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Tough Fight in News

It's easy to tell when there's big breaking-news story in Phoenix. Just look up—for the market's five news helicopters. Yup, five. And if having five stations going head to head at 10 p.m. doesn't make the market unusual, then how about the fact that the top station is an indie?

That would be Belo's KTVK(TV). "We're unique," says General Manager Skip Cass, "in that we do eight hours of local news a day on weekdays."

John Culliton, general manager of Scripps Howard KNXV-TV, calls Phoenix "as competitive a news market as I've ever seen," and this from the former head of KCBS-TV Los Angeles and WCCO-TV Minneapolis. "There are nights when there are decimal points separating four TV stations at 10 o'clock," he adds. "Not many markets have five morning newscasts either. Both KPHO-TV and ourselves have added 4:30 a.m. casts, which shows how the morning is very hard-fought."

Bob Furlong, general manager of Meredith's KPHO-TV, agrees: "There's not much that doesn't get covered in this market. It's who gets there first."

Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. "There are so many people coming here at such a huge rate that only 49% of the market is loyal to one news station," Culliton says. The general consensus is that this No. 16 DMA will move up a spot or two in a few years, and some feel it could break into the top 10 in five years.

The competitiveness of the news market is a reflection, many feel, of the strengths of their owners. "Look at the companies here," says Furlong: "Belo, Gannett, Fox, us [Meredith] and Scripps Howard. It makes for really competitive, good news. We all have the latest and the greatest."

And Cass adds, "You've got a lot of new faces here. I've been here about a year and a half, and there's probably one other GM who has more tenure than I do, which suggests there are a lot of companies that are getting very aggressive about Phoenix and are lining up a lot of resources here."