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Summer Hits: Snakeheads, Cicadas and Howard Stern

By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page C07

If the summer Arbitron radio ratings tell us anything, it's this: WJFK is really going to miss Howard Stern come 2006, when he jumps to satellite radio.

Stern's summer of rage against President Bush, the Federal Communications Commission and radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications, which dropped him from its stations earlier this year, proved a ratings boon for the raunchy shock jock and his local station, according to the quarterly ratings report released yesterday.

Compared with last summer, Stern's morning show moved from sixth to fourth place among listeners age 25 to 54, or the "money demo," as radio executives are fond of calling it, since it's the demographic advertisers crave. Stern trailed No. 1-rated news powerhouse WTOP, which commanded 8 percent of those listeners.

Perennial Arbitron aces Tom Joyner of WMMJ and WPGC's Donnie Simpson remained comfortably in their top spots, placing second and third, respectively.

Stern moved to fourth place (from sixth) among listeners aged 18 to 34 and from ninth to the seventh spot among all listeners.

Stern announced earlier this month that he would leave his Viacom-syndicated program at the end of 2005 when his contract expires. He is signing on with Sirius Satellite Radio in response, he said, to stepped-up FCC efforts to censor him.

WTOP scored its highest summer number in station history among 25-to-54 listeners. The all-news station placed fourth, up from sixth last summer, trailing dominant urban radio stations WMMJ, WPGC and WHUR, which frequently occupy the top three spots.

WTOP Vice President Jim Farley credited the ratings success to the summer's political conventions -- the station sent a three-person team to both the Democratic and Republican infomercials -- as well as to cicadas and snakeheads. "We covered the things people were talking about," Farley said. "We made ourselves an information resource."

Oldies station WBIG, which last month fired half of its on-air staff, including nighttime DJ Jeff "Goldy" Gold and legend Johnny Dark, had a brutal summer. The station dropped six notches from last summer to 14th place among all listeners and from 10th to 13th in the coveted adult demographic.

The station has been shifting its playlist from the 1960s and early 1970s to more diverse music from the mid-'70s in hopes of drawing more of the valued 25-to-54-year-olds.

"The transitions that we've made will set us up nicely for the fall," WBIG program director Bill Hess said yesterday.

All-sports radio WTEM experienced a seismic shift in its audience of adult males. The station shot from 11th to sixth place, likely helped by the return of Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs.

WMAL, with its all-talk format, had one of the biggest growth spurts of all stations among adult males, vaulting from 19th place last summer to a tie for seventh in that group.

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