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Slow And Steady

St. Louis is a city of baseball, beer and the blues. Especially economic blues. The No. 21 TV market's core city has lost three-fifths of its population since 1950. At one point during the recent recession, Missouri lost more jobs than any other state. But the tide is turning.

KSDK General Manager Lynn Beall calls the ad-revenue comeback "steady but slow." Market-research firm BIA estimates revenue will reach about $237 million this year. That's a 10% rise over 2003 but far short of 2000's $246.5 million record. A two-channel TV town, Gannett NBC affiliate KSDK billed about $65 million last year to lead the market. Belo's KMOV, a CBS affiliate, came in second at $50 million.

Similarly, KSDK wins most news time slots; KMOV runs second. The ABC station, KDNL, owned by Sinclair, is a no-show: Saddled with a weak UHF signal and no local news, it ranks near the bottom of the pack. Fox-owned KTVI topped 9 p.m. news ratings, outdistancing Tribune's WB affiliate KPLR.

St. Louis-owned UPN affiliate WRBU carries no local news.

HUT levels—the percentage of households watching television—fell sharply in May.

As a result, KPLR and KTVI suffered viewer losses in excess of 20% from May 2003. At 10 p.m., KSDK and KMOV lost four ratings points combined; 50,000 fewer households were watching the late news. TV critic Gail Pennington of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
attributes the drop to a sweeps period "packed with puff and fluff and empty features."

Charter Communications, the nation's third-largest cable operator, is headquartered here and serves as the market's dominant cable provider. But St. Louis residents have never taken to cable. Penetration is 52%, among the lowest of the top 75 markets. More than one-quarter of TV households subscribe to satellite.

Overall, St. Louis isn't singing the blues. Boeing, the region's largest employer, "plans to add 800 jobs by the end of the year," says Jim Albaugh, CEO of the aerospace manufacturer's mammoth Integrated Defense Systems unit. And with the Cardinals flying high as baseball's post-season approaches, Beall describes the atmosphere as upbeat: "People here are focused on the future."