The hot story in the nation's No. 8 TV market is the strife at
once-dominant CBS affiliate WUSA. And its competitors are scrambling to take
advantage of the discord.
Gannett-owned WUSA has transformed its public façade in recent
months with a new anchor team: Tracy Neale, from Fox O&O WTTG, and Todd
McDermott, from WCBS New York. The station was still negotiating last week for
the future services of veteran anchor Gordon Peterson, a 23-year fixture on the
6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. WUSA's embarrassing fifth-place finish at both 5 and 7
p.m. resulted in the ouster of News Director Dave Roberts last month.
Albritton's WJLA, one of the last family-owned major-market network
affiliates, underwent its own internecine drama just before the May book when
General Manager Chris Pike was demoted and Albritton President Fred Ryan took
over. WJLA's 6 p.m. news show finished a respectable second, although its late
news continues to suffer from poor ABC lead-ins. WJLA shares a staff with
co-owned NewsChannel 8, a 24-hour cable news operation.
"It's a time of tremendous change, more than I've seen in any market at
any one time," says Michael Jack, general manager at top-rated WRC, which has
finished first in most news slots for 26 consecutive books.
In May, WTTG's Fox 5 Morning News
overtook WRC's a.m. show for the first time, as household ratings grew nearly
30%. Its 10 p.m. newscast easily won its time period.
Paxson's WPXW and Fox-owned UPN affiliate WDCA are busy fighting a
different battle: defending their licenses. Several advocacy groups petitioned
the FCC in August to deny renewal, claiming the stations failed to meet
requirements for airing children's programming.
On the cable front, Comcast is the primary cable operator in D.C. and
parts of Maryland. Cox is dominant in the Virginia suburbs. The market's cable
penetration stands at about 72%, slightly above the national average. About 17%
of the market's households have satellite.
Although political news abounds in D.C., local stations don't run to
cover it. Interest in local politics is dwarfed by national concerns. "Most
people just aren't that interested," says RTNDA chief David Bartlett, former
D.C. news director. "This isn't New York or Chicago."