WJZ-TV dethroned as morning news leader

February 04, 2005|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

For the first time in two decades, WJZ-TV (Channel 13) is not the leader in morning news. Baltimore's new favorite station to wake up to is WBAL-TV (Channel 11), with its team of Stan Stovall, Mindy Basara, Neal Estano and Sarah Caldwell.

The end of the morning reign of WJZ's Don Scott and Marty Bass is the big news of the January Nielsen ratings race, which ended this week. WBAL didn't beat WJZ by much in the morning - 20 percent vs. 17 percent of the audience from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m., and 24 percent vs. 22 percent from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. But Bill Fine, president of WBAL, is right in calling the win a "historic moment" for WBAL.

"We are fully realizing that this is just one ratings book," Fine said yesterday. "But it wasn't a book where there was any stunting [special programming]. It was everyone's best effort day in and day out, and it was the first book that had somebody besides WJZ as No. 1 in the morning. That someone was WBAL, and that was the one piece of the code [mornings] that we had been unable to crack."

Jay Newman, WJZ's vice president, acknowledged WBAL's win in morning ratings, but stressed how competitive Baltimore's two dominant news stations remain: "Having two strong stations that are both very competitive in many day parts means that the competition will only get more aggressive. And that's a good thing, because more competition means better on-air product, and that benefits viewers."

The only news period during weekdays that WBAL didn't win during the month was noon. But WJZ was competitive, especially at 11 p.m., where the audience share was 22 percent vs. 20 percent.

WBAL wasn't even a player in the morning-news battle until 1990, when it launched a 30-minute broadcast at 6 a.m. weekdays. The audience for that first morning show was barely large enough to register in the Nielsen survey. The station went to one hour in 1991 and to the current two-hour configuration in 1998.

The major sweeps ratings months are November, February and May. The February audience survey started yesterday.

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