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Chief Challengers

The battle between Kansas City stations KMBC and KCTV is one of the great ratings slugfests going. Meredith's KCTV grabbed the late news title in May by the slimmest of margins, but Hearst-Argyle's KMBC inched ahead in November. The ABC affiliate not only took late news in that sweeps, but the morning and evening crowns, too.

KMBC General Manager Wayne Godsey says viewers turned to the station when the nation's economy went into freefall. “We are one of those legacy stations, and we took advantage of it,” he says. “Our promotions have been centered on, 'We've been around, we have experienced people, we'll cover this in a responsible way.'”

The competition brings out the best in the market, not only with the front-runners, but also with the Scripps-owned NBC affiliate KSHB and Local TV's Fox outlet WDAF. While KMBC took the 5 p.m. crown with an 8.1 household rating, the race for second saw KCTV post a 6, and WDAF and KSHB put up 4.8s. Duopolies abound: Meredith has the CBS and MyNetworkTV outlets, Hearst-Argyle owns the ABC and CW affiliates (both were locked in a retransmission consent spat with Sunflower Broadband at presstime), and Scripps holds the NBC outlet and independent KMCI. Public TV station KCPT recently laid off 10% of its workforce. Time Warner Cable is the big cable player.

While the No. 31 market is hardly booming, station managers say Kansas City's economy is holding up. Defying the glum state of the automotive industry, car and truck manufacturing facilities remain significant employers, including an assembly plant for the Ford F-150 pickup. Corporations with local roots include Sprint and H&R Block.

Managers say the housing market never got too hot, and therefore hasn't seen the bottom fall out. “Kansas City held in there longer without getting hurt, so we hope it comes out a little sooner than the other markets,” says KSHB General Manager Craig Allison.

The NFL's Kansas City Chiefs recently finished with a 2-14 record, but their poor showing didn't seem to damper viewing; KCTV/KSMO General Manager Kirk Black says Chiefs games still pulled a 50 share. On a brighter sporting note, the Kansas Jayhawks took the NCAA basketball title last spring with an overtime win.

With the traditional revenue categories ailing, stations are scrambling to find alternative sources of income. KCTV has a successful viewer loyalty program [see Station to Station, p. 18], and is hawking its 2009 Kansas City Weather Calendar on KMBC connects with local businesses through its “A-List” search engine on, and is getting more business from used-car dealers. WDAF, which is celebrating its 60th birthday, pairs up with local arts organizations to sell tickets for area events through its TixKC program on

KSHB, which is poised to switch to fully high-definition programming in the coming weeks, is pushing new business development in its staff training, and signing sponsors up for its “Living Green” series, which runs both in the news and as prime specials.

The ratings races mean K.C. stations have to bring their best to work each day. “No one's sleeping at the wheel in this market—they're at it all the time,” Allison says. “It makes for good competition, and that's good for viewers.”