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By The Numbers

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The swallows have returned to Capistrano, and the February ratings are out for the local TV types, as they send ad salespeople to go forth and multiply. I make a habit of taking a look at the overnight Nielsens, which goes back to my TV news years. It can tell us what's happening, what's not, and what some our local tastes say about what we watch on the tube.

Since news is often still a local station's cash cow (and dangerously so, given the current economic climate), those are the numbers that get shaken and stirred, and analyzed the most.

A great "book," and the general manager is popping champagne. A mediocre or "flat" book, and the call goes out to the consultants to tweak the product. And if a station loses a newscast it was winning before, quiet hell breaks loose: the news director may get the pink slip, star anchor Tom-Dick-Harry may go back to working weekends, and horror of horrors, it may be time for a new set.

In Charlotte, though, that's usually not the case. WSOC-TV's moorings hold fast, as they have for 12 years now. Their ship weathers choppy seas and criticism of its newscasts, while watching competitors change, and even multiply.

So, as I've reported for many consecutive ratings periods, WSOC is number one in news, except for the noon news, which is still won by WBTV. At 10pm, WCCB-TV holds its slim lead over WAXN/WSOC.

But if I worked at an NBC affiliate like WCNC-TV, tears would be shed, or a permanent forehead dent would be created, given the numbers that the Winter Olympics delivered in primetime.

Yes, fewer people in the Southeast watched the Olympics than in other parts of the country, but that's not why I'd be crying. I'd be bummed because NBC chose to run coverage until 11:30pm each night, effectively pre-empting stations' 11 o'clock newscasts, which would have received a bobsleigh bump in numbers as a result.

If WCNC could have taken the Olympics ratings straight into an 11 o'clock newscast, they might have beaten Channels 9 and 3 for the first time ever.

In other areas, no surprises, but again, a sampling of what the Charlotte area likes to watch. In the mornings, Good Morning America and Regis and Kelly do well, as well as the eternal Price is Right.

In the afternoons, CBS soaps win the prize, as does Oprah, though Montel isn't far behind. ABC's Peter Jennings is the fave anchorman, while Inside Edition and Wheel of Fortune are still popular going into primetime.

Like Easter bunnies and marshmallow Peeps, you know spring is on the way when pledge drives crank up for public broadcasters. You'll watch and listen to their dignified pleas for cash to keep buying the programming that you enjoy. You know the drill.

I was curious about how much some of that programming actually costs, and was surprised at what I found when I asked for some sample costs from Renee Rallos of WFAE-FM.

The flagship NPR programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, aren't cheap, folks. Since they're sold to radio stations as a package deal of sorts, WFAE pays $227,665 dollars a year for running them, or about $4,377 a week, if you do the math.

Two other well-known weekly shows are also not sold at outlet stores, either. Car Talk costs stations $18,400 annually, while A Prairie Home Companion runs slightly more, at $19,250. And you wonder why Garrison Keillor's elegant home made a spread in Traditional Home last month.

WFAE's pledge drive, by the way, continues through March 21.

There'll be some interesting discussion and memories of TV done old school later this month on Access 18 on Time Warner Cable. The show Southern Roads and host Michael Chapman will be talking to longtime broadcaster Al Munn, who has histories both at WBTV and WSOC-TV. Most notably, Munn was the producer of Channel 9's beloved live kids' show Joey The Clown in the 1960s. They'll also talk about how the show was done back in the days before digital, and other changes in the broadcasting landscape since then.

You can catch the two half-hours on consecutive Mondays, March 18 and 25, at 8:30pm.

If you're interested in local broadcast happenings, there's another place (other than this fine column) to read some of the latest happenings. NCRTV is a website created by Dann Dunn on his own dime and his own time. Dunn is a production coordinator at Adelphia Channel 4 in Mooresville, and has been a freelance videographer, producer, etc. for several years in the Charlotte area.

Dunn has based the site on DCRTV, a website that keeps up with media in the Washington, DC area. Websites like this have sprung up all over the country. There's also another for Triangle area media. These sites keep up with hirings and firings, the peculiar commonality in media jobs. They also throw down a little dish, and provide links to other websites, newspaper columns, and articles about broadcasters.

Dunn says it takes him about 10 hours a week to update the site with new information. "It's a hobby that has sort of gained a cult following," he says. "I make no money doing it." If you'd like to check out NCRTV, the web address is: www.geocities/com/ncrtv. *

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