Beyond Beer and Brats

Milwaukee features strong stations that invest in local product
Author:
Publish date:

Why This Matters: Market No. 36 is more than a brewery town — and one that punches above its weight in the news game.

Milwaukee was known for decades as a major beer producer, home to the likes of Miller and Pabst. Its baseball team is, of course, the Brewers. While there’s still plenty of beer in DMA No. 36, it’s more about financial and technology these days.

“Milwaukee was manufacturing,” WVTV general manager Pete Monfre said, “and it had to reinvent itself.”

Chuck Steinmetz, president and general manager of WITI, grew up five miles from the station. He said Milwaukee always tried to keep pace with Chicago, and finally just focused on being Milwaukee. The city flourished after that revelation.

More Local News: Cable Strong and Able in Milwaukee

“It’s a market where you still have block parties, still have church festivals — it’s very, very Midwest,” he said. “But Milwaukee has more culture and art than people would think.”

Many will see the city in person when Milwaukee hosts the Democratic National Convention in July. “The DNC is going to be a very big deal for Milwaukee,” Steinmetz said.

Ben Handelman, Stephanie Grady, Mary Stoker Smith and Ted Perry are in the tireless news team at Nexstar’s WITI in Milwaukee.

Ben Handelman, Stephanie Grady, Mary Stoker Smith and Ted Perry are in the tireless news team at Nexstar’s WITI in Milwaukee.

Nexstar Media Group owns Fox affiliate WITI following its acquisition of Tribune Media. Scripps has NBC-aligned WTMJ. Hearst Television has ABC affiliate WISN and Weigel holds CBS station WDJT. Sinclair has WVTV, which airs both The CW and MyNetworkTV.

“Every station plays above the rim, plays above our market size,” Steinmetz said.

The general managers at WTMJ, WISN and WDJT did not return calls for comment.

The main pay TV operator is Spectrum. Last fall, it debuted Spectrum News 1. Diane Irving is news director, and the statewide network covers employment, healthcare, education and infrastructure.

Alan Mason, group VP/general manager, Spectrum News, South and Central, calls it “issues-based journalism, kitchen-table issues,” not so much the local spot news the broadcasters cover. “We didn’t think there was a reason to duplicate what the stations are doing,” he said.

The market is full of strong broadcast groups willing to invest in local product. “It’s a fun horse race kind of market,” said Bill Hague, executive VP of Frank N. Magid Associates, which does not currently work with a Milwaukee station. “It’s a good, aggressive, smart news market.”

Milwaukee is unique in that a Fox affiliate wins the news races. WITI aligned with Fox in 1994 after a long run as a CBS station. In August, WITI won the 6 a.m. race in both households and 25-54. WISN won a close household race at 5 p.m. and WITI took 25-54 easily. At 6 p.m., WTMJ took households and WITI won 25-54.

WITI airs news at 9 p.m. and won the 10 p.m. news battle in August. WITI did a 6.4 in households and 3.7 in 25-54. WISN averaged a 4.7 and 1.4, WTMJ a 3.9 and 1.5 and WDJT a 3.2 and 0.5.

WITI does 61 and a half hours of news a week. The tagline is “Because You Matter,” and Steinmetz said station staffers take it to heart. “We work very hard to make ourselves part of the community,” he said.

WVTV does not do news, but has high school football this time of year. The weekly program is called Thursday Night Lights.

The market has a booming downtown, access to Lake Michigan, and a varied business portfolio that includes Harley-Davidson, Northwestern Mutual and craft breweries such as Lakefront. “There’s great sports, we’re right by a lake and we’re 90 minutes from Chicago,” Monfre said. “The recreation in this state is beautiful.”

Related