- The Washington Times - Friday, November 23, 2001

September 11 may not be the day the music died, but it has come pretty close.

At least on the radio.

Since the terrorist attacks, news and talk stations' ratings have soared while the audience for many music stations has shrunk. In Washington and other cities, low-key newsreaders talking about the attacks, the war in Afghanistan and anthrax have replaced overcaffeinated disc jockeys as the rulers of the airwaves.

"When there is breaking news, people want that information right away. And there's been a lot of breaking news lately," said Jim Farley, vice president of news and programming for WTOP, an all-news station that broadcasts on both the AM and FM bands in Washington.

WTOP climbed from a 4.6 share in fall 2000 to a 5.4 share between July 26 and Oct. 18, the most recent ratings period measured by the Arbitron Inc. ratings service.

A share measures the number of people who listen to a station and the time they spend listening.

The station's morning anchors, Richard Day and Mike Moss, now attract a bigger audience than stalwart DJs like Howard Stern and Jack Diamond, Arbitron said.

WTOP is tied with urban-music station WMMJ-FM for third place in the fall ratings race. Last spring, Arbitron ranked WTOP No. 8 among Washington's 33 commercial stations.

In other cities, news and talk stations have climbed to the top of the heap.

All-news station KYW-AM in Philadelphia leaped from a 6.2 share last fall to an 8 share during the first weeks of the fall 2001 period. Detroit's WJR-AM, which carries the Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schlesinger talk shows, rose from a 5.7 share in fall 2000 to a 6.7 share during the first fall weeks of this season.

"There are clear signs that news stations are benefiting in the aftermath of September 11," said Tom Taylor, editor of M Street Daily, an industry newsletter.

News and talk stations often experience a ratings spike after a big story breaks, but the numbers usually fade as events wind down, Mr. Taylor said.

The September 11 attacks, though, have produced a steady stream of material for news operations, including the anthrax scares and the war.

Not all news stations have received a ratings boost, and not all music stations have seen a drop. In Washington, for example, WTOP's numbers are up, but ratings for competing news station WMAL are down slightly this fall.

Some listeners, meanwhile, say they want a respite from the news.

Andrew J. Scott, a transportation planner for the state of Maryland, listened to both music and talk radio during his daily commute.

He turned to news exclusively after September 11.

"After a while, it was too much. You'd start and end the day with an endless stream of depressing news. Now, I'll listen just long enough to hear of any major developments," he said.

Big ratings can boost a station's bottom line. Stations with higher ratings can charge advertisers higher ad rates than stations with smaller audiences.

"Advertisers are simple people. They chase audiences," said James B. Boyle, an analyst with Wachovia Securities Inc.

The heightened interest in news has also made it easier for some public radio stations to raise money from their listeners. WAMU-FM, a news-and-talk public station in Washington, attracted between 8,000 and 9,000 new contributors during this year's fall fund-raising drive.

"So many nonprofits have struggled since September 11. We see the success of this year's membership drive as an affirmation of what we're doing," said Mark McDonald, WAMU's program director.

The station once supplemented its news programs with bluegrass music but recently switched to its all-news-and-talk format. Since September 11, WAMU has added two news reporters and started an hourly, 21/2-minute news update to its schedule, Mr. McDonald said.

The attacks also have reinvigorated talk radio, which has drifted since the end of President Clinton's scandal-ridden administration.

"People want to talk about this war. Talk radio provides an important forum for Americans," said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, an industry trade magazine.

The news-and-talk radio boomlet has also opened the door for a new wave of radio stars. ABC Radio rushed a new talk show hosted by TV newsman Sam Donaldson onto the airwaves Sept. 24. Another TV host, Bill O'Reilly, reportedly wants a talk-radio show to go up against Mr. Limbaugh.

Music stations, in the meantime, aren't ignoring the news junkies.

Most music stations shed their news departments during the budget-conscious early 1990s. Those stations were caught off guard September 11 and were forced to simulcast TV news reports in the hours after the attacks.

But since September 11, many stations have signed up for syndicated news services, Mr. Taylor said. The Associated Press broadcast division said at least 45 music stations have signed up for its service, which includes pre-packaged news reports and the ability to tap AP's live coverage of breaking stories.

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