True Middle America

There are sprawling television markets, and then there's Paducah-Cape Girardeau-Harrisburg. The market covers not only chunks of Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois, but some stations' signals reach into Tennessee and Arkansas as well. The general managers here say it's the only market in America where the ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates are based in separate states.

Each pretty much rules its home turf. “All three do a very good job taking care of their home states,” says WPSD VP of News and Operations Bill Evans. “The real battle is how you cover the other states.”

Raycom's CBS affiliate KFVS does the best job of that in DMA No. 78. The station ruled November sweeps, winning total day ratings along with primetime and morning, early evening and late news. Its 12.7 household rating/27.2 share in the latter scored well ahead of the 7.9/16.9 posted by WPSD, Paxton Media Group's NBC affiliate.

“News news news—that's where we put a lot of emphasis,” says KFVS VP/General Manager Mike Smythe. “We've got more people on the streets and the only satellite truck in the market.”

There's no big city in this DMA; it's a string of towns with 10,000 to 20,000 people apiece. Paducah-Cape Girardeau-Harrisburg is around 91% white, according to BIA/Kelsey, largely rural, and an early to bed-early to rise market. It takes about 4½ hours to drive the length of the market, with the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to encounter. News bureaus are big: Cape Girardeau, Mo.-based KFVS opened one in Poplar Bluff, Mo., and has another in Carterville, Ill., while Paducah, Ky.-based WPSD has a newsroom in Marion, Ill.

Cape Girardeau is the birthplace of Rush Limbaugh, Smythe says, and its tallest building is the KFVS headquarters. The station had the market's largest share of revenue in 2008, the latest year for which figures were available from BIA/Kelsey, its $15.7 million topping WPSD's $11.48 million. Also in the hunt are ABC affiliate WSIL, locally owned by the Wheeler family; Sinclair's Fox affiliate KBSI; and Paul T. Lucci-owned MyNetworkTV affiliate WDKA. Raycom also owns CW affiliate WQWQ. Different cable operators, such as Charter, Mediacom and Comcast, rule different parts of the region.

The stations are eager to have footholds in the various states, as it increases their take on political ads. Illinois looks particularly robust, with senate and governor posts in play after a primary on Feb. 2. “You can almost budget political money every year,” says WPSD's Evans of the DMA's multi-state reach.

Home to numerous small businesses and an agricultural community, Paducah-Cape Girardeau-Harrisburg's conservative mindset served it well in the downturn. “We've been hit less hard than most of the country,” says WSIL President/General Manager Steve Wheeler. “We haven't had a huge reversal like a Florida. It's a fairly stable place.”

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Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.