Two steps forward, one step back.

The Charleston area slipped a spot to No. 98 in the national 2010-11 TV market pecking order as compiled by Nielsen Co., the well-known media-ratings business.

The apparent cause was anemic viewership growth within the region, likely tied to the long-running recession and housing slowdown.

The number of television-equipped homes in the Charleston area barely moved since a year ago, edging up just 1,580 to 312,770, according to Nielsen. While it's not likely enough of a decline to affect what local broadcast stations can charge advertisers, it certainly doesn't help their cause.

The new standings for the top 210 U.S. "designated market areas," were released last week. Last year, Charleston vaulted up two places to grab the 97th spot.

The region swapped places this year with No. 97 El-Paso, Texas, a faster-growing TV market area that also includes Las Cruces, in southeast New Mexico.

Charleston isn't going to overtake South Carolina's largest TV market anytime soon. Top-dog honors go to the far-flung Upstate TV viewing area, which by Nielsen's count encompasses Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson and Asheville, N.C. GSAA maintained its hold on the 36th position, with nearly 879,000 TV homes, up about 13,000 from a year ago.

Columbia, which saw its viewing market expand by nearly 2 percent to 405,670 homes over the past 12 months, climbed a notch on the Nielsen ranking to No. 78.

Myrtle Beach-Florence held steady at No. 104, with 289,570 homes, and the combined Augusta-Aiken market retained the No. 114 position with 257,030 TV households. Rock Hill falls under the sprawling Charlotte viewing area, which climbed one rung to claim 23rd place.

Spreading the word

A tiny Charleston radio station has gone temporarily silent, but not secular, as it prepares for a relaunch with a more powerful signal and a new owner.

WLTQ-AM 730, a gospel format until about a week ago, is being sold for $525,000 in cash to an Upstate-based nonprofit Christian broadcaster that spreads Catholic teachings.

The buyer, Mediatrix Radio, is an educational charity and lay ministry that currently airs talk-radio programming over two stations, WCKI-1300 AM in Greer and WQIZ-810 AM in St. George. It's been on the airwaves since mid-2003.

Gary Towery, president of Mediatrix, issued a written statement last week about the WLTQ buy.

"Since February, we have been involved in a capital campaign to raise money so that we can purchase more radio stations. Our goal is to provide Catholic Christian talk to the entire state. An opportunity to serve the Charleston market became available, and we were blessed to have the resources to pursue it. If all goes well, we plan to broadcast national shows originating ... in Alabama as well as our locally produced offerings later this year," Towery said

The seller is Indigo Radio LLC, Tryon, N.C.-based company managed by broadcasting veteran Mark W. Jorgenson.

In addition to the payment, Holt Media Group has been tapped to assess the fair market value of WLTQ, according to the sale agreement. If the appraised figure comes in higher than the sale price, Indigo could reap a tax benefit because it will be credited with the difference as a charitable contribution.

Jorgenson, whose company bought WLTQ for $608,230 in 2007, said last week that the station stopped broadcasting Aug. 29 so Indigo could replace the existing 1,000-watt transmitter with a 5,000-watt model.

"This is significant improvement to this station," he said.

He expects the deal with Mediatrix to close in a few weeks.

Last year, Jorgenson lined up a deal to sell the station to another religious media outlet, Faith Broadcasting Corp. The proposed $650,000 sale eventually unraveled.

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572 or