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Houston Rockets

KTRK has long ruled the roost in Houston, but KHOU is muscling its way into the top spot. In the May sweeps, KHOU, a Belo-owned CBS affiliate, took the morning-, evening-and late-news titles, while the ABC-owned KTRK won total-day and primetime ratings. KHOU is the first with hi-def news, and managers say new anchor Lucy Noland (from New York) has helped tremendously. “She's done a wonderful job,” says KHOU VP/Station Manager Susan McEldoon. “The audience has really warmed to her.”

While the Houston economy has long been driven by oil, it has diversified its portfolio. It features a busy port, a range of space-industry businesses, and the colossal Texas Medical Center, which employs some 80,000 residents.

Station executives describe the people as exceedingly warm to new arrivals, such as those who showed up after Hurricane Katrina. While crime remains a concern, managers say most newcomers have assimilated well. “People here are very, very philanthropic,” says D'Artagnan Bebel, VP/General Manager at the Fox duopoly. “They're more generous than anywhere I've worked.”

Nielsen's No. 10 market brought in $522 million in 2006, according to BIA Financial. KHOU nabbed $99.7 million, ahead of KTRK ($97 million), Post-Newsweek's NBC outlet KPRC ($92.5 million), and Fox's KRIV ($65.2 million). Tribune's CW station, a Fox-owned MyNetworkTV outlet, and Univision also post substantial revenue.

The market switches to local people meters in October, so this is the last May sweeps of its kind. It's a bare-knuckles battle among stations. Local programming is huge: KTRK does six hours of news per weekday, including 4-7 p.m. KHOU offers Great Day Houston, geared toward women, at 9 a.m. KRIV gets robust numbers with Fox 26 Morning News, and KHCW airs Outlook Houston Sunday mornings.

KPRC, meanwhile, is drawing from a vast reserve of its 29-year-old The Eyes of Texas program, focusing on Texas culture, for quarterly specials. “We have an incredible library of material,” says VP/General Manager Larry Blackerby.

The stations are duking it out online as well. KRIV is bullish on blogging (see sidebar). KPRC's click2houston.comstreams its 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. news, while McEldoon pushes KHOU reporters to file stories online. “The Web is not an after-thought,” she says. “It's very much a part of our culture here.”

Stations are trying other platforms, too. KPRC launched Latin network LATV on a digital channel in April. KTRK, meanwhile, produces newscasts for local gas stations. “They run 4½-5 minutes each,” says KTRK President/General Manager Henry Florsheim, “as long as it takes to fill up your tank.”

Managers hope viewers give the new products the same warm welcome they give newcomers. “Houston is a very friendly town,” says Florsheim, “and a very open community.”

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