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Rich and Growing

West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, Fla., the nation's No. 39 TV market, is the epitome of the new Florida. Once a haven for New York snowbirds and retirees, this prosperous region has become a magnet for yuppies moving north out of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

Like many of its Sunshine State neighbors, this area is leapfrogging Rust Belt markets, jumping four spots in Nielsen's DMA ranking in the past three years. New TV households are being generated at a rate of 17,000 to 25,000 a year.

Scripps-owned WPTV(TV) stands as the perennial leader in both local news and total-day ratings. The veteran anchor team of Jim Sackett and Laurel Sauer has been a fixture for more than 20 years. WPTV manages ad sales and produces local newscasts for WPXP(TV), flagship of Paxson Communications Corp., which is headquartered in West Palm Beach.

Rumors that WPEC(TV) would be sold last year were unfounded. Privately held Freedom Communications, the station's owner, spent much of the year embroiled in a family feud and struck a deal late in the year with two private-equity firms that it said would keep the company under family dominion. WPEC produces local newscasts for WFLX(TV).

WPBF(TV) has lived a tough life since its founding in 1989. Traditionally No. 3 in local news, it spent the November sweeps without its main anchors—one on maternity leave, the other having left town for another job.

This year looks strong for ad sales, particularly political. One local newspaper projects political spending could top $17 million, about 8% of the market's total TV ad revenue.

"It was so close [four years ago]," said Bill Peterson, vice president and general manager at WPTV, "and neither party will want to lose Florida this year."

Cable penetration stands at 83%. Adelphia handles ad sales for both its systems and those of Comcast, but there is no market-wide interconnect.

The Hispanic population, about 12%, mirrors the national average but is growing rapidly. Locally owned WWHB(TV), ch. 60, carries Azteca America programming.