When New York's absurd talk host Howard Stern announced in September 1988 that he would soon be simulcast in Washington on WJFK-FM (106.7), he promised to "crush" former employer WWDC-FM (101.1) and bury WAVA-FM's (105.1) Don Geronimo and Mike O'Meara, whom he called "the two fat jerks who do the 'Morning Zoo' down there," adding, "I'm sure that Chief Don Geronimo is doing a ratings dance right now."
What Stern predicted would be a "cakewalk" has taken more than two years, but "Chief Don Geronimo" may be considering that ratings dance as Stern blazes up the ratings pole with the much-sought adult audience, passing the "Zoo" boys, who are taking an ominous trip down to a 3.7 share from summer's 4.9. "Zoo" is now ranked 10th among adult listeners.
DC-101's Greaseman, who appeared to be in ratings trouble last year, has pulled out of a nose dive that had industry observers waiting for last rites to be administered. Greaseman's share of the 25-to-54-year-old audience, often called the "money demo," inched up to a 5.2 from summer's 5.0 for fourth place. Stern grabbed a 4.5 share for seventh. His growth has been erratic since fall 1989's 4.1 share; winter '90, 3.3; spring '90, 3.8; summer '90, 3.2; to the current best-ever (in Washington) 4.5 share.
"It's slow but steady performance," said Ed Levine, who admits to having some nervous moments as program director for the past 18 months waiting for Stern's act to catch on. "Progress is progress. You can't knock that," Levine said.
WAVA's breakfast imps appear to be in trouble. Though their rating in the largely ignored category of all listeners 12 years and older was up a tenth over the summer to 5.3, they are down from fall '89's 6.1 share and summer '89's 6.9 share. The duo had its worst performance in the adult category last winter, a 3.6 share, which the two said was a fluke. It spawned an on-air tirade that got them taken off the air for a week. On Sunday, Geronimo declined to discuss the team's fall 3.7 share or to talk about their future at WAVA. The team's contract, which reportedly pays each of them $330,000 a year, ends in February 1992. Months ago, Geronimo said he had little interest signing another contract with WAVA, owned by Emmis Broadcasting. And Emmis, like many other radio companies, has had to tighten operations and may not be as willing to sign fat contacts with performers as it once was.
Meanwhile, the friendlier approach to mornings continued to win the top spot. Jim London and Mary Ball at country combo WMZQ-AM/FM (98.7/1390) showed the way with a 6.9 share among adults, although down from an 8.1, followed by urban adult WKYS-FM's (93.9) Donnie Simpson, falling even harder to a 5.4 from summer's 8.5 for second place.
Ball believes the team's repeated success is due, in part, to London's and her "respect for the audience. And we like the music and we like each other. We have a brother-sister relationship. We rib each other and we have fun, but when it turns 10 o'clock, we are happy to go our own ways."
WPGC-FM's (95.5) Robin Breedon, whose partner Dave Ferguson resigned at the end of November, zoomed to third place among adults with a 5.4 share from summer's 3.9. After that kind of finish, says General Manager Ben Hill, he is not likely to go hunting for Ferguson's replacement. He admits that he's reluctant to say too many nice things about Breedon because she is scheduled to negotiate a new contract this spring. Two other women ride the morning range solo -- Faunee on jazz station WDCU-FM (90.1) and Cathy Hughes on soul music/talk WOL-AM (1450).
Among listeners 12 and older, Breedon was No. 1 with a 7.3 share, followed by WMZQ's London and Ball, 6.9; and WMAL-AM's (630) Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver with a third-place 6.3 share.
More Winners and Losers
Among the big morning gainers in the adult category was Paula Gwynn, the 1989 Miss Black America, who joined Sonny Taylor in November at urban adult contemporary WMMJ-FM (102.3), up sharply to a 3.8 from a summertime 2.7 share, and Dave Kellogg at oldies WXTR-FM (104.1), 3.7 up from 2.9. Kellogg, who had been on radio's sidelines for almost a year, joined the station in August, replacing Bill Bailey.
WMAL's Harden and Weaver fell 1.4 points to 12th place among adults, with a 3.6 share from 5.0. Usually the news and talk station does well in the fall with its exclusive Redskins games broadcasts, but now management is poring over the ratings books to discover what's wrong.
When WMAL's Chris Core signed off Friday evening, he told listeners that he didn't intend to watch the Super Bowl -- that he would go to a movie, go bowling, maybe drive up Rockville Pike -- do anything that would normally be impeded by the crush of humanity. At 5:45 p.m. Sunday, Core was cruising Potomac Mills mall, enjoying his maiden visit there. "I've always thought it would be too crowded. It isn't," he reported from a phone booth.