In neck-and-neck race for ratings lead Televison: Two stations trade lead on early evening news shows.

WBAL, WJZ

March 09, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

The game remains the same.

The local news rating game, that is.

WBAL, Channel 11, is maintaining its status as king of the hill at 11 p.m. (For the 10th ratings book in a row), while WJZ, Channel 13, remains dominant in the morning and the two continue to slug it out in the early evening.

You'd think that one station would exert its dominance, much as WJZ did for years. But that's not happening -- especially at 5 p.m. weekdays, where the two stations keep trading off the top spot.

"That's about as close a race as you're going to find in decades," says Phil Stoltz, vice president and general manager at WBAL, "especially at 6, where less than a ratings point separates the two stations."

For February, WJZ eked out a victory at 5 p.m. by one-tenth of a ratings point (9.6 vs. 9.5), which translates to about 990 more viewers. At 6 p.m., WJZ earned a 10.9 rating, compared with 10.2 for WBAL and 5.8 for WMAR.

(Interestingly, while WBAL lost the top spot at 5, it gained on WJZ at 6. In the November '96 ratings, Channel 11 lost by two full ratings points to Channel 13; this time, the margin was only seven-tenths of a point.)

Each ratings point equals about 9,900 households. The most important ratings are gathered during the "sweeps" months of February, May and November, when stations use the numbers to set their advertising rates and establish bragging rights.

At 11 p.m., Channel 11 emerged on top once again, this time with a 12.5 rating for its Monday-Sunday newscasts, compared with a 9.9 rating for Channel 13 and 7.2 for WMAR, Channel 2.

As has become customary, the folks at WJZ attributed much of WBAL's 11 p.m. dominance to the success of NBC's prime-time lineup. While CBS has improved its dismal third-place performance of last season, WJZ news director Gail Bending says, its 10 p.m. shows still lag behind the competitions'.

"The challenge for us remains 11 o'clock," Bending says. "We will continue to fight to regain [the top] position. That has been a battlefield for some time. NBC prime continues to chug along very successfully."

WBAL's Stoltz bristles at the suggestion his news is only as successful as the network's lineup.

"We improved on the lead-in from NBC," he says. "There are an awful lot of NBC affiliates who are not No. 1 at 11 o'clock, and are not four ratings points ahead of their competitor. They can't claim it's just NBC."

(Stoltz cites a four-point ratings lead because the numbers used WBAL reflect only Monday-Friday broadcasts, when WBAL won with a 13 rating, compared with 9 for WJZ and 8 for WMAR. As usual, statistics can be interpreted to justify almost any claim.)

The 11 p.m. results were essentially reversed in the mornings, when the team of Don Scott and Marty Bass earned a 7.9 rating from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays, compared with 5.6 for WBAL and 2.9 for WMAR.

The most dominant news program continues to be WJZ's noon weekday news, which attracted more viewers than its two competitors combined. Channel 13 earned a 9.0 rating, compared with 4.2 for WBAL and 3.6 for WMAR.

If past performance is any indication, little will change between now and the next book, although enough variables are being thrown into the mix to make anything possible.

For one, the predictable shake-up at WMAR has started, with a new general manager (who began in October) and news director (who started just two weeks ago). Bet on some serious tinkering.

Two other developments to watch: the impending maternity leave of WBAL evening anchor Marianne Bannister (the folks at Channel 11 have yet to decide who will replace her, or how long she'll be out), and April's scheduled debut of a 6: 30 p.m. newscast on WNUV, Channel 54.

Maybe the combination of all that will finally make things interesting.

Vanishing culture?

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz -- whose book, "The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century," paints a grim picture of the prospects for a continued Jewish cultural presence in this country -- will chat over the airwaves with Zoh Hieronimus Wednesday on WCBM-AM (680).

In his book, Dershowitz notes statistics predicting that half of this country's Jewish population will marry non-Jews, meaning, in his words, "that American Jews will vanish as a distinct cultural group sometime in the next century -- unless we act now."

"The Zoh Show" airs from 9 a.m. to noon.

MPT money

The money continues to roll in at MPT, where the folks seem to have gotten the hang of this pledge-drive fund-raising.

In just the first weekend (last Saturday and Sunday), $140,668 was pledged to the station -- $36,790 during back-to-back showings of "Riverdance" Sunday.

Keep those pledges coming. These folks do good work, and they need the bucks.

'Women in Congress'

"Women In Congress," a four-part look at exactly that, can be heard on Thursday evenings this month on WESM-FM (91.3), the National Public Radio affiliate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

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