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Maine Attraction

WCSH rules news in first-to-rise Portland 9/28/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

As some broadcast executives in Portland-Auburn see it, many Mainers don’t readily embrace change–and that bodes well for WCSH. Gannett’s NBC affiliate had a landmark July sweeps, grabbing total day ratings while winning late, evening and morning news. As Maine is the first continental U.S. state to see the sun each day, morning news is vital—and WCSH won it with a dazzling 11 rating/58 share.

President/General Manager Steve Thaxton says the station has won the 6 p.m. news for more than two decades, and believes it’s poised to hold the title for the next few decades. “Our news resources are the deciding factor,” he says, citing a partnership with Gannett sibling WLBZ Bangor. “Our statewide resources mean we can pull from our spread of boots on the ground.”

Still, it’s rough going in Portland-Auburn these days. While the market is Nielsen’s No. 74 DMA, it ranks just No. 101 in terms of revenue, according to BIA Financial. Sources say the area needs to change, but is resistant to do so. Its history as a manufacturing center—producing essential goods such as shoes and paper—is indeed history. Fishing and tourism are strong, but there hasn’t been that new category to pick up the slack.

The market is also graying. “The population is the oldest in the country,” says WMTW President/General Manager Ken Bauder, who adds that the state’s average age is some 10 years older than the country’s younger states. “Young people graduate high school and college, and the opportunities aren’t here, while more and more people are retiring here for the quality of life.”

The Portland-Auburn stations took in $42.2 million last year, according to BIA, with a slight dip projected for 2007. WCSH grabbed an estimated $15.5 million, ahead of Sinclair’s CBS outlet WGME ($12.13 million) and Hearst-Argyle’s ABC affiliate WMTW ($9.3 million). Max Media runs the low-earning Fox outlet WPFO, which switched from a Pax affiliation in 2003.

Stations are pushing themselves to figure out how to curtail WCSH’s eminence. WGME celebrated a decisive prime win in the July book and gives WCSH a run for its money in late news, which it won in May. General Manager Terry Cole credits new news director Rob Atkinson and a new game plan devised after extensive market research. “We’ve got a much faster-paced news and a breaking-news format,” he says. “We’re growing like a weed.”

WGME began producing a 10 p.m. news for WPFO in February, and Cole says the show is off to a strong start.

Over at WMTW, the station launched the 24-hour News 8 Now on its 8.2 digital channel in late summer, and will add the Hearst-Argyle sports platform High School Playbook next year. “High school sports are just huge up here,” says Bauder. “We root for the Red Sox and Patriots, but when an area doesn’t have a local pro team, the emphasis goes to high school and college.”

WCSH, meanwhile, is hardly sitting still. After anchor Shannon Moss left for WMTW this summer, Kathleen Shannon added 11 p.m. duties to her anchoring role on evening newsmag 207 (it’s the area code for the whole of Maine), and the station kept on chugging. And with that gaudy 58 morning share, perhaps “share” doesn’t quite describe it.

“Our nearest competitor in the morning has an 11 share,” says Thaxton. “That’s the way I want it.”

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