News off and on in Topeka


KTKA-TV's decision to end its local newscasts this month came on top of a competitor's decision to expand (see story, Top of the Week). Emmis-owned KSNT(TV) had begun a 5 p.m. newscast only weeks before, in response, it said, to viewer requests.

"Our research told us that our loyal viewers were watching news at 5 p.m.," said KSNT General Manager Gary McNair, "but on WIBW-TV." In addition, McNair said, the station already had a good lead-in, running Jeopardy
at 4 p.m. But if the market supports two stations' newscasts, it could not, or did not, support a third.

The Topeka market has seen better times. Large employers have either left or reduced their presence, including the Menninger Clinic and Burlington Northern Railroads (which took over the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in 1996), leaving fewer jobs and dollars in the market. The state budget is hundreds of millions of dollars short.

Several local business and government partnerships are working to bring companies to the market. Mike DeLier, GM and the market's only regular station commentator at top-rated WIBW-TV, touts location and access as among his market's advantages: "Topeka has a fabulous airport, a great rail system and two major interstate highways. And it is
the state capital." Advertising in the somewhat-underperforming market is typical: automotive, restaurants and other standard vendors, although national advertising sales are off. "Advertisers are spending more in the bigger markets," DeLier laments. "But people in Topeka buy cars; they buy apparel; there are more truck sales than in other markets."

McNair believes "the economy is coming back. That the state government is here lends some stability. Political advertising will help drive demand, and there will be a lot fewer news avails in the market" with KTKA-TV's move. Revenue should flow from local congressional races, gubernatorial and attorney-general races.