- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

Clear Channel Communications Inc., the region's largest radio group, is attempting to boost ratings at two of its flagship stations with new morning teams, including one duo it hopes to transform into national stars.

Gary Murphy and Jessica Cash, morning hosts at country music station WMZQ (98.7 FM) since 1995, moved to oldies station WBIG (100.3 FM) yesterday. Ben Campbell and Brian Egan, two Phoenix DJs, became the new morning team at WMZQ.

In an unusual move, Mr. Murphy and Ms. Cash started their morning program at WMZQ yesterday before turning the show over to their replacements. They then marched down the hall of Clear Channel's Rockville complex to the WBIG studios, where they began their new gig.

"This was an opportunity to give WBIG a very talented, successful morning show, while bringing some exciting new talent into this market," said Bennett A. Zier, a Clear Channel executive vice president in charge of 26 stations in the Mid-Atlantic region, including eight in the Washington area.

The company plans to syndicate Mr. Campbell and Mr. Egan's show, Mr. Zier said.

Although WBIG fares well in most time periods, it struggles during morning drive, a lucrative time slot for radio because it attracts the most listeners. To make room for Mr. Murphy and Ms. Cash, Clear Channel fired previous WBIG morning man Dave Adler.

WBIG was ranked 10th by all listeners weekday mornings in the winter, according to the most recent Arbitron ratings. It also ranked 10th among its target audience, listeners ages 25 to 54.

The Washington area has 31 major radio stations.

WMZQ tied with ABC-owned pop music station WRQX (107.3 FM) for eighth place in mornings in the winter Arbitron ratings. Among its target audience, listeners ages 25 to 54, WMZQ ranked sixth.

The station's numbers have faded from its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, although ratings for Mr. Murphy and Ms. Cash's show stayed strong.

The morning team switch comes as the stations like broadcasters everywhere struggle to recover from the recession. Both stations generated from $19 million to $21 million in revenue last year, although their revenue was down from 2000, media research group BIA Financial Network Inc. said.

Mr. Murphy and Ms. Cash say they don't plan to change much about their show despite the move to WBIG. It will still feature family-friendly banter, but they won't interview the musicians WBIG features, since many are no more.

"That's what we're going to miss. It's not like we can call up John Lennon and talk to him about his latest single," Mr. Murphy said.

Moving a morning show from one radio station to another is risky, said Mark R. Fratrik, vice president of BIA. There is no guarantee WMZQ fans will follow Mr. Murphy and Ms. Cash to WBIG.

"Murphy and Cash is a successful morning show. Why risk moving them and possibly weakening WMZQ?" Mr. Fratrik said.

But if the switch works, Clear Channel could create a new revenue stream by syndicating Mr. Campbell and Mr. Egan's show, essentially turning them into a country version of national radio stars such as Russ Parr and Howard Stern.

Clear Channel plucked Mr. Campbell and Mr. Egan from Phoenix, where they hosted a popular country radio show. They are known for their chemistry, as well as Mr. Campbell's celebrity impressions.

Eventually, the company wants to syndicate the duo to stations across the nation. About 50 to 60 stations could sign up in the first year, according to Jeff Wyatt, vice president of operations for the local Clear Channel stations.

The program will retain a local flavor once it becomes a national show, but with the added exposure through syndication, it probably would land major country stars for in-studio interviews.

WMZQ targets listeners 25 to 54, but there is one person outside that demographic whom Mr. Campbell and Mr. Egan are desperate to hold on to: President Bush, who is 56.

A recent NBC News special showed the president exercising at the White House while the Alan Jackson song "Chattahoochee" played on a radio in the background. Mr. Campbell figures the station was probably tuned to WMZQ.

The president's father also was an WMZQ fan when he occupied the White House.

"If we could get George W. to call into the show that would be cool," Mr. Campbell said.

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