Big waves set off by new radio ratings in Colorado
Denver’s biggest radio names may not be so big after all.And it turns out, local listeners are more of a soft-rock crowd than anybody ever thought.A purportedly more accurate way of measuring the Denver-Boulder market is forcing a shake-up in the local broadcast landscape.According to new numbers from “people meters,” conservative talk-show host Mike Rosen’s morning drive audience on Clear Channel’s KOA-850 AM may be half the size he thought it was. Dave Logan and Lois Melkonian may have a third fewer listeners on “The Ride Home” in the afternoons.And on the classic-rock station KRFX-103.5 FM, the Lewis & Floorwax show, hosted by Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax, dropped from a No. 3 ranking in the spring to No. 11 now.But soft-rock KOSI-101.1 FM, No. 6 in the spring with a weekly cumulative audience of 279,700, was No. 1 in July’s revamped rankings with a weekly audience of 680,400. Good news for owners Entercom.”I bet there are some very worried station managers out there,” said Ilene Nathanson, media director at Inline Media, a Denver ad agency, who has been following the people meter transition closely.Arbitron, the radio ratings firm, introduced the new portable people meter (PPM) in Colorado this week, part of a national rollout of the electronic ratings technology.The plan is to convert the top-50 radio markets from the old diary system, where a sample of radio fans wrote down their listening habits, to electronic people meters by 2010.The PPM is a beeper-sized device, intended to be worn at the waist. Volunteers are paid nominal fees to use the gizmo. The meter picks up inaudible signals hidden in the radio stations’ audio streams to register which station is playing.The results are touted by Arbitron as more consistent and frequent. Rather than quarterly ratings, the industry will access weekly PPM reports.
In the diary method, listeners’ often faulty memories were the basis for the numbers.And the new numbers are startling. Among them:KHOW-630 AM, which was No. 15 overall in the spring, dropped out of the top-20 altogether.Entravision’s Spanish-language KXPK-96.5 FM soared from a cumulative adult audience (ages 25-54) of 68,800 in the spring to 84,300 in July, a finding in keeping with the trend in other cities that have switched to people meters. Observers suggest the Latino market was routinely underrepresented in diary accounting.And Entercom’s KQMT-99.5 FM classic-rock “The Mountain” climbed from No. 13 to No. 4.The new technology has some advantages. But broadcasters complain that the system has many drawbacks.When women carry the device inside a purse, for instance, the car radio signal may not register unless the volume is very high. Early-morning listening – say, in the bathroom – may not be counted if the device is in its recharging mode in another room. And if you listen to one station for more than an hour, the device shuts off, in an attempt to avoid counting radios playing to empty rooms.”It’s flawed methodology,” according to Jeff Wilks, owner of Wilks Broadcasting, which operates KXKL-105.1 FM, KWOF-92.5 FM and KIMN-100.3 FM, “Mix 100,” though his stations did better than most of the eight owned locally by the Clear Channel chain. “Clear Channel got hit really hard.”
Nathanson cited the “really strange” results of the first round of people meters in Denver, noting that “at The Fox (Clear Channel’s KRFX), they’ve got to be scratching their heads.” Lewis & Floorwax saw their cumulative number drop from 89,000 to 73,800 under the new measure.”What we’re seeing is weird,” she said. “Nobody can argue that more frequent research is a bad thing, but it doesn’t seem completely accurate to me.”In Colorado, the people meter results officially become “currency,” that is, the basis on which commercial time is bought and sold, on Oct. 9. But the preliminary numbers have the industry quaking.”The whole freak-out mode that everybody’s in is understandable,” Wilks said. “We pay (Arbitron) hundreds of thousands of dollars a month (to provide ratings). KOA got crushed. Was their listenership ever that high? Was it ever this low? I don’t know.””The PPM indicates that a typical radio station often reaches twice as many listeners compared to current measures of the audience,” Arbitron boasts.The flip side is that the PPM is indicating that people spend less time listening. That troubles advertisers who pay to have their messages heard. And it will affect what radio stations can charge them.Beyond questionable methodology (only 350 households were measured locally), Wilks claims the meter itself is a problem: “They coach people to put it by their bed. My wife would kill me if I put it by the bed.”Kris Olinger, head of AM programming for Clear Channel Colorado, has attended three Arbitron training sessions in the last five days to understand the software and reports.”There’s a lot of data. It’s like a fire hose coming at you. It’s really complicated.”Acknowledging that news-talk formats suffered in the ratings, she said: “I think we need to step back and see what happens in the next two months. It’s a little early for anyone to panic or make judgments. Anyone who would make changes in programming based on these results is crazy.”Nathanson counsels patience: “Everybody has to take a breath,” she concludes. “This is the first month.”Joanne Ostrow: 303-954-1830 or email@example.com
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