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More news is good news

St. Louis has the reputation of being one of the best, if not the best, sports markets in the country. It may also have a strong claim to being one of television's top news markets, as well. "I've never seen a market with five, six or seven TV stations with so much local-news programming," says Bruce Kupper, CEO of Kupper Parker Communications. (Kupper's St. Louis-based agency buys "about 158 markets on a local basis.") He says the ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates air from 25 to more than 30 hours a week of news.

He explains: "Because we're in an agricultural area, a lot of people get up between 5 and 6," so stations air 5-7 a.m. newscasts. "We're an older market," so noon-12:30 newscasts attract "significant senior-citizen numbers," and, "if you're going to be a legitimate news operation, you've got to have a 5 p.m. and a 6 p.m."

Because St. Louis is in the Central time zone, late news runs at 10 p.m. on the Big Three (and at 9 p.m. on Fox and The WB). With the city's passion for sports, the stations run sports-highlight shows on Sunday following the late news. In addition, there is the weekend. "The cartoon business is so crummy," Kupper says, "that everybody's converted out of kids' entertainment into news, where they can sell car dealers and furniture stores and carpet stores. It's less expensive programming, and they can make more margin."

Sales in St. Louis have been down this year. he says. "A tremendous amount of the automobile money has evaporated, and, between that and the political and Olympics" money that's not returning, "I think this is going to be an off year. The spots will get sold; they just won't get sold at the same cost-per-point that the stations are used to. We probably are looking at a 4% to 6% shortfall this year."