Wholly Toledo

'Classic Midwest' woes hit Ohio city

Toledo is hardly a boom town, but station managers say there are reasons to be excited about life—and business—in the No. 72 DMA.

While a large Jeep plant and a GM transmissions facility are still key employers, Toledo has lost a big chunk of its automotive business, and is looking for other industries to fill the breach. “It's a strong manufacturing base that's looking for things to manufacture,” says WTOL VP/General Manager Bob Chirdon. “We're the classic Midwest city in need of reinventing itself.”

Toledo is trying. The 10,000-seat Lucas County Arena, future home of the Toledo Walleye hockey squad, is set to be completed in 2009. The city features the Golden Triangle—an intersection of highways that extend to Midwestern hubs such as Chicago and Detroit—and is playing up its gateway role to boost cargo business, known as intermodal transport. A $180 million project known as the Marina District development is erecting condos, restaurants and shops along the Maumee River.

“There are some positives, but it's a tough economy,” says WUPW President/General Manager Ray Maselli. “We have to be more creative in our selling techniques, so to speak.”

WTOL has been remaking itself as well. Raycom took over the CBS affiliate when it acquired the Liberty Corp. stations in 2005, and sold WNWO to Barrington in 2006. There's a new talent lineup and new strategic plan to focus on breaking news and severe weather. WTOL features separate breaking-news and WTOL.com sets in the newsroom, and last month started operating out of a bureau in growing Wood County. “We think reaching out to [Wood] is a significant step for us,” Chirdon says, “and the best way to do it is to go down there and build the set.”

Viewers seem to be responding. WTOL took total day ratings in February, and grabbed evening and late news titles as well. But it's a tight race. LIN's Fox affiliate WUPW took the primetime crown, while WTOL and ABC O&O WTVG finished within two ratings points of the top. WTVG wins mornings and is runner-up in late news.

Ranked No. 82 in revenue, according to BIA Financial, Toledo brought in $51.1 million in 2007. WTOL led the bunch with $19.85 million, better than WTVG ($12.58 million), WUPW ($9.38 million) and WNWO ($9.1 million). WNWO recently laid off staffers—reportedly as many as 15—as Barrington cuts staff systemwide. (WNWO, which added RTN on a digital channel in the fall, could not be reached for comment.)

Stations have been expanding their news offerings. WUPW extended its half-hour 4 p.m. program to an hour in the fall of 2006, while WTOL added a 9 a.m. newscast in place of Dr. Keith Ablow, and is tapping viewers to participate in newsgathering with its “See Snap Send” feature on the Web. WTVG has introduced four hours of morning news on weekends. “We think there's tremendous demand for news here,” says WTVG President/General Manager David L. Zamichow. “We keep expanding to try to meet it.”

Raycom is one of the few station groups that still has its general manager air editorials. Chirdon, who often challenges Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's policies, gets a kick out of being spotted around town. But he's more concerned with sparking change. “They're serious topics that affect the market,” he says. “We're trying to get results for viewers.”

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