- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2002

WHUR (96.3 FM) has weathered the storm.And it wasn't a quiet one.The urban music station perhaps best known for "The Original Quiet Storm," a nightly show that features romantic rhythm and blues songs is back near the top of the ratings, almost two years after losing popular morning deejay Tom Joyner to rival WMMJ (102.3 FM).
The defection marked the beginning of a dark period for WHUR, which ruled Washington's airwaves when Mr. Joyner was its morning man. When he left, ratings fell, some advertisers fled and revenue slumped.
Slowly, the station has climbed back.
Between Jan. 3 and March 27, WHUR was ranked No. 4 among Washington's 32 major commercial stations, up from a tie for seventh place one year earlier, according to Arbitron ratings released last month.
Patience has been the key to WHUR's comeback, says Jim Watkins, its longtime general manager.
"It's all about consistency. We didn't panic when we lost Joyner. We stayed the course and listeners responded," he says.
WHUR is the fourth-most popular station among all Washington listeners, but it does best with its target audience, adults between the ages of 25 and 54. Among this group, the station is ranked No. 2, up from seventh place last winter.
Also in the 25-to-54 demographic, WHUR is tied for second place during middays (up from 14th place one year ago), ranked third place during afternoon drive (up from 12th place) and as usual ranked first during evenings, when it airs "The Original Quiet Storm."
The station still has trouble attracting listeners to the morning program that replaced Mr. Joyner's Dallas-based syndicated show. More people listen to radio in the mornings than any other period, making it a crucial time slot for broadcasters.
WHUR's new morning show hosted by John Monds and Sharon "T.C." Pitt is ranked No. 13 among all listeners, up from a tie for 15th place one year ago.
Until last month, the program was also hosted by TV actress and comedienne Mo'Nique Imes-Jackson, who participated in the show from a studio near her home in Tarzana, Calif. (The gig required her to wake up at 2:30 a.m. Pacific time to be heard live in Washington.)
Mr. Watkins won't discuss the reason for Mrs. Imes-Jackson's departure, but he says it was amicable.
Mrs. Imes-Jackson could not be reached for comment.
The WHUR morning show is "a work in progress," Mr. Watkins says. He's happy with the performance of Mr. Monds and Ms. Pitt, and believes more listeners will eventually discover their show.
Still, Mr. Watkins doesn't want to focus too much on morning drive. It's one reason WHUR's new advertising campaign emphasizes the station's music instead of its deejays, he says.
The ads, plastered on buses and Metro station walls across Washington, promote WHUR's mainstream playlist. ("The O-Jays, Not Jay Z" says one ad.)
"We are an adult radio station. We play what our audience wants to hear, not just what the record companies tell us to play," Mr. Watkins says.
Make no mistake: WHUR is old-school radio.
The station is owned by Howard University, and it operates the way many family-owned broadcasters did before they were gobbled up by cost-conscious corporations.
WHUR, for example, still has its own news department. Most corporate-owned music stations buy their news reports from services like Metro Networks and the Associated Press.
WHUR's nightly half-hour newscast, "The Daily Drum," is a well-respected program that draws top newsmakers like D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who guested last week.
The station is also a throwback to radio's old days because its music director, Dave Dickinson, has the freedom to pick the records he puts on the air.
At many stations, corporate bigwigs have stripped music directors of this power. As a result, listeners often complain stations from city to city have a bland, homogenous sound.
"There's a reason our slogan is 'WHUR Sounds Like Washington,'" Mr. Watkins says.
WHUR is owned by the university, but Mr. Watkins says he treats it like "a bona fide business." He says the only distinction is that instead of making money for a corporate parent, WHUR makes money for a school.
The station's annual revenue declined from $22.5 million in 2000 to $17.1 million last year, according to estimates by media research firm BIA Financial Network.
Advertising revenue suffered because of Mr. Joyner's defection, but also because of the national economic recession, which hurt broadcasters everywhere.
WHUR is well-positioned to bounce back from the recession because it is an urban music station, says Mark Fratrik, BIA's research chief.
In recent years, Washington radio has been dominated by a troika of urban music stations: WPGC (95.5 FM), WKYS (93.9 FM) and WMMJ, which has thrived since snaring Mr. Joyner.
"Urban music is clearly the top format in the market, and WHUR is well positioned to take advantage of that," Mr. Fratrik says.

Emmy flap
Some of the folks at Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5) were miffed last week when the station was overlooked for a local Emmy nomination for its on-the-scene reporting of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
This spring, the coverage received an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association trade group.
Meanwhile, newsroom staffers at ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) say they are disappointed "Remembering the Titans," a lovingly produced special on 1970s-era racial integration at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, didn't get a nod.
And there is grumbling in all local TV newsrooms about the sportscast category, where there were six entries but no nominations.
The local chapter of the National Academy for Television Arts and Sciences, which issues the Emmy nominations, stands by its choices.
Fran Murphy, the academy's first vice president, says the choices were made by a panel of well-respected local news professionals from other big cities.
It is "unfortunate" some stations feel slighted, Ms. Murphy says. In WTTG's case, she took a second look at the judges' notes, but found there was "a lack of consensus" for a spot news nomination.
Some TV critics have dismissed the local news Emmys, saying they are meaningless because they sometimes produce multiple winners. The flap should quiet those critics, Ms. Murphy says.
Winners will be announced June 15.

This just in
Tim Brant, who has co-hosted WMAL's morning news with Andy Parks since 1992, surprised listeners Friday when he announced it was his last day with the station. A WMAL spokesman says Mr. Brant chose not to renew his contract. His replacement will be announced soon, the spokesman says.

Got a tip for Channel Surfing? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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