Pretty, and Thriving, Too

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Writer John Updike has rhapsodized about the beauty and cultural charms of Missoula, Mont., likening them those of the City of Lights, Paris. Even the state's promotional Web site, Montana.com, says that's a "flattering but somewhat gross exaggeration." In the understated way of plains folk, the Web site says Missoula is a "pretty nice place to live."

Indeed, locals liken their growing city to Denver before overcrowding and smog. It's a pretty place, surrounded by big sky, well-stocked rivers, mountains, a handful of national parks (Yellowstone and Glacier to name two) and forests all within short driving distance.

And, despite the shaky national economy, Missoula's local TV-ad market is thriving.

"Missoula has remained strong even during tough times," says Keith Sommer, vice president and general manager, KECI(TV). "It's seems to be almost in its own little world. It's been surprising but also quite nice."

Bob Hermes, vice president and general manager at KPAX(TV), agrees. "The whole area is bustling, actually."

In the first quarter and so far in the second, the market is up a couple of percentage points over last year—which station executives say is rather remarkable given last year's Olympic and election money. The war is a wild card, but, that aside, Sommer and Hermes think the market can maintain the current pace through year's end.

Even a double-digit gain is achievable, Hermes says. "In our market, we are poised to kind of break loose" once the war is over.

Local advertising is the big driver, accounting for 60% to 65% of the market. But national spot is healthy, too. Auto and fast foods are perennially hot, along with furniture, hotels, and other tourist and service categories. New on the hot list is telecom, which hadn't previously filtered down to markets Missoula's size (169), says Sommer.