No Blues Here
Chicago's WLS is tough to beat
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/8/2005 8:00:00 PM
Now WBBM, WLS Get Street-Wise
WLS President/GM Emily Barr recalls that, when ABC's prime time was sinking in recent years, her station still managed to be Chicago's top local news. “I'd tell [lead anchor] Ron Magers, 'You levitate above ether,'” she says. Now the network is better off with hits like Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey's Anatomy, ABC-owned WLS is flying higher. “It is a great promotional platform and underpinning,” Barr says.
WLS claims top ratings in early evening and late news—not an easy feat in a tough news town like Chicago. Ten different Nielsen-rated English and Spanish- language broadcasters are vying for viewers and ad dollars in this lucrative market, the country's third-largest and Comcast's second-largest cable market. Last year, local TV stations raked in $880 million in gross revenues, according to BIA Financial.
Consistency keeps WLS on top. Its secret is a deep talent pool. One example: When venerable 6 p.m. anchor John Daly retires on May 9 after 38 years, he'll be replaced by Alan Krashesky, a 23-year station vet. (The station's most famous alum, of course, is Oprah Winfrey.)
But WLS' rivals are working hard to chip away at its dominance. NBC-owned WMAQ claims the No. 2 position in evening and late news, despite its own network's recent prime time woes. “The way we program, promote and perform off-the-air locally supports us during the down cycles,” says President/GM Larry Wert.
WGN is third in late news with its 9 p.m. broadcast. Parent Tribune is part owner of The WB, but the station has a history as an independent. It airs lots of Chicago Bulls, White Sox and Cubs games (Tribune owns the Cubs) and 32 hours of news a week.
In late news, CBS-owned WBBM ranks fourth, followed closely by Fox's WFLD.
WBBM is making big changes. In fall 2003, the station poached WLS star Diann Burns to anchor late news and a new 6 p.m. newscast. WBBM became more aggressive locking up community sponsorships, such as the Chicago Marathon. “We're trying to get involved every possible way,” says President/GM Joe Ahern. Another WBBM change happens this fall when the station adds Dr. Phil to its afternoon lineup.
Chicago stations are grappling with Nielsen's new electronic measurement system, the local people meter, which last June replaced the old paper-diary system. So far, it's registering lower viewership levels overall. Local broadcasters have seen ratings fall as much as 25%. Says WGN VP/GM Tom Ehlmann, “We're all learning to live with the new currency.”
NEXT: Toledo, Ohio
|Who||Share of population||Index*|
|*Index is a measurement of consumer likelihood. An
index of 100 indicates that the market is on par with the average of the 75
Sources: Nielsen Media Research, BIA Research
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