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Horse Play

With favorable weather, a relatively low crime rate and scenic horse country, residents of Lexington, Ky., say they've got a pretty fair quality of life. Many others will sample the lifestyle in 2010, when Lexington is slated to host the World Equestrian Games. Some 600,000 people are expected to turn up for the two-week event.

Locals say Lexington was an obvious choice to host the international exhibition. “We're the thoroughbred capital of the world,” says WDKY General Manager Michael Brickey.

The local news competition is essentially a two-horse race, with Cordillera's WLEX leading the pack. The NBC affiliate took morning, evening and late news in February, and finished in a virtual tie with Gray's WKYT for total day ratings. WLEX President/General Manager Tim Gilbert says the station pulled off “something of a minor miracle” in growing a 4 household rating/9 share in the last half-hour of primetime to a 9/28 in late news. “The inevitable conclusion is that viewers have a strong preference for our news, and they're finding us,” he says. “Our news is very consistent—no stunts, no sweeps pieces, no fluff pieces.”

Besides the Equestrian Games, the big story in Lexington is the sale of Media General's ABC outlet WTVQ to Morris Network, which was announced last month and should close in late May. Station managers express surprise at the price tag, which they say is $16.5 million (neither Media General nor Morris would confirm the price). “It's unbelievably low,” says one. Cathy Gugerty is WTVQ's interim general manager.

Lexington TV brought in $72.1 million last year, per BIA Financial, and is pegged to do $79.3 million in 2008. The Kentucky primary happens May 20, and may be significant if Pennsylvania's on April 22 does not help determine the Democratic nominee.

WLEX won the revenue race with $23.2 million in 2006, per BIA, while CBS affiliate WKYT brought in $21.1 million. Sinclair owns Fox outlet WDKY, which easily won primetime in February. Gray owns not only WKYT but a second CBS outlet, WYMT, that reaches about a third of the market, and also airs CW fare on WKYT's digital channel.

Besides the horse industry, Lexington's economic drivers include the University of Kentucky, the printer manufacturer Lexmark, a Toyota plant and the medical industry. “Those are relatively stable employment bases that keep us more stable than what other parts of the country might be experiencing,” Gilbert says.

Stations from top to bottom are enhancing their news product. WLEX and WKYT have offered local programming in HD for about a year, and WDKY is days away. “It's all ready to go, we just have to flip the switch,” says Brickey. “It's pretty exciting.”

WKYT produces the 7 a.m. news for the Fox affiliate, as well as WDKY's growing 10 p.m. news, which posted an 8/17 in February. WKYT unveiled a Web-only 4 p.m. newscast, running for about 15 minutes, in September. “The Web channel has become another distribution arm for us,” says President/General Manager Wayne Martin. “Our audience wants news when and where they want it.”

Residents are eager to show the equestrian fans what Lexington is all about. “The weather is temperate and people are friendly,” Gilbert says. “Life is good in central Kentucky.”

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