When snow falls in the nation’s capital, it’s like manna from heaven for local news teams.
Last week’s onslaught of ice and sleet sent viewers to their TV sets in force. It was a perfect storm for ratings-conscious news departments.
“When you have major weather events like this, you have your chance to either shine or stink,” said Doug Hill, WJLA-TV (Channel 7) chief meteorologist. “It’s my chance to get on with our team and use our experience and technology. This is what I’m here for.”
On Valentine’s Day morning, the ABC affiliate used a tag-team approach with Brian van de Graaff in the studio and Adam Caskey navigating the streets in the “ABC 7 Storm Chaser,” a Hummer H2. Because temperatures varied across the city, the WJLA’s “WeatherBug Network” of some 650 local weather stations helped the team monitor regional discrepancies in storm conditions, Mr. Hill said.
“Weather is the number one reason people watch news,” observed Katherine Green, news director at WTTG-TV (Channel 5). In addition to supplying the nuts and bolts of school closings and forecasts, the Fox station ran segments dealing with ice, such as one feature that tested 14 different de-icing products.
The station’s Web site recorded more than a million visits last week, most of which were driven by weather, Ms. Green noted. “The thing that’s wonderful about the Web is the delivery technology. We can expand our reach by having people send us photos from all over the market.”
At WUSA-TV (Channel 9), chief meteorologist Topper Shutt said the weather team knew by that Saturday the coming storm was going to be an ice storm and not snow. “I think we were ahead of the curve,” he said, adding that whether “people remember whose forecast was whose” is another question.
The CBS affiliate distinguished itself by adding detail, Mr. Shutt said. “I don’t mind educating the viewers. We talked about why, when it was snowing on Tuesday at 40 degrees, it was going to be sleeting at 20 degrees on Wednesday.”
Bob Ryan, chief meteorologist at WRC-TV (Channel 4), said last week’s weather was particularly difficult to predict, and in such situations a forecaster’s credibility really matters.
“I think the main thing that we try to do — and I’m sure everybody tries to do — is give people as much information as possible to help them make a decision,” Mr. Ryan observed. “I can use all of the different whistles and bells and things and have spinning maps, but if somebody sitting at home says ‘Wait a second now, what’s going to happen where I am?’ it means I haven’t done my job.”
As for the ratings war among the key demographic of people 25 to 54 during three major newscasts:
6 a.m.: WRC-TV (Channel 4) had a 3.5 rating/20 share; WJLA-TV (Channel 7) had 3.3/19; WTTG-TV Channel 5) had 2.3/13; and WUSA-TV (Channel 9) had 2.1/12.
5 p.m.: WRC had 4.4/14; WJLA had 3.4/11; WUSA had 1.8/6; and WTTG had 1.5/5.
11 p.m.: WRC had 5.5/17; WTTG had 3.2/10; WJLA had 2.6/8; and WUSA had 1.2/4.
35 years for J.C.
Congratulations go out to WUSA’s J.C. Hayward, who marks her 35th year at the CBS affiliate today.
Ms, Hayward, who anchors the station’s noon newscast, was the first female news anchor in the Washington area.
Channel Surfing runs on Wednesdays. Call 202/636-3139 or e-mail krowland@washing tontimes.com.