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Published: Sunday, 4/20/2003

Stations gearing up for critical May ratings

Because it has fully recovered from its 2002 ratings recession, WTOL-TV, Channel 11, need not fear the Ghost of May Sweeps Past.

If anything, the spirit has been a source of motivation in the CBS affiliate's newsroom. No one wants a repeat of last May, when its newscasts dropped to No. 2 among viewers age 25 to 54 (the demographic that generates the most advertising revenue).

WTOL returned to No. 1 in November and then tightened its grip on the top spot in February. The situation is similar to last year, when WTOL looked invincible heading into May sweeps -- only to see WTVG-TV, Channel 13, ascend to No. 1 in the key demo.

WTOL news director C.J. Beutien admits last May's plunge weighs on his mind. “This is an extremely important ratings period,” he said. “Your May audience numbers last the rest of the year [as an advertising sales tool]. We have been planning since January and we are ready.”

So is WTVG, which is scheduled to unveil its state-of-the-art set Wednesday (5 p.m. newscast). With the market's first new set since 2000, the ABC-owned station's newscasts will have a distinctly different look than its three competitors. Meanwhile, NBC affiliate WNWO-TV, Channel 24, and Fox affiliate WUPW-TV, Channel 36, are hoping to build upon some positive numbers from February.

Below are some expected highlights for the four-week ratings period that begins on Thursday:

  • WTOL will have 14 “Topical Special Reports” -- all of them “locally produced, not from a feed service,” Beutien said. Each of the station's seven news anchors will be doing at least one. Two examples: Chrys Peterson will report on the future of the Catholic Church; Terry Thill will look at retired people being forced back into the work force because their “nest egg” is disappearing.

  • WTVG's I-Team (headed by reporter Jason Knowles and producer Heather Grubola) will have 11 reports related to public health and safety. “One such story involves vaccinations designed to protect children that may actually be poisoning them instead,” news director Brian Trauring said. Anchor Susan Ross Wells will have a series of health-oriented reports.

  • As was the case in February, WNWO has perhaps the most ambitious plans -- including four two-part reports. This week, Kari Howard looks at the “apparent resurgence of gang activity and violence in the Toledo area,” according to news director Lou Hebert. In May, LaCheryl Tucker reports on a section in North Toledo that “is turning into a supermarket of sex” and anchor Jim Blue examines where the area's registered sex offenders are living.

  • For WUPW, which is still reeling from anchor Ryan Serber's cancer diagnosis, sweeps pieces include “Stress in the Workplace: What's Your Breaking Point?” and a progress report on the Marina District. “Ryan being out really hurts us,” news director Jose Suarez said. “But, as always, my staff steps up to the plate.”



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