Unlike some of its rustbelt counterparts, Grand Rapids, Mich., is a growing area. Embracing Kalamazoo and Battle Creek as well, the market should exceed 2 million people by 2009. Its longtime news leader, WOOD, LIN Broadcasting's NBC station, wins morning, early and late-news timeslots. LIN also owns ABC affiliate WOTV and UPN affiliate WXSP and handles ad sales for Paxson's WZPX, which also carries some WB programming.
Freedom Broadcasting's WWMT scores the most viewers from sign-on to sign-off, thanks to a strong CBS prime time showing and a solid daytime lineup that includes Dr. Phil, The Oprah Winfrey Show
and The Price Is Right. WWMT sets up its prime schedule with Wheel of Fortune
ABC viewing is split between two stations: Gannett's WZZM, licensed to Grand Rapids, and WOTV, licensed to Battle Creek. The bulk of the prime time viewing goes to WZZM, but the dilution hurts its late newscast, which typically finishes in third place. WZZM created a local-program unit this year and recently launched its first project, a half-hour talk show at 5 p.m. called Take Five Grand Rapids.
Though ranked 38th in population by Nielsen, Grand Rapids ranks 50th in ad revenue. But given Michigan's status as a presidential swing state, stations are raking in political dollars. "Television will be about a $13 million market by the time this election is over," says WOOD General Manager Diane Kniowski—a hefty figure but far short of the $20 million stations pocketed in 2000.
It's also a market of striking contrasts: The automotive industry, though dominant in other Michigan markets, is just a presence here. (The region's biggest employer, Haworth, is one of the world's largest makers of office furniture.) Grand Rapids boasts one of the fastest-growing Hispanic populations in the Midwest, yet has no Spanish-language TV station.
As for cable, Charter and Comcast hold most of the business. About 60% of households subscribe, below the national average. Another 20% get TV from satellite.
Still, timing and geography cast a pall over TV viewing. Grand Rapids lies at the far fringe of the Eastern Time Zone. A late sunset keeps people outdoors in good weather and away from TV. As a result, HUT levels—the proportion of homes using television—are among the nation's lowest. Says WZZM General Manager Janet Mason, "People can leave work at 5:00 and still get in 18 holes of golf in before dark."