Format Change Seems To Be Catching On WJHU Gets Good News In Latest Arbitron Ratings Dennis O'Shea ------------------------------------- Homewood News and Information The numbers are crunched and the verdict is in: WJHU's news and public affairs format is a hit. Thousands of new listeners are tuning in the university-owned public radio station, the latest Arbitron survey shows. And, on average, they stay tuned to 88.1 FM far longer than before. The result: a fourth-quarter AQH, or average quarter-hour audience, of 5,800 people. That means that, in any 15-minute slice of time between 6 a.m. and midnight, seven days a week, 38 percent more people on average listened to WJHU in October, November and December than in the same months in 1994. The ratings, combined with a record fall pledge drive, demonstrate that the format change is catching on even more quickly than hoped, station managers said. "This is just great," program director Chris Wienk said. "I wouldn't have expected this until next summer or next fall." WJHU switched in late June from a mixed format of news and classical music to straight news and public affairs programming between 5 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. weekdays. The station moved the Marc Steiner Show, one of the most widely praised broadcast public affairs shows in Baltimore, to early afternoon, and added the nationally syndicated Diane Rehm call-in show in late morning. It also added an hour each of Monitor Radio and NPR's Fresh Air, and extended NPR's already popular Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Such a radical change in format will drive away old listeners more quickly than it draws in new ones, program consultants told them. And, indeed, WJHU's total audience dropped by about 10,000 over the summer as classical music fans punched other numbers on the dial. But that audience attrition was actually smaller than projected, Wienk said. In the last three months of 1995, WJHU not only made up that 10,000-listener drop but actually added another 11,000 or so. According to Arbitron, an average of 95,300 people tuned in at least once a week during the fourth quarter. "We think the growth in ratings reflects the quality of our programming," station general manager Dennis Kita said. "Fresh Air and All Things Considered have won the most prestigious awards in broadcasting. And there's nobody on the air with deeper community roots than Marc Steiner. These ratings are an indication of how well we're serving our audience and how well we're serving the community." The station recorded double-digit audience gains in every weekday hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., the period in which news and public affairs replaced Mozart and Mahler. The gains peaked just before and just after noon, when Rehm and Steiner pulled in 50 and 60 percent larger average quarter-hour audiences than classical music had the year before. But that's not all. AQH was up significantly in every weekday hour from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., even those where the station still airs the same news programming as a year ago. In fact, the audience for Morning Edition is up 106 percent, to 16,500, between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. It's the first five-figure average audience for any hour in WJHU's 10-year history. That audience gain confirms, Kita said, WJHU's belief that it will thrive by going with its traditional strength, information programming, rather than by running a fragmented mix of news and music. "Changing the midday programming to public affairs has helped build a consistent appeal, increasing the audience for existing programs as well as the new ones," Kita said.
Go to Gazette Homepage