Radio’s Rush to All-Music

It happened again yesterday.

Emmis pulled another fan favorite off the air at KIHT, St. Louis to become more music intensive or, in non-coded language, to pander to Arbitron’s People Meter.

If the radio industry only knew ten years ago that the People Meter would be a front for being able to save salaries while creating the fantasy of better ratings, maybe radio CEOs wouldn’t have given Arbitron such a hard time.

Heck, even paying the increased Arbitron bill makes sense for cost-conscious consolidators under the scenario that is rapidly developing.

In all fairness to Emmis, they are keeping J.C. Corcoran on the KIHT payroll until the end of next year (Don’t try this at Cumulus). The Corcoran decision may also be a strategic programming move. They are allowed.

But KIHT also fired long-time personality Katy Kruze and Carl “The Intern” Middleman as part of their imitation of “Follow what CBS is doing”.

It's okay for owners to responsibly save money, but I don’t think they are allowed to pawn this off as a programming improvement.

Don’t vomit when I print this quote from Emmis Senior VP/GM John Beck that appeared in Inside Radio:

“…playing more music in the morning than any other station in the market is one way we feel we can differentiate ourselves and attract even more listeners.”

So this is my warning to the industry that what CBS started, everyone is now following.

Get the picture – follow the leader even if it isn’t good for you. That’s what radio does too easily and too often these days.

Clear Channel does Repeater Radio and lays off tons of people – Cumulus and Citadel follow.

Cumulus fires tons of sales people, the bottom feeders follow even though sales people are the exact people you should never fire.

Citadel follows Clear Channel. Clear Channel follows Citadel. Cumulus follows just about everybody – as long as it is cover for cutting costs.

But the concept of dumping djs for more music is dangerous in two ways.

One, it works – for now.

Two, it hurts later – as stations will eventually find out.

Firing radio personalities is a bad business.

Radio personalities are really all that distinguish radio from an iPod.

It’s like spreading the remains of a cremated person all over the market – you can never get the ashes back into the urn. Radio operators will find this out – their usual way – the hard way.

Let’s go back to why turning radio into a non-stop jukebox actually does work.

Because PPM is not working as promised.

When we were all hoping for Arbitron to report more listening for radio we never dreamed of the distortion that is taking place. The People Meter is not reporting reliable actual listening. It’s reporting drive-by "hearing".

CBS is smart enough to take advantage of it – that’s why you see all-music AMP-type CHR stations popping up in various markets and benign voice tracking being utilized to basically do no entertaining. It’s the worst kind of iPod on radio – not your music choice, no personality element, commercials jammed into huge stop sets. No music discovery -- the same old, same old that listeners have been complaining about for decades.

And it works.

AMP in LA has two million listeners – I mean, "hearers". Let's count the incidental listening that is getting to be a problem.

The radio industry is now programming to win incidental listeners instead of to create rebid fans that are actually listening to their stations for long periods of time.

Look at how radio is pulling one over on the People Meter -- but it won’t get away with it.

A religious station is number one in teens in Philadelphia if you believe PPM figures there – and I don’t and you probably don’t, either. WVBV-FM was ranked number one in teens for October 1-7, 2009 (Week Three) and the trend is holding.

It will take an act of God to get that meter away from the person influencing these results.

Here’s the coverage map – it would also take Divine Intervention to get this signal to the entire metro area, transmitters and towers alone could not do it.

The results are not just wrong, but absurd.

A small non-commercial New Jersey religious FM is not the number one teen station in Philadelphia and the high cuming, no-personality radio stations that the major groups are rushing to install are not actually gaining real listeners.

Similar problem at WDNA, Miami where anyone can walk in and be on-the-air – that station is suddenly #2 Teens on weekends. I wouldn’t be surprised if one household yielded these results.

And don’t discount this because I have presented two teen examples. There’s nothing preventing other demos from being adversely influenced by the PPM system and hungry radio companies.

Programmers are trying to game the system.

Under the diary, you had a better chance of getting a real listener to lie about the length of listening – I’ll give you that. But with PPM, if a meter wearer is picking up someone else’s preferred radio station, then you’ve got high cume or what I like to call no believability.

This may be great for our egos but advertisers are not going to like it.

You heard what I’m saying – radio companies are trying to game the PPM system. That's why I am going to offer some more effective strategies at my seminar in January.

There are many flaws in any audience measurement system and PPM is no exception. Will immigrants reveal the personal information required by Arbitron to carry a device or is it an INS trick? (I wouldn’t risk it).

Many people – especially women – do not want to carry around meters that look like ugly pagers even with cute stickers on them. PPM should be conducted on mobile devices.

Arbitron under-estimated the costs of proper Houston-style recruiting, and are desperate to hold costs down by restricting sample size and recruiting techniques. The Philly teens case is a good example.

Does anyone think this sample is representative?

Electronic measurement of radio is a good thing but not the way it is being fielded by Arbitron.

However, the real villains may turn out to be the usual suspects – radio consolidators who are happy to confuse hearing someone else’s radio station for listening to an actual radio station.

That’s like Phyllis Diller’s picture being viewed in a computer program that shows how plastic surgery can improve her looks.

Only an illusion.

And in the case of radio, the cure will come from advertisers who are increasingly obsessed with digital spending – a growth area over radio even during the recession.

Unwitting radio advertisers, therefore, may put up with eight minute stop sets, but they won’t tolerate making buys on “hearing” not actual “listening”.

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