N.Y. stations fight signal woes in November book

Dec 3, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In the first big sweeps book since the Sept. 11 tragedy, viewing patterns seemed back to normal, despite stations’ weaker signals now that they’re transmitting from the Empire State Building instead of the World Trade Center.
It was a dogfight of a book, with an unusual airing of three World Series games during a November sweeps on Fox-owned WNYW-TV. WNBC-TV still managed to win sign-on to sign-off, beating rival WABC-TV by one-hundredth of a ratings point. WNBC earned a 4.54 Nielsen Media Research rating and 11 share, while WABC scored a 4.53/11. WNBC was also No. 1 in the 11 p.m. news race.
WNBC got a ratings boost the last day of sweeps with the nationally televised Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting event. WNBC earned the highest ratings for the tree lighting in recent years, with a 23.3/33 for the 8 p.m. hour, at one point peaking at a 26.5/37.
“This was a very difficult book for a whole lot of reasons-you wound up with World Series Games 5, 6 and 7 in sweeps; the seventh game did a 40 rating in New York,” said WNBC General Manager Dennis Swanson. Mr. Swanson pointed out that WNBC’s community involvement, such as airing the annual New York Marathon, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, as a factor helping the station’s ratings. “This city needed an emotional lift, and we were able to put these three great events on the air. They all went on the network. People could see New York at its best, and it was just great we could be associated with it.”
WNBC sent Linda Baquero to the Dominican Republic after the Nov. 12 American Airlines plane crash in Queens. Veteran political reporter Gabe Pressman went with Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. WNBC has just sent weekend anchor Rob Morrison, a former Marine, to Afghanistan. He will file reports for both WNBC and NBC News.
The city’s televisions stations also have been affected by the anthrax threat, with WABC just starting to receive mail again. Logistically, news crews, which had been communicating with assignment desks through two-way radio antennas atop the World Trade Center, now check in via cellphones and Nextel’s private two-way radio service.
WABC has offered group counseling for staffers. It was the first station to have a crew at the American Airlines crash site before the bridges were closed down.
WABC won both the 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. news races, for its first November sweeps win in a while. At 5 a.m., WABC scored a 1.7/11, while WNBC pulled down a 1.6/10. At 6 a.m., WABC posted a 3.3/14, while WNBC rated a 3.1/14.
WABC was No. 1 at 6 p.m. for Monday through Friday as well as Monday through Sunday. WABC’s 6 p.m. news tied WNBC in Monday-through-Sunday ratings in the May sweeps. “We’re just delighted to be back from what we were doing in October when we had all those signal problems,” said WABC General Manager Thomas Kane. “We’ve really bounced back from our October [ratings] delivery.”
Stations not only dealt with losing engineers at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, they also had to scramble to get temporary antennas out of New Jersey and onto the Empire State Building in time for November sweeps.
On Oct. 28, WABC managed to get an antenna on the Empire State Building with the help of its sister radio station WPLJ-FM, which was already established there. WNBC managed to get antenna space on the city landmark the first day of the book.
One news director pointed out that because WCBS had a backup antenna on the Empire State Building before the Sept. 11 attacks, it had a ratings monopoly-with numbers such as a 17 rating-for about five weeks after the tragedy. He added that WCBS’s ratings have returned to their pre-Sept. 11 levels.
But WCBS News Director Joel Cheatwood said viewers have caught up with the 4 p.m. newscast launched two years ago and anchored by Ernie Anastos and Dana Tyler, which is up from last November. It earned a 2.7/7 compared with last November’s 1.9/5.
“The problem when you launch a new newscast is that it takes a while for viewers to discover it,” Mr. Cheatwood said. “I think we did retain a fair amount of audience. At 11 o’clock we’re the only newscast not to decline year to year. WABC and WNBC were down 3 share points year to year. A few days or a couple of weeks will not change someone’s 10 to 15 years of viewership.”