Midwest Grit

We're not in Kansas, any more. At least not Dorothy's Kansas. Farms have been replaced by aviation companies in Wichita, though the area's manufacture-heavy economy nose-dived after 9/11. Wichita lost almost 13,000 aerospace jobs. Despite its travails, the market has proved resilient. The unemployment rate remains in line with the national average, about 5.6%. TV ad revenue has grown steadily since 2001 and is projected to reach $62 million this year.

"The market is holding tough," says Joan Barrett, GM at market-leading KWCH, Media General's CBS affiliate. "We'll run news reports on layoffs and job fairs, followed by a story on a housing boom. It's interesting to watch."

Also worth watching: the local TV industry's musical chairs. Barrett, promoted from news director last fall, tapped Don North from WQAD Moline, Ill., as her replacement. Gray's ABC affiliate KAKE also has a new news boss. Glen Horn left his job as assistant news director at WKRN Nashville, Tenn., to return to his hometown.

The concern for both is market size. This sprawling area encompasses 65 counties, holds nearly half the state's population, and covers more than 50,000 square miles. "There are places in our coverage area that are a six-hour drive away," says Todd Spessard, news director at Emmis NBC affiliate KSNW. To cope, KSNW, KWCH, KAKE, and Clear Channel's Fox station, KSAS, have full-power satellite stations. Except for channel 5, every VHF dial in the market is filled with a "local" signal.

KWCH is historically the top-rated news station. KSNW and KAKE slug it out for second place in news. KSAS recently launched a daily half-hour show at 9 p.m., produced by KWCH. Neither KWCV (The WB) nor KSCC (UPN) does any local news. The market's only low-power station, KCTU, carries the Pax network.

Cox Communications is the largest cable provider, with about 300,000 subscribers. Cable penetration in Wichita is slightly below the national average, at 68%. Satellite penetration is slightly above, at 19%. Currently in an embryonic stage is the partnership of Cox, KAKE, and WIBW in Topeka. Last fall, they launched Kansas Now 22, a statewide 24-hour cable news channel. For now, programming is mostly weather, infomercials, and rebroadcasts of daily newscasts. No word if they plan to cover traffic on the yellow brick road.