- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

WUSA-TV (Channel 9) has struggled in the evening news ratings despite strong lead-ins from highly rated CBS shows, but a string of recent scoops and the hiring of an experienced marketing director have the Gannett-owned station’s managers thinking big.

WUSA News Director Randal Stanley outlined some of the station’s best work in recent weeks:

• Last week’s exclusive about a detailed White House travel schedule that ended up in the hands of a local sanitation worker was picked up by CBS News, CNN and other news organizations.

Yvette Cade, the Prince George’s County woman set on fire by her husband, gave her first national interview to Oprah Winfrey, but WUSA reporter Emily Schmidt got the only local follow-up.

The station’s Web site was first to report the crash and controversy involving Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat, who has since checked himself into the Mayo Clinic.

Sports director Brett Haber was first to name the Lerner family as the new owners of the Washington Nationals, prompting other networks and Major League Baseball to challenge the story that turned out to be true.

But solid reporting and storytelling does not mean much if no one is watching, and the new marketing director, Stephen Houk, said he intends to trumpet WUSA’s strengths to the public.

Mr. Houk, a 23-year veteran of the TV business and Emmy award winner, served as vice president of creative services at WTTG-TV (Channel 5) from 2001 to 2005, and most recently as an executive writer/producer for a newly created production unit of American Forces Radio and Television based in Alexandria. He was hired by WUSA after a six-month search and he started this week.

“I’m thrilled. The timing couldn’t be better,” Mr. Houk said. “Every station needs work, but they have some very, very positive momentum going on over there right now.”

Mr. Houk said he wants to make WUSA more dynamic from a promotional and marketing sense through the introduction of a new branding statement and marketing hook within the next couple of months.

“With the people they have on board and the momentum they have going, all the pieces are in the right place,” he added.

General Manager Darryll Green said the station will not be satisfied until it is No. 1 in the market. And while that appears to be a long way off, as WUSA normally finishes last in the local news ratings, Channel 9 thinks this May “sweep” will bring some more viewers along.

Redskins Radio

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s Red Zebra Broadcasting has purchased three local stations to air team games and has acquired ESPN programming rights, but still lacks a firm start date and schedule.

Bennett Zier, Red Zebra’s chief executive, last month told us that all programming decisions and a start date for Redskins Radio would be announced by early May, but that deadline has passed.

“We have contract obligations on the other side that we’re honoring,” giving future Red Zebra employees time to inform other employers, Mr. Zier said yesterday. He did not say when a start date or on-air talent decisions would be announced.

Mr. Snyder purchased three local Spanish-language stations — WBPS-FM (94.3), WBZS-FM (92.7) and WKDL-AM (730) — to air Redskins’ games.

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