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Back when just about everybody watched -- Feb. "sweeps," 1981

In prehistoric TV times, weathermen Troy Dungan (WFAA) and the late Harold Taft (KXAS) were both very much on the 10 p.m. map.

Note to readers: We're on the eve of the 2006-'07 season's final ratings sweeps period, with 10 p.m. newscast supremacy still the big prize when the competition kicks off on Thursday (April 26).

The following story first appeared on March 20, 1981, with D-FW still awaiting the dawn of cable TV while CBS'
Dallas TV series remained at the peak of its powers. John McKay and the late Dave Lane, respectively the general managers at KDFW-TV and WFAA-TV, loved to tangle with each other publicly back then. Both stations had mammoth Nielsen ratings compared to what they have now.

As a point of reference, WFAA won the February 2007 sweeps with an 8.7 Nielsen rating and 15 percent share of the viewing audience for its 10 p.m. newscasts. In February 1981, when Nielsen and Arbitron had competing services, an 8.7 rating would have been thrown back in the pond. Read on and check out those boffo numbers from yesteryear.

Were this a heavyweight title bout, an announcer would be screaming about a match made in heaven.

WFAA-TV (Channel 8) and KDFW-TV (Channel 4) are pounding bumps on each other in the fight for ratings supremacy at 10 p.m.

Last November, Channel 4 knocked Channel 8 out of the No. 1 spot at 10 p.m. Channel 8 had held the title since May, 1976.

Then in January, Channel 8 fought back, punching Channel 4 back into second place.

Now the February Arbitron and Nielsen ratings have put Channel 4 ahead on points again.

In the Arbitron "sweeps" (Feb. 4 to March 3), Channel 4 had a 20 rating and 34 percent share of the audience for its 10 p.m. newscasts. Back in second place is Channel 8 at 18/31. KXAS-TV (Channel 5) again is a distant third (12/21), but the station shows signs of moving up from the bantam to the welterweight class at 10 p.m. That's because the Nielsen ratings for February show Channel 4 with a sizable lead (19/34), with Channel 8 second (15/27) and Channel 5 closing the gap a bit at 13/23.

The latest ratings are a shot of adrenalin for John McKay, Channel 4's outspoken general manager.

"I'm thrilled to death. Out of sight. I love it!" McKay enthused. "We're now being considered a serious news operation by a majority of viewers out there. No longer does Channel 8 have the market virtually to itself."

One year ago, Channel 8 was the undisputed news leader at 10 p.m., with Channel 4 virtually out of the ratings picture. Channel 8 isn't a powerbroker anymore, but station general manager Dave Lane says a series by the name of Dallas is a significant ingredient in Channel 4's rise.

The Arbitrons say CBS's Dallas drew 64 percent of the viewing audience on an average Friday, compared to a 17 percent showing for ABC's movies and 9 percent for NBC Magazine with David Brinkley.

Thriving on its Dallas "lead-in," Channel 4's 10 p.m. Friday newscasts had a 44 percent share of the audience in February, compared to Channel 8's 25 percent and Channel 5's 18 percent. In other words, Channels 8 and 5 increased their viewing audiences while Channel 4's newscasts lost about one-third of their Dallas audience to the competition.

"The history of our performance at 10 p.m. has always been an improvement over our lead-in audience," Lane said. "I think that shows our strength. People are making channel switches to us. Where we're killed is Friday nights. It puts you in such a huge deficit position that it's practically impossible to overcome it."

Would Channel 8's 10 p.m. newscast still be No. 1 in the ratings if Channel 4 didn't have Dallas as its friend?

"Yes, definitely," Lane claimed. "No doubt about it."

McKay is getting tired of hearing that disclaimer.

"Dallas was on the air a year ago," McKay said. "Lane keeps using that to cover his ass. The fact is I've got Dallas and it's reflected in the numbers. We're in a helluva lot better shape than we were a year ago. I sense that he (Lane) is very nervous about what we're doing. He's clinging to things like a Dallas lead-in as a reason why he's No. 2. One night doesn't make you No. 1 or No. 2."

To test McKay's theory, Blake Byrne, Channel 5's general manager, wouldn't mind trading Brinkley's abysmally rated Friday magazine for J.R. Ewing's drawing power.

"If we had Dallas, I would guess the 10 o'clock situation would be very much like the six o'clock, which is statistically a dead heat," Byrne said.

Nevertheless, Byrne says he is "pleased" with his station's showing in the latest 4-week ratings books. "We're up a hair everywhere and Channel 8 is down," Byrne said. "You take the 5 and 6 p.m. news, and we're the No. 1 early news in the market."

McKay says Channel 5 also has older viewers than the competition, a fact that supposedly doesn't excite many advertisers.

Commenting on Channel 4's strong showing in the February ratings, McKay mentioned his station's increased appeal to women aged 18-49. This is a key "demographic" looked at by many advertisers. At 5 and 6 p.m., Channel 4 is increasing its number of viewers in this category, while the competing newscasts are losing ground, he said.

"The 18 to 49 audience is important because there are so many more of them out there," McKay explained. "It's the audience that advertisers are most attracted to because they're the consumers. And it's the audience that pretty much dictates what is and what is not on television. The really significant thing for us is the shift in the young audience. You can't be No. 1 without the young audience."

Until the next ratings book in May, Channel 4 clearly is No. 1. Undoubtedly, the station is being helped by Dallas. But in the Nielsens, Channel 4's 10 p.m. newscast also is the highest-rated on the other four weeknights.

"It's kind of hard to talk about being No. 2 at 10 p.m., but we'll be back," Channel 8's Lane vowed.

He has his work cut out for him against a significantly improved Channel 4 news operation and a Channel 5 outfit that is showing faint signs of rebounding to a competitive position at 10 p.m.

Weatherman update: Channel 4's Wayne Shattuck, who recently suffered a dislocated hip in a car accident, is still hospitalized in Arizona. Shattuck and his wife, Virginia, who has a broken shoulder, are scheduled to return to Dallas next week. It's uncertain when Shattuck, Channel 4's featured weatherman, will return to the air. He reportedly may have to get around in a wheelchair for awhile.

Asked whether he would let Shattuck wheel himself around his weather maps, McKay replied, "I'd put him on in traction and use his big toe for a pointer."

Meanwhile, McKay says that stand-in weatherwoman Jocelyn White is doing a good job under the circumstances.