Johnstown, Pa., may be best-known for the 1889 flood that devastated it and killed more than 2,200 people. Indeed, the site of the dam that burst is now the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, operated by the National Park Service. But the city today is part of a television market that boasts new high-tech businesses, a strong medical community, Penn State University and a host of recreational amenities.
"It's really a two-station news race," says Marty Ostrow, general manager of WTAJ-TV, "between us and WJAC-TV." Over at WJAC-TV, General Manager Mark Barash agrees: "Every newscast that is aired—morning, noon, early evening or 11 o'clock—is a horse race."
The current recession has hit here, too. "Things are slow. It's a mirror of the rest of the country; there's no doubt about it. National has been hit harder than local," says Barash. So creativity has been in order at the sales departments. Over at WTAJ-TV, Ostrow is airing five games of the Altoona Curve, a minor-league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. And the station recently broadcast the two-hour mass celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Johnstown-Altoona Roman Catholic Diocese. "Of course, we didn't run commercials," he says, "but there were sponsorship opportunities and congratulation messages. We're becoming very creative in our approach to selling."
The same is true at WJAC-TV, says Barash: "We're going to be televising for the first time in the market a huge Fourth of July fireworks display in State College, Pa.—it's billed as the fourth-largest in the world. We also work with a local hospital in presenting a series of medical news reports during sweeps. And the Web as a great vehicle to expand our brand. The site is a very important weapon in our arsenal for getting eyeballs to our station, and advertisers are really beginning to respond to it."