If Clear Channel Supported The Portable Truth Meter

Over the weekend Inside Radio broke the news that Clear Channel had finally decided to become an Arbitron People Meter client. It's reportedly a multi-year deal covering 50 markets.

I don't know how Clear Channel does this with a straight face. I am going to get sick when I see the trade press coverage today and Tuesday hailing this as a great step. Of course, no one should know more than I do that you don't want to get Clear Channel mad.

Since I guess I never learned my lesson, I've got another take to share with you.

This is all about one company -- the largest with over 1,100 radio stations and a near monopoly over this medium -- shirking its responsibility to lead. Not only that -- using its might and influence to obstruct progress for many things that would have been good for radio after consolidation.

Clear Channel has opposed The Portable People Meter (PPM) from the very beginning. It has done little to help it develop into the modern ratings tool the radio industry needs.

If you were to hook up a portable "truth meter" to Clear Channel executives you'd get an ironic story of resistance, lack of leadership and eventually -- once the ad agencies are on board -- compliance.

Consider that until everyone else signed on with Arbitron's People Meter in Philadelphia -- test market and first market to go live -- Clear Channel brought up the rear and bought the electronic ratings last -- and only in that one market. Clear Channel had to -- the ad agencies wanted electronic ratings and everyone else including the little guys took the lead position and signed their contracts.

Consider that Clear Channel sought alternative rating service bids -- some from mighty fine companies -- in my opinion knowing that they never had a chance. The radio industry has tried several times before to replace Arbitron as their ratings powerhouse, but they failed. What could the number one radio group have been thinking when they threw this monkey wrench into the process at the Eleventh Hour?

Then, you'll remember, Clear Channel complained that the People Meter was too costly.

That's odd, the other groups -- the smaller ones who actually took the lead on electronic ratings -- may not have liked the prices but they ponied up and signed their contracts.

Oh yes, and Clear Channel called the People Meter technology flawed. Guess, it's not flawed any more. I'm sure there is a more diplomatic way to address that issue if anyone can get a straight answer from the radio group that can't shoot straight.

So let me get this right.

Clear Channel fought PPM, threw roadblocks in front of its adoption, came up with no alternative to the outmoded, outdated paper diary, attacked the integrity of the PPM methodology and threw a temper tantrum over price.

Now, it's ready to sign a long-term contract with Arbitron for PPM ratings for its 50 top markets.

You know the real winner here is Arbitron. I have had my moments with them over the years but their unwavering commitment to the People Meter won out in the end and for that the radio industry should be grateful. Radio groups also ought to stop complaining about the increased cost of modern ratings -- a system that will credit radio with more overall listening at a time when their stations need it.

Cox was a complainer. Bob Neil didn't much like the People Meter. But he posed excellent questions and raised legitimate concerns and knew when to fold his cards. And, of course, Cox is not big like Clear Channel.

Radio needed Clear Channel to lead and but instead it followed.

I have never been impressed with Clear Channel's management. I think they were selfish, misguided and they acted too much in the best interest of their company and not the industry in which they became the leader.

Their employees and ex-employees -- well, that's another story. I have great admiration for their professionalism and dedication to stick with owners who in many cases cut and diced, ran an ineffective centralized company from San Antonio, Texas and eventually incurred the ill will of the rest of radio industry. Many of their employees have been and still are friends of mine and I value them.

But Clear Channel -- the consolidated corporation -- has become the name for radio's decline.

It's not completely fair because consolidation was only one of many problems that came together to cause the decline of radio that we see happening right now and that will no doubt continue into the future.

What gets me is this.

Can you imagine if CBS/Infinity or Emmis, AMFM, Greater Media or just about any other company had assembled 1,100 radio stations. I believe things would have been different. Not perfect, but a bit better. It's only my opinion, but this group of out of towners happened to be the wrong people at the wrong time for the radio industry.

Anyway, it's a good thing that Clear Channel finally saw the light and joined the PPM love train.

And, it's wonderful that Clear Channel is going to go private and sell the smaller market stations it can't run (that's why their selling them).

But with leaders like Clear Channel, still a plentiful owner of radio stations after it goes private, the People Meter fiasco offers a lesson for the rest of the radio industry at a critical time.

To borrow a phrase from the late political writer Molly Ivins, also a Texan, "You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You".

In radio's case, that means turn to the "little guys" for leadership -- the smaller operators who actually know what they are doing.

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