- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

More Washington-area radio listeners tuned into news stations at the height of the sniper shootings than they did during fall 2001, when the terrorist attacks and anthrax coverage dominated the airwaves, according to Arbitron Inc. ratings released yesterday.
All-news station WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) drew the largest audience for a fall ratings period in its history from Sept. 19 to Dec. 11. The station tied with urban music broadcaster WMMJ-FM (102.3) for second place among listeners 12 and older.
Another urban station, WPGC-FM (95.5), ranked first among the 36 local stations.
"We certainly got a boost from the sniper coverage, but we've been going up every fall since 1999," said Jim Farley, WTOP's vice president of news and programming.
The 22-day shooting spree began Oct. 2. Other big stories during the fall were the Nov. 5 election and an early-December snowstorm.
WMAL-AM (630), a news-and-talk station that has suffered in the ratings recently, got a fall boost. It ranked ninth, up from 13th during fall 2001. It was WMAL's best fall performance since 1998.
WTOP was the top-rated station during morning drive, 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., the most lucrative time slot because it draws the most listeners.
WMAL tied with urban station WKYS-FM (93.9) for fifth place in the mornings, up from 10th place during fall 2001. It was the first full ratings period for "The WMAL Morning News" since its July debut.
Andy Parks, Bill Press and Jane Norris are the program's hosts, and it emphasizes news and political debate.
"Clearly, the performance of the new morning show can't be attributed to just one particular story. It also shows people are embracing the changes we've made," said Chris Berry, WMAL's president and general manager.
Still, the morning program is evolving, he said, adding that it may require "polishing."
Other stations that tweaked their morning lineups during the summer suffered in the fall.
In July, Clear Channel Communications Inc. shipped Gary Murphy and Jessica Cash, the morning team at its country music station, WMZQ-FM (98.7), to its oldies station, WBIG-FM (100.3). Newcomers Ben Campbell and Brian Egan replaced Mr. Murphy and Ms. Cash at WMZQ.
Ratings for both stations slipped. WBIG fell from seventh place to a tie with jazz station WJZW-FM (105.9) for 11th in the morning, while WMZQ dropped from 13th place to a tie with adult pop music station WWZZ-FM (104.1) for 15th place.
Clear Channel executives said they expected the drop, adding that it could take as long as two years for listeners to adjust to the changes.

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