Thunder' No Long Shot

Kentucky Derby Festival wins on WHAS

Hundreds of thousands flocked to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby May 2, quaffing mint juleps and watching the 135th Run for the Roses. But the real party started two weeks before a long shot named Mine That Bird ruined so many bettors' day. The Kentucky Derby Festival features music, bourbon and the “Thunder Over Louisville” air show and fireworks display. Some 700,000 came out and seemingly everyone else watched it on WHAS, which tallied a whopping 50 share during its live coverage.

“The festival has almost as much economic impact as the Derby,” says WDRB-WMYO President/General Manager Bill Lamb. “It's our Super Bowl every year.”

The stations take turns airing “Thunder Over Louisville,” and all pitch in with each other's production. “We help each other out with vendors, the number of cameras, that sort of thing,” says WHAS President/General Manager Mark Pimentel. “That kind of information-sharing is unique, considering what kind of competitors we are.”

Competition is indeed a horse race in the No. 50 DMA, where strong ownership and well-established stations do battle. The race is tightest in mornings—Belo's ABC outlet WHAS won in March by a nose, with a single household ratings point separating the Big Four Monday through Friday. WHAS also took a tight evening news battle, topping Raycom NBC affiliate WAVE. Hearst-Argyle's CBS affiliate WLKY won total day and primetime ratings by a mile, and grabbed late news with a 9.7 rating/18 share—better than the Block Communications-owned Fox affiliate WDRB's 10 p.m. program. President/General Manager Glenn Haygood says it's WLKY's 23rd straight late-news win.

“There's a tremendous amount of news in Louisville—the market added five to 10 hours a week last year alone,” says Cascade Broadcasting CEO Carol LaFever, who manages CW affiliate WBKI.

Managers say the market is in decent shape. Real estate has held up, and employment is fairly stable; UPS is Louisville's largest employer. On the television front, local business is down a few points, while national is, in the words of one GM, “atrocious.”

Stations are doing all they can to one-up the competition. WHAS, which produces WBKI's 10 p.m. news, launched a weather channel a few weeks ago. WLKY is getting a new helicopter with full HD functionality. Lamb says the WDRB-WMYO duopoly has not had to resort to layoffs in the last few years. WBKI has been auctioned off; the new owner is Iowa-based Fusion Communications.

WAVE showed the Derby in full HD for the first time. “It made for quite a spectacular broadcast,” says Regional VP/General Manager Steve Langford.

Even after the Derby ends, managers say there's lots going on in Louisville. “It's a fabulous place to live,” Haygood says. “It's big-city living in a medium-sized market.”

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