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Betting on a booming market

Independent WFMZ-TV Allentown, Pa., thinks Spanish-language news is viable enough to run—even though it's an English-language station.

Barry Fisher, general manager of the Maranatha Broadcasting-owned station, notes that the area on which his station's news focuses—it's licensed in Allentown but is in the Philadelphia DMA—has seen its Hispanic population more than double since the 1990 Census. "One school district is more than 50% Hispanic," he says. Without a full-blown Spanish-language local newscast in the Philadelphia market, "it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this is something we need to address."

Although the No. 4 DMA overall, Philadelphia drops to No. 17 as a Hispanic market. WFMZ-TV pulls in only 1 and 2 ratings in the market overall, Fisher says, but ratings for its English-language newscasts are several times that in the northern tier of the Philly area, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Beginning in first quarter 2003, News Director Brad Rinehart, who already oversees 47 English-language newscasts a week, plans to put the Spanish-language program after his 10 p.m. hour-long English-language news block.

A challenge, Fisher notes, besides finding bilingual talent, is that there are four distinct Spanish dialects used broadly in the area. Rinehart and Fisher have been meeting with local Hispanic representatives in an effort to approach the broadcast with language most commonly used.

So far, Fisher says, the response from both the local Hispanic and the advertising community has been positive. Community leaders are hoping for a newscast that shows the community's diversity and doesn't focus on crime, Rinehart says.

WFMZ-TV is not the first English-language station to offer news in Spanish. KGNS-TV Laredo, Texas, that market's dominant English-language station, ended its Spanish newscast earlier this year amid low ratings and labor trouble.