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Slow and Steady

At first glance, the Kansas City, Mo., market seems to be out of whack. An ABC affiliate is tops in news and household ratings. A Fox station comes close to being the top revenue producer, and the NBC station is mired in fourth place.

Fox-owned WDAF was a strong NBC affiliate for years. It was part of the first wave of affiliate swaps in 1994. Nowadays, its morning news program leads the market by a wide margin, and its prime time lineup beats NBC's. BIA estimates its 2003 revenue at $38.6 million, just behind Hearst-Argyle's ABC powerhouse KMBC's $39.1 million.

KMBC takes the ratings crown in both early and late news. Its 5 and 6 p.m. programs enjoy solid lead-ins from Dr. Phil
and The Oprah Winfrey Show, but the station wins at 10 p.m. despite tepid ABC leads. KMBC also operates UPN affiliate KCWE under a local marketing agreement.

"We don't use ABC's weakness as an excuse," says General Manager Wayne Godsey. Instead, KMBC counts on consistency. Anchor Larry Moore has been a familiar face here since 1972. The station promotes its news aggressively, running promos for special reports as much as a week in advance.

Meredith-owned CBS affiliate KCTV has been a reliable runner-up at 10 p.m. Scripps Howard NBC station KSHB, saddled with a weak UHF signal, has run third for a decade. Neither Sinclair WB station KSMO nor Paxson's KPXE carries local-news programming.

The No. 31 TV market does have slow and steady economic growth.

The chamber of commerce projects 4.5% overall growth this year, in line with the national average. Though diversified, the economy is somewhat dependent on manufacturing. A large Ford Motor Co. assembly plant employs about 6,000.

On the cable front, dominant operator Time Warner inserts ads on about 40 networks and manages an interconnect in a joint arrangement with Comcast. Time Warner's local channel, Metro Sports, produces all of KCTV's sports programming. Cable penetration declined slightly over the past six months, standing at just under 65% in May. Dish Network and DirecTV carry local stations via satellite. About 19% of Kansas City households subscribe to satellite service.

Godsey says first-quarter ad sales were up strongly over 2003. Kansas City stations are also grabbing political spots aimed at both Missouri and Kansas, a boon, he says, for local coffers. "The market is really healthy."