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King of the Hills

For almost as long as the area has had television, WSAZ has dominated in the Charleston-Huntington market in central West Virginia. The NBC affiliate changed hands late in 2005, when Emmis sold it to Gray, but the station shows no signs of loosening its grip on the crown. With WSAZ grabbing 48% of the market revenue in 2006, according to BIA Financial, the competition is clearly playing for second place.

General Manager Don Ray says success breeds more success, with newsroom staffers attracted to the notion of playing for the winning team. Even after scoring a 12 rating/36 share in evening news in May, better than double the runner-up, Ray is hardly napping under his desk. “We put money back into the business to cover the whole region,” he says, mentioning dual facilities in the two submarkets that enable the station to do separate regional newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m.

The DMA is indeed two distinct markets, with Charleston, the capital and financial center, and Huntington, the home of Marshall University. The cities are about 50 miles apart and the Appalachian Mountains skirt through the region, offering scenic views, an array of outdoor activities and a local identity. “People here are extremely proud to be from the area, with a strong attachment to the topography,” says WOWK General Manager John Fawcett.

Pretty as the scenery may be, many wish the economy was doing better. The healthcare industry is on the rise and coal is on the decline. A local referendum on gambling generated advertising this summer, but the market continues to wheeze: While it's the 65th largest DMA, Charleston-Huntington ranks just No. 80 in terms of revenue. Local business is growing, but owing to its small size, the market does not ring up much national business from auto, airlines or financial institutions. “We don't enjoy the highest of the highs or suffer the lowest of the lows,” says Harold Cooper, general manager of WCHS. “It is what it is.”

The market brought in $56 million in 2006, according to BIA Financial. WSAZ grabbed $26.8 million, ahead of West Virginia Media's CBS outlet WOWK ($10.4 million), Sinclair's ABC affiliate WCHS ($10.1 million) and Cunningham's Fox affiliate WVAH ($7.4 million). Lockwood owns the small CW outlet WQCW, while MyNetworkTV fare runs on WSAZ's “MyZ” digital channel.

The race for second still burns hot. WCHS, which does the news for the Fox affiliate, has established a satellite office in Huntington to establish stronger news in that region.

“We'll have an everyday news presence in Huntington that the station never had,” says Cooper. The WCHS Website is tops in the DMA, he adds, thanks to streaming video, regularly updated weather, and extraordinary search optimization. Proof of the latter, the first two links that come up after Googling “Good Morning America recipes” aren't from GMA or ABC, but from WCHS.

Over at WOWK, which rode CBS' hit lineup to a primetime win in May, newscasts are strengthened by the presence of six in-state stations owned by the local outfit, West Virginia Media. “The stations form a news network throughout the state of West Virginia,” says Fawcett.

But WSAZ will continue to attract the brightest talent. “We succeed through hard work and good people,” says Ray. “It sounds like a political answer, but it's a fact.”

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