WTWP Radio Gets Off to a Slow, But Game Start

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 22, 2006; C01

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:

· 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.

· The controversial decision by "urban"-format station WHUR (96.3 FM) to junk its signature drive-time program, "The Real D.C. Morning Show," and replace it with the syndicated "Steve Harvey Show" appears to be paying off. Harvey took the station from seventh to fourth among the 25-54 crowd.

· Oldies station WBIG's (100.3 FM) trimming of '60s pop and rock hits from its playlist had the desired effect: The station lost many of its older listeners -- those at least 55, said Jeff Kapugi, regional program director for WBIG's owner, Clear Channel -- but gained among younger listeners (25-54) who like its new emphasis on '70s hits.

· Clear Channel's "Hot 99.5 FM," a Top 40-format station, rose from ninth to fifth place, the first time Hot (WIHT) has finished among the top five since it switched to Top 40 five years ago, according to Kapugi.

· News-talk station WMAL (630 AM) recovered some of its past glory, recording its best rating among older adults since 2004, when the presidential election boosted its slate of conservative talk hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Chris Core. Station President Chris Berry said clearing commercials out of the first 20 minutes of its drive-time program "The Grandy and Andy Morning Show" has helped boost that program.

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