FOX NEWS, WESTWOOD NEWS RADIO NETWORK DRAWS GOOD REVIEWS: DEBUT TO FEATURE YOUTHFUL FOCUS, LIMITED PROGRAMS

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In an era where the importance of radio news has waned, Fox News and Westwood One are launching by yearend a news radio network to snag more youthful listeners.

Intending to appeal to more youth via FM music stations as well as traditional AM stations, Fox plans to start modestly with morning and afternoon drive-time programming. It won't provide 24-hour programming, but there will be news briefs, breaking news, long-form coverage and custom reports to major affiliates.

Fox TV stars Catherine Crier, Bill O'Reilly and Brit Hume will be featured, alongside two anchors.

STRATEGY USED BEFORE

Fox seems to be employing a strategy it's used before (as have new TV networks WB and UPN): start small with a few hours of programming and build gradually.

Although announced at this month's National Association of Broadcasters convention, much remains undecided, including how much programming will be provided and the number of station affiliates.

"We believe we'll have some strong affiliate interest," said Denise Oliver, senior VP-programming at Westwood. "Fox has a very strong brand name and a rapidly growing news division. It will open a whole new set of stations [to news], appealing to a younger demographic and music stations."

Said Jack Abernethy, VP-finance and administration for Fox Radio, the plan always was "to develop a worldwide news asset. Radio was always part of that plan."

Industry observers say the move is part of Fox's desire to burnish its reputation as a solid news agency. James Duncan, who publishes the annual "Radio Market Guide," said the advantage of Fox's venture -- the cost of which he estimated is "relatively small" -- is to "extend its platforms."

SPREAD COST OF TALENT

He added that "going into radio is a way to soften the costs of high-priced talent. They can squeeze more productivity out of them."

News Corp. would not comment on whether there are future plans to acquire its own stations to form a media group.

Mr. Duncan was skeptical of the appeal of Fox News Radio to FM music stations, where use of news is little to non-existent.

"Even short-form news has almost a zero presence outside of morning drive -- and that tends to get lost in all the `zoo' shows," he said.

Still, the media community was receptive to the new product.

Said Natalie Swed Stone, VP-manager of network radio at Young & Rubicam's Media Edge, New York: "There needs to be a new order, and radio needs to pick up on what's happening in the TV news marketplace. Alliances sell well to the ad community. It's very good and healthy, though I'm surprised that they went with Westwood and that Fox would want to be under the same roof as CNN."

CONFLICT NOT A CONCERN

Partly due to consolidation in the business, Westwood now offers affiliates CBS Radio, CNN+ radio, NBC Mutual and Fox News Radio. But Fox and Westwood executives aren't concerned about potential conflicts, given that each network appeals to different audiences.

"Fox has a much younger skewing demo than CNN," Mr. Abernethy said.

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