With the Super Bowl finally out of the way, get ready for the February ratings sweeps, which are considered the most important of the four such 29-day periods each year (the others are in May, July and November) because national audience levels are at their highest this cold, winter month ...

Nielsen starts counting Wednesday and runs through March 1. Arbitron gets underway Thursday and winds up March 2 ...

The two ratings services have distributed a couple of hundred thousand diaries to viewers in 212 TV markets around the country to get a good fix on audience preferences by demographic groups during the sweeps. Along with the diaries come bursts of Network Programming Excess (to help their affiliates), Affiliate Excess, most apparent on local news programs, and Independent Station Excess (which is why Geraldo Rivera won't disappear) ...

This February, of course, ABC's premier event is the Winter Olympics, against which CBS and NBC must contend between Feb. 13 and Feb. 28 ...

Now you know why just this week alone, the Smothers Brothers show up on CBS Wednesday for a reunion, there's a David Letterman special on NBC Thursday night and a silly wrestling special on NBC Friday ...

And on Saturday, there's C. Airwaves' personal favorite from the Hollywood Creative Community -- the episode of NBC's "Facts of Life" in which Natalie (Mindy Cohn) will lose her virginity to Snake the Truck Driver ...

Waiting in the wings during the month are miniseries based on best-sellers, including "Elvis and Me" on ABC, "Windmills of the Gods" on CBS and "Noble House" on NBC (tackling the Olympics head-on over four nights starting Feb. 21) ...

(CBS, not to be outdone Feb. 21, that night offers further proof that the Hollywood Creative Community never sleeps, by giving us "Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis," an honest-to-Bob Denver musical) ...

Moving Right Along

Immediately after Capital Cities/ABC Inc. concluded a management meeting in Phoenix last week, ABC News president Roone Arledge headed for Calgary, where he is ramrodding the Winter Olympics for the network, and his top aide, David Burke, left for the Soviet Union ...

Their absence from New York will delay final decisions on a couple of key items of ABC News business: who replaces Ken Walker on the network's White House staff and the completion of negotiations on a new contract for Ted Koppel, who apparently isn't going to abandon his bully pulpit on "Nightline" after all ...

Walker's departure for the syndicated show "USA Today" (the Washington bureau threw him a farewell party Thursday) leaves Sam Donaldson at the White House along with Sheilah Kast, but she's been busy with major economic assignments, which, if the economic news isn't out of 1600 Pennsylvania, take her away periodically ...

Lark McCarthy, who joined ABC in September 1985 after a cutback at CBS News' "Nightwatch" here, has been a regular substitute in recent weeks, and the feeling is she'll get the White House call, at least through the election year, when Arledge and Burke return ...

Koppel, whose contract ran out in early December, is all but signed for another three-year stay -- his current contract has been extended through March 2 -- but the new pact needs fine-tuning from Arledge and Burke before it's set ...

Meanwhile, the early book has national correspondent and Saturday "weekend report" anchor Brit Hume eventually replacing numero uno Donaldson, who probably will leave the White House when the Reagans depart ...

More Koppel

The "Nightline" moderator had a warning for his peers in the network news business Thursday night during an address at the Alfred I. du Pont-Columbia University Awards in Broadcast Journalism in New York ...

Citing the nine-minute engagement between CBS' Dan Rather and Vice President George Bush a week ago on "CBS Evening News," Koppel said, "What was wrong with the now-famous Bush-Rather confrontation ... was not Dan Rather's demeanor or the vigor with which he pressed his questions. It was the unintentional, indeed the almost certainly unwitting, collaboration of CBS News with the Bush political campaign" ...

"The Bush people had a goal, an objective to be achieved by their candidate; and although he clearly did not suspect it, Dan Rather had been selected to serve as high priest on the ceremonial de-wimping of the vice president" ...

Choosing to overlook one of the charms of his own "Nightline" role, Koppel said that if CBS had taped and edited the interview, Rather would not have been put in such a position. "But live, in the middle of the 'CBS Evening News,' Rather had given up a newsman's most precious prerogative -- the chance to edit" ...

"We ... are so intoxicated by the dramatic values of our medium that we are permitting the messages to be drafted, edited and produced by the people we cover," Koppel warned ...

Koppel said the role of the news media in general and TV news in particular is moving "uncomfortably close to center stage." Journalists are becoming actors and even co-stars in the news, rather than anonymous observers of events, he said. "In theory, we shouldn't even be on stage" ...

While we're near the subject of the du Pont awards, it has been brought to Captain Airwaves' attention that he failed to point out Friday that two Post-Newsweek stations, WPLG in Miami and WJXT in Jacksonville, both won Silver Batons at this year's ceremony -- a rare double win for any broadcast group ...

Which explains why C. Airwaves, who has already purchased a ski mask and a stocking cap that he pulls way down over his ears, will back up to the pay window Tuesday night after everybody else has gone home ...

Otherwise

The Rather-Bush Monday Night Fight has all but faded from view ...

At least 18,000 calls or mailgrams on the incident sailed into CBS or its affiliates, the network estimated late last week. But while protests among the first 6,000 calls ran 5 to 1 against Rather, the anti-Dan ratio fell to 2 to 1 over the long count ...

And in Jacksonville, Walter Cronkite, who's had unkind words in the past for Dan (notably after the Six Minutes of Network Blackout last September in Miami, when he snapped that Dan ought to have been fired), told reporters that he thought "Dan was doing his job" during the Bush interview ...

There was an unconfirmed rumor racing around CBS News in New York Friday that CBS Inc. president Laurence Tisch, finally catching up with the turmoil in London after a trip to the Orient, had called Dan to give him reassurance ...

And Rather even seems to have recovered his joie de vivre ...

Working on a "48 Hours" program about New York's runaways Thursday, the CBS anchor was in a sound truck as the crew listened to a rock 'n' roll phone-in radio talk show. Overhearing the host applaud his handling of the Monday Night Fight, Rather called to thank him and signed off: "Rock 'n' roll forever!" ...

Also in the News

Sorry, Charlie. A paid ($250,000 is the rumored fee) political speech by Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., the political extremist who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, will preempt a scheduled rerun of "Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown" on the CBS schedule Thursday night between 8 and 8:30 p.m. ...

Carol Olwert, director of news information for ABC News in New York the past three years, is resigning in favor of "a quieter life in the Connecticut countryside" ...

No replacement has been chosen ...

(Because of his ski mask and stocking cap, pulled way down over his ears, Ms. Olwert couldn't see the look of disappointment on C. Airwaves' face when she told him the news, although she did tell him a couple of times to stop mumbling) ...