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Poll Position

Doing business in a swing state has its privileges. Stations in Nielsen’s otherwise slow-growing No. 34 market expect to take in upwards of $15 million from political candidates and issues money this year. “Ohio will be an epicenter in 2006,” says Bill Fee, general manager of ABC affiliate WCPO. “We are bracing ourselves.”

Heavy political advertising tightens stations’ inventory and can displace regular advertisers. But this year’s potential revenue would lift the market near its 2004 levels, when Bush-Kerry money poured in. That year, Cincinnati stations took in about $23 million in political advertising, a big chunk of their $174.7 million yearly total, according to BIA Financial. Last year, local broadcasters grossed $152.6 million.

Politics also fuel the market’s highly competitive news operations. As in many Midwestern markets, where residents have long-term news-viewing habits, all Cincinnati stations attract above-average ratings for news, and each daypart is in play. “There are no laggards in Cincinnati,” says Chris Sehring, general manager of Clear Channel’s CBS affiliate WKRC. In May sweeps, WKRC won late news, and Scripps Howard-owned ABC outlet WCPO claimed early evening wins. WKRC ran a close second in early evening, while Raycom Media’s Fox affiliate WXIX grabbed the No. 2 late news.

Early mornings are tighter than rush-hour traffic. WKRC was No. 1 in May, but less than a point separates all four stations, which include Hearst-Argyle’s NBC outlet WLWT and Raycom’s Fox affiliate WXIX. Mornings are so competitive that WXIX signs on at 4:30 a.m., one of the few stations in the U.S. to do so.

All the stations are tweaking their products. WLWT recently debuted the market’s first all-female late-news team, extending its 5 p.m. duo of Sandra Ali and Sheree Paolello to 11 p.m. as well. Although ratings were off 34% in the team’s first May book (thanks to tight competition at 11 p.m. and NBC’s weak prime), General Manager Richard Dyer remains committed to the effort: “We’re fighting to change habits and increase the familiarity of our anchors.”

In August, WKRC will launch a 10 p.m. news on Sinclair-owned WB affiliate WSTR, which will switch its affiliation to MyNetworkTV. WSTR previously produced its own news but shuttered the operation earlier this year, as did Sinclair’s other WB stations.

WKRC will use its late-afternoon anchors at 10 but promises to produce a newscast completely different from its 11 p.m. WKRC also added a weekend morning Spanish-language newscast. Says Sehring, “We are trying to build new platforms to reach viewers.”

Next: Raleigh-Durham, N.C.