Baltimore Ravin'

While it's only 35 miles from Washington, Baltimore has forever felt worlds apart from the D.C. market. The nation's capital hammers out the decisions that govern our country. Baltimore grew as a factory town hammering goods going in and out of a busy harbor.

But station managers in “Charm City” say the market has largely traded in its manufacturing past. Industries such as health care, finance and high-tech have moved in and changed the face of Baltimore, which has become home to many forced out of the expensive Washington real estate market. The DMA is also expecting scores of jobs to be created when the U.S. military soon realigns a number of bases in nearby markets.

“We're seeing lower unemployment rates, higher education levels, higher personal income levels,” says WJZ VP/General Manager Jay Newman. “Baltimore used to be very, very different from Washington, D.C., but there's been a merging of the areas and the economies.”

Other things don't change that much. WBAL remains a big player, winning evening and late news in January. “We've swept the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. news since spring 2004,” says WBAL President/General Manager Jordan Wertlieb. “But mornings have become more of a battleground.” (WJZ took that in January.)

Baltimore television took in $220.2 million in 2007. Hearst-Argyle's NBC affiliate WBAL led the 2006 pack with $67.575 million, according to BIA Financial, and CBS-owned WJZ was second with $59.6 million. Other players include Sinclair's Fox outlet WBFF and Scripps Howard's ABC affiliate WMAR.

Baltimore's crime-ridden image, as portrayed on The Wire on HBO, is true. According to FBI statistics, Baltimore had one of the highest murder rates of any major U.S. city in 2006. Still, tourists, drawn to attractions such as the Inner Harbor's shops and restaurants and the Camden Yards ballpark, help fuel the local economy. Station managers say a marketing battle between Comcast and Verizon FiOS has made for something of a TV windfall, as has the takeover of regional banks by the likes of PNC and Wachovia. Predominantly a Democratic state, Maryland does not typically see much in the way of presidential money, though Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did spend in advance of the primary Feb. 12.

Stations are tapping a range of media to forge ahead in the news wars. WBAL enjoys the market's top TV Website and has partnered with a Hearst radio station to grab the pre-season broadcast rights to the NFL's Ravens. WJZ, which won total day ratings in January, is teaming with CBS Radio and the free daily Baltimore Examiner newspaper to expand its reach. “Our primary focus is recognizing that people use local television differently than five to 10 years ago,” says WJZ's Newman, who adds that Web traffic has more than tripled since 2005. “We're more in sync with how people use media today.”

MyNet affiliate WUTB has found that airing Two and a Half Men in syndication has goosed older hits like Seinfeld and network fare like Celebrity Exposé. “It's given us additional promotional punch,” says VP/General Manager Alan Sawyer.

WBFF, the flagship of Baltimore-based Sinclair, is aiming to be the first Baltimore station to offer local HD in May. It airs “Good TV” on its digital tier—vintage programs and local fare like a high school basketball title game. Group Manager Bill Fanshawe says the local TV establishment, similar to Baltimore as a whole, might be in for a shakeup. “It's always been a WBAL-WJZ town,” he says, “but we've grown as the others have declined.”

Next: Columbus, OH

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.