With

Bill O'Reilly

leaving radio, jockeying has begun to fill his talk-show time slot.

His syndicate, Westwood One, has signed Fred Thompson, the actor, former senator and presidential candidate, to debut March 2. But Thompson won't get all of O'Reilly's 425 stations, and neither will Fox News Channel's John Gibson, whose show launches Jan. 19.

Into the great national vacuum, I hear, will go Michael Smerconish of Philly's WPHT (1210). A deal supposedly is close between Smerconish - newly simulcasting his morning show in D.C. - and syndicator Dial Global.

Smerconish had been saying on the air that he'd fill in for O'Reilly yesterday, but he was missing. Smerconish has filled in for O'Reilly many times in the past. Westwood's miffed?

Smerconish brushed aside any talk about it yesterday. Dial Global's Kirk Stirland says there is no signed deal and he'd be surprised if other syndicators weren't talking to Smerconish, who's long had national aspirations. "We think he is just terrific," Stirland said.

Also in the talk loop, expect sports talker Tony Bruno, a former Philadelphian (WCAU, WIP), to start a late-night show on WPEN (950) on Jan. 12. Nothing official.

Sounds of Christmas

Christmas music - comforting, especially in a down economy - is a radio ratings winner.

Especially for upstart light-rock station WNUW (97.5), which became the first station in town to adopt the format this year, on the earlier-than-ever date of Oct. 31. "Now 97.5" program director Don Gosselin hopes that listeners will keep 97.5 on their presets after the trees come down.

Perennial front-runner WBEB (101.1), which went all-Christmas on Nov. 13, is weathering the competition, which also has come from classic hits WOGL (98.1).

Now 97.5 found that it paid to be early. Early numbers from Arbitron show that while B101 is still the town's top-rated music station - with nearly two million weekly listeners - WNUW boosted its weekly audience to about one million. (That's a rise of nearly 2.5 times from last year, when WNUW was a smooth-jazz outlet.) The station was ranked fourth in the second week of December among all listeners 6 and over; it was No. 3 in middays and No. 2 over weekends. Among women ages 18-plus, it was No. 1 in midday.

WOGL's numbers were up marginally.

The full December ratings, covering Nov. 13 to Dec. 10, will be released Dec. 31. A "holiday" book (Dec. 11 to Jan. 7) will follow.

B101's lures this year are $101,000 in prize giveaways and a 36-hour commercial-free block starting at noon Christmas Eve.

Nearby stations are in the yuletide fray, too, including Wilmington's WJBR (99.5) and Allentown's WLEV (100.7).

In a twist, WHAT (1340) is airing Hanukkah programming from 4:30 to 5 p.m. through Sunday.

Briefly noted

Broadcast pioneer

Bill Wright Sr.

will revive his "Uncle Billy's Christmas" feature, a folksy call-in show he used to do on Christmas mornings on the old WPEN. Hear it Thursday from 6 to 9 a.m. on Levittown's WBCB (1490) and streamed at

.

Fox29's Kerri-Lee Halkett and her husband, Kirt Mayland, are featured in different magazines this month. She is on the cover of RowHome Magazine. He appears in Domino, a lifestyles/decorating mag.

Locals turn up in A Chorus Line, at the Forrest through Jan. 4: Malvern's Mindy Dougherty (Val) sings the T&A song, and Jessica Latshaw (Kristine) and Alex Ringler (Greg) are UArts grads.

Pearl, the lounge-restaurant at 1904 Chestnut St., is retooling its first-floor dining as Akoya, effective Jan. 5, when chef Greg Garbacz introduces an Asian gastropub menu. The second-floor lounge will still be Pearl.

Contact columnist Michael Klein at 215-854-5514 or mklein@phillynews.com.