GM Town in Flux

Filmmaker Michael Moore's 1989 documentary Roger & Me
focused attention on Flint, Mich., as a town abandoned by its biggest industry, General Motors. Although GM is still this market's largest employer, the 20,000 or so jobs represent only a fraction of the area's former glory.

As Detroit's suburbia grows outward, the area is growing slightly. Genesee County, where Flint is located, added 12,000 households in the past five years.

As in most other markets, automotive is the top advertising category, but it's fading fast. "General Motors has pulled back their spot advertising because they know the average person around here can buy a GM car using an employee or family discount, so they apparently feel they don't need to advertise as heavily as they used to," said Thomas Bryson, general manager at ABC-owned WJRT-TV.

WJRT-TV and CBS affiliate WNEM-TV have traded places atop the Nielsen ratings many times over the years. In November 2002, WJRT-TV won the sweeps race with an 18 share to WNEM-TV's17 for total day. In May 2003, WNEM-TV won out, 17 to 16.

WEYI-TV, the NBC affiliate owned by LIN Television Corp. since last year, runs a distant third, followed by Sinclair's Fox affiliate WSMH(TV). LIN has put WEYI-TV on the market.

WSMH was the first Sinclair station to go to the News Central "hubcast" format, with weather and national news segments delivered out of Sinclair's Baltimore studios. Paul Donahue, from co-owned WICD-TV Springfield, Ill, replaced Mike Eichorn as general manager last month.

The FCC recently approved Vista Communications Group's application for a new station, ch. 46 in Bay City, expected to become Flint's WB affiliate.

With a satellite penetration of 18.5% and no reimportation of local signals via satellite, Flint-Saginaw stations lose a significant number of viewers. That's about to change, though: DirecTV and EchoStar's Dish Network have announced plans for local delivery to the market early next year.