Battle Tested

Cleveland is rolling in political dough—for now

A massive hangover awaits Cleveland next week, but it's enjoying the party while it lasts. Perhaps no state is more hotly contested by the presidential hopefuls as they clamor for Ohio's 20 electoral votes.

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama essentially own the airtime right now, between local coverage and advertising. “If you come here, you won't see a commercial on the air for a product,” says WOIO/WUAB VP/General Manager Bill Applegate. “It's all political all the time.”

Local managers say combined political revenue here might reach $20 million this year, helped by a casino measure on the ballot. The windfall comes at a crucial time, as Cleveland's economy is dismal. Ranked the No. 17 DMA in size, Cleveland comes in at No. 22 in the BIA Financial Revenue Rank. “The non-political spot market is dead as a doornail,” Applegate says. Adds WKYC President/General Manager Brooke Spectorsky: “Dismal is an understatement.”

The market took in $240 million last year, according to BIA. Local TV's Fox outlet WJW led with $63 million, better than Gannett's NBC affiliate WKYC ($52 million), Scripps' ABC outlet WEWS ($43 million) and Raycom's CBS affiliate WOIO ($41 million). Local TV took over WJW from Fox earlier this year. Raycom also owns MyNetworkTV outlet WUAB, and Winston Broadcasting has CW affiliate WBNX. Time Warner Cable is the primary cable provider.

Competition is tight. WJW, WEWS and WKYC tied in total day household ratings in May. WEWS won primetime, with WJW and WOIO just behind. WJW won late news with an 8.9 rating/13 share (better than WKYC's 7.8/14), along with morning and evening news. VP/General Manager Greg Easterly, who moved up to the top spot last year after a long stint as news director, says viewers appreciate WJW's authentic local roots. “We have the on-air personalities the market has grown up with,” he says. “In a crowded marketplace with so many viewing options, being all about Cleveland with Cleveland people reporting stands you apart.”

Local People Meters went live Aug. 28, and general managers here aren't all that enthused by the new metrics (see Station to Station, Sept. 8). They feel crucial ratings points are missing, though most acknowledge the situation is getting better. “It's been very frustrating,” Spectorsky says. “Our station was affected greatly in the summer, but it seems to be leveling off.”

Forced to live without the automotive industry's traditional largesse, station managers seek revenue elsewhere. WKYC has found success in a trio of microsites:, the nightlife-focused Metromix site, and another dedicated to high school sports. has a local business search engine. WJW expanded its noon news to an hour, and is seeking to further increase local programming. WEWS, which has been giving local political candidates five minutes of airtime each day in its 5 p.m. news, introduced Bonnie Hunt this fall, and has local boy Dr. Oz lined up for next fall.

Station managers are dreading the prospect of the McCain and Obama camps turning off the taps next week. But some feel Cleveland, long mired in an economic slump, may withstand the tough times better than some. “The market didn't necessarily enjoy the greedy times happening in some of the boom markets,” says WEWS VP/General Manager Viki Regan. “Maybe the fall won't be as terrific.”