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On an even keel - Broadcasting & Cable

On an even keel

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A three-hour drive from Minnesota's Twin Cities, alongside Lake Superior sit Minnesota's and Wisconsin's Twin Ports—Duluth and Superior, respectively—forming a TV market, execs say, as settled as the lake on a calm day.

"In Duluth, we never really seem to hit the highest highs," says Debra Messer, GM at KDLH(TV), "but we never seem to sink to the lowest lows, either. [The area] is sometimes criticized as too conservative. But we're consistent. The market seems to be very consistent. We seem to be doing better than the rest of the state."

Unemployment in both the Duluth and Superior areas is about 5%. As a regional medical hub, the area derives much of its local employment from the health-care sector. Another major employer is Northwest Airlines, which does most of its airplane maintenance there. Local officials are hoping to attract business—especially high-tech—with the area's quality labor force, developable land and transportation system.

In the difficult year of 2001, the Duluth-Superior market dropped a moderate 10% from the record-breaking 2000—from $20.2 million to $18.2 million, according to BIA Financial—and is projected to make up about half the difference this year.

Viewing patterns run deep. Both CBS affil KDLH and NBC/UPN affil KBJR-TV are nearly 50 years old; WDIO-TV is 36. Ray Spellerberg, GM at 31/2-year-old Fox affil KQDS-TV, says it's not easy being the new kid on the block, chasing market leaders KBJR-TV and WDIO-TV, which vie for the top spot. The local Fox station's daily half-hour of news, in fact, is produced by the top-rated KBJR-TV, using its primary male anchor Mark Mallory, and Spellerberg says it has been working well for the station.

But change is inevitable—even in Duluth. Only last week, Benedek Broadcasting, which owns CBS affil KDLH, was purchased by Gray Communications. Still, Messer doesn't predict radical times for the station or the market.

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