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Big, but thinly populated

It might take less time to call everyone in the Casper-Riverton, Wyo., market than to drive across it. The No. 200 DMA stretches hundreds of miles across the rural state, with a population of only 128,000. Its five counties, local execs note, are huge.

Tom Shannon, the relatively new general manager at KTWO-TV, the market's NBC affiliate and dominant station—the very definition of the big fish in a small pond, Shannon says—is undaunted by the market's size. KTWO-TV has finished replacing its microwave-based distribution system with a permanent uplink, which, he says, will extend the station's over-the-air reach to near-statewide coverage.

Competing against KTWO-TV in local news, says Mark Nalbone, who runs Fox affiliate K26ES for Wyomedia Corp. and ABC affiliate KFNB-TV, the market's No. 2 station, "doesn't seem economically feasible." Local executives believe that the lack of success competing in local news helped precipitate the diminution of the CBS affiliate's local presence. KGWC-TV's owners now keep only a small staff in Casper and run most operations from Cheyenne, DMA 197, where theirs is the dominant station.

The CBS station, being transferred from Benedek Broadcasting to Chelsey Broadcasting, is likely to change hands again, most interest coming from inside the market. KTWO-TV owner Equity Broadcasting expressed interest, but a duopoly might have regulatory hurdles, given the number of voices in the market. The inside track appears to belong to Nalbone, who might purchase the station with a corporation of his own.

The market dropped off more than 15% from 2000 to 2001, a bigger dip than in many DMAs. It retains a relatively high per-capita income and, local sales execs say, a moderate to low cost of living, which promotes discretionary spending as the market, which has had a significant local oil industry, grows in the service areas. The biggest advertisers are typically automotive, furniture and fast food.