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Thriving in the Valley

The Fresno-Visalia market, in California's fertile Central Valley, is in the midst of a growth season. New residents are arriving in droves, many from the wealthy Bay Area and Southern California regions. The influx has helped it to become Nielsen's No. 56 market, a two-spot jump in size from last year. And according to BIA Financial, the economic injection has put Fresno at No. 46 in station revenue.

The market's rapid expansion has inspired local broadcasters to freshen their products. Two stations have launched late newscasts in recent months. WB affiliate KFRE unveiled an 11 p.m. news produced by Fox affiliate KMPH in January (both are owned by Pappas Telecasting). The other station, Trans America Broadcasting's UPN affiliate KAIL, has a news-share arrangement with Granite Broadcasting's NBC affiliate KSEE for its new 10 p.m. news. (KFRE and KAIL become CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates, respectively, in September.)

The KAIL newscast, which features KSEE anchors and reporters, goes up against KMPH's established 10 p.m. show. “Using our brand and our resources, we stand a good chance of being competitive,” says KSEE General Manager Todd McWilliams.

KSEE also streams the 10 p.m. news online and airs it on digital channel Weather Plus.

But among the Big Four stations, ABC-owned KFSN is the news leader. The station operates a Sacramento bureau with ABC stations KGO San Francisco and KABC Los Angeles, as well as digital channels for local news and weather.

Clear Channel's CBS affiliate KGPE has mounted a challenge in recent years, overhauling its equipment and acquiring new talent. “We've upgraded the entire station,” says General Manager Diana Wilkin, “and we're in a huge growth period.” To extend its brand, the station provides news and weather updates to Clear Channel radio stations in the market.

KSEE is also enjoying ratings gains. In May, its 11 p.m. news edged closer to KFSN. While KFSN has picked up the syndicated Rachael Ray for the fall, KSEE will add a second run of Dr. Phil.

Univision's Fresno station also programs local news.

Station managers expect heavy political spending to drive up revenue this year. Local broadcasters took in $101.9 million in gross revenue last year, up from $94 million in 2003, the latest non-political year. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is spending heavily in his reelection campaign, and at least a dozen ballot initiatives are expected to bring in issue money, too.

“When Schwarzenegger started spending money the week after the primary,” says KPGE's Wilkin, “we thought it was going to be a strong season.”