Show Circuit

Break out the mint juleps, we have a horse race. Several, in fact. The midsize Louisville, Ky., market, once dominated by Belo's WHAS, enjoys heady competition these days. In the home of the legendary Kentucky Derby, Hearst-Argyle's WLKY is king. The station, riding the success of CBS's prime time lineup, won the 11 p.m. news contest in a photo finish, nabbing a 10 rating/18 share in households. Freedom's WAVE placed second (9/17), beating WHAS (9/16) by a nose.

"Everybody is good in this market," says WAVE General Manager Steve Langford. "This is a great place to work."

The race for revenue is just as close. According to BIA estimates, WHAS was the top-billing station in 2002 ($25.2 million), followed by WAVE ($24.7 million), Block's WDRB/WFTE duopoly ($24.3 million), and WLKY ($20.8 million).

Early fringe is another pitched battle. WLKY is one of the few CBS affiliates to run The Young and the Restless
at 4 p.m. The soap drew a 6/12 in February, finishing behind Oprah
on WHAS (9/17). WDRB's 4 p.m. local newscast grew 25% over the previous year, closing with a 5/11.

"That show is doing well for us," says Bill Lamb, general manager at WDRB and WFTE. "I don't know how many 4 p.m. newscasts are that competitive."

Cable has been equally competitive. Louisville is the largest market for Insight Communications, even though the system lost about 9,000 subscribers last year, nearly 3% of its customer base. Insight attributes the defection, in part ,to the launch of local channels by DirecTV and Dish Network, but concedes customer-service issues led to management changes last fall. The company also faces competition from overbuilder Knology, which won the right to enter the market in 2000. Insight sued over terms of the agreement. The case awaits review by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Credit the market's health with Louisville's success as a business center. UPS, the region's largest private employer, maintains a major distribution hub in the area. General Electric's Appliance Park just added production of a new line of upscale dishwashers. Three other Fortune 500 companies call Louisville home: Humana, Kindred Healthcare, and YUM Brands.

Louisville is also stepping up efforts to draw new business investment. "This is an easy city to live in," says WAVE's Langford. "I'm feeling pretty optimistic."