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Flying High

WHIO soars in Wright Brothers' old home 10/19/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

It's no easy task getting viewers to sample in Dayton. People who are born in the market tend to stay, say station executives, and stay loyal to the news brand they grew up on. That may not bode well for stations not called WHIO, which owns double the market share of its nearest competitor.

But the competition is up for the challenge. “WHIO has dominated forever,” says WDTN news director Steve Diorio, who grew up in Dayton and has worked at the station since starting an internship 19 years ago. “Every day, we do our best to catch them.”

Nielsen's No. 62 market is a good place to live, say managers, and rich in history. The Wright Brothers were from here; a Dayton saloon keeper invented the cash register, which grew to become tech firm NCR; and Phil Donahue got his start here. The economy is flat; major manufacturers like Delphi and a G.M. truck and bus plant have been downsizing, while some high tech has filled in the gaps. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, named for those same Wrights, is a major employer.

The market took in $81.4 million in 2006, according to BIA Financial, up from $75.3 million the year before. WHIO, Cox's CBS affiliate, won easily with $33.2 million, ahead of LIN's NBC outlet WDTN ($16.13 million), Cunningham's Fox outlet WRGT ($13.75 million) and Sinclair's ABC affiliate WKEF ($11.33 million).

WHIO ran the table in the May sweeps, easily winning total day ratings, as well as primetime, and late, evening and morning news. Harry Delaney, VP/general manager, says the station's “coverage you can count on” reflects Cox's news commitment and a strong focus on weather—evident in a new state-of-the-art Doppler system. “We're raising weather forecasting to a whole new level,” says Delaney, who launched a 24/7 digital weather channel in December.

Still, the competition keeps hustling. WRGT has grown its revenue share consistently over the last few years. The station is managed by WKEF; General Manager M. Dean Ditmer says pairing Fox's young audience with ABC's female-skewing prime reaches a wide sector of the Dayton population. New lead anchor Candice Hunter, formerly of WLWT Cincinnati, debuted on both last week. “She'll bring a fresh new face and lots of new energy to our operation,” Ditmer says.

Joining the trend of sharing news, WDTN started producing a 10 p.m. newscast for Acme's CW outlet, WBDT, in August. Diorio, who took over as news director six months ago, says it started strong—even beating the Fox 10 p.m. newscast on a few occasions. The NBC affiliate is also making a big push online, with three daily weather Webcasts, a variety of e-mail updates for users, and a dedicated YouTube channel that the station will launch later this year.

“The Web has been a major initiative for LIN and for our station,” says creative services director Jason Doyle. “More and more people are getting their news online, particularly in [the younger] demo.”

The CW outlet, meanwhile, is hardly an also-ran. John Hannon, V.P./general manager, says WBDT was recently named the top CW affiliate in the country by the network, and its Daily Buzz syndicated morning show has had an 83% boost year over year, thanks in part to its TMZ lead-in (TMZ airs at 5:30 a.m.). “We've seen some record numbers,” he says.

WBDT's emergence gives Dayton residents yet another favorable viewing option. Says Delaney, “The marketplace is more competitive than ever.”

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