People Meter Formatics

I read that my friend, the programmer Jack Taddeo, said recently “We’ll see some stations slowly program more toward longer TSL by reducing tune-out factors such as the glut of over-production and station imaging we have heard historically.”

That got me to thinking of all the great programming opportunities stations will have once they can stop ramming station call letters down their listeners throats every time a jock opens his or her mouth.

It seems like all we do -- even if it is for a good reason. And believe it or not, I have anecdotal evidence that young people go nuts by the constant selling of call letters. True, they are no longer "available" to radio stations as future listeners, but still -- it's an irritant.

Some radio programmers remember back when a genius programmer named Buzz Bennett instructed his djs to say the call letters twice every time they previously mentioned them once. Double your pleasure.

It worked so well – lots of other stations did what we do all too frequently in radio – copied it.

You could understand Buzzie’s strategy. The main ratings company – Arbitron – used a diary system and it made sense to make sure listeners could write the correct call letters down in their diaries. (You remember diaries, don’t you? They’re the things respondents hurry up and fill out on the last day of the reporting period before they were due).

Oh, now we get it.

Write it down. So that's a main reason for turning our stations into call letter machines.

In the past, stations like WABC had jocks accent the letter “A” when saying the call letters W-A-BC. PDs at WNBC had jocks stress the letter “N” to avoid confusion with a station that had three of the same call letters in the same market.

Where was the People Meter when we needed it?

But with the People Meter, all listening is picked up and credited within the range of a device that listeners wear. It makes sense to adapt to the new rules of the ratings game as PPM is rolled out market by market.

There are some who would say just keep hammering out the same high velocity call letter mentions --- it can never hurt to say the station’s name or brand too much.

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Without having to say the call letters as much, what would radio djs actually say?


Maybe it would mean more entertainment.

The People Meter gives radio programmers a chance to develop better ways to increase time spent listening using entertainment instead of mere formatics. Remember, no need to mention the station if the meter is automatically picking up and crediting the listening.

From early PPM markets we see how under reported radio is compared to the former diary system. Create music sweeps that are compelling, addictive and you’ll get more time spent listening.

If you’re the Christmas music station, it’s the music and not the endless hammering of the fact that you are indeed the Christmas music station that will win the day. Keep in mind I am not saying that branding or station identification is unnecessary. Simply, that without the diary system, radio programmers will be free to use their creativity to actually entertain and perhaps get listeners to listen longer.

Contests may actually be worth testing again. Contests were once used to create excitement on the air or attract attention.

But not all contests are exciting. WNBC gave away $50,000 not once but twice during a diary rating period in the 70’s using their laid back “here’s a contest for listeners who like contests” approach. The ratings did not go up.

Make listeners stick around for something they may want to hear, own or just enjoy – and you're on the way to mastering the People Meter.

How many commercials and how often is a bigger issue.

Try a six spot cluster with the People Meter and a competitor may clean your clock playing one or two spot commercial clusters and then return to programming.

We often talk about the People Meter and the issues surrounding a radio industry that seem hell bent to postpone its adoption --- even in spite of the fact that advertisers want it.

But it will soon be time to turn to the discussion of how to program radio stations to maximize time spent listening in reality not just in terms of the psyche of the dairy keeper. Give me a group of PDs at an Arbitron event and I’ll bet you their brainstorming will be nothing short of brilliant.

It's not to early to begin. Let's hope the radio industry won't just do what the PDs in New York and LA decide to do. Now's the time for innovation -- that's something we're still very good at.

Opportunity is knocking for getting radio listeners to listen longer – not just through the manipulation we all know was characterized by audience diary keeping.

And listening longer is the only workable option going forward as radio will not likely be able to attract more listeners from the generation they let slip away.

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