“The first couple days I’m wearing this thing and I’m turning into radio just trying to get these points and then finally I said, ‘Well, f— this.’” - Former PPM panelist
Listen to the comments in context here.
This is a taboo topic of conversation for terrestrial radio and it would disqualify a radio station’s ratings faster than you can push “scan” when the Kars-for-Kids commercial starts up. However, it was the Top Story on Radio Stuff’s podcast. (editor’s note: Arbitron emailed their responses to our questions, so we had a British bloke voice the answers on the podcast. It’s worth a listen for that alone.)
DISCLAIMER: As a programmer, I have praised Arbitron for measuring my genius programming with precision when ratings are high and cursed them when they dropped. (Certainly there must be a sampling error, no?)
Joe v. Arbitronado
So, I sent the audio from “Joe” to Arbitron’s Director of Programming Services Jon Miller and asked him what he thought. He says it sounds like things are working the way they should.
“Arbitron has safeguards in place to help ensure the integrity of our PPM ratings. In this case, the panelist’s comments are a demonstration of some of those safeguards, such as calling households if their compliance in carrying the meter falls off.”
Caller Joe complained to Leykis:
“I started getting all these phone calls. I’m thinking you know who the hell is this calling me? We’ll it’s Arbitron. So apparently this meter has something that can tell when you’re moving and when you’re sitting still. And so when I’m not moving, they’re calling me – pretty much harassing me about why am I not wearing the meter and they can’t get accurate ratings and I need to be wearing my meter. Well, after about two weeks of this, they called me and said, “You’re not wearing the meter!” and I finally said, ‘alright, fuck this. Send me a box and I’m sending all this shit back.’”
Miller wouldn’t go so far as to characterize the company’s behavior as harassment, but the calls are part of the quality control.
“Arbitron monitors compliance with its instructions, contacts households who aren’t complying and works with them to improve their carry habits whether through coaching or other incentives.”
The 2010 Broadcast Architecture study on PPM panelists talked to one woman who clipped her meter to a ceiling fan, Joe plopped it down in front of a radio, and I’ve heard that others have attached them to pets. So, Jon Miller, how do you know when a panelist is cheating.
“The PPM has a motion detector built into it allowing us to capture both the motion records and media exposure from that day. There are thresholds for how many hours of motion a day we require for our panelists to be counted in the days ratings, and the more they wear the meter the more incentives they receive.”
And then there’s sample size. It wasn’t brought up by the caller, but it is commonly heard uttered in anger and echoing through the hallways outside PDs offices.
“PPM’s sample sizes are designed to deliver the same level of statistical reliability as the Diary survey, but with less total sample. We accomplish that by surveying listeners for a much longer period of time (28 days in just one PPM survey month) compared to the one-week diary timeline. This level of detail, thousands and thousands of days of measurement across a single month, allows us to see so many granular things with PPM data that we just can’t with the Diary.”
“If Arbitron is the standard in terms of traditional AM and FM radio then it’s a flawed standard.” -Joe the caller
Joe’s point would be more valid if he wasn’t just complaining that he wanted to earn the money without doing the work.
“One of the most fascinating things I’ve seen over the 5+ years that PPM has been in use is how much and how fast listening habits are evolving and changing. Nothing stays static in PPM, and we’re finding that radio listening is dynamic. This continually motivates broadcasters to continue offering compelling content on stations with clear and strong brand images, so that they can cut through with listeners in an ever more crowded media world.” - Jon Miller, Arbitron VP of Programming Services
Clear. Strong. Brands. Cut Through.
And I would add this:
“PPM isn’t perfect, but it’s all we’ve got.” – Larry Gifford
Upon Further Review
We can’t force our ideal listeners to participate – it’s a roll-of-the-dice and sometimes you roll snake eyes.
Arbitron is weeding out at least some of the cheaters. Good.
We can’t know “true” listening behavior without NSA quality spy equipment and the violation of our listener’s constitutional rights.
Stations and panelists are both trying to game the system. Makes me wonder who Arbitron is gaming.
The sample size is what it is, unless stations want to spend even more ridiculous amounts of money to be told your station is still – awesome, sucky, irrelevant, vital – depending on the time of the month.
The success or failure of your station is in the hands of Caller Joe. Good luck.
From New York to Los Angeles, in Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, and D.C. at big stations and small there is an alarming story unfolding in talk radio. Talk stations are tumbling in the ratings and no one knows why, though there are many theories.
It’s political fatigue.
It’s too repetitive.
It’s too depressing.
It’s too angry.
It’s too boring.
It’s not entertaining.
It’s all commercials.
