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Betting on a hot market

"Man, it's hot," notes Eugene Jerome in Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues. "It's like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot."

Climate aside, television executives in Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss., agree that things are
pretty hot. Although the No. 157 DMA, Biloxi-Gulfport jumps a full 20 places in revenue rank. The market benefits from a major shipbuilding facility and strong military presence, from golfers spending winter months there and from beach resorts.

The odds-on favorite for market prosperity is the gaming industry. Mississippi is the No. 3 gambling state, behind Nevada and New Jersey; the industry was boosted recently by investments by three national players: MGM, Park Place and Penn Gaming.

WLOX-TV GM Leon Long notes that the market's other prominent advertisers mirror the rest of the country's: automotive No. 1, followed by restaurants and furniture.

Phillip Cox, GM of Morris Multimedia-owned WXXV-TV for about a year, says his local sales are expected to increase about 5% this year and national revenue could grow more than twice that. American Idol
didn't hurt his station's summer ratings, and he expects college, NFL and Major League Baseball to bring a good fall.

The market is dominated by Liberty Corp.'s WLOX-TV, call letters evoking a market where salmon are caught, eaten or smoked but actually taken from the middle of the city name "Biloxi" by longtime owner the Love family. Long notes that the two commercial stations compete for ratings, if not for sales, with network affils piped in via cable from Jackson, Miss., and New Orleans. But, with impressive ratings and revenue shares, WLOX-TV isn't the market's 800-lb. gorilla, notes competitor Cox. "It's the 1,200-lb. gorilla."

Since WLOX-TV joined Liberty, Long has been put in charge of eight stations but remains based in Biloxi. "I get an opportunity to run some larger-market stations. But I love small-market TV."