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Market Eye: Call it Albu-Quirky

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A market around the size of Albuquerque–Santa Fe is often a stepping stone to larger stages for management and talent alike, but something about DMA No. 46 seems to keep people from leaving. Paula Maes, president/CEO at the New Mexico Broadcasters Association, says KOB’s Mike Burgess is just the thirdgeneral manager in the Hubbard station’s six-plus decades in the market. KRQE anchor Dick Knipfi ng has been on the air in Albuquerque since 1963.

Stan Gill, vice president and general manager at KWBQ-KASY, is the newbie GM in the bunch, with five years in Albuquerque. “This market tends to hold on to general managers forever,” Maes says. “We don’t have much turnover.”

Part of it is the region’s open space, dramatic landscape and famous green chile, say the locals. And Albuquerque– Santa Fe is also unique in that it’s one of just two television markets in the U.S. that are the lone DMAs in their state, notes Maes, along with Salt Lake City, Utah. That gives the stations outsize news clout and significance in people’s lives. “This is how the community gets its news,” she says.

The ratings titles are extraordinarily spread out. Hearst TV’s ABC affiliate KOAT won the total-day household race in the February sweeps, ahead of LIN’s CBS outlet KRQE. NBC affiliate KOB won the morning news contest, while KOAT was best in the 25-54 demo at 6 a.m. KRQE had the top early evening newscast with its 5:30 program, but that’s an exceptionally close race too. KRQE had an easier time at 10 p.m., as its 10.3 household rating/18.4 share grabbed the February crown over KOAT’s 7.2/12.7. (KOAT again showed its younger appeal with the top score at 10 p.m. in adults 25-54.)

KOAT has a unique product in its 10:30 p.m. news. The ABC affiliate debuted 10:30 Sunday news in late 2007, then added a Monday-Friday program in that time slot the next year. The newscast, which succeeds Will and Grace in the slot, segues seamlessly into Nightline. “It’s been a remarkable success,” says Mary Lynn Roper, KOAT president and general manager, “book after book after book after book after book.”

The market has two duopolies: LIN owns the CBS-Fox combo KRQE and KASA and Acme holds the CW-MyNetworkTV duo KWBQ and KASY—at least for now. Last summer, LIN inked a deal to provide a range of services, including engineering, promotions and administration, to the Acme pair. At the same time, Stan Gill was named COO of Acme, which is in the process of selling off its stations. Maes says Acme still has its building and some staff in Albuquerque; Gill did not return calls for comment.

Nearly 41% of thre market’ds residents claim Hispanic origin, according to BIA/Kelsey. Albuquerque’s Spanishlanguage options include Entravision’s strong KLUZ, which airs Univision programming and is managed by Jeff Apodaca (whose father, Jerry, was New Mexico governor from 1975 to 1979). Ramar owns Telemundo affiliate KTEL and Univision owns TeleFutura outlet KTFQ.

Comcast is the primary subscription-TV operator. PBS station KNME is run by Polly Anderson, and Maes says it’s jointly owned by a pair of local educational institutions: the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque Public Schools. “There’s nothing else like that in the country,” she says of the arrangement.

Local TV executives say the Albuquerque–Santa Fe economy is holding up fairly well. Tech giant Intel has a major manufacturing facility in Rio Rancho, but most of the big economic drivers are federal entities, including three Air Force bases and two national laboratories. “Albuquerque is very reliant on federal money,” says Roper.

Maes says some of the outlying regions of New Mexico, which get TV signals from neighboring states, would prefer to get the Albuquerque–Santa Fe stations. “People in Las Cruces feel like, we want your signal—we don’t want to hear about Austin and El Paso,” she says.

Amidst such an exceptionally close ratings race, stations are trying a number of new things to get ahead. Fox affiliate KASA, which airs a one-hour news at 9 p.m., introduced 8 a.m. lifestyle show New Mexico Style last fall. KOAT introduced a 4:30 a.m. news last August; the station is currently the only one live in that time slot.

KOB has hired an Albuquerque native, Laurie Passman, to be its news director. Succeeding Julie Szulczewski, she comes from KTVK Phoenix and starts in mid-June. Mike Burgess cited local roots as a factor in tapping Passman. “Her knowledge of the city and the news business will ensure we continue to produce the best news in town,” he said in a statement.

Indeed, local roots are a big deal in the southwest. KOAT boss Roper grew up in the market, the daughter of a radio station owner who got her start at KOAT as a photographer. Modern Family was KOAT’s top primetime show in February in adults 25-54, thanks in part to star Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s local roots.

More than other markets, something about Albuquerque seems to keep station staffers from moving on. “This community is their home,” says Maes. “It’s not one of those transitional markets. These people are here to stay.”

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