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Log Rolling

Timber—and technology—keep Spokane growing 11/16/2007 07:00:00 PM Eastern

It's a mix of old and new in Spokane. Venerable industries such as timber, agriculture and mining still drive the economy, while fresh sectors like high tech are playing a larger role. Market leader KHQ is run by Patricia McRae, recently boosted to VP/general manager after 14 years as the news director, while rival KREM ushered in Jamie Aitken, last seen running the Belo duopoly in Phoenix, just this month.

It's an intense news battle in Nielsen's No. 77 DMA, which covers parts of Washington, Montana and Idaho. KHQ won morning news, 6 p.m. and total day ratings in the May sweeps, while KREM grabbed 5 p.m., late news and primetime. NBC affiliate KHQ led the revenue pack with $16.8 million in 2006, according to BIA Financial, thanks to consistency in the newsroom, says McRae.

“We stay true to who we are—we don't change logos or slogans because we think it's cool,” she says. “We think the consistency with viewers pays off.”

The largely blue-collar market, which also counts health care as a major economic driver, took in $53.1 million last year, per BIA. Station managers say downtown Spokane has undergone a revitalization, and a referendum that pitted the insurance industry against trial lawyers poured money into station coffers right up until Election Day. New arrivals continue to flock from neighboring regions, drawn to the open spaces and affordable cost of living, making for a slowly growing economy. “There's been a huge migration,” says KAYU General Manager Jon Rand. “There's wide-open country still to be had, and it's a steal compared to where people are coming from.”

Besides Cowles Publishing's KHQ and Belo's CBS outlet KREM, the players include Morgan Murphy's ABC outlet KXLY and Brian Brady's Fox station KAYU. Belo also owns the CW station, and Morgan Murphy runs MyNetworkTV on a digital signal.

Perhaps the market's most interesting twist is the battle over retransmission consent between KAYU and Time Warner Cable, which saw KAYU go dark for Time Warner subscribers in the area back in December (“Carriage Spat Rages in Spokane,” B&C, May 28). Rand says the shutdown affects some 32,000 houses, but the KAYU signal is getting through thanks to an increase in satellite-TV subscriptions and good old-fashioned rabbit ears. “May was our strongest ratings book in station history,” he says. “I'm convinced that if you have compelling programming and market yourself right, people will find you.”

Rand says he's hopeful Time Warner Cable and the station can iron out its differences before the Super Bowl, which airs on Fox.

Like KAYU and Time Warner, neither KHQ nor KREM is giving an inch in their news battle. KHQ offers two-minute “QuickCasts,” anchored by Dan Kleckner, on khq.com throughout the day, and frontloads the first 11 minutes of its 11 p.m. news (the slogan is “11@11”) to give viewers the major stories before they head off to bed. KREM, meanwhile, boasts the most experienced anchor team in the market, says Aitken, and recently kicked off Belo's HSGameTime.com feature for high school sports.

Despite the cutthroat competition, Aitken is quick to compliment his rivals. “The quality of the stations is much better than what one might expect to see in a No. 77 market,” he says. “Viewers are given very good product across the board.”

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