- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

It’s the season for Channel Surfing to reward the Washington area’s television and radio stations for good behavior — and to wag a finger at those who let us down.

Best station: WRC-TV (Channel 4). Much credit is given to the NBC affiliate’s solid anchor lineup, but you can’t overlook its top-notch team of reporters. WRC is the only station in town that has a beat system and sticks to it, whether it’s Tom Sherwood at City Hall, Pat Collins on crime or I.J. Hudson on technology. Other stations show sporadic flashes of brilliance, but WRC is consistently good, day in and day out.

Worst station: WAMU-FM (88.5) — behind the scenes, at least. The financial and morale problems at the American University-owned National Public Radio affiliate have left a sour taste in the mouths of many listeners. But kudos to WAMU’s beleaguered staff, who churn out solid programming every day despite all the drama playing out backstage.

Best new show (with reservations): “USA Tonight” on WUSA-TV (Channel 9).

On the one hand, the CBS affiliate deserves much praise for taking the high road with its 7 p.m. newscast, which features sly commentary from host Derek McGinty and some of the most inventive reporting on local television today. On the other hand, there’s far too much yakking on each show. Mr. McGinty is a fine interviewer, but if viewers at that hour want to see an anchorman chatting up one guest after another, they’ll switch over to Jim Lehrer.

Best anchor: Washington is blessed with seasoned pros like Gordon Peterson, who just keeps getting better. But for his graceful delivery and reassuring presence, we’re giving this year’s nod to Doug McKelway of ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7), a smart newsman and native Washingtonian who deserves better than the weekend gig on WJLA and sister cable network NewsChannel 8.

Best moves: WJLA was smart to hire the classy Leon Harris away from CNN. And if WUSA pulls it off, luring Tracey Neale away from Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5) will be the biggest coup since WJLA landed Maureen Bunyan five years ago.

Worst moves: WUSA’s disappearing icons. In the last year, Channel 9 let three stalwarts — reporter Mike Buchanan, sportscaster Ken Mease and announcer Mike Lewis — slip away. Broadcast House just isn’t the same without them. And while we’re on the subject, how did WJLA allow Del Walters — the last of the great local investigative reporters — get away?

Worst scheduling: Talk-radio station WTNT-AM (570) airs six straight hours of syndicated talker Michael Savage weeknights at 7. A bit excessive, don’t you think?

Best newcomer: Brian van de Graaff, WJLA’s morning weathercaster. This guy is such a natural, it makes you wonder why the station waited almost a year before giving him the job.

Best rising star: Reporter Eun Yang, who joined WRC in 2002 and already has become one of its best storytellers. Said anchor Jim Vance: “If I was Katie Couric, I’d be worried that there is somebody in Washington named Eun Yang. That’s how good that girl is. She’s awesome.” Who are we to argue with Mr. Vance?

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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