Olympics bring ratings gold to late-night news on WJZ Television: Nielsens show that Nagano coverage helped boost CBS affiliate, but viewers continued to watch even when the games were not on.

On the Air

March 22, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF Staff writer Mark Ribbing contributed to this article.

As expected, Channel 13 took advantage of CBS' Olympics coverage to wrest back the late-night news crown it ceded to cross-town rival Channel 11 almost three years ago.

What wasn't so expected: Even when the Olympics weren't on, more people were watching the 11 p.m. news on WJZ than on WBAL, giving the CBS affiliate its first clear-cut ratings victory at 11 since July 1995.

"A lot of people will say it's an Olympic [ratings] book," WJZ news director Gail Bending acknowledges, "but we continued to do quite nicely outside of the Olympics. I'm not going to argue that some nights the Olympics didn't help us, but if you take them out, we still won."

The Nielsen numbers for February have WJZ's late-night news -- which often began after the scheduled 11 p.m. start -- averaging some 18,000 more viewers than WBAL. For the month, WJZ finished with an 11.8 rating (each rating point equals about 9,800 viewing households), compared with 9.9 for WBAL and 6.3 for WMAR.

Taking out the nights when Olympics competition aired, WJZ still comes out on top. According to WJZ researcher Chris Mecchi, his station's 11 p.m. news earned an 11.2 rating, compared with 10.4 for WBAL and 6.2 for WMAR.

The folks at WBAL, however, downplay WJZ's victory -- it would never have happened without the Olympics, they note, predicting a return to the top for their news come May sweeps -- and trumpet their own numbers for the month.

"Given that it was an Olympics month, our performance was still pretty extraordinary," says WBAL programming chief Emerson Coleman, citing his station's victory at 5 p.m. and virtual tie at 6. "Based on that, we have every reason to believe that we're going to begin an even longer winning streak at 11 p.m. once we get to May."

Bending, however, is cautiously optimistic that the momentum will stay with WJZ.

"I want and hope that we will continue this success for May [sweeps]," Bending says. "Our goal -- and my expectation -- is that we will continue to win in May."

WJZ eked out an 11.4 vs. 11.2 victory at 6 p.m. (their positions were reversed in November, when WBAL emerged on top for the first time since 1978), and WBAL won handily at 5 p.m., 10.3 vs. 8.6. WMAR continued to finish third in both time slots, with a 5.8 rating at 5 and a 6.1 at 6 p.m.

WJZ continues as the overall news leader, thanks largely to its dominance in the early morning (an 8.1 rating at 6 a.m., compared with 5.3 for WBAL and 2.5 for WMAR) and at noon, where it better-than-doubles the competition's numbers (9.1, vs. 4.2 for WBAL and 3.4 for WMAR's 11 a.m. news).

For the month, the news at WJZ averaged an 8.8 rating, compared with 6.9 for WBAL and 4.4 for WMAR.

Hearst looks for exit

New York-based Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. is continuing to entertain offers for its two Baltimore radio stations, WBAL-AM (1090) and WIYY-FM (97.9).

David Barrett, the company's executive vice president and chief operating officer, acknowledged this week that the two stations, "over the long term probably won't fit into our plans. Long-term, we're looking to focus our broadcasting operations on the television side."

WBAL and WIYY are the last two radio stations owned by Hearst, which as recently as last year also operated stations in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. The company, however, traded those operations for a television station in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Besides enlarging Hearst's television holdings, the trade -- as opposed to sale -- allowed the company to avoid paying taxes on the transaction.

"People are assuming that's what we're going to do with our Baltimore stations," said Barrett, a former vice president and general manager of WBAL and WIYY, "but we're going to keep our options open. They're very strong-performing stations, and we're very happy with them. There's nothing imminent."

Some potential new owners for the station include CBS, Dallas-based Capstar, New York-based Chancellor and Covington, Ky.-based Jacor. Should Hearst decide to sell the stations, it could turn around and use the money in a deal with St. Louis-based Pulitzer Publishing, which announced last month that it was seeking a buyer for its broadcasting arm, which includes nine television and five radio stations.

The sale of WBAL and WIYY could add to what already looks like a topsy-turvy year for local radio. The sale of American Radio Systems, whose stations include WQSR-FM (105.7) and WWMX-FM (106.5), to CBS is expected to become final sometime in the spring. And the sale of WPOC-FM (93.1) to Jacor could be finalized in late spring or early summer.

Second movie for Kinsolving

Is the world really ready for Les Kinsolving, actor?

The ever-erudite Kinsolving, who can be heard weekdays on WCBM-AM from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., has been cast in "Joan of Arc," a film being shot in Europe beginning in May.

The film reunites the Baltimore talk-radio host with director Ronald Maxwell, who cast Kinsolving in an earlier film, "Gettysburg," as a Confederate general.

Kinsolving will join acknowledged Thespian Albert Finney as members of the Holy Inquisition (they were not terribly kind to Joan). His scenes are slated to be filmed in Lisbon in August -- during which the ever-opportunistic Kinsolving will broadcast his show live from Portugal.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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