Ted Baxter, the egotistical anchorman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, used to brag that his brilliant career "all started at a little 5,000-Watt station in Fresno."
Little Fresno, Calif., has grown up. Spurred by an influx of immigrants from coastal communities, the market is poised to break into the top 50 Designated Market Areas, as determined by Nielsen Media. Affordable housing is a major draw.
Prices are rising quickly, though. Fresno topped all U.S. metro areas, with an average home price increase of 16% over the past year, according to government figures. "We have a lot of people moving here from the Bay Area. It has gotten so very expensive to live on the coast, and the Fresno area has really benefited from that," says Diana Wilkin-Zapata, general manager at Clear Channel's KGPE(TV), the CBS affiliate.
Fresno and its neighboring communities of Visalia and Merced claim to be the true heartland of American agriculture. Fresno County, the Chamber of Commerce notes, annually produces more than $3 billion worth of raisins, lettuce, citrus and cotton.
ABC/Disney owned-and-operated KFSN-TV tops the ratings hierarchy but finishes second to Granite's NBC affiliate KSEE(TV) in revenue, according to data provided by BIA Financial Network.
Spanish-language stations do well. Univision's KFTV(TV) ranked fourth in the May sweeps, behind KFSN-TV, KSEE and Pappas-owned Fox affiliate KMPH(TV).
While people of "Hispanic origin" comprise nearly 50% of the market's population, Spanish speakers have become well assimilated into Fresno's business community, says Charles Williams, general manager of UPN affiliate KAIL(TV).
Fresno has been a busy market for wheeling and dealing in television stations. Five stations have changed hands in the past two years, led by Univision's $35 million purchase of KTFF(TV) from Paxson in February and NBC's $33 million acquisition of KNSO(TV) from Sainte Partners in May.
Cable penetration, at 48%, is extraordinarily low. Fresno is also one of the largest markets without a VHF television signal (Scranton–Wilkes-Barre, Pa., DMA 53, is the largest).