Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 12, 1996

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

     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.

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