TV ‘trailblazer’ Ed Ansin, who helped change the flavor of news, dies in Miami at 84

A leader. A philanthropist. And a trailblazer who changed the television news industry.

Those are the words anchors, reporters and producers are using to describe Ed Ansin, owner of South Florida’s WSVN-Channel 7 in Miami. Ansin died Sunday at 84.

“Far from a hands off owner, Ed Ansin walked through the doors of WSVN-TV every day … He was a true leader, not just by title, but by example,” WSVN said in a statement on its website. “Ansin told the Boston Globe, ‘I want to die with my boots on,’ and that’s what he did. Ansin was in the office just this past Friday still doing what he loved.”

WSVN news anchor Alex De Armas wrote on Instagram that the two had recently walked out of the station together and had their regular conversation about lunch. He was going to a neighborhood Italian place, his “usual.”

Ed Ansin and son James at the Channel 7 studio in 1998.
Ed Ansin and son James at the Channel 7 studio in 1998.

Ansin, whose Sunbeam Television Corp. also owned Boston sister station WHDH Channel 7, was always “receptive to new ideas and technologies,” WSVN Executive Producer Steven Cejas said on Twitter. He was also a man “who cared so much about his employees and community,” WSVN weekend morning anchor Lorena Estrada said on Instagram.

In 2005, during the coverage of Hurricane Wilma, Ansin gave up his office so WSVN chief meteorologist Phil Ferro could sleep for a few hours because it was the quietest area in the building.

“He wouldn’t have it any other way,” Ferro said.

The Worcester, Massachusetts, native was always giving back to the community through organizations such as United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Feeding South Florida, Best Buddies and the Boys and Girls Club, according to the TV news station.

Ansin’s sudden passing has left those who knew him heartbroken, and as Ferro wrote online: “Stunned.”

“This is a big blow professionally — and personally — Ed Ansin was a GIANT in broadcasting — and like many others — I owe a good deal of my career — to the opportunity he gave me. We will miss him,” WSVN anchor Craig Stevens wrote on Twitter.

“So grateful to Ed Ansin and how he shaped this business … and how working here has profoundly shaped my life,” WSVN weekend anchor Robbin Simmons wrote on Twitter.

“Icon. Legend. Trailblazer,” WSVN anchor and reporter Ethan Calloway posted on Instagram stories.

How Ansin created the ‘Miami Model’ of news

Ansin’s father bought the station back in 1962 when it was known as WCKT-TV. Then everything changed in the late 1980s when the station lost its affiliation with NBC.

It “had no hope of jumping ship to ABC or CBS,” and had signed on with FOX, a new player on the national television scene that was only offering two hours of prime-time programming a week, according to a Miami Herald story.

“We had to make some hard decisions,’‘ Ansin recalled during a 2013 interview inside his waterfront office in North Bay Village. “We really had few options.”

Shut out of the network news scene, he turned to local news and reinvented it, creating what some began to call the “Miami Model.”

“WSVN’s mix of young anchors, crime-heavy broadcasts and live reports even when the breaking news was hours past helped bring Channel 7 enviable ratings and a blueprint soon followed by stations across the region and the country,” the Herald reported at the time.

He realized that for viewers to tune in, the format had to evolve or die.

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

Reporter Rick Sanchez began to do his nightly “Crime Check” from the scene of a bloody crime scene soon after the FBI named Miami-Dade County the “nation’s murder capital” in 1984.

“I’m heartbroken,” Sanchez told the Miami Herald on Monday. ”I owe so much of who I am, my career, many of my core principles as a human being to Ed because he was truly an inspirational figure.”

Sanchez met Ansin as an on-air reporter at Channel 7 in 1982.

Always quiet and reserved, Ansin had “an old-world sense about him” that left people in awe, and he cared deeply about his employees, Sanchez said.

“He never missed one of my son’s birthdays. He even introduced me to my wife.”

Celebrity gossip show “Deco Drive,” was also born out of Ansin’s futuristic vision in 1996. Anchored by two of the station’s stars, Belkys Nerey and Lynn Martinez, the ratings hit was flashy, glitzy, a little cheeky. Translation: So Miami. Martinez is still host of “DD,” sitting next to Shireen Sandoval, while Nerey anchors the evening newscasts.

“You guys may not know him but this is Ed Ansin. The owner of @wsvn who passed away today. I will be forever grateful to this man who gave this girl the chance of a lifetime on his TV station and changed her life forever RIP Ed,” Nerey wrote in a tribute on Instagram.

WSVN says Ansin’s TV stations will have a “seamless transition” to the leadership of the executive’s sons, Andy and James.

On Monday, Andy Ansin told the Miami Herald his father had been healthy until his death, even working a full day on Friday.

The two spoke Sunday morning. The elder Ansin had said he was tired and was going to take a nap.

“He never woke up,” said his son. “He died on his own terms, with his boots on. A perfect ending.”

Ansin and his family appreciate all the condolences pouring in from those who worked for him.

“That’s a testament to my father’s legacy,” he said. “My father not only had the ability to spot talent, but retain it. He showed respect for everyone and showed that he really cared. I think a lot of us could learn from that.”

Ed Ansin is also survived by a daughter, Stephanie Ansin, founder of The Miami Theater Center, five grandchildren, and former wife, Toby Lerner Ansin, founder of the Miami City Ballet.

Graveside services will be private due to the coronavirus pandemic, the family said.

Miami Herald writer Caroline Ghisolfi contributed to this report.

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