The list of once great stations that have dropped out of the top ten reads like a radio station all-star line-up: KFI, WABC, WLS, WMAL, KABC, KIRO, WBAP. And it’s not a fluke (pardon the pun.) This is real. Arbitron is noticing it too.
“…for the first time since we began keeping our format records, it (news-talk) recorded two consecutive books below a 9 share, finishing at an 8.7 in July. Now summer is historically the lowest time of the year for News/Talk listening, and we will be keeping a close eye on the results as August and September approach, but it’s worth noting that the format’s summer shares have declined about 10% since 2011.”
– Tony Hereau, Arbitron Media Insights Manager
Down 10% in two years as a format in the 48 PPM markets?!
Editor’s note: I’m sure radio ownership groups understand and have lowered revenue projections accordingly.
“It was in 1994.”
Leykis was a guest on Episode 13 of the Radio Stuff podcast (listen). He recalled broadcasting from the NAB the year his show was launching into syndication and everyone kept talking about a panel featuring talk radio consultant Ed Shane. As Leykis recalls, this was Shane’s message:
“It’s important, for your talk radio station to be successful, that everyone have the same opinion as Rush.”
Leykis takes it a step further.
“So in other words, the secret to Rush Limbaugh’s success was not his years of experience or his time as a DJ or the fact that he had great timing or was a good comedian, that he made good use of sound, but no, no, no – the reason for his success was that he was a political conservative.”
From there after, every station Leykis approached to syndicate his show would ask what his politics were. It wasn’t always like that, “Previously, they only cared, ‘do I get ratings? Will I help the station make money? Will I make noise?’ Suddenly I was being asked, ‘Are you a conservative?’”
Leykis believes that was the moment talk radio went from being a mass appeal format to being a niche format. And the problems with talk radio today stem directly from a consultant misreading the tea leaves.
“Talk radio went from Rush Limbaugh’s bells, whistles, jingles and parody songs and everything to a line up of people reading bill numbers.” He went on, “It’s devoid of humor, entertainment value or mirth. These are not radio personalities.”
He wonders aloud if anyone in the radio business getting the message?
And he cautions up and coming talkers, “Don’t go to a radio station, because you’ll never be allowed to develop your talent. Develop a podcast, develop a streaming live show, develop your own product, and learn how to sell it and become an entrepreneur.”
OKAY, SO NOW WHAT?
Maybe it is political talk’s fault. I happen to believe it’s likely a perfect storm of new media, new listener expectations, new social and political attitudes, and a general fear in radio of taking risks and being wrong – in every department.
Here are a couple of steps I believe are necessary for talk radio to attract new listeners and remain relevant.
1. DEMAND SHOWMANSHIP
Talk radio needs more storytellers and fewer alarmists. Talent need to entertain, emote and put on a show, as much as they provide insight, deliver information and add context. Radio station leaders must support talent and encourage them to be amusing, insightful, emotional, apolitical, curious, experimental, and positive while giving them permission to fail. And fail hard sometimes — without fear of being fired.
2. FIND ANOTHER REVENUE STREAM
Radio stations need to stop abusing the listeners. The quality and quantity of radio’s commercials is appalling. I mean holy smokes gang have you tried to listen to an hour of radio recently? Effective immediately commercials that don’t meet your standards or match your brand should be rejected. Be the first guy in the room to say, “Hold up! That spot sucks. It’s not going on our air.” Be bold.
And – this will be even less popular – reduce spot loads. It’s time. Thanks to DVR, podcasts, Netflix, on-demand audio, and satellite radio spot loads seem to be worse than ever. Until recently people were accustomed to sitting through commercials or flipping back and forth between stations, because it was the penance you had to pay to watch your favorite TV show or listen to a kooky talk show host. Now radio is the last place on earth (with the exception of movie theaters) where consumers are forced to sit there while commercials are crammed down their throat.
No fast forward.
No more patience.
No more listening.
Just look at the growth of online radio, on-demand audio and NPR. So what’s that mean? Radio needs to figure out a dual revenue stream. The future of financing big radio is commercials and__________. You fill in the blank.
Editor’s note: If you say commercials and banner ads, I will scream.
Talk radio isn’t going to die, but it is definitely going through a mid-life crisis. The next 18-months the entire format will be redefined, programmers will be less focused on gaming PPM and more focused on listeners, commercials will sadly still suck, and Rush Limbaugh will be replaced by someone else as the face of the format.
Pandora is buying a real radio station (article here); 102.7 The Hits in South Dakota. They have a theory that this puts them in the same category as iHeartRadio as it relates to affordable music rights fees. It may work. But, it got me thinking, what if Pandora started to act like a radio station?
