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Ag prices are robust as McCain hits Des Moines 5/09/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Five months after its caucuses kicked off the billion-dollar bonanza we call the presidential election, Iowa is seeing political money again. Republican hopeful John McCain's ads started airing in Des Moines at the end of April, and the senator himself turned up in the market a day or so later. Station managers are hopeful the political boost offsets some troubling economic trends, such as the downfall of locally based home builder Regency Homes, which laid off all but its senior management in late April, halted construction and may be headed for bankruptcy.

“I think Des Moines is suffering like other parts of the country,” says KCCI President/General Manager Paul Fredericksen. “But we don't see huge highs or lows—Des Moines just kind of marches along.”

KCCI commands the lion's share of eyeballs and ad dollars in the No. 71 DMA. Hearst-Argyle's CBS affiliate took its lumps in prime during the writers' strike, but still won total day ratings and evening as well as late news in the February sweeps. A native Iowan, Fredericksen says the station thrives on consistency. “We're not doing anything flashy, it's just great content,” he says. “Our anchors and reporters do a great job day in and day out.”

The Des Moines-Ames market took in $67.9 million in 2007, according to BIA Financial, which forecasts $77.4 million this year. KCCI led the 2006 pack, the most recent year for which station tallies are available, with $24.6 million, ahead of Local TV's NBC outlet WHO ($19.53 million), Sinclair's Fox outlet KDSM and Citadel's ABC affiliate WOI. Pappas owns the local CW affiliate and airs MyNetworkTV on a digital channel.

Agriculture is, of course, the dominant industry in Des Moines; heavy rains have delayed crop production, but station managers say grain is commanding sky-high prices. As Des Moines is the Iowa capital, government is a key employer; locals say it's also the No. 2 insurance city, behind Hartford. Biofuels and wind power are also emerging industries.

With so much farming, weather is always a top story, and stations are expanding their coverage. KCCI is set to launch Hearst-Argyle's “Weather Wall” Web program, offering everything from live weather to weather blogs to pollen counts. WOI General Manager (and Citadel president) Ray Cole says the station has won the market's “most accurate” honors from weather analysis service WeatheRate for the second year running. Last week, WOI relaunched its late news with the “10 at 10” format. “It's repackaged and reformatted to offer a full overview of the day's news,” Cole says, “along with a full weathercast.”

WHO, which wins mornings, recently added Weather Plus on a digital channel. Regional VP/General Manager Dale Woods credits new owner Local TV for its support. “They're big on technology, and they give us the tools we need to succeed,” he says, mentioning several newsroom hires.

Elsewhere in the market, KCWI offers Web features like My Local Search and Beyond the TV, which provides additional information on advertisers. KDSM recently added Fox On Demand to its Website, and continues to push its 9 p.m. news. “We've managed to put together a pretty good product,” says General Manager Mike Wilson.

Station managers say Des Moines residents appreciate an honest day's work. “It's typical Midwestern values,” Woods says. “People work hard and take pride in their work.”

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