- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Nothing drives up television ratings in the Washington area like a good snowfall, and the storm that blew into town Monday was no exception. It gave everyone a little something to crow about.

Take the region’s top-rated station, WRC-TV (Channel 4). The NBC affiliate took to the airwaves at 4:30 a.m. Monday, a half-hour earlier than usual, and provided marathon coverage of school closings, traffic reports and weather updates until 11 a.m., pre-empting much of the network’s “Today” show.

On average, about 153,800 local households tuned into WRC during that 6-hour period, making it the most-watched station in the morning, according to Nielsen Media Research Inc.

WRC’s viewership peaked at 7:30 a.m., when about 262,400 households tuned in to anchors Barbara Harrison, Joe Krebs and forecaster Tom Kierein — all of whom, by the way, celebrate 10 years on the morning shift next month.

Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5) and CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9) duked it out for second place in the morning.

Bringing up the rear: ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7), which introduced its new morning-anchor team — Doug McKelway and Alison Starling — just last week.

Scrappy WJLA might have finished last overall, but it gets bragging rights for getting on the air first. Mr. McKelway and Miss Starling went on camera at 4 a.m., a half-hour before WRC and WUSA.

WJLA drew about 55,600 households, besting a rerun of “MASH” on WTTG and the overnight network news programs on WRC and WUSA.

The snow kept many viewers indoors Monday, which also drove up ratings for the afternoon and evening news programs.

“USA Tonight,” WUSA’s 7 p.m. newscast, scored the highest ratings since its September 2003 debut, according to the station.

The half-hour program devoted much of its coverage to the storm and drew 149,000 households, a third-place finish behind “NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw” on WRC and “Wheel of Fortune” on WJLA.

At 10 p.m., WTTG’s news crushed its network competition.

WTTG drew about 280,200 households, compared with about 175,700 for “CSI: Miami” on WUSA, 140,100 for “Average Joe: Hawaii” on WRC and about 110,000 for the last hour of the movie “Armageddon” on WJLA.

Topper’s back

It’s not a snowstorm in Washington without WUSA chief meteorologist Topper Shutt, who is known for staying at the station’s Broadcast House studios round-the-clock during the big snowfalls.

But the marathon man was uncharacteristically absent from the local airwaves when the first flakes started falling late Sunday.

It turns out that Mr. Shutt was vacationing in Vail, Colo., with his wife and children. He cut the trip short early yesterday, when he hopped the first available plane back to the Washington area.

Mr. Shutt arrived at Broadcast House shortly before 4 p.m. yesterday, just in time for a WUSA special on the storm.

“It was only four or five inches [of snow in the Washington area], but I was bummed that I missed it,” Mr. Shutt said.

Channel Surfing runs Wednesdays. Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or e-mail cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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