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Buckeye Bonanza

Stations in Columbus, Ohio, are preparing for a bountiful harvest this fall, with statewide elections and the first sweeps period of the new TV season in November. Tens of millions of political ad dollars will pour into stations' coffers, and local NBC and CBS affiliates will wage a pitched battle over primetime and news ratings.

Ohio is among a handful of battleground states in which control of the U.S. House of Representatives may be decided. And with pivotal elections for the governor's office and the U.S. Senate, the national parties have flooded the state with campaign money.

The showdown between NBC affiliate WCMH and CBS affiliate WBNS comes as both stations are adjusting to major changes. In June, NBC Universal sold WCMH to Media General as part of a four-station, $600 million deal. General Manager Craig Robinson says the new parent company has yet to make any radical moves. “Like NBC, Media General has a strong commitment to local news,” he says.

WCMH is coming off important first-place finishes at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. in the last May and July sweeps. But WBNS was close behind, posting a 9.9 rating/18 share to WCMH's 10.1/19. Third-place ABC affiliate WSYX trailed with a 4.8/9.

WBNS has introduced a new primary anchor team to coincide with Katie Couric's Sept. 5 debut as anchor of the CBS Evening News. New meteorologist Chris Bradley was hired away from Sinclair-owned WSYX to join Andrea Cambern and Jerry Revish, who previously shared anchor duties with Angela Pace before she became WBNS' community affairs director.

“We are all new,” says WBNS General Manager Tom Griesdorn. “And yet it is the same proven quality.”

Like the Columbus Dispatch newspaper and statewide cable news channel Ohio Network News, WBNS is owned by Dispatch Broadcasting.

Last fall, the station launched a 10 p.m. newscast, also anchored by Cambern, on LIN TV-owned WWHO, which sheds its UPN affiliation next week to become the market's CW station. The newscast competes with the Sinclair-operated Fox affiliate, WTTE, which has one of the highest-rated 10 p.m. newscasts in the country (averaging a 7.5/12 last May).

WSYX General Manager Dan Mellon, who also oversees WTTE, declared his news operation “as strong as ever.” Sinclair is expanding the news on WSYX and WTTE, recently adding a two-hour morning show on the Fox station using WSYX's early-morning team.

WSYX also features new entertainment options on its digital tier, with a MyNetworkTV affiliate and The Tube music-video network running on secondary digital channels.

In syndication changes this fall, Judge Judy moves to WTTE from WCMH, while WSYX picks up The Rachael Ray Show and Dr. Keith Ablow. WCMH is adding The Megan Mullally Show. Meanwhile, WBNS will maintain its marquee King World lineup of Dr. Phil, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.

The state capitol and Ohio State University contribute to a stable economy for Nielsen's No. 32 market, as do Columbus' Fortune 500 corporate residents, including The Limited apparel company, Nationwide Insurance and the Wendy's and White Castle fast-food chains.

Stations earned $169 million in 2005, down from $193.1 million in 2004, when some $30 million in political monies poured into the market. But this year, projections call for spending on state and federal elections and ballot initiatives to exceed 2004 levels—an impressive forecast for a non-presidential-election year.

“Ohio is ground zero with national implications for both parties,” says Griesdorn. “The spending will be substantial.”