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Traditional Radio: Arbitron, Consumers, and Ratings

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The average person views radio as an inanimate object with sound. On a daily basis, consumers use radio for entertainment and information. The captains of the broadcast industry utilize commercial radio for profit, millions are at stake, and one organization dominates measurement. The publicly owned Arbitron Company has a financial stronghold on the entire ratings process.

Ratings are a necessity to commercial radio revenue. The still existing paper diary is a written survey and depends on listener participation. It is used in cities with a population rank of 51 and higher. Arbitron does its best to ensure participants return their diaries, especially men age 18-34. To locate participatory individuals, Arbitron uses traditional landline phones, a method similar to political polling.

The rise of cell phone only households is a problem for Diary and Portable People Meter measurement. Many 18-45 year olds do not have landlines; neither Arbitron nor polling companies have an efficient methodology to track people for measurement. The telephone automation method used for landlines cannot legally be applied to cell phones, only households.

Poor Signals and Competition
If a station has a limited signal, smart programmers attempt to cater to the listeners in the location it can best be heard. If a direct competitor is beating a station, shadowing is one of the best ways to overtake them. Duplicating the competition’s musical presentation can be accomplished using BDS monitor, Mediabase, or having someone write down everything aired. Also, for a debuting station, this is an effective way to build an audience

What the Public Does Not Know about Radio and Ratings
Sometimes the hard work does not always immediately impact ratings. Nothing is retroactive; something done now may not reap results for four to eight weeks, and may only occur through a concentrated effort by a station. Tightening the music rotations will not show up in the upcoming trend.

If something happens and there is an increase of some sort, experienced programmers claim credit However, in reality it was luck. It is a game played as if it isn’t. Things happen. At many Arbitron diary reviews, I have seen surveys from one household and all the writing done by the same hand. The children probably filled out the diaries for the parents.

Diary Method and Black Radio
The good thing about the diary method is the fact there are new people in the survey every week. If a station has a bad trend, eventually those four weeks will go away. With the Portable People Meter methodology, a selected participant can sit on a panel from six weeks to two years. What once was a bad four-week period could be a year or more.

Black formatted stations need to realize all African-Americans do not listen to black formatted radio. The civil rights movement, desegregation, integration, entertainment, sports, education, affirmative action, and cable video channels have altered listening habits. Many African Americans have assimilated into the majority society, which is white. Therefore, listening consumption is more diverse. In markets with a smaller percentage of blacks, the rating may not be so good for urban formats.

With Portable People Meters, cumes have increased considerably and time spent listening has decreased.

Destined for the Garbage Can
To the average person, a diary in the mailbox represents nothing more than an advertising circular. Much like the census, it is hard to get a person to take part in a written survey. With society becoming increasingly suspicious about information gathering, people have not been as cooperative as in the past. Increased monetary stipends have helped, but not enough. Many are beginning to question the types of individuals participating in these surveys. Regardless, there are millions in advertising at stake, and the measurement process is shaky at best.

Arbitron Definitions
TSL (Time Spent Listening)
An estimate of persons listening to a particular station for at least five minutes during a 15-minute period.

Cume Persons
The total number of persons listening to a radio station during the course of a day-part

Exclusive Cume
The number of different persons who listen to only one station during the daypart reported.

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About Radio Coach Sam Weaver