Blue Hawaii

Obama helps Honolulu forget money problems
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Clouds have moved in on Hawaii's famously blue skies. When the nation's—and the globe's—economy sours, big-ticket vacations are often the first luxury people slash. Tourism is down 15%-20% a month, and the economy affects just about every segment of business in the No. 72 DMA. Aloha Airlines and ATA went out of business within a few days of each other in the spring, and cruise lines are scaling back their visits.

“It's pretty ugly right now,” says KITV President/General Manager Michael Rosenberg. “Tourism's been soft all year.”

Yet some sun has been poking through. Barack Obama, of course, was born in and spent much of his formative years in Honolulu, and took a break from campaigning in late October to be with his ailing grandmother before her death. While the President-elect made his political bones in Illinois, Hawaiians see him as one of their own, giving him 72% of the vote Nov. 4.

General managers speak of “the Aloha Spirit”—the sense of optimism and fraternity in the 50th state, which celebrates its 50th year as part of America next year. “People take care of each other here,” says KHNL/KFVE VP/General Manager John Fink. “There are no nicer people in the world than people in Hawaii.”

Stations have been showing that spirit as they prepare for their early digital transition Jan. 15. Hawaii's rough terrain and unique location present considerable challenges, and the FCC and NTIA have boots on the ground in the Aloha State. The stations jointly created PSAs informing viewers what they need to know before the analog shut-off. “We're in full-on educational mode,” Rosenberg says.

Several news races are heating up. Emmis sold KHON to Montecito in early 2006, and Montecito sold it to New Vision last year. HITV-owned CBS outlet KGMB grabbed late news in May with a 10 household rating/24 share, just ahead of KHON's 9/22. Fox affiliate KHON took morning news and 6 p.m., while Hearst-Argyle's ABC affiliate KITV won the 5 p.m. race. Raycom has a duopoly in NBC affiliate KHNL and MyNetworkTV outlet KFVE, which loads up on University of Hawaii sports.

Managers say viewers are fiercely loyal to their favorite anchors and stations. A number of high-profile anchors have left the desk, including KHON's Leslie Wilcox, who's managing the local PBS station, and KITV's Shawn Ching, now a lawyer. But KHON still has local institution Joe Moore, who anchors the news in a laid-back style, without flashy graphics and with the occasional Islander viewpoint thrown in. “We just re-signed him to a 10-year contract,” says President/General Manager Joe McNamara. “People love the way he delivers the news. We're blessed.”

KITV.com's 157,000 monthly unique visitors leads the pack, but all stations are showing innovation on the Web. KHNL.com has the real estate-oriented KHNLHomes.com and the Joblink8.com employment listings. KGMB9.com has a downloadable Hurricane Tracker, and KHON2.com has a deep stash of video on-demand, both Fox programs and local fare.

Insiders say Obama's election has brought Hawaiians together, particularly those who perhaps don't quite view themselves as Americans. Says Fink: “A lot of what people see in him—that calm demeanor—is a very Hawaiian thing.”

NEXT: GREENVILLE-SPARTANBURG, SC-ASHEVILLE, NC

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