- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

The Washington area’s TV chopper wars continued this week when WUSA-TV (Channel 9) introduced its first helicopter, Sky 9, just in time for the February ratings sweep.

WUSA will use the helicopter’s services primarily to report on traffic. Metro Networks, the region’s largest traffic news provider, owns the chopper, which all-news station WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) also uses to cover traffic.

Sky 9 is the region’s third TV news helicopter. NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) operates Chopper 4; WTTG-TV (Channel 5), the local Fox affiliate, has Sky Fox.

WJLA-TV (Channel 7), which rented a helicopter it called “Chopper 7” for the November ratings sweep, may lease one again, a spokeswoman for the ABC affiliate said.

WUSA’s helicopter isn’t a stunt for the February sweep that begins tomorrow, said Darryll Green, general manager. The station plans to keep the chopper around permanently, he said.

“It gives us the ability to improve our traffic coverage. We’ll get better shots and be able to get information quicker to the viewer,” Mr. Green said. It may use the chopper to cover some news stories, too, he said.

WTTG became the first station in town with a full-time helicopter when it introduced Sky Fox several years ago. WRC followed in April 2002 with Chopper 4, which distinguished itself by covering breaking news, not just traffic.

In January, for example, WRC used Chopper 4 to report on the big tanker fire along Interstate 95, a sailboat that got stuck in the Potomac River and a mobile home that exploded in Front Royal, Va.

Most big-city TV stations have operated helicopters for years. Local executives say Washington has gotten into the game late, in part because it can cost as much as $1 million to operate a news chopper and because heavy air restrictions that have been in place in downtown Washington since September 11, 2001.

Ratings roundup I

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a January sweep.

The annual 28-day ratings period ends today. Most stations don’t pay much attention to the January book, choosing to focus on the sweeps in November, February and May.

Still, the January numbers give us a clue how the stations will perform in February.

As usual, WRC led the key races during the first 26 days of the January book, according to Nielsen Media Research. Weeknights at 11, for example, WRC averaged 208,000 households, followed by WUSA with 151,000 households and WJLA with 102,000 households.

WTTG averaged 171,000 households weeknights at 10.

Weekdays at 5 p.m., WRC led with 146,000 households, followed by WJLA with 110,000 households, WTTG with 100,000 households and WUSA with 83,000 households.

WUSA’s new 7 p.m. newscast finished fourth in its time slot.

Ratings roundup II

More than 1 million households in the Washington area tuned into CBS’ Super Bowl coverage on WUSA Sunday, Nielsen reported. Nationally, the game averaged 89 million viewers. The station also won the late news race Sunday, even though anchor Jennifer Ryan and company didn’t get on the air until almost midnight.

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

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