Corn-Fed No More

Every four years, Des Moines, Iowa, is guaranteed a place in the national sun. The state's political caucuses attract the keen eye of publicity to this bucolic area—and dump a ton of ad money into the market.

"We have had some very good political revenue, starting way back in August and September," says Jim Boyer, vice president and general manager at New York Times Co.-owned WHO.

In the economy overall, an agriculture base has morphed into financial-services, education, and health-care industries. The state's largest employer, Iowa State University, lies within the market. Des Moines is home to more than 50 insurance companies and two of the country's biggest mortgage firms.

Says Boyer, "There is corn here, but you have to go pretty far outside Des Moines to find it."

On the local-news front, Hearst-Argyle's KCCI has dominated ratings for most of the past decade and is consistently one of the highest-rated CBS affiliates in the country. Its late newscast pulled a Super Bowl-like 19 rating/38 share (total households) in November.

"This station has a history of aggressive, hard-hitting news coverage from a staff that puts roots down in this community," says KCCI News Director Dave Busiek, a 25-year veteran of the station.

Trailing both KCCI and WHO is Citadel-owned WOI, traditionally a distant third in both total-week and news ratings. Pappas's KPWB and Sinclair's KDSM have tussled for fourth in total week for two years.

KPWB signed on in 2001 and has steadily gained ground, thanks to a solid lineup of syndicated shows like Friends, Will & Grace, and That '70s Show. DirecTV last month added KPWB to its package of local channels. The station is still negotiating with Dish Network.

"We are glad to have cleared one hurdle," says KPWB Vice President and General Manager Debra Corson.

Cable penetration in the market is slightly over 55%, one of the lowest levels among top-75 markets. Satellite penetration, on the other hand, is extraordinarily high, about 23%.

Another sign of the market's move away from the farm.