Eight Things Pandora Will Do Now That It Bought The Radio Station 102.7 The Hits
7. Update the logo. Keep it familiar, but leverage the Pandora name, but make it more “radio-y.” (notice no mention of the website)
6. Buy more banner roll. One sad logo isn’t going to cut it anymore.
5. New Slogan:
OLD “Today’s Best Hits Without The Rap” (seriously, that’s the slogan. I didn’t realize my Mom was writing radio slogans. She’s always going on about “the rap” music.)
NEW: “If you like Nickelback….we are playing songs that are similar to them”
4. New 10×10 tent for the grocery store remotes. No radio station is complete without one.
3. Understand Added Value. Give clients spots on Pandora.com at no charge in exchange for paying for terrestrial radio buys. This works, trust us Pandora, we know radio.
2. Update the Bieber cutout. He’s much cooler these days.
1. Use streaming audio for promotion! Make sure the web stream pushes terrestrial listening, otherwise it doesn’t count!
Okay, I’m cheeky and sarcastic. I know. But, it does make you stop think about why radio does some of the things it does. Evolution involves change and change is uncomfortable. To adapt and survive, radio is going to have to get pretty uncomfortable, pretty quickly.
When was the last time you paid someone a genuine, specific compliment about something they did?
It’s a rare treat in radio to be certain. I know for me, I usually hear about the good things and positive impact I make during my final week on the job. It’s flattering for sure and a little depressing that it takes my resignation to trigger genuine compliments – and often times I’m so surprised I blush.
“Wow, I did that? Cool.”
The other day, I was talking to someone who wasn’t sure if a trusted and dear friend enjoyed her work, because she’d never said so. She didn’t NEED the validation, but she really WANTED it. She wants people to enjoy her work and hoped they ‘get it’ and appreciate it.
I imagine we believe we’re too busy to notice good things. We are so focused on improving the product by highlighting what’s wrong that we don’t have the time to showcase and reinforce what’s right. Accentuating the negative is an ongoing issue in our industry that I blame Arbitron for (why not?). Because of fluctuating ratings, we believe something is always broken, wrong, needs fixing or changed. We (radio programmers, general managers, consultants, etc.) focus a lot of time and effort on insanely attempting to master almighty Arbitron and less on cultivating the great work from each other through our compliments.
There are other reasons we skip the niceties too. Some of us are too insecure of our own talents, too afraid to shine a light away from ourselves, or too intimidated by others to speak up. What else? You know that feeling when you want to say something, but you’re not sure what to say and you don’t want to sound stupid? That feeling often keeps us from saying anything at all. There are also factions of folks in radio who don’t believe it’s their job to compliment others (but no doubt they’ll talk negative behind your back). And then there are those who assume people hear how good they are all the time from other people, so why bother.
I’m sure I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another.
Here’s a secret. No one hears how good they are or receives compliments on the exceptional things they do – often enough. Whether you are talent, management, sales, production, news, board op, promotions, engineering or the front desk assistant, you want compliments and people want to receive compliments from you.
And it’s scientifically proven to make people better at their job. A research study published in November by a team of Japanese scientists in the Public Library of Science’s scientific journal PLOS ONE found proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward (a compliment). The team previously discovered that the area of the brain known as the striatum is activated equally when a person is rewarded via a compliment or cash.
Compliments inspire, empower and make people feel awesome. People want and need to feel appreciated for what they do – even the guys with big egos and the women with rock-n-roll attitudes. People need to feel respected, feel valued and have good self-esteem. This is the fourth level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow even said when people do not have self-respect they feel incompetent and weak. Raise your hand if you want employees and co-workers who feel incompetent and weak!
Plus, there’s the side benefit of positive reinforcement. Your one minute of telling someone how much you “loved” this or how “great” that was has the power to motivate that person to repeat that behavior and continue to be great over and over again.
And just as powerful is our silence. Not providing appreciation and recognition for great work is de-motivating and demoralizing. It’s a hallway buzz kill that makes everyone feel “less than.” Nothing like a radio station full of passionless drones who feel unappreciated, undervalued and overworked. But that would never happen in radio, right?
So how do you do it? David Stewart, an eHow.com contributor, has an easy step-by-step process on complimenting someone at work.
1. Find something specific and genuine that you like about your colleague.
2. Choose the right words that help express your appreciation.
3. Begin a compliment with “you.”
4. Provide a specific example of what you noticed, observed.
5. Notice and recognize small things that matter. Don’t wait for major events to show appreciation.
For example; “You have a real knack for self-improvement and positivity. I noticed you reading the Larry Gifford Media blog today and it just reminded me how much I admire the amount of time and effort you take to better yourself. Thanks for setting a good example for everyone else.”
