Indomitable vs. Undaunted

CBS affiliate WHIO has long been the indomitable news leader in Dayton, Ohio. But its competitors in Nielsen’s No. 59 market are undaunted, adding newscasts and bolstering existing product.

Cox Broadcasting’s WHIO is among the country’s top CBS affiliates and a national standout in news. Last November, its 6 p.m. news was top-rated among all stations in metered markets. In Dayton, it sometimes doubles the news rating of the No. 2 station, LIN TV’s NBC affiliate WDTN.

WHIO also produces a 10 p.m. newscast for cable-only UPN affiliate UPN 17, which it co-owns with Time Warner Cable. “News is a total station commitment,” says General Manager Harry Delaney. “We dedicate a great deal of our resources, dayparts and promotional time to it.” Indeed, he adds, WHIO is the biggest advertiser on its own air.

Yet its rivals aren’t shrinking. Since LIN acquired WDTN three years ago, it has upgraded the station with new equipment and sets and fresh branding (“WDTN: On Your Side”). “We have made investments,” says General Manager Lisa Barhorst, “and we are starting to see some changes.”

ABC affiliate WKEF and Fox affiliate WRGT are planning an aggressive play to grow news share. The stations’ joint news department, now under the aegis of News Director Pat Casey, currently produces a 6 and 11 p.m. news for WKEF, as well as a 10 p.m. show for WRGT. (Sinclair Broadcast Group owns WKEF and operates WRGT.)

Beginning June 1, WKEF will air a traditional early-morning news from 5 to 7 a.m., leading into Good Morning America. At 7 a.m., the local show will jump to WRGT for another two hours of lighter morning fare hosted by anchor Asa George on a casual living-room–style set. “There is a strong appetite for early-morning news,” says WKEF General Manager Dean Ditmer. The stations will begin promoting the morning news in mid May, during sweeps.

Local broadcasters took in $84.2 million in gross revenues in 2004, according to BIA Financial, up from $77.5 million in 2003. WHIO led with $37.5 million in revenues, more than its two main competitors combined. Campaigns for governor, Senate and House seats are expected to bolster ad spending.

That may take some sting out of Dayton’s economic woes. Troubles at GM and auto-parts manufacturer Delphi are weighing heavily on the region. Some 5,000 Delphi workers have lost their jobs already. Further cuts and drops in consumer spending will inevitably impact the advertising market. “This is dominating news here,” says Ditmer. “We are all braced for it.”

Next: Chattanooga, Tenn.