Out of the Doldrums

With five options for late-evening news, broadcasters in the Spokane market churn out more news than most midsize markets. The glut of news, station managers say, reflects both a hunger for local information and the resurgence of a once stagnant market that spans 24 counties across Washington, Montana and Idaho.

Belo-owned CBS affiliate KREM and Cowles Publishing’s NBC affiliate KHQ lead the pack. KREM wins at 5 p.m., while KHQ takes 6 p.m. and the late news at 11. Morgan Murphy-owned ABC affiliate KXLY, which airs the market’s only 6:30 p.m. news, is a close third and growing steadily.

KREM also produces the 10 p.m. news for sister WB station (and future CW affiliate) KSKN, while KHQ produces the 10 p.m. news on Northwest Broadcasting’s Fox affiliate KAYU.

Station managers say Spokane’s local news benefits from station owners’ other assets in the region. KREM, for instance, collaborates with Belo’s strong KING Seattle, as well as with regional cable news channel Northwest Cable News. For breaking news and big events, such as the recent Bloomsday 12K race, the station can borrow KING’s helicopter, a luxury that smaller-market stations can’t afford. “These resources give us a significant advantage,” says KREM President/General Manager D.J. Wilson.

KHQ works with its sister newspaper TheSpokesman-Review, while Morgan Murphy’s seven local radio stations lend promotional muscle to KXLY.

The market has been recovering after several sluggish years in the wake of Seattle’s tech bust. Downtown revitalization in Spokane is attracting new residents and businesses, and Northwest Idaho is a hot tourist destination. “This market was in the doldrums in 2001-02,” says KAYU General Manager Jon Rand. “But now the market is pretty healthy, and real estate values are increasing.”

Stations took in $47.4 million in gross revenues last year, up from $43.7 million in 2003, the previous non-political year. Political spending, particularly for a Washington Senate race and the Idaho gubernatorial contest, is expected to boost station coffers.

Many stations are using their digital spectrum. KHQ carries a version of NBC Weather Plus on a secondary digital channel, while KAYU recently launched music channel The Tube. KXLY will multicast Fox’s new MyNetworkTV this fall and feature syndicated programming, reruns of news and local specials.

“This will allow us more flexibility in providing local programming,” says KXLY Marketing Manager Kirstin Votava. “There are a lot of events that we wish we had time for.”

Next: Madison, Wis.