D.C.’s Radio War Expands to the Web
At last, a salvo in upstart news radio station WNEW's sleepy siege of WTOP's glass-enclosed nerve center. WNEW may have shaved enough listeners from WTOP to pull it from its once unassailable No. 1 spot in the ratings—and left WTOP blaming its slip on British songstresses—but the six-month-old station is just treading water in its own ratings.
But maybe it's not all about the ratings! Earlier this month, WNEW parent company CBS Radio poached WTOP's digital news director, Mike Gartell. All of this would be so much shuffling, except when you consider that WTOP has a pretty good website—and an unusually outsized online presence for a radio station.
Is WNEW trying to snag some of that WTOP Web magic? When I tweeted about Gartell's departure, Jim Farley, WTOP's vice president for news and programming, was quick to point out that Gartell will be handling all five CBS stations in Washington, including sports station WJFK and pop broadcaster 94.7 Fresh FM, not just WNEW.
Which is true, but in between Redskins slideshows and ticket giveaways, Gartell will probably take a look at WNEW's website and realize that it's not very good. With too many promotional links in the top and not enough actual news, it lacks the melange of wire-service copy and original reporting that powered his last site.
Gartell attributes WTOP's Web success in part to the station's strong brand in Washington, which he says rivals the Washington Post's. WNEW isn't as well known, but a strong Internet presence could have the opposite effect, enticing web readers to change their radio habits.
WTOP and WNEW shouldn't plan to power down the transmitters anytime soon. Alexa web ratings don't have the same drama as Arbitron scores, or the accompanying ad dollars. When the derecho knocked out the electricity, people turned on their battery-powered radios, not their computers. Still, it looks like WNEW and CBS know that there are more than one way to skin the nation's top-billing cat.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery