Unbridled Enthusiasm

Impassioned WLKY newsroom paces station to Louisville lead

Like 50-1 underdog Giacomo winning the 2005 Kentucky Derby, WLKY has come from back in the pack to grab the revenue lead in Louisville. WHAS and WAVE jockeyed for the top spot for years, but extra commitment from the

WLKY newsroom, station managers say, and parent Hearst-Argyle have propelled the station—the market's No. 3 revenue earner as recently as 2004, according to BIA Financial—into first place.

“We're the little UHF station that ended up competing against the established stations,” says WLKY President/General Manager Jim Carter. “People really care about what they do here, and it shows in their commitment to cover the news.” (He also cites community service and anchor stability as keys to the station's success.)

College basketball dominates conversations in Louisville throughout the winter, before Derby talk takes over in the spring. Nielsen's No. 48 market took in $106.8 million in 2006, according to BIA, with a slight bump projected for 2007. CBS affiliate WLKY's $25.83 million haul barely topped Belo's ABC outlet WHAS ($25.4 million) and Raycom's NBC affiliate WAVE ($24.98 million). Block Communications owns Fox outlet WDRB and MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYO.

Like a pre-Derby scouting report on Giacomo, station managers say the Louisville economy is solid, if unspectacular. Major employers include Ford auto plants and UPS' international airport, along with Humana Insurance and Yum Brands, the giant parent company of quick-service restaurant chains such as KFC and Taco Bell. “The economy is stable, not valleys and peaks,” said Carter.

WLKY hit a peak in the July book, taking total day ratings, easily winning prime and grabbing late news, too. The race for second is close. WHAS was runner-up in total day, WDRB was runner-up in prime, and WAVE came in second in late news, while winning mornings. WAVE VP/General Manager Steve Langford says the unscripted interactive morning program WAVE 3 Listens has built a bond with viewers. “It's open access to the community,” he says, “and it gives viewers a feel for whether the talent is real, or just reads scripts.”

The Web race is close as well. WAVE is taking on extra sales and production staff for online, and posts the growing Web traffic numbers in the newsroom to remind staffers why they're focusing on digital. WDRB draws users to Fox41.com with President/General Manager Bill Lamb's “Point of View” editorials, which he pens twice a week. Users sound off on his various topics either on the Web or via the phone; the station plays back the latter on-air. “We get a tremendous amount of feedback on [editorials],” he said.

WHAS President/General Manager Mark Pimentel, with a little over a month on the job, says he's in the “assessment stage.” He took over after Bob Klingle announced his resignation in March. “I'm figuring out where we are, what we're doing and how we become even stronger,” said Pimentel, who cited the “serious growth” of the 10 p.m. news his station produces on Cascade's CW outlet WBKI.

Carter said WLKY has the market's only live Web radar system, and the station will launch Hearst-Argyle's high-profile High School Playbook social network in the coming months. He credits the parent company for giving the station the resources to thrive: “Hearst-Argyle made the investment and set a high standard for us, and by gosh, we're doing our best to meet it.”

Next: Portland-Auburn, Maine