WBAL stakes claim at 11 Battle of words: WJZ's late local news falls to second place ending streak as clear victor in ratings race.

Viewers confused by competing claims about which Baltimore television station is No. 1 in news had the issue clarified for them yesterday -- at least in terms of late news.

WBAL (Channel 11) is the undisputed winner of the 11 p.m. weeknight newscast, the premier showcase of head-to-head competition among local stations, according to the A.C. Nielsen ratings "sweeps" survey for November that ended at midnight Wednesday.


The NBC affiliate was doing all it could yesterday to trumpet its win in late news. "We've said it before, we've got the momentum VTC in late news, and we're thrilled to be No. 1," said Phil Stolz, WBAL's general manager.

Meanwhile, WJZ (Channel 13) was touting its victories in the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts. "Overall, across the board, we still are the station viewers tune to," said Gail Bending, WJZ's news director.


In their analysis of the November ratings, executives at other local stations emphasized WBAL's late news win. WBAL, with its anchor team of Rod Daniels and newcomer Marianne Banister, had a 13 rating at 11 p.m. WJZ had an 11 rating, with WMAR (Channel 2) trailing in third with a 9 rating. (Each rating point is equal to about 9,500 households.)

"In the eyes of most advertisers, WJZ has been far and away the news leader forever. And that has just been definitively reversed in terms of 'BAL's coming up with a two-point household out-delivery of 'JZ," said Barry Schiffer, research director for Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns WBFF (Channel 45) and operates WNUV (Channel 54). "There is no longer a dominant, dominant news station in the market."

Joe Lewin, general manager of WMAR (Channel 2), agreed.

"To me, the biggest change in the market is the reversal of 'JZ and 'BAL at 11," he said. "I mean, look at it. How long has it been since 'JZ hasn't been No. 1 at 11?"

Actually, the crown has been contested since February, when WBAL tied WJZ in late news during that sweeps survey.

One of the key factors in the changing of the guard at 11 p.m. has been the network-affiliate swaps of last January. WBAL went from third-place CBS to second-place NBC, while WJZ went from first-place ABC to CBS. (WMAR shifted from NBC to ABC.)

The lead-in provided by network programming from 10 to 11 weeknights can make a big difference in how the local news at 11 performs in the ratings.

WBAL's local win was undoubtedly aided by the performance of such NBC series as "ER" and "Homicide." The former is the highest-rated show on television. "Homicide," which is filmed in Baltimore, is a hit here and delivers a huge local audience Friday nights.


On the other hand, CBS has a weak prime-time lineup, which not only finishes third in households but is now also fourth to Fox in terms of 18-to-49-year-old adults. It delivers a winning audience to its affiliates only on Monday, thanks to "Chicago Hope."

WJZ's Bending acknowledged the lead-in problem, but she also noted that her station's late news actually builds on the audience it receives at 11 from CBS. Both WBAL and WMAR newscasts lose viewers, she said.

"It is a fact of life that in Baltimore there is not only the 'ER' phenomenon, there is the 'Homicide' phenomenon. You take out those nights, and we'd be winning," Bending said. "If I were 'BAL, I'd be devastated that so many people turn me off and go to us at 11. I can't control the fact that we don't have 'ER' or 'Homicide.' But people are still turning to us and away from our competitors."

In fact, there's no evidence in figures made available yesterday that viewers tuned out WBAL to tune in WJZ. What the ratings say is that about 19,000 fewer households watch WBAL news each weeknight than are watching NBC during the preceding hour, while 5,000 more homes are tuned to WJZ's late news than are watching CBS.

Stolz countered Bending by saying: "It's not just about lead-in, it's about momentum. And 11 News is up, while Channel 13 is down. Our core news audience has grown, while Channel 13's is shrinking."

While there's no guarantee it will make a difference in the ratings, help may be on the way for WJZ. Vic Carter, the Atlanta newsman hired to replace the late Al Sanders, will take his place at the helm of WJZ's 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts Jan. 2, Bending said.


The late newscast is the most lucrative -- meaning it delivers the biggest audience of affluent viewers, which guarantees the highest advertising rates -- but there are other major newscasts, and WJZ won them.

One of the toughest battles is at 5 p.m. weeknights. In November, WJZ earned the victory with a 10 rating, compared with a 9 rating for WBAL's 7-month-old newscast and a 9 rating for WMAR, which once owned the time period.

WJZ was the clear winner at 6 p.m. weeknights, with a 13 rating, beating both WBAL and WMAR by 4 ratings points.

The worst performance during November was that of WMAR, which finished in third place in all three major newscasts. Its slide at 5 o'clock continued as the team of Stan Stovall and Mary Beth Marsden lost 28,500 homes since last year at this time.

Lewin acknowledged the November ratings as a "down book," but added, "You have to take a long view." He said he has confidence in the team headed by Stovall and Marsden.

In terms of local taste for national programs, Baltimore area viewers finally fell into line with the rest of the country when it comes to late night. Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" beat "Late Show With David Letterman" by one rating point in November. Leno's first half hour of the "Tonight Show" also beat ABC's "Nightline."


And, while Oprah Winfrey (WBAL) isn't what she used to be, she was able to put away Montel Williams (WMAR) and the news and information show "Day & Date" (WJZ) in the important 4 p.m. matchup. Winfrey beat them by 4 ratings points, or about 38,000 homes.