about the morale and well-being of every Channel 2 News team member—he is a hands-on leader who shows us he cares.” “The thing that has always impressed me the most about Jim is how passionate he is for Western New York. He is the personification of the Buffalo-boosting ‘Talking Proud’ ad campaign of the 80’s.” “Jim is a General Manager who truly believes in making Western New York a better place.”
WGRZ anchor Kate Welshofer, anchor of WGRZ’s afternoon show, “Most Buffalo,” narrated an extremely moving video introducing Toellner that evening. She used one of the station’s tag lines to describe him: “’This is Home’ and no one epitomizes that more than Jim Toellner.”
Toellner is equally proud of the station’s long-time community involvement, led by Colleen Nossavage, a Lewiston resident. He points to its history of support for the Ride for Roswell, the Susan G. Komen Walk, the Food Bank of WNY, and as an original supporter of Kids Escaping Drugs.
“I have worked with Jim for over 18 years and throughout that time broadcasting has changed dramatically and WGRZ has expanded and continued to be the leading TV station in WNY. That’s due to Jim’s management and leadership. He truly cares about each employee and takes the time to listen,” Nossavage said.
For more than 12 years, WGRZ, with Tops Friendly Markets, has sponsored “Food 2 Families” to support the Food Bank of WNY. With Toellner’s commitment to feed the hungry, WGRZ has helped collect enough food and funds to provide nearly 9.5 million meals to Western New Yorkers in need. The station’s “2 Pack A Backpack” campaign with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo since 2004 has generated 26,000 backpacks filled with school supplies that have been collected and distributed to children in need in our community.
WGRZ was a part of the founding of Kids Escaping Drugs in 1987 and Toellner has continued WGRZ’s commitment to addressing the lack of suitable treatment options for adolescents struggling with chemical dependency and opiate addiction. Its involvement with KED is so deep that the WGRZ logo is incorporated into the Kids Escaping Drugs logo.
Toellner recently joined its board because he strongly believes in its mission. He is also a regular volunteer for the Skating Assn. for the Blind and Handicapped and Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara.
Toellner and his wife Bernie and are proud parents of Brittany and Kristin. He graduated from Niagara-Wheatfield High School and earned a B.S. in Management with a Marketing Concentration from the University at Buffalo in 1981.
Toellner loves to interject famous quotations as he speaks.
Toellner loves to interject famous quotations as he speaks. For the wall behind his desk in his Delaware Avenue office, he asked the station’s creative team to photograph landmark statues in Buffalo of three United States Presidents—George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Grover Cleveland and one Buffalo mayor, Jimmy Griffin, while he found his favorite quote from each.
Just another motivating tool he uses with his team at WGRZ-TV.
Lead image: Jim Toellner, Photo courtesy of WGRZ