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Rise and Shine

With population growth fueling longer commutes, Nashville denizens are up early these days and looking for news. The ABC, NBC and CBS stations in Nielsen's No. 30 market sign on at 4:30 a.m. weekdays, a half-hour earlier than affiliates in most other markets. And all post respectable numbers, with Landmark Communications' CBS affiliate WTVF in the lead.

“Initially, people didn't think there would be an audience,” says WTVF Program Director Mark Binda, whose station averages a 3.5 rating in the 4:30 a.m. slot. “Now the show is virtually sold out.”

Stations report strong demand for news throughout the day. WTVF, Meredith's NBC affiliate WSMV and Young Broadcasting's ABC affiliate WKRN offer at least six hours of news a day and post ratings that stand out nationally. Fox affiliate WZTV has a two-hour morning show and two hours of late news.

“This is a passionate television market,” says Steve Mann, group director for WZTV and UPN affiliate WUPX, both owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group. “The community cares about what goes on in the middle-Tennessee market.”

In May, WTVF scored the market's top-rated late news with an impressive 12.7 average rating, ahead of WSMV's 12.2. WKRN averaged a strong 5.8 for its 10 p.m. news, while WZTV posted a 5.6 for its 9 p.m. newscast. WSMV regularly wins early-evening news.

Like many other Sun Belt cities, the Nashville region is in an upswing. Blue-chip companies like Nissan are moving to the area, bringing new residents and construction. Stations took in $140.9 million in gross revenue last year, up from $133.5 million in 2003, the latest year without political spending, according to BIA Financial. Political spending from Senate and gubernatorial races is expected to boost revenues this year.

Stations have been busy refining their product. Last month, WKRN over­hauled its entire anchor team (see box). In May, WTVF added a helicopter—a first for the market—and will pit the new Rachael Ray Show as a 3 p.m. lead-in for evening news against syndication powerhouse lead-ins Dr. Phil and The Oprah Winfrey Show on WSMV.

This fall, Lambert Broadcasting's WB affiliate WNAB will become a CW station. WUPX will join MyNetwork­TV and plans to brand itself My TV 30 and increase exposure for its local-sports programming.

To cater to the region's expanding Hispanic population, WSMV recently launched a Telemundo affiliate on one of its secondary digital channels. “Our Hispanic population is small compared to Miami or Los Angeles,” says WSMV General Manager Elden Hall, “but we're at 5% now and growing.”