HAZARD – Regular viewers of WYMT-TV may notice a slight change on air in the coming weeks, but the biggest changes at the station are going on behind the scenes.
Following the retirement for Ernestine Cornett, Neil Middleton was promoted from news director to the station’s general manager position, while Steve Hensley, who has anchored the 6 and 11 p.m. broadcasts for several years, will be taking the reins as assistant news director.
The station announced the changes during a broadcast last week, and during an interview with the Herald Middleton said the GM’s job at WYMT is a “dream job” and something he had aspired to, but not one he had anticipated when he first started in the television industry.
Middleton began his career at WYMT in the 1980s, only seven months after the late Tony Turner, who was the station’s news director when he passed away as the result of an automobile accident in 2002. Middleton said he and Turner, both natives of Harlan County, often joked that one day Turner would be the station’s GM, and Middleton the news director.
“We were going to run the station together, we did that in radio,” Middleton said. “Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out the way it was planned.”
Middleton said he is coming into the GM’s position with an able management team that Cornett had put into place during her tenure as general manager, and he credits this team, along with the station’s entire staff, with really getting the wheels turning at WYMT.
“They’re the ones who are going to be carrying out the mission of this station on a day to day basis,” he said, adding that his task will be to steer the ship, so to speak, and maintain the vision of the station.
While Middleton will now be overseeing the station as whole, he will also maintain his news director position for the time being. The goal is to eventually transition Hensley into the role.
Hensley, a Perry County native, got his start as an intern at WYMT while still a high school student in 1993. He landed his first anchoring job for the station’s 11 p.m. newscast, and after Turner’s death in 2002, Hensley became the station’s 6 p.m. anchor as well.
Middleton said Hensley was a “natural selection” for a promotion, after having built up the trust of WYMT’s viewership over the years.
“I always call Steve the consummate journalist,” Middleton said. “He eats, breathes and sleeps Eastern Kentucky and news, and he has a keen interest and great knowledge of history in Eastern Kentucky and events at this station. If there is anyone that reminds me of Tony Turner, it’s Steve Hensley.”
Taking an active role in management wasn’t something he was looking to do when he first began working at WYMT, Hensley noted, but he also felt a strong connection to the station and wants a personal stake in seeing it succeed. He added that his being a native of the region can also aid in his new job, but he doesn’t expect to change a lot compared to how his predecessors ran the newsroom.
“I’m following in the footsteps of Tony and Neil, and they’ve both done a great job,” he said. “It’s kind of daunting a little bit, but I’m not going to change much. Viewers at home aren’t going to notice a big change.”
Perhaps the biggest immediate change is that Hensley will no longer anchor the station’s 11 p.m. newscast. Middleton noted that he is currently interviewing candidates for that position. A more long-term change on the horizon will come with the station’s signal. While there is no time frame set in stone, Middleton noted that the station will eventually begin transmitting in high definition, which in itself could open up more opportunities, such as a second channel of local programming.
“Anytime that we can expand and offer Mountain News in other areas, any time we can improve our product for our advertisers and our viewers, those are things we want to do,” he said.