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Cheeseheads and Newshounds

In Green Bay, Wis., where die-hard football fans don foam “cheeseheads” to cheer on their beloved Packers, news is a top scorer. All the Big Four stations in Nielsen's No. 69 market carry local news and earn strong numbers. Young Broadcasting's ABC affiliate, WBAY, is the leader, winning early-evening and late news in February sweeps. But CBS-owned WFRV and LIN Television's Fox affiliate, WLUK, are close behind.

In February, WBAY was No. 1 at 10 p.m., with a weekday average 9.1 rating/21 household share, followed by WFRV's 6.7/16. WLUK's 9 p.m. news scored a 7.7/12. NBC affiliate WGBA was fourth in late news, with a 5.2/12 for its 10 p.m. newscast.

Broadcasters took in $70.8 million in gross revenues in 2004, including $8 million in political monies, an increase from $61.3 million in revenue the year before, according to BIA Financial. With a healthy real estate market and a decent economy overall, managers expect this year to be strong, driven in part by increased spending in home-related categories, such as furniture and mortgage companies.

Two relatively new owners are operating in the market. In November, LIN Television acquired WLUK from Emmis Communications, and Journal Broadcast Group purchased WGBA a year and a half ago, also cutting a deal to operate UPN affiliate WACY under a local marketing agreement.

WLUK General Manager Jay Zollar says LIN TV has not yet made significant operational changes. But WLUK has made big programming moves, adding syndication heavyweights Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, the market's top-rated syndicated show, in September. The news-heavy WLUK earns big ratings—often ranking No. 1—for its four-hour local morning news.

In January, Journal named veteran News Director Bill Berra as VP of news for WGBA and Milwaukee sister station WTMJ. At both stations, observers say, the news has taken a flashier, hard-edged approach.

Also, the Journal-operated WACY will become a My Network TV affiliate this September while ACME Comm.'s WB affiliate WIWB will go with The CW.

For its part, WBAY expanded its news offerings in February, with the market's lone 4 p.m. newscast airing against The Oprah Winfrey Show on WFRV. WBAY General Manager Don Carmichael says the newscast, which replaced Friends reruns, averaged a solid 3 rating in its first month versus Oprah's 6.9. “We were squandering our Dr. Phil lead-in,” Carmichael says. “And we decided we'd rather do what we do best: local news.”