The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

08 November 2007

New Radio Ratings System Boosts NYC Talk Radio, Kills Hip Hop


New, More Scientific System Shakes Big Apple Radio

The first release of monthly ratings data under Arbitron's new Portable People Meter (PPM) system has New York City broadcasters in a state of shock, with earth- shattering differences between the new and old systems.

Now that a scientific measurement has replaced the old diary- based method, the lying game is over. No longer can survey participants over- report what they're listening to, nor will others forget to mention their favorite programs. Time Magazine has already called it one of the year's best inventions.

For conservative talk radio fans and hip- hop opponents, there's a double- dose of good news, even tastier than a pumpkin latte on a cold fall day. While WABC learned yesterday that its audience had long been undercounted, for urban music stations, it was quite the opposite: listening had long been wildly overstated.

From David Hinckley in today's New York Daily News:

New York radio got the first look at its new ratings system Wednesday, creating smiles at mainstream pop and rock stations and causing at least one urban station to say it reads like a death warrant.

"These numbers could put us out of business," said Vinny Brown, program director of WBLS. "And it's not just us. Listeners need to know this could threaten the future of black and Hispanic radio across the board."

Overall, the October Arbitron ratings put WLTW (106.7 FM) back at No. 1. WHTZ (100.3 FM) was a close second and WCBS-FM (101.1) a strong third, ahead of WAXQ (104.3 FM), WSKQ (97.9 FM) and a surprisingly strong WABC (770 AM).

That bombshell has ethnic advocacy groups and Big Apple politicians in an uproar. Expecting these results based on earlier test data from Houston and Philadelphia, so- called civil rights activists had been denouncing the new system well ahead of yesterday's release:

New York City council members express alarm over Arbitron’s PPM plans

(September 28th, 2007) Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Civil Rights Committee Chair Larry Seabrook and Majority Whip Inez Dickens held a press conference last week to express concern over Arbitron’s proposed methodology for media monitoring. Arbitron, an international media monitoring and research group that tracks consumer media habits across the country, plans to replace paper diaries with the Portable People Meter (PPM).

In light of possible deficiencies in the accuracy of numbers representing minority and ethnic listeners, the Council said it joins with the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) in asking Arbitron to revisit the proposed change. As part of a pilot program, Arbitron’s new measuring methods have been applied in Houston and Philadelphia, where its effects on local, minority-owned media have increased concern about the consequences on local radio stations, should the system be implemented in New York City.

Though the specific data hasn't been made available to the public, your Radio Equalizer has obtained a copy of the report and compared its findings to the most recent diary- based Arbitron book (Summer 2007).

Here are a few key highlights for listeners 12 and older, the broadest measurement category:

WABC's outgoing Curtis & Kuby Show, bumped for the return of ratings- challenged Don Imus, had been undercounted by 75,000 weekly listeners. Under the new system, their audience looks especially strong and termination all the more foolish.

Between 10am and 3pm, a period that includes Rush Limbaugh, WABC was shorted 96,000 listeners, which now appear under PPM. Total weekly reach for the station during this time period is now estimated at 646,000.

Sean Hannity was the biggest winner under PPM: his audience was found to be 182,000 persons larger than previously believed, bringing the the station's 3-7pm total to 642,000.

And at night, a similar story: a 154,000 undercount under the diary system, bringing WABC's 7pm - midnight tally to 438,000.

No wonder the Sharptonians want a recount: this is the worst news they've heard in years. Not only is gang- banging hip hop far less popular than anyone previously believed, but conservative talk radio is much bigger in New York City than expected.

For years, talk radio programmers have felt the old system punished talk radio, calling the phenomenon "phantom cume". Now the proof is at hand, using scientific methodology.

Looks like "Million Man Math" still doesn't add up.

FOR New England regional talk radio updates, see our other site.

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  • What are the ratings for Air Deadbeat? Or were they so low as to not be counted in NYC? ;)

    By Anonymous William Teach, at 08 November, 2007 18:50  

  • Give Teach a cookie!

    According to the folks over at the New York Radio Message Board, Air Idiot did not register a discirnible listenership under the PPM system.

    So maybe their previous, craptacular ratings in NYC were the result of people writing them into their diary even though they never actually listened to the station.

    By Blogger TC, at 08 November, 2007 20:35  

  • Yeah, I would like to know how AAR rated under the scientific system. Single digits? I know there are some reading this blog that won't accept that AAR is consistently at the bottom of the pile (or at least close to the bottom).

    By Blogger Carl, at 08 November, 2007 22:43  

  • 1600 WWRL did not register for the system, although some public stations did and were counted in the report.

    By Blogger Jared, at 09 November, 2007 09:56  

  • "So maybe their previous, craptacular ratings in NYC were the result of people writing them into their diary even though they never actually listened to the station."

    Maybe being shuffled to a weak signal, not even powerful enough to reach GREENPOINT, sporadic jamming of their signal at key points during the dayparts, or programming of crypto-neocons and bizarre, off-putting ethnic programming might have more to do with it?

    No, not in TC's boozy worldview!

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 09 November, 2007 15:50  

  • "1600 WWRL did not register for the system, although some public stations did and were counted in the report."

    If I'm not mistaken, Jared, WBAI wasn't part of it either.

    Common sense would dictate that it will take at least one year for these figures to be properly analyzed, but we are dealing with the rabid radical right, where rationality rarely prevails.

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 09 November, 2007 15:53  

  • hashie? Do some homework; WBAI said they had not installed the PPM encoder (which Arbitron gave to all stations, for free) in time for the first survey.

    So either a) the Idiots (whose signal does make it out to Staten Island fairly well while the sun is up) also didn't install the requisite hardware, or b) they failed stupendously.

    'BAI explained their situation, but Air Idiot?


    By Blogger TC, at 09 November, 2007 18:43  

  • This new rating is not fair to the lib’s. The great conservative conspiracy new if the lib’s could not use a simple voting machine they would never get this correct. That is why they changed to this system.

    By Blogger pf1, at 10 November, 2007 04:15  

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