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A-OK in Sooner State

Tulsa business holding up amidst national angst 11/07/2008 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Tulsa stations may not exactly be rolling in dough, but managers there say they're not taking their economic lumps like much of the rest of the nation. Some report local business up around 5%; if flat is the new up, then up is the new way up.

“The Tulsa market is probably one of the strongest in the country,” says KOTV/KQCW VP/COO Regina Moon. “Nationally, we're not as strong, but we're better than most.”

Rich in oil, Oklahoma benefited from the spike in gas prices earlier in the year. Tulsa real estate, never invited to the boom party, hasn't been going bust. Retail is holding up all right, and unemployment is actually declining slightly. Residents are turning up at the new BOK Center for national touring acts (Celine Dion and Metallica are scheduled to play this week, though not together). Station managers use words like “isolated” and “protected” to describe local business, and hope their luck holds out.

Moon marked the start of November sweeps with Krispy Kremes for the staff. KOTV has reason to celebrate past sweeps; Griffin's CBS affiliate won total day and primetime household ratings in May. It also nearly doubled runner-up KTUL in morning news, won handily in evenings, and took a closer late news race, too.

KOTV is trailed by Allbritton's ABC outlet KTUL, along with Scripps' NBC affiliate KJRH and Newport TV's Fox-MyNetworkTV duopoly KOKI and KMYT. Newport bought that pair in the massive Clear Channel deal earlier this year. KOKI/KMYT VP/General Manager Holly Allen says the stations have a friend in Newport Senior VP Craig Millar, formerly the stations' general manager.

Strong as the local economy may be, viewers are keenly interested in economy-related content. KOTV solicits questions about everything from 401(k) accounts to college savings plans with its “Getting answers, so you'll know more” tagline. “There's an increased appetite for that kind of information,” Moon says. “At a time like this, the viewer looks to newscasts for substance.”

KJRH is also addressing viewers' money concerns with its “Financial Survival Guide,” a Scripps-wide Web initiative the station launched at the end of October. “It's developed for all the Scripps stations, but we can populate part of it with local information,” says VP/General Manager Mike Vrabac.

Regarding those other dark skies and headwinds, KJRH launched a digital weather channel late last year, while KTUL debuted “Frank's WeatherCall” in February. Users sign up for severe-weather updates via a phone call recorded by chief meteorologist Frank Mitchell. At $6 a head, KTUL has signed up around 10,000 people, including the residents of an entire town, Glenpool.

President/General Manager Pat Baldwin says KTUL has gotten about a dozen calls from viewers crediting the service with saving their lives. “You're always looking for that little edge, and you never know what it's going to be,” Baldwin says. “This has been it.”

It being fall, residents are also focused on college football (one general manager says University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State games are as big as the Olympics here), as well as a massive election measure focused on building up Tulsa's ailing infrastructure. The latter, which passed Nov. 4, is a nod toward the market's growth—a trend general managers hope can be sustained. “What's been going on nationally does start to create some perceptions,” Allen says. “But we've been really, really lucky so far.”

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