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L.A. Richter lifts Nielsen

L.A. residents want their quake TV — for a day or so, anyway.

Despite widespread power and cable outages, viewing levels soared after Monday’s deadly 6.6 shaker struck at 4:31 a.m. But by Monday evening, the only VHF station to return to regular programming beat its Februarysweeps numbers.

In the first 15 minutes, the number of sets in use in the seven-county L.A. market skyrocketed from 3.8% to 31.1%.

Viewing steadily climbed until 9 a.m., when 58.3% of all the homes with TV sets were tuned into blanket news coverage — more than twice the 26.6% that were watching at the same time on Friday.

HUT (homes using television) levels reached a ayem peak of 59.2% at 10:15. The range fluctuated throughout the day, hitting a low of 44.5% around 1:45 p.m.

Viewing levels reached nearly 70% twice on Monday, once at 6:15 p.m. and again at 9 p.m. The peak HUT rate came close to matching the peak 77.3% mark recorded at 9 p.m. on April 29, 1992, the night the L.A. riots began.

It may have been higher if not for power and cable outages. About a quarter of the Nielsen families with overnight ratings meters in their homes were knocked out of the tabulations.

From Friday to Sunday, about 470 homes were in the Nielsen market sample. That decreasedto 355 homes on Monday.

KNBC-TV got on the air first with coverage and recorded an astronomical 88 share in the first 15 minutes.

Although all seven VHF stations went to wall-to-wall coverage of the disaster , it came down to a two-station race between KNBC and KABC.

The latter blamed technical problems for its half-hour delay in getting on the air with quake coverage. No matter what the reason for the delay, KABC got off to a slow start in the ratings at 5 a.m. with a 30 share. Shortly before noon, however, it had taken over the lead from KNBC and stayed out front for the remainder of the day.

Tribune-owned KTLA, which also got to the air quickly as it geared up for morning news shows, was also a strong contender in the hours following the quake. It beat O&O KCBS-TV in the first four hours of its quake coverage and frequently surged ahead of the network station throughout the remainder of the day.

The indie was the only non-network station to maintain double-digit shares with its extensive news coverage.

But by evening, it became apparent that a huge portion of the audience had tired of the earthquake and wanted a dose of entertainment.

Indie KCOP, which became the only station to return to regular programming in the evening, beat its November sweeps average with “Cosby” at 6:30 p.m. (7.2 rating/11 share) and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” reruns at 7 p.m. (9.6/14).

An episode of the syndicated series “Baywatch” garnered a 14.3/21 at 8 p.m. It normally pulls around a 5 or 6 rating.

And an original episode of “Next Generation” earned a 15.8/24 at 9 p.m., about 2-4 points above its normal performance.

By Tuesday, KNBC and KABC were the only two stations to stick with blanket coverage through their early evening news.

“It’s one of those defining moments in news coverage,” said KABC general manager Alan Nesbitt, whose station’s coverage remained on the air throughout the night and into Tuesday.

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