Slow and Steady

Little Rock grows despite few sexy sectors

Growth in Little Rock, Ark., isn’t flashy, but it’s growth nonetheless. Covering 35 counties, the No. 57 Nielsen market is home to the state capitol and the new Clinton Presidential Library. Downtown revitalization has boosted the economy, too.

“Little Rock is a well-kept secret,” says Chuck Spohn, general manager for Clear Channel-owned Fox affiliate KLRT and UPN outlet KASN. “We don’t have exciting sectors, like technology, that spike the market. But we are consistent.”

Broadcasters grossed $87.6 million in 2004, up from $81.9 million the prior year, according to BIA Financial. Gannett-owned CBS affiliate KTHV was slightly out in front at $24.7 million.

The news race is tight, too. KTHV and ABC affiliate KATV, owned by Allbritton Communications, are rivals in late news. Last November, KTHV edged out a win at 10 p.m., with an average 11.5 rating/25 share to KATV’s 11.0/25. KATV, boosted by lead-ins from The Oprah Winfrey Show, handily wins at 5 and 6 p.m. “We’ve owned evening news for a long time,” says General Manager Dale Nicholson, a 44-year station veteran. KATV boasts the highest 5 p.m. news among ABC stations in the top 100 markets.

Little Rock is stocked with local-news product, with weather and state news as drivers. Along with leaders KTHV and KATV, five other stations broadcast newscasts. NBC affiliate KARK, No. 3 in news, programs 3½ hours of it per day. KLRT launched its 9 p.m. news two years ago and produces strong ratings, including a 3.4/6 last November. Equity Broadcasting’s three stations offer daily newscasts: The WB affiliate KWBF broadcasts a 5:30 p.m, Retro Television Network’s KYPX offers a 10 p.m., and Univision station KLRA carries a 6 p.m., the market’s only Spanish-language newscast. KWBF and KYPX share a newsroom but use different anchors.

Little Rock is one of the first markets where Equity rolled out its year-old RTN network, which offers classic shows and opportunities for affiliates to add local programs. KYPX produces a local country-music show, horseracing reports and a retro music-video program. “News and local programming give a station personality and separate you from every other channel,” says Equity Broadcasting VP Neal Ardman.

Equity’s KWBF and Clear Channel’s KASN will lose their affiliations when The WB and UPN shut down in September. Station managers at both say they are considering deals with the new CW and My Network TV services.

For all local broadcasters, the prime objective is keeping ratings and revenue on the upswing. Says KTHV General Manager Larry Audas, “We’ve love to see more growth, but this is a good, steady market.”

Next: Louisville, Ky.