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Market Eye: A Heartland Homecoming

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Paducah/Cape Girardeau/Harrisburg-Mt. Vernon is a mouthful of a DMA, and, by several accounts, an alluring place to live, work and play. So strong is its pull that Mike Smythe, formerly general manager at KFVS, abruptly retired from being retired to come back and run rival KBSI. (Of course, it helped that Sinclair made Smythe a nice offer.)

You don’t drive for long in DMA No. 81—a series of small cities from southeastern Missouri to southern Illinois to western Kentucky— without seeing Old Glory. “People still believe in Americana here,” says Tim Ingram, KFVS vice president and general manager. “It’s small-town America, and they exhibit Americana every day.”

Ingram faces a unique situation. He succeeded Smythe at Raycom’s KFVS last Dec. 1. Smythe had retired to Toledo, Ohio, when Sinclair reached out and asked him to run Fox affiliate KBSI and MyNetworkTV station WDKA, which it manages through a local marketing agreement. (The stations had been overseen by Sinclair’s general manager in St. Louis.)

Smythe started at KBSI on Feb. 27. “I have a lot of friends here,” he says. “And financially, the opportunity to come back made a lot of sense.”

KFVS produces a 9 p.m. news for KBSI. Otherwise, the two stations are in full battle mode. Smythe has taken some pages from his old KFVS playbook; he does three editorials a week and has introduced sponsored business briefs. He’s out and about in the vast market, too. “We’re doing an awful lot in the community,” says Smythe. “The station had not been that active in the community before.”

It will take a herculean effort to unseat KFVS, however. The CBS affiliate had its typically huge sweeps in February (the diary market is awaiting May sweeps results). KFVS won all the major ratings races, its 10 p.m. news posting a 12.1 household rating/24 share ahead of NBC affiliate WPSD’s 8.5/17. Owned by Paxton Media Group, WPSD was runner-up in the major races. David Jernigan, WPSD VP of sales and programming, likes what he sees coming up in primetime this fall. “I think the plan to shore up a day at a time is a good one,” he says. “[NBC is] moving in a positive direction.”

ABC af! liate WSIL is owned by the Wheeler family. The station will add the syndicated Katie this fall. It recently completed its HD transition by adding hi-def field acquisition. “It’s a pretty small piece of the programming, but it’s important for us,” says WSIL co-owner Steve Wheeler.

KFVS has a mix of The CW and Me-TV on its .2. WPSD has both Antenna TV and RTV on its multicast tier, and airs a 9 p.m. news there too. Comcast is the primary cable operator in Paducah (Ky.), while Charter rules in Cape Girardeau (Mo.). But the market, thanks to its rural nature, has a large satellite TV presence. KFVS and KBSI are based in Missouri. WPSD is in Kentucky; WSIL is in Illinois. “Three network affiliates in three separate states,” Smythe says of the market. “It may be the only one.”

Covering such a giant area is a serious challenge. Ingram says that staffers who reside in the far corners of the market stay close to home. Thanks to more portable broadcast gear, they don’t necessarily need to pop into the station each day for cameras and editing equipment. “The morning meeting does not have to be around a table in the newsroom,” Ingram says.

The market has its economic challenges. It was DMA No. 78 two years ago, and BIA/ Kelsey has it as No. 100 in terms of revenue. But political spending in three states this year will help. “Everything is rolling right along in this part of the world,” says Ingram. “We’re not seeing huge issues.”

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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.