Not only is Wisconsin a purple state, as Jan Wade, WISN president and
general manager, puts it, with all the spoils that come with being a hotly contested region around Election Day, but the state sees big
political spending around issues as well. Last year,
it was the controversial recall election of Gov. Scott
Walker. This year, it is a proposed casino from the
Menominee Tribe on a former dog track site. “There’s
always some good issues money out there that you
just don’t expect,” says Wade.
The spending is sustaining Milwaukee TV stations
through a so-so economic period. The local economy
is progressing in “fits and starts,” according to Terry
Gaughan, WVTV-WCGV general manager. “There
does not seem to be an especially bright light in the
sky,” he says. “We just seem to be puttering along.”
For its part, WISN is hardly puttering. The Hearst
Television station is one of the top-performing ABC
affiliates in the nation. With a seasoned staff that Wade
says is extraordinarily dedicated to serving Milwaukee
viewers, WISN won the total-day household ratings
contest handily in May, along with early evening and
late news, the latter with an 8.6 household rating/15
share at 10 p.m., ahead of WTMJ’s 6.2/10.8. So dominant
is WISN that it won primetime — a rare instance
where a CBS affiliate does not take prime. (WDJT
did, however, win back the title in October.)
WITI, Local TV’s Fox affiliate, was tops in the local
a.m. news contest during the May sweeps.
Journal Broadcast Group owns NBC affiliate
WTMJ. Weigel Broadcasting has CBS affiliate WDJT,
along with independent WMLW and Me-TV outlet WBME. Sinclair Broadcast
Group holds the CW-MyNetworkTV combo,
WVTV-WCGV. Time Warner Cable is Milwaukee’s
primary subscription TV operator.
Market No. 34 ranks an impressive No. 32 in revenue,
according to BIA/Kelsey, though Milwaukee
general managers say business currently is a bit sluggish.
WISN booked an estimated $41.9 million in
2012, according to BIA/Kelsey, ahead of WTMJ’s
$39.7 million and WITI’s $35.5 million.
WISN thrives on the support and reputation of
Hearst TV; dedication to community events; strong
syndicated offerings that include Ellen, Live With
Kelly and Michael and, next year, Steve Harvey; and
loads of experience in the newsroom. “People have
been here 10, 15, 20, 25 years,” says Wade. “It helps
give context to important stories.”
WISN is a rare ABC station — Hearst sibling KOAT
Albuquerque (N.M.) is another — with an hour-long
news at 10 p.m. and Jimmy Kimmel Live at 11.
Milwaukee stations are fighting for every ratings
point. WITI in September debuted the 4 p.m. program
Studio 4, a mix of news and entertainment.
“It’s not straight-up news,” says Chuck Steinmetz,
president and general manager. “It’s what people are
talking about in Milwaukee.” Judge Judy, formerly
on at 4 p.m., now airs at 3.
Sinclair’s WVTV-WCGV will move into a new facility
in the coming weeks. The stations do not air
news. Gaughan has inquired about a news share
with his competitors, but he notes they all have a
pretty full slate, with more than 30 hours of local
news a day. WCGV has carved out a local niche with
high school football.
Wisconsin is of course home to the fabled Green Bay
Packers, and football at all levels is a big deal in Milwaukee.
WITI used to air Fox 6 Sports Blitz on Sunday
nights during football season, but now keeps it in the
10:35 Sunday slot year-round. It fits the Fox 6 brand.
“We’ve got a lot of local programming,” says Steinmetz.
“It’s significant, compared to the other guys.”
WITI owner Local TV is being acquired by Tribune.
WTMJ offers a “Traveling Weather Show,” with meteorologists
visiting local schools; the station is starting
to promote NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics
in February. Speaking of cold-weather sports,
TMJ4 has two Packers shows hosted by Larry McCarren
and Mike McCarthy (the team’s coach). “Both are
signature programs that are enhancing our programming
and are very appealing to advertisers,” says
Steve Wexler, Journal Broadcast Group executive VP.
Local TV execs say Milwaukee is a winsome place
to live and work: affordable, livable and often lively,
with plenty of culture and the city’s ethnic communities
hosting festivals on weekends. “There’s always
something going on here,” says Wade. “People are
very proud of the city and what it stands for.”