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Tuned In: Local news ratings remains a close race

Saturday, March 01, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The TV news horse race continued unabated in February, and KDKA, once seen as fading in the stretch, continues to rebound, garnering the most viewers at noon, 5, 6 and 11 p.m.

WPXI, once seen as the usurper to KDKA's ratings dynasty, didn't fare as well but gained an advantage on a key front: Winning the 6 a.m. hour. WPXI has done that before, but after gaining on and surpassing WTAE a year ago, WPXI's fortunes in the morning had declined. Now it's back on top. Will this back-and-forth trading of dominance continue? Stay tuned.

It wasn't all bad news for WTAE either. The station tied WPXI at 6 p.m. and saw ratings growth throughout the day, particularly at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Ratings released Thursday by Nielsen Media Research are household ratings that reflect more a measure of popularity rather than a basis for advertising rates. TV commercials are generally sold on demographic ratings, which won't be available for several weeks.

In its ratings book, Nielsen flags contests, including those during newscasts on WPXI (all month at 5 p.m., a couple of days at 11 p.m.), because they may influence ratings. Lottery drawings on KDKA, which may also influence ratings, are not flagged because they're telecast year-round rather than only during sweeps months.

Standard practice in the TV business is to compare ratings to those from a year ago, but the Olympics last February would skew that comparison.

Therefore, compared to February 2001, all three stations were up significantly at 6 a.m. At 5 and 6 p.m., KDKA and WTAE were up, WPXI was down. At 11 p.m. KDKA and WPXI were up, WTAE was down a tick.

At 10 p.m., fueled in part by Fox's improved prime-time ratings, WPGH had its strongest sweeps month performance ever.

Late news ratings were a particular problem for Channel 11. In the monthly average, WPXI and KDKA had identical lead-in ratings in the last quarter-hour before the 11 p.m. news, but KDKA came out on top, even beating Channel 11 on three of the four Thursday nights when WPXI had "ER" as a lead-in.

In the morning national news battle, despite WPXI's winning lead-in, "Good Morning America" on WTAE beat "Today" on WPXI.

Rogers coverage

Kudos to all of Pittsburgh's TV stations for their moving tributes and celebrations of the life of Fred Rogers, who died Thursday at age 74 of stomach cancer.

It's easy to be cynical about TV news, but the mostly respectful coverage this week deserves mention. As is so often the case when the news turns to tragedy and sadness, TV offered viewers a communal outlet for grieving.

WPXI's Rick Earle and Karen Welles both shared personal stories, totally appropriate for that sad day, and Alan Jennings offered a nice reaction piece from Rogers' hometown, Latrobe.

KDKA replayed an excellent Don Cannon interview with Rogers from 2001, Sally Wiggin voiced WTAE's moving video obituary and Mike Clark shared home video of a visit to the "Neighborhood" set.

But there was no finer retrospective on the life and times of Fred Rogers than the collection of programs that aired on WQED, hosted by Michael Bartley, Rick Sebak and Stacy Smith.

From 9 to 11 p.m. Thursday, more Western Pennsylvania viewers tuned to WQED than the local Fox, WB or UPN affiliates.

Special mention should be made of Chris Moore's "On Q" interviews with Rogers' co-workers and the stage crew that worked on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." If those of us who watched the show are grieving, one can only imagine the sadness of those who had the privilege to work with Fred Rogers. Their willingness to share those special memories is commendable.

Post-Gazette staff writer Adrian McCoy reports that WQED-FM (89.3) will remember Fred Rogers by airing several interviews the station did with the popular children's show host over the years.

"Remembering Fred Rogers" will feature some of the music Rogers wrote, along with a 1994 interview with WQED station manager Jim Cunningham. It airs at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. tomorrow.

And during a live broadcast from the Frick Art Museum tomorrow afternoon, the station will feature a segment recorded in 2002 in which "From the Top" host Christopher O'Riley -- a former Pittsburgher -- visited and talked with Rogers at his home. The segment will air at 1 p.m.

Real 'Guardian' issues

Scott Hollander, executive director of KidsVoice, is technical consultant on CBS's Pittsburgh-set legal drama "The Guardian," created by his brother, David Hollander.

The KidsVoice Web site (www.kidsvoiceorg.com) now contains information on children's issues raised in the show's episodes. This week's episode featured an autistic child, and the Web site includes information on autism.

Koeppen gets award

WTAE reporter Susan Koeppen received a 2003 Gracie Allen Award for her reports during the station's 5 p.m. news. The awards are given by American Women in Radio & Television to television, cable and new media programming created by women, for and about women.

Local tries to be 'Hot'

ABC's Web site lists his "hometown" as San Diego, but Pittsburgh is actually home to 27-year-old Sergio Pampena, who will compete at 9 p.m. Thursday on the meat market "reality" show "Hot Or Not? The Search for America's Sexiest People."

Pampena, a 1994 graduate of Penn Hills High School, works as a hair stylist in San Diego.

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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