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The U-haul year: media moves made news in '91.

Media businesses and circles are small and mobile ones, and 1991 has proven that true in central Arkansas.

"When you look at the advertising community in Little Rock, this has to be the most unstable year," says Julia "Bitty" Martin, sales manager at Spectrum Weekly.

Martin left her position as senior account executive at KATV-TV, Channel 7, last March.

"It really has been like the stock market -- up and down -- people hopping here and there," says Martin. "To my knowledge, it's never been this active."

There's no doubt that the newspaper war was the biggest media story of the year.

The battle between the Gannett Co.-owned Arkansas Gazette and the locally owned Arkansas Democrat had ramifications throughout the media community. It was closely watched until the Gazette's demise on Oct. 18.

The print battle took place predominantly within the business pages, which prompted many in the business community to complain of the close scrutiny.

Curt Bradbury, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Worthen Banking Corp. at Little Rock, says he worried that there was an attitude of "If we can cook up some good gossip about one business person or another, then we can sell some newspapers. So, let's see how big a bonus the guy got or let's talk about the house he just bought."

The Gazette used giant salary hikes to woo a number of reporters away from the Democrat, particularly those from the business department.

The Democrat rallied back only once. It paid northwest Arkansas reporter Andrea Harter more to return to the paper after she initially accepted an offer from the Gazette.

Meanwhile, the Gazette poured money into tabloid sections. But those failed to attract new readers and many, such as the automotive supplement, were eliminated or merged with other sections.

The Gazettes' Talking Yellow Pages came, lost money, and went within the year. Its weekly business tabloid, Arkansas Inc., dwindled to a mere 16 pages even though ad rates were dramatically slashed for the section.

Top management also underwent a big change at the Gazette. Publisher Craig Moon was replaced by Maurice L. "Moe" Hickey in the spring.

That was just weeks after Moon claimed he'd be in town until the newspaper war was over.

When Gannett brought Hickey out of retirement, many people took that as a sign that the end was near for the Gazette. Hickey carried with him a reputation for cost cutting and making publications attractive for a sale or a joint operating agreement.

That assumption proved correct when Democrat Publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. bought the Gazette's assets for $69 million, renamed his paper the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and claimed he had "the best of both."

Riveting Radio

Although the newspaper war received the most attention, that doesn't mean there weren't other big stories in the media.

The radio market proved an exciting one to watch.

New stations and formats thrived while former leaders lost their grip on the lead or fell out of the picture.

The most dramatic, if not the shrewdest, rise to the top came when GHB Broadcasting of New Orleans bought KZOU-FM, 98.5, for a song at $1.65 million. GHB changed the call letters to KURB-FM and created a soft contemporary format.

In the important 25- to 54-year-old demographic, KURB jumped to a 10.7 share by the summer of 1991. That was up from KZOU's 2.3 share in the fall of 1990.

Meanwhile, Shepard Broadcasting overpaid when it spent almost $4 million to purchase KKYK-FM, 103.7, from Snider Corp.

In the 25-54 demographic, KKYK held steady at a 3.7 share from the fall of 1990 to the summer of 1991. But Shepard Broadcasting filed a lawsuit claiming it was misled as to the value of the property value, sales potential and audience position at the station.

KKYK's highly successful morning man, Craig O'Neill, defected to KURB. Mike Rosen, KKYK's new general manager, handled the switch by saying it was time for a change.

Rosen didn't have a choice with that change. But Wally Tucker, general partner at KEZQ-FM, 100.3, knew what he was doing when he dropped his station's elevator music format and went to a soft contemporary mix.

KEZQ's market share took a 75-percent jump from the spring of 1990 to the spring of 1991 in the 25-54 demographic. It became the No. 2 station at that time.

No. 1 giant KSSN-FM, 95.7, actually dropped from a 24 share in the fall of 1990 to a 16.4 share in the summer of 1991. The book was regarded as a fluke for KSSN, but it was still an interesting surprise.

A new country competitor, KXIX-FM, 102.9, entered the scene last November. Although it only had a 3.5 share in the 25-54 spot by summer 1991, it's clear the station is edging into KSSN's market.

KXIX appeared to have financial difficulty when it let several employees go, including general sales manager Kenn Flemmons, who helped KXIX establish a strong advertising base.

Flemmons is now being watched for what he will do as general manager for KMZX-FM, 106.3, and KLRG-AM, 1150.

Tepid Television

Television was not nearly as exciting to watch as other media.

When KARK-TV, Channel 4, made a dramatic jump in ratings in November of 1990, some media observers looked to 1991 as the year the station would make a comeback.

It didn't happen.

Instead, KATV kept its stronghold on the No. 1 spot with a 14 rating for both the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. news in the 25-54 demographic.

KARK hired an image and news consultant, changed its logo and even brought in a young, blond reporter, Sonja Deaner, to compete with KATV. Still, the station has not been able to wage a comeback.

Deaner has proven a good find for KARK. She's now anchoring the 5 p.m. news.

The real battle in TV news, though, seems to be taking place in the morning.

KARK veteran Dave Woodman switched from the sports department to the morning news late in the year.

More significant TV news in 1991 was found among the independent stations.

In mid-summer, KASN-TV, Channel 38, sold its assets to Clear Channel Communications Inc. at San Antonio, Texas, which also bought KLRT-TV, Channel 16.

In an odd arrangement, KASN then leased the equipment it sold to Clear Channel.

Most recently, KASN General Manager Paula Pruett filed an application for the sale of KASN's broadcast license to Mercury Broadcasting at San Antonio.

If the sale is approved, the competition between central Arkansas' independent stations again could be more interesting than with the three network affiliates.

Radio will continue to be the market to watch in the broadcast medium.

Even though there are no longer two statewide dailies, there are enough new editorial and advertising publications springing up to make 1992 just as fascinating in print.

But it might be difficult for the same number of changes and employee moves to occur in 1992.

As Martin says, "This has definitely been the U-Haul year."
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Title Annotation:The Year in Review: Media
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Dec 30, 1991
Previous Article:Boardroom coups, red ink and big profits.
Next Article:Banking on borrowers: state's largest banks continue to grow while S&Ls continue to go.

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