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Desert Storm

In the Arizona desert, Tucson “is like a huge small town,” says Ray
Depa, VP/GM for Emmis-owned ABC affiliate KGUN. The 72nd-largest TV market, it
is one of the 10 fastest-growing in the country. And for a midsize market,
Tucson fuels a heated news war.

Just one-tenth of a rating point separated Cordillera Communications'
NBC affiliate KVOA and Raycom-owned CBS station KOLD in 10 p.m. news in
November. KVOA edged out a win with a 10.1 rating/23.7 share to KOLD's
10/23.6. “People from outside often say our news looks like a top-50
market,” says KOLD VP/GM Jim Arnold. And the station has worked hard on its

In the past four years, KOLD has gone from fourth to first place in
overall ratings. Key to its success was tweaking the news; a major factor was
the return of chief meteorologist Chuck George after a stint at KPRC Houston.
KOLD also upgraded its set, adding a new weather center. A fresh
news-promotions producer also came on board. Aided also by CBS' surging prime
time, KOLD is on a roll. Another win is prime access: KOLD's
Who Wants To Be a Millionaire regularly
beats KGUN's powerhouse Wheel of

Tucson also supports a mix of English- and Spanish-language stations.
Belo Corp. operates the only duopoly, with Fox affiliate KMSB and UPN station
KTTU. Among Spanish-language stations, Univision-owned KUVE pulls in top

Population growth, expected to be 2% over the next five years (more than
double the national average), is a boon to broadcasters' coffers.

This year, local stations are projected to collect $76.8 million in
revenue, up 2% over last year. Furniture is a major ad category; transplants
from California or the Midwest like to outfit their homes with serious
Southwestern motifs. And it helps that regional company American Home and local
retailer Sam Levitz Furniture duke it out on the air. Add carpeting and window
coverings, and home-related products make up the third- or fourth-largest ad
category, Depa says.

Part of the city's appeal is its ever-changing population. “This is
not like Midwestern cities, where five generations of families have lived,”
says Arnold. The population is young, thanks in part to nearby University of
Arizona, along with a reasonable cost of living. “Most people are from
somewhere else, and the weather is the attraction.”