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Toughing It Out

Upstate New York's economy was starting to tilt downward even while the rest of the nation was still relatively healthy. Syracuse lost 15.7% of its manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2002.

Statistically, it's not doing so bad now. The Public Policy Institute of New York reports that, from August 2002 to August '03, the area's payroll jobs increased 0.9% while the state's dropped 0.4%. Acknowledging an economy that is still not robust, Jim Lutton, general manager of billings-leader WSTM-TV, says, "We're predicting that we'll be up 2% this year. Without political [ads] or the Olympics, we think that's very good."

Everybody in Syracuse seems to be waiting for DestiNY USA, a planned 70-acre, 15 million-square-foot entertainment/retail/resort development that would be bigger than Minnesota's Mall of America.

As for television, "it's a surprising market in that not one station totally dominates," says Bill LaRue, TV writer for the local Post-Standard. That's true. On a seven-day sign-on to sign-off basis, three stations each have a 3 rating in the May Nielsen book. However, for most of the past six years, Lutton says, WSTM-TV has dominated.

Clear Channel's WIXT(TV) tends to be top dog in the 5-6:30 p.m. time period and has many of the market's top syndicated shows. Still, at 11 p.m., WIXT, though close to WSTM-TV, usually finds itself looking up.

WIXT also now reports the Utica market, where WUTR(TV) recently gave up its newscast. WSTM-TV, meanwhile, bought WSTQ(TV) and made it a UPN affiliate, and Lutton hopes to start a local newscast there sometime next year. WSTM-TV also operates a local sales agreement with Pax station WSPX(TV).

On Nov. 7, Time Warner cable starts its 24-hour News 10 Now channel to serve most of Central New York State up to the Canadian border. General Manager Ron Lombard, a veteran of WIXT, has a staff of 95 and five regional studios to cover the 10,000 square miles.