The Persian Gulf war may not be considered good news, but it's proven a boon for Utah newspapers, radio, television and cable companies.
With more than 2,000 of the state's Guard members and military reservists on active duty, many more Utahns are hitting the newspaper racks, tuning to AM radio newscasts and signing up for Cable News Network to get the latest news about their loved ones.Since war broke out Jan. 17, TCI Cablevision of Utah Inc. has added 1,500 subscribers to its list of 150,000 statewide.
"We've had people inquire of CNN more so than in any other period of time because of the gulf war," said Dan Sutton, general manager of the Salt Lake-based system, and there is a backlog of a week or more for installations.
TCI expects to keep the new business when the war ends.
"Once people view cable and see what it's all about, they're more apt to keep the service because it's really the cheapest entertainment money can buy," Sutton said.
Forty-three percent of Utah households currently have cable television.
Television managers sense local viewership is up based on increased telephone calls, but they won't have any hard data until mid-March.
"I'm confident viewership is up . . . in this market, but I personally have no data to support that," said Lee Roderick, news director at KSL Television.
Diane Orr, KUTV news director, isn't sure local television stations will be able to sustain what everyone senses is increased viewership.
"We'll know for a fact whether or not that's true when we get `sweeps' reports from Nielsen and Arbitron back in about the middle of March," she said.
John Edwards, KTVX news director, said his station carried several one-hour programs, including call-in segments, when the war broke out. "We just couldn't turn the questions off," Edwards said.
Several Salt Lake radio stations say their number of listeners has gone up since the war, particularly those with frequent news shows.
Stu Stanek, general manager of KCNR-AM, which carries CNN, said, "I'm sorry that I'm benefiting from something so terrible," but "the war has told people we're there."
KCNR, sister station to KLZX-FM, signed on with its all-news format last November. Stanek says the decision to pick up CNN Headline News was "influenced obviously by the fact that Saddam Hussein was over there acting crazy, and we felt that he would stir it up a bit."
KSL Radio news director Rod Arquette said the war is giving AM radio stations "an opportunity to show our stuff. If anything, I think our listenership has expanded."
Arquette bases that on increased telephone calls during call-in shows.
"There's a generation that's growing up that maybe doesn't know what the AM dial is, so I think it may have helped bring them over a little bit," he said.
KALL Radio general manager Jan Bagley notices interest in war news on his station already tapering off. "We've had some complaints," Bagley said.
"A couple of times we've cut our briefings short," he said. "We get the impression that not everybody is really so interested," although he predicts listener interest will bounce back in the event of a ground war.
The war also is boosting newspaper sales in metropolitan and rural areas of the Beehive State.
"It really hasn't shown up in subscriptions, mostly in single copy sales," said Dominic Welch, president of the Newspaper Agency Corp., which prints both Salt Lake dailies, and Kearns Tribune Corp., which owns The Salt Lake Tribune.
"There's no question it impacted positively, particularly initially," Welch said.
In the first three weeks of the war, single copy sales of The Tribune and Deseret News were up 6,000 copies per week. That figure dipped slightly, down to about 4,500 additional papers per week, but rose again with the recent prospect of peace.
"It's a terrible way to add circulation, but it did help circulation," Welch said, referring to single-paper sales. "I'll be happy when the war's over, even if it affects circulation a bit."
Home subscriptions to Salt Lake's two dailies don't appear to have increased significantly as a result of the war.
In southern Utah, street sales of the Daily Spectrum are up slightly, but circulation manager Roger Meacham says the largest increase is in home deliveries.
"It's too bad that something bad like this has to take place to make that happen," Meacham said.
Subscriptions have jumped by 400 readers in the past two months, bringing total circulation to 17,100 in St. George, Cedar City and surrounding communities, and Meacham believes the newspaper will keep them.
"I think that we provide enough of the other information . . . I think people are as interested in the good news of what's going on as the bad," he said.
The Standard Examiner in Ogden sold 200 additional copies in the initial days of the war.
"We did see a brief surge in newsstand sales," said publisher Randy Hatch, "but that has settled back down again."