Razor-Thin Lead

Few will mistake Little Rock for London, but station executives in the Arkansas capital market say the place is getting hipper. Home of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock's downtown area is getting new life. Attracted by easier commutes and a booming health-care industry, new arrivals are giving the DMA a different vibe. “The region is getting more and more cosmopolitan,” says Chuck Spohn, V.P./G.M. of Fox affiliate KLRT and CW outlet KASN. “It's no longer seen as the sleepy South.”

But as the adage says, things stay the same as much as they change. Come Saturdays this time of year, everything stops for University of Arkansas Razorbacks football. “It's a big game here,” says KTHV President/G.M. Larry Audas. “There really is no other game.”

Little Rock-Pine Bluff took in $77.2 million last year, according to BIA Financial, up from $70.5 million the year before. But Nielsen's #57 market has its challenges; it ranked just 65th in terms of revenue. Station execs expect a brighter 2008: There's a heated Senate race waiting to be run; AT&T is scheduled to launch its U-verse TV service, which should see it and the cable operators increase marketing; and they're hopeful the department store Dillard's will spend more after a shareholder letter lambasted the company's advertising strategy.

Allbritton's ABC affiliate KATV won the 2006 revenue crown with $24.5 million, just ahead of Gannett's CBS outlet KTHV with $23.1 million. Also in the hunt are Nexstar's NBC affiliate KARK ($13.45 million) and Newport Television's Fox/CW duopoly.

KATV and KTHV have been neck and neck for years. KATV took the evening and late-news crowns in July; it boasts loads of local knowledge, thanks to General Manager Dale Nicholson (45 years at the station) and News Director Randy Dixon (almost 30 years).

KTHV, which won mornings and prime, is undergoing something of a philosophical shift. Audas speaks of the station's fledgling “information center” program, where reporters are trained to think Web first. “It used to be, you cover it for TV, and replicate it online,” he says. “We're moving toward 'report it online and update it on TV.'”

While KATV is a force in late news—its 10 p.m. program notched a 10.8 rating/23 share in July—Fox affiliate KLRT is making things more interesting after dark. Its 9 p.m. newscast is finding a substantial audience, registering a 5.5 rating/10 share in July. New owner Newport is aggressive in several time slots; KASN debuted syndicated morning program The Daily Buzz last week, and KLRT added 5 and 5:30 p.m. newscasts last spring.

Spohn is equally bullish on the Web. CWarkansas.com is dominated by “AJ,” an ebullient young woman who blogs, does podcasts and espouses a concept called “Randamity”—a breezy mix of entertainment, lifestyle and local news (the word is a mash-up of “randomness” and “calamity”). “Fox is all about more hard-core straight news,” says Spohn, “but AJ's all about spin and sarcasm.”

Meanwhile, over at KARK, Arkansasmatters.com caters to fans of local sports. The “Razorback Nation” section offers everything from women's college basketball to cross-country, but college football, of course, generates the bulk of the traffic. So much a part of the culture are the Razorbacks that even practice sessions warrant media coverage. “Head coach Houston Nutt was not happy with the effort of his team during the one-hour session,” read a recent report.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.