Midwest Miracle

Cleveland was a poster child for PR disasters. Bordering Lake Erie, which has its own image problem, the city was derided as the "Mistake on the Lake." It went bankrupt in the late 1970s.

Since then, the city has worked to revamp its image. The transition has been a tough one, but today's Cleveland is clean, safe and thriving.

An impressive amount of change has rumbled through stations in the 16th-largest TV market lately, led by Raycom's WOIO. The CBS affiliate adopted an in-your-face style of reporting that enraged journalistic purists but engrossed viewers.

"We throw fastballs," concedes WOIO News Director Steve Doerr. "We question authority, and we're not afraid to take on politicians."

His strategy is working. WOIO household ratings of its 11 p.m. newscast grew 29% year-to-year. Some key demo categories doubled. WOIO also produces a 10 p.m. newscast for sister station WUAB, a UPN affiliate.

WKYC, Gannett's NBC affiliate, takes top honors in household ratings at both 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. with a more traditional approach. Unlike its competitors, WKYC does not produce a 5 p.m. newscast but runs Dr. Phil

Fox-owned WJW is, according to BIA, the market's top revenue producer, with estimated 2003 income of $68 million. One of the best-performing Fox affiliates, WJW delivers the market's top morning news program and the top-rated 10 p.m. newscast.

For WEWS, however, times are tough. The Scripps Howard station has been in ratings free fall due to poor lead-ins from ABC. The station tumbled into fourth place at 11 p.m. in May, costing News Director Lynn Heider her job. John Butte, most recently interim news chief at WTOL Toledo, Ohio, replaced her this month.

There's better news on the ad front, particularly since Ohio is a swing state.

"Political is a big part of that story," says WEWS General Manager Ric Harris, "but national spot was very strong as well." BIA projects a 10% increase in market revenue for 2004 to $284 million.

And last year, several cable operators, led by Adelphia, Cox and Time Warner, formed Cleveland Media Connect, a regional ad-sales unit that encompasses about 1 million households. Cable penetration rose slightly over the past six months and stood at about 70% in May.

All in all, says Harris, things are looking up in Cleveland. It offers visitors and residents sports teams, world-class museums and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "It's one of America's best-kept secrets."