Longtime television executive Mike Ward, who was a key figure in WMAQ-Channel 5’s news operation for 10 years, is being remembered as a valued colleague and mentor.
Ward, who never fully recovered from a stroke he suffered in 2008, died at his home Wednesday in Washington, D.C. He was 63.
“To say that Mike Ward impacted a generation of television news professionals is not an overstatement,” marketing consultant Martin Gould, a former TV reporter and producer, wrote in an online tribute. “He mentored, taught, cultivated and celebrated the professional development of dozens — maybe hundreds — of people whose work was made better under his tutelage.”
Lisa Churchville, former director of sales at the NBC-owned station, wrote: “Michael knew everything and had a perspective on it all that was fresh, unique and cut through the noise. What a privilege to know him, work with him, argue with him, pick his brain and play a few rounds."
Starting as executive producer of NBC 5’s 10 p.m. newscast in 1985, Ward moved up to assistant news director the following year and served as news director from 1991 to 1995. In 1992, he was credited with leading the late news (then anchored by Ron Magers and Carol Marin) to its first Nielsen victory in more than 20 years. But the station soon fell back to its familiar second place.
Ward continued his career with NBC as vice president of creative services and programming at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia and as president and general manager of WNCN-TV in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.
His last job as news director of WUSA-TV, the Gannett-owned CBS affiliate in Washington, was cut short after 14 months in 2008. Reports at the time say he clashed with bosses over a restructuring of the newsroom and the firing of an anchor. Two weeks later Ward suffered what was described as a catastrophic stroke.
A native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Ward attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and began his career in 1975 as a news photographer at KSFY-TV, the ABC affiliate in Sioux Falls. He later worked for WEWS-TV, the ABC affiliate in Cleveland, where he rose from photographer to assistant news director.
Survivors include his wife, Maureen, his mother, Eileen Schuett Ward, and three brothers. Services will be Thursday in Washington, D.C.