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Small Market, Long Reach

WALB-TV Albany, Ga.'s popularity literally exceeds the bounds of its small DMA. It's the most-watched station in 44 of the surrounding counties, but only 17 of those counties are in the Albany DMA. More than half the overall viewing is assigned to the Columbus or Macon, Ga., or Tallahassee, Fla. markets.

But that doesn't stop WALB-TV General Manager Jim Wilcox from selling advertising to local businesses in those counties or telling national advertisers "that, if they buy us, they can hit four different markets."

It doesn't hurt that WALB-TV, one of the nation's and the NBC network's highest-rated stations, is the only VHF station in a three-commercial-station market without over-the-air ABC or CBS rivals and has a nearly 30-year head start on its two rivals. It also has a news department that's several times the size of its nearest competitor.

That competitor is WFXL(TV), whose General Manager Bill Parks notes that, while his ratings and revenue may pale in comparison with the market leader, the station is doing quite well. Well enough, in fact, to have gone from a sale price of just over $2 million in 1987 to more than $15 million in 1999. And, says Parks, Waitt Broadcasting has been very happy with this No. 2 in the market. "We've proven that this market is large enough for two good television stations." The Fox affiliate does a half-hour of news daily, an hour earlier than WALB-TV's late news, with a news staff of seven. It moves into a new facility this week.

The market's third commercial station, WVAG(TV) Valdosta, Ga., offers the UPN network.

Although the market has a low per capita income, it has a low cost of living, local executives say. "We haven't been real big in high-technology industry," notes Parks, "but we haven't had the layoffs either. And while growth in Albany's been flat, there's been good growth in some surrounding areas."