Thorner's No. 2 so far battle rages for 5 p.m.

January 25, 1994|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

As icy weather trapped people at home this month, more viewers than expected have been sampling the local TV news competition at 5 p.m. weekdays.

Three weeks after the debut of the new "Eyewitness News at Five" with anchor Sally Thorner on WJZ, Channel 13, the more established "NewsChannel 2 First at Five" broadcast of WMAR, Channel 2, leads the Nielsen ratings.

From Jan. 3 to last Friday, WMAR's broadcast with anchors Stan Stovall and Mary Beth Marsden averaged a 14.6 rating/28 share. WJZ's new broadcast, with Ms. Thorner and Sandra Pinckney, averaged an 11.3 rating/19 share. (One ratings point equals about 9,400 area homes, and the share is the percentage of viewers watching.)

"Donahue," at 5 p.m. on WBAL, Channel 11, averaged an 8.9 rating/16 share.

WJZ has won the day only twice so far: the Jan. 3 debut of the new show, and on Jan. 17, the day of the Los Angeles earthquake, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and predictions of freezing rain in Baltimore.

Ms. Thorner previously was an anchor on WMAR. She was hired away by WJZ in late 1992 for a reported $250,000 annual salary. A "non-compete" clause in her WMAR contract kept her off the air for a year.

"We never expected that out of the box we should blow past them," said WJZ General Manager Marcellus Alexander. But, he said, the ratings of the new show "exceeded our expectations . . . and it is clear that competition is bringing new viewers to the set at that hour."

A year ago, he noted, WMAR's sole 5 p.m. newscast was averaging a 19 rating. So far this month, the total news audience between WMAR and WJZ has been almost a 27 rating. "Frankly, I thought it [the ratings race] was going to be a little closer right now," said Jack Cahalan, news director of WMAR.

He said the numbers show "we have not lost any audience" after the initial sampling of the new WJZ program. "We're extremely pleased where we are. Whoever was out there considering watching them [WJZ] has had a chance to do so now."

Both station officials noted they view the 5 p.m. hour as a long-term competition.

Mr. Cahalan also said the larger news audience at 5 o'clock may be explained by the weather. "I think this week we'll start seeing a smaller total audience," he said.

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