WTWP Radio Gets Off to a Slow, But Game Start

A good reason to smile: Don Geronimo, left, and Mike O'Meara's
A good reason to smile: Don Geronimo, left, and Mike O'Meara's "Don & Mike" afternoon drive-time show jumped from No. 15 to No. 4 in the ratings. (Wjfk-fm)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 22, 2006

Washington Post Radio, which debuted three months ago with an unusual newspaper-on-the-radio format, has turned out to be less than stop-the-presses news for listeners, ratings released yesterday show.

WTWP-AM/FM, which broadcasts a blend of news and talk programming featuring Post journalists, ranked No. 21 among 40 or so local stations during the April-to-June period, according to Arbitron Inc., which surveys listeners. The station drew less than 1 percent of the audience (a 0.9 share), and just 0.8 percent of those ages 25 to 54, the audience segment that advertisers most covet.

"It's in the low range of what we expected," said Jim Farley, one of the key architects of the station, which signed on March 30. Farley is vice president of news and programming for WTOP AM-FM, which is owned by Bonneville International Corp., the company that also owns WTWP. (The Post is Bonneville's programming partner on the station but has no ownership stake.)

For a station that touted itself as "NPR on caffeine," a large amount of WTWP's audience came not from its daily news discussion shows, but rather from its broadcasts of Washington Nationals games. The games helped boost the station's evening ratings to a 1.8 percent audience share, which is exactly twice its average share the rest of the time.

Farley, however, said the station's programming was being widely, if briefly, sampled, accumulating an average of 205,000 people per week. That figure beats more established stations, such as sports-talker WTEM-AM (173,600 per week), and nearly matches guy-talker WJFK-FM (208,500).

"We're getting people in the house," Farley said. "If they stick around longer, we will move up quickly" in the ratings, which are based on listeners tuning in at least 15 minutes at a time.

The advent of WTWP triggered a complicated shift on the dial among Bonneville's portfolio of local stations, and listeners might still be having trouble finding the station, said Tina Gulland, the Post's director of radio and TV projects.

WTWP took WTOP's former frequencies (107.7 FM and 1500 AM) and WTOP moved to WGMS's spot (103.5 FM); WGMS moved to the position occupied by the late Z104 (103.9 and 104.1 FM).

"Overall, it's a credible, not earth-shattering start. . . . It's still early," Gulland said.

In other developments during the ratings period:

ยท WJFK-FM's post-Howard Stern reconstruction proceeded apace. The biggest winners might have been afternoon drive-time cut-ups Don & Mike, who bounded from a dismal No. 15 in the January-to-March quarter to No. 4 in the latest survey. D&M also finished second among listeners 25 to 54 years old, and first among men. Stern's morning replacement, the Junkies, matched Stern's best performance of last year among men 25-54, said Michael Hughes, who oversees the station.

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