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Squarely on track in Research Triangle

Raleigh, N.C., has changed dramatically since the days when it was the shopping destination of Andy, Barney and Aunt Bea. Today, this capital city (along with nearby Durham) is famous for its concentration of high-tech businesses and higher education in what's known as the Research Triangle. It's also the birthplace of high-tech television:The country's first full-power digital station, WRAL-DT Raleigh, went on the air in 1996.

"It's a neat market," says William Peterson, GM of WRAL-TV. "The Research Triangle, driven by the technology and the universities, has built up a very healthy economy in this region, and it remains that." However, he adds, "we're not immune to the problems taking place in the industry. If you look at regular business for the first half of the year, [the market is] probably down 10%. But we remain very optimistic about the region and the market. If fact, we've just converted our news operation to high definition; we're HD in the field as well as in the studio."

There are more digital doings at WRAL-TV. On July 30, it launched a 24-hour, standard-definition all-news channel that is multiplexed on the digital channel. "It's an indication of how optimistic we are," Peterson says. Neither the HD news production nor the news channel "is going to generate any near-term revenue," he says, "but we think, because this is such a strong market, that, in the long run, they will pay off for us." (That news channel will get some competition. Time Warner Cable has plans to start one of its own, probably early next year.)

Mike Ward, GM of WNCN(TV), also is optimistic about the market's prospects. Although national business is off, he says, "the local market has not been as adversely affected. The biggest impact will be the return of some of the confidence the consumers have in our economy and, therefore, the return of sales at some of these national advertisers. I think that will happen; the question is: will it take place in six months?")