WRC-TV (Channel 4) clobbered the competition last night with its coverage of local elections, earning the right to crow about having been "the first to bring you ..."
The District's television news viewers wanted to know three things once the polls closed at 8 p.m.: How badly did Sharon Pratt Dixon beat Maurice Turner in the mayor's race? Did Eleanor Holmes Norton manage to win the congressional delegate seat against Harry Singleton? And was Marion Barry going to be voted onto the D.C. Council?
By 8:10, WUSA (Channel 9), WJLA (Channel 7) and WTTG (Channel 5) had already cut into regular programming to announce that the polls had closed and that turnout in the District was heavy.
But at 8:11 Channel 4's political reporter Tom Sherwood had the numbers. Reporting breathlessly from the District Building, he delivered the early-morning results, which showed Dixon with 86 percent of the vote, Norton ahead of Singleton by a margin of 2 to 1, and Barry with only a 17 percent take, far behind Linda Cropp and Hilda Mason, his main competitors for two at-large council seats.
It took more than half an hour for a second local station -- Channel 5 -- to get on the air with those same numbers. Then at 8:44, Channel 9 anchor Gordon Peterson finally told his viewers, "All right, D.C. voters, we have your morning boxes in."
Poor Channel 7, whose news operation has experienced morale-bruising staff cutbacks, didn't announce the morning results until 9:17, more than an hour after Channel 4. Co-anchor Susan King called these "the very latest" numbers.
Channel 4, cutting into NBC's prime-time shows every half hour, was out in front on the other interesting area races. Around 9 p.m., Channel 4 broadcast a live interview with Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer, who had resorted to a write-in campaign to keep his job after losing the Democratic primary to Neal Potter.
With early results showing Kramer with only 20 percent of the vote, he was looking on the bright side. "People said we wouldn't get 10 percent," Kramer told Channel 4. "We got twice that much."
Channel 9 did have one solid scoop, Bruce Johnson's interview with Dixon in her hotel room, aired at 9:44 but taped a few minutes earlier. Asked whether she was surprised by the magnitude of her victory, Dixon, typically unflappable, said, "This was more than anybody could have expected." No other station broadcast Dixon until she took the podium for her victory speech 25 minutes later.
Although it was the first local station to go to full-time election coverage at 9:30, Channel 7 was first with only one piece of news: live coverage of the concession speech of incumbent Republican Rep. Stan Parris of Northern Virginia, loser in an upset to Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr.
Unfortunately, Channel 7 didn't have the sense to cut away to former District police chief Maurice Turner, who was beginning his own concession speech. Channel 4 was the first to show Turner at the podium at 9:48, with Channel 9 close behind.
Even after Channel 7 pulled away from Parris, anchors King and Renee Poussaint wasted another minute chatting with their reporter at Parris headquarters while Turner was graciously congratulating Dixon and telling his supporters, "This is just the start of something big for this town."
By the time Channel 7 went to Turner, Channel 4 and Channel 9 had gone on to other business.