Blue Ridge Boon


Virginia's Roanoke Valley was once home to Native Americans and European colonial settlers. Today, the agrarian region is the center of commerce and education for Southwestern Virginia.

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke-Lynchburg, Nielsen Media Research's No. 66 TV market, is a study in contrasts. The western side of the region, anchored by Roanoke, projects an urbane image. Over the mountains to the east, Lynchburg touts its scenery and outdoor recreation. "Roanoke and Lynchburg are nearly twice as far apart as Baltimore and Washington, which are two separate [designated market areas]," says Randy Smith, general manager of Albritton's ABC affiliate, WSET. As the only Lynchburg-based station in the market, WSET concentrates its sales and news coverage efforts in its own backyard.

The picturesque market is in solid recovery mode. It dodged the worst of the recession, with ad revenue declining modestly in 2001 and recovering in 2002. BIA estimates market revenue will reach a record $54.5 million in 2004, up 6% from 2003. This year, national revenue has been soft, but local is strong, led by gains in the car, fast-food, and medical sectors.

Still, retail has been hurt by a lack of new stores and the closing of a large mall. Nor has political spending, picked up the slack. "Virginia is not a swing state," Mohn says.

It's also not a competitive market.

Market leader CBS affiliate WDBJ, owned by Schurz Communications, is No. 1 in household ratings in all news time periods and total day. Media General's NBC station, WSLS, produces a one-hour newscast for Fox's WFXR, owned by Grant Communications. WSLS rebroadcasts its 6 p.m. local news on Paxson's WPXR. UPN affiliate WDRL and WBVA, the cable-only WB outlet, no longer produce news.

The cable market is split three ways: Adelphia covers Lynchburg; Cox and Charter serve Roanoke. Cable penetration is only 62%. Dish Network and DirecTV offer local signals via satellite.

One lifestyle plus for residents: Local government has expanded services and roads in line with population growth. "It only takes me eight minutes to get to work," Smith says. "You gotta like that."