- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

The anemic ad market has forced many TV stations to postpone plans to expand their news programming, but at least one Washington broadcaster is bucking the trend.
WJLA-TV (Channel 7) will revive its old weekday noon newscast this fall. The half-hour show will go head to head to with newscasts on WUSA-TV (Channel 9) and WTTG-TV (Channel 5).
"There is still an audience for news at that time of the day," says Chris Pike, WJLA's president and general manager.
The ABC affiliate currently airs the syndicated "Inside Edition" magazine show at noon, but it generally trails the WUSA and WTTG newscasts in the ratings. WJLA believes it will be more competitive with its own news show.
It also hopes a local newscast will do a better job of holding onto viewers of the station's popular late-morning lineup, which includes talk shows "Live with Regis and Kelly" and "The View."
WJLA's noon show will feature the station's morning news team, led by anchor Don Hudson and meteorologist Alexandra Steele. The station is also seeking a co-anchor for Mr. Hudson; his last partner, Carol Costello, left late last year for CNN Headline News.
WJLA, owned by Washington banking magnate Joe L. Allbritton, will hire a producer for the show and a few other behind-the-scenes staffers, Mr. Pike says. Mr. Allbritton is also building a new studio for the station in Arlington, which is expected to open this summer.
WJLA hasn't had a noon newscast in at least 15 years. It is getting back in the game at a time when other broadcasters have grown skittish about local news, once considered the sacred cash cow of the TV business.
The Tribune Co., which owns WBDC-TV (Channel 50), Washington's WB affiliate, had hoped to start a local news operaton this year or next. But the recession "has sort of put the kibosh on that," says Jerry Martin, the station's general manager.
It will probably be a few years before WBDC has a newsroom up and running, Mr. Martin says.
Fox affiliate WTTG, in the meantime, flirted with the idea of starting a 5 p.m. newscast last year but balked when the economy nose-dived and companies cut back on advertising, according to knowledgable sources. A station spokeswoman would not comment on those reports.
In other cities, broadcasters are getting out of the local news business altogether.
In the last four months, Hunt Valley, Md.-based Sinclair Broadcast Group has closed newsrooms at its ABC affiliates in St. Louis, the nation's 22nd-largest market, and Winston-Salem, N.C., the 44th. (Washington is the eighth-largest TV market.)
But don't sound the death knell for local news just yet, says Bob Papper, a Ball State University telecommunications professor who helps conduct an annual study on TV newsroom profitability. Local news generally accounts for 40 percent of a network-affiliated station's revenue, he says.
"There isn't any real evidence that local news is going to go away. I remember in the '70s and '80s when they said the big networks were going to die. And they're still in business," Mr. Papper says.

Sweet sweep for WRC
To the surprise of absolutely no one, WRC-TV (Channel 4) is handily beating its competitors in the February ratings sweep.
Sweeps are the quarterly periods when TV broadcasters try to boost viewership so they can charge advertisers more money for airtime. This month's sweep began Jan. 31 and concludes Feb. 27.
WRC, the local NBC affiliate, has gotten a big boost in February from the network's Olympics coverage. Not that the station needed it: WRC is Washington's longtime ratings champ, thanks to the strength of its local news operation and NBC's popular prime time schedule.
In the crucial late local news race, WRC has averaged an 8.8 Nielsen rating and a 20 percent audience share during the first two weeks of this sweep. On many nights, the station's 11 p.m. news has aired 30 minutes late because the Olympics coverage has spilled out of the prime time schedule.
As for the competition, the 11 p.m. news on WUSA has averaged a 5 rating and 10 share, the late news on WJLA has a 4.4/9, "Seinfeld" repeats on WTTG have a 3.4/7, and (the Channel Surfer's personal favorite) "Blind Date" has a 1.5/3 on WBDC.
WRC may be leading the pack, but spokeswoman Angela Owens says her station "isn't sitting back and letting the Olympics carry us."
The station has dispatched quirky reporter Pat Collins to Salt Lake City in search of Olympics-related human interest stories, but it has largely focused on the sturm and drang of local news, Ms. Owens says.
WRC has heavily covered the Prince George's County school board soap opera, and it broke the news last week that a tow truck driver had been arrested for driving past a security checkpoint at the Pentagon.
"We're focused on the day to day job of covering the community," Ms. Owens says.

Washington talk radio station WMAL (630 AM) dropped Chris Core's afternoon show last week, but the 25-year station veteran will resurface on its morning lineup Feb. 25.
Mr. Core's show aired weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Last Thursday, ABC-owned WMAL expanded the syndicated "Sean Hannity Show," airing it from 3 to 6 p.m. It had aired from 3 to 5 p.m.
The station also moved "The Victoria Jones Show" to 6 to 9 p.m. It previously aired from 7 to 10 p.m.
Mr. Core began his afternoon show in the 1970s. He was teamed with Bill Trumbull until 1996, when Mr. Trumbull retired and was replaced with Brooke Stevens. Mr. Core went solo when Ms. Stevens left two years ago.
On Feb. 25, Mr. Core will join Tim Brant and Andy Parks as a co-host of WMAL's morning news show, which airs weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. The show, formerly known as "Tim & Andy in the Morning," will be retitled the "WMAL Morning News."
WMAL once ruled Washington's airwaves with legendary morning duo Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver and other popular hosts, but the station's numbers have slipped in recent years.
It is now ranked No. 13 among Washington's 33 commercial radio stations, acccording to the Arbitron ratings service.
Between Sept. 20 and Dec. 12 last year, the station captured 3.3 percent of Washington's radio listeners. Its numbers were down from the comparable period a year earlier, when it tied for 10th place with a 3.6 percent audience share.

Channel Surfing is published every other Monday. Got a tip? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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