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A Two-Station Race

Baltimore is a big news town and has one of the tightest two-station local-news races in the country. WBAL-TV, the Hearst-Argyle NBC affiliate, and CBS O&O WJZ-TV have battled for years for news supremacy.

"It's always either we're No. 1 or they are No. 1," said WBAL-TV General Manager Bill Fine. "It's a fever-pitched battle."

During the November sweeps, WBAL-TV won the early-news battle by the thinnest of margins, scoring a 10 rating/18 share to WJZ-TV's 9/17. WJZ-TV won a photo finish at 11 p.m., finishing with 10/19 to WBAL-TV's 10/18.

Sinclair's WBFF(TV) is one of the few Fox affiliates to compete head-to-head with an 11 p.m. newscast. WNUV(TV), Sinclair's The WB affiliate, carries local news at 6:30 p.m. WJZ-TV recently added a 4 p.m. early news show.

WMAR-TV, the ABC affiliate owned by Scripps Howard, runs a poor third throughout the day. The station continues to suffer repercussions from the loss of its NBC affiliation to WBAL-TV in 1995. Fox owns UPN affiliate WUTB(TV).

Mornings provide another interesting battleground. WJZ-TV is one of the few CBS-owned stations that do not carry the first hour of the network's The Early Show. The station's locally produced Morning Edition features a concoction of local news, weather and talk segments.

From a business standpoint, Baltimore stations appear to have fully recovered from the advertising slump of 2001-03. BIA Financial Network estimates the market's 2003 ad revenue at about $230 million, roughly on par with that of 2000.

"Fourth quarter was very healthy, and first quarter local looks strong," said Bill Fanshawe, general manager of WBFF/WNUV.

The market has no Pax affiliate, no Univision (the market's Hispanic population is only about 2%) affiliate and no true independent station.

Comcast is the major cable operator and manages three-year-old interconnect Comcast MarketLink. At 75%, cable penetration is higher than the national average. Satellite penetration, barely 10%, makes Baltimore one of the least competitive dish markets among major U.S. cities.