This is what can be gleaned from the quarterly ratings report released by Arbitron yesterday:
Women like easy listening in the office; one quarter of decreased ratings means nothing among the popular urban radio stations; and bad traffic means great ratings if you happen to be in the news business.
With a pack of urban stations crowding the top five spots among 25- to 54-year-old listeners, including a big jump for drive-time hosts Tom Joyner (whose syndicated show is on WMMJ) and Donnie Simpson (at WPGC), the only alternative is the station at No. 3 -- WTOP, which continues to increase its healthy share of the local adult audience.
Ronald Reagan's funeral. The ongoing violence in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The presidential campaign. A strong news cycle meant good news again for WTOP, which is about to go all-out with a three-person team at the political conventions. The station increased its ratings share from 5.3 to 5.5 among those 25 to 54, and from 5.9 to 6.4 among all listeners. Another news station, WMAL, also benefited, moving up from 11th to seventh among overall listeners.
But Jim Farley, WTOP's vice president of news and programming, attributes his station's continued strength not to big stories but rather to big gridlock.
"Our competitors have always said that when we get a great book, that was because of this story or that story, but there's always something," he says. "We took a big spike toward the end of this book for the Reagan funeral. Not because of the news . . . but because everyone in town wanted to know about the traffic."
The top-of-the-chart tango that generally takes place among the urban stations was won by WMMJ when it comes to listeners in the 25-to-54 audience (7.6 rating), followed by WGPC (6.6). Among all listeners, the two stations flip-flopped, with WPGC clocking a 6.9, followed narrowly by WMMJ's 6.8. For both stations, those numbers reflected significant increases from the winter ratings.
In the morning drive-time slot -- radio's most lucrative hours -- WMMJ (with Joyner) jumped from a 5.9 share in the adult category to an 8.0, and WPGC (with Simpson) improved from 5.2 to 6.8.
The top five were rounded out by WKYS and WJFK. The latter's afternoon team of Don Geronimo and Mike O'Meara -- who've toned down their naughty show since the FCC began its recent crackdown on such subject matter -- were tops among adults in their afternoon time slot, going from a 6.0 to a 7.5.
Howard Stern wasn't as lucky. Up last quarter despite massive FCC fines and the loss of six stations, which drew on-air tirades from him, Stern had a small decline in the spring, going from 5.5 in the 25-to-54 age group to a 5.4 and a fourth-place finish in the morning sweeps, down from third in the winter period.
A winner for the quarter was WASH-FM, which bills itself as an "at-work" radio station. Ranked 12th among 25- to 54-year-old listeners last spring, the station moved up to sixth place and a 4.9 market share, and it leads the pack in attracting women listeners at work.
For WTOP, the ratings were more good news. Earlier in the week, it learned that its team of Mike Moss and Richard Day is a finalist for a National Association of Broadcasters Marconi Radio Award in the category of "major market personality of the year" -- an unusual honor for an all-news station. Winners will be announced in October.