The local Chamber of Commerce likes to call Charleston, W.Va., the "most Northern" of the Southern cities, and "most Southern" of the Northern ones. Although the Charleston-Huntington market ranks 61st in population, it sprawls across 34 counties, covering parts of three states: West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.
"We are the second-largest geographic market east of the Mississippi. We can drive for three hours and still be in this market," said Terry Cole, news director at WCHS-TV, the Sinclair-owned ABC affiliate.
Charleston stations have had their share of big stories to cover of late. PFC Jessica Lynch, the U.S. Army soldier rescued by Special Forces in Iraq, hails from the area. A local man, Jack Whittaker, recently won a $62 million Powerball lottery prize, and Charleston was center stage for a recent series of sniper attacks.
"We don't have three or four satellite trucks like bigger markets have. It's a lot of drive time," Cole said.
Known for its coal mining and timber production, West Virginia's economy is diversifying. Coal is still big, but most mines are automated, and mining jobs are scarce. The chemical industry has helped take up the slack. Dow Chemical is the region's largest private employer, with 2,400 employees.
Charleston television stations have had a tough time attracting national advertisers. The market ranks 85th in television advertising revenue. But revenue surged 10.1% from 2001 to 2002, according to BIA estimates.
"Our business has been phenomenal this year. We have expanded our local [sales] staff, filled a lot of avails, and that has helped us to push up overall rates," said Don Ray, general manager of market leader WSAZ-TV (Emmis, NBC). With estimated 2002 revenue of $21.3 million, WSAZ-TV snags nearly half the market total of $46.8 million.
With nearly three dozen counties and three states to cover, it's hard for a station to establish a local identify, Ray said, adding, "But on the good side, there is almost always an election."