- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

Talk radio station WMAL-AM (630) came back to life in the spring, especially during middays, when it zoomed into first place, according to Arbitron Inc. ratings released yesterday.

As usual, urban music stations, such as WPGC-FM (95.5) and WMMJ-FM (102.3), and all-news broadcaster WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) dominated the spring ratings race, which took place March 27 through June 18.

WMAL, a once-mighty station that has struggled in recent years, recorded some of the greatest gains. The ABC-owned broadcaster is the local home of syndicated talkers Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, whose programs probably benefited from strong interest in the war in Iraq, executives said.

WMAL was the seventh most-popular station overall among listeners 12 and older, up from 15th place in spring last year.

It tied for sixth place during the morning drive with another ABC station, adult pop music outlet WRQX-FM (107.3), up from 11th place a year earlier. During the afternoon drive, when WMAL airs Mr. Hannity’s program, the station ranked fifth, up from a 12th place tie in spring last year.

WMAL was the top-rated station weekdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. It had been placed 12th a year earlier. During middays, WMAL carries Mr. Limbaugh’s program and “The Dr. Laura Show,” although the latter frequently was pre-empted for Sam Donaldson’s syndicated program.

“I think the growth that we have seen across the dial indicates that people aren’t interested in just hearing the day’s headlines; they also want a more in-depth discussion of the issues,” said Chris J. Berry, WMAL’s president and general manager.

Mr. Berry joined WMAL in December and is credited with putting the station back on track after years of drifting. In June, he dumped the much-panned “WMAL Morning News” and teamed longtime host Andy Parks with Fred Grandy, a former actor and politician.

As usual, the top five stations among listeners 12 and older in the spring were WPGC, WTOP, WMMJ and two other urban music broadcasters, WHUR-FM (96.3) and WKYS-FM (93.9).

Among listeners between 25 and 54, the demographic that advertisers prize most, the top five stations were WTOP, WPGC, WMMJ, WHUR and WJFK-FM (106.7), an Infinity Broadcasting Corp. station that carries syndicated talkers Howard Stern and Bill O’Reilly and the locally produced “Don and Mike Show” and “Ron and Fez Show.”

WTOP scored the highest ratings in its history, according to Jim Farley, its vice president of news and programming. The station, which is owned by Bonneville International Corp., was the top-rated station among listeners 25 and 54 during morning and afternoon drive and during middays.

“We’re getting our listeners into the habit of tuning us in all day,” Mr. Farley said. WTOP recently began promoting its special morning and afternoon reports throughout the day.

Ben Campbell and Brian Egan, the new morning hosts at country music station WMZQ-FM (98.7), owned by Clear Channel Communications, continued to gain listeners in the spring, as did their counterparts at oldies station WBIG-FM (100.3), Gary Murphy and Jessica Cash.

Another Clear Channel outlet, soft rock station WASH-FM (97.1), dipped in several time slots.

At Infinity-owned rock station WHFS-FM (99.1), the new “Sports Junkies” morning drive program ranked fifth among its target audience, men between 18 and 34, up from 14th place in spring last year.

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