(Paying a compliment is one of 13 ways you can be a better co-worker according to Reader’s Digest.)
Now, go forth and compliment. Let others know you appreciate them. No strings attached. No expectations. Just be kind, be genuine and be generous with your praise. It’s good for team morale, personal self-esteem and productivity. Oh, and did I mention it’s free (and not just to the 12th caller).
Focus. That’s how you get things done — including ratings. In this world of “I want what I want when I want it wherever I am” – it’s important you think about what you do and why you do it.
Do you know what your show is about? Not only specifically today’s show, but the show in general. What’s it about? What’s the listener benefit? How do listener’s use your show? Are you meeting their expectation every time you crack the mic?
Do you know who you are? What’s your personality? Go ahead, describe you in a sentence. Do you want to hang out with you? Are you unique, authentic, original? Do you fill a hole on the station, in the market? What should people expect when they tune into you? Do you fulfill that expectation?
Do you know what you’re talking about? Do you know why you’re talking about it? Do you know why you like this story? What attracted you to it? What are you going to do with it? What’s your point? What’s the payoff? What’s the listener benefit?
It’s not only about who’s talking and what you talk about, but how you talk about it and how it exceeds the listener expectation. Radio is fun, but it’s not only fun – it’s a business. One way to better ratings is to focus your show, focus your topics, and focus your personality.
Arbitron released a study recently on the key indicators of highly rated PPM stations. They surveyed stations in 48 markets and most every format. The gist is that the dominate #1 stations in PPM have a high DAILY CUME and a high number of LISTENING OCCASIONS (getting people to listen more often is more important than listening longer). So, yes you need more listeners to listen more often in order to be #1. I’ve read some blogs who’ve dismissed this as far from enlightening. Bully for them.
As a programmer it gives me more of a focus to dig deeper. (I’ve changed days of week and actual numbers for competitive purposes). My GM and I decided to look at these key indicators closely. We took a 6-month look at each day of the week to see where we are performing the best and worst (based on DAILY CUME for listeners who spend 1:00+ daily with the station). It opened our eyes to new opportunities. We knew our weekends were vulnerable, but we didn’t have a clear sense of how negatively it impacted the DAILY CUME on Monday. It takes a while to get those listeners to come back after we push them out the door on Friday.
We also looked at LISTENING OCCASIONS. We have a relatively high daily occasion count (about 7), but a lower weekly occasions number (about 21). That means when our P1s decide to listen to the station, they are listening and coming back throughout the day. The opportunity is we only get our core listeners about 3 of 7 days per week on average.
So now we have a better sense of what needs done. We need to convert more of P2, P3, and P4 listeners into P1 listeners by giving them a reason to come back more and more often each day of the week. And encourage our current P1s to spend more days per week with us. It involves appointment listening opportunities throughout each day (coming up today at 4:37…) and appointment listening day-to-day (coming up tomorrow at this time…). It also involves creating a relationship with these fans through facebook, twitter, and email blasts. I want all my core listeners thinking about the radio station, when they’re not even listening to the radio station. (That’s a blog entry for another day.)
This research and exercise is a great reminder for me that each minute, each hour, each day, each week is an opportunity to grow ratings. Everything we do – every topic we choose, every promo we air, every news cast, every e-blast, tweet and facebook post matters and can make a difference.
Nearly everyday I get a request from somebody for “feedback.” Sometimes it’s an employee, sometimes a peer or mentor, and sometimes a complete stranger out-of-the-blue wanting “an honest assessment of their work.”
This is tricky.
In nearly every situation, I find most people — and yes, you maybe the exception – are looking to find out what’s “right” about what they are doing. They are looking for positive feedback, affirmation, and reassurance. They crave a verbal hug.
But, “feedback” and “honest assessments” are typically just the opposite.
Programmers are taught to listen for what’s wrong, not what’s right. And it’s still my instinct too.
I listen to a tape/cd/mp3 and think, ”that was weak, that’s not right, that missed the mark, what is she thinking?, why would he say that? where are they going with this bit?”
Is that what you’re looking for? Or do you want to know what’s right?
My experience tells me the latter. Nearly every time I’ve provided an “honest assessment” of a talent’s work it leads to defensiveness, excuses, and rebellion (ie. I don’t care what you think, I’m going with my gut.)
The key, as with most things, is balance. I’m working hard to focus on strengths and weaknesses, knowing it’s easier to enhance a strength than overcome a weakness. This doesn’t mean weaknesses aren’t worth overcoming, but it certainly takes more effort and time.
The easiest solution to this is to ask for what you want. Instead of asking for general feedback, ask for specifics;
- What am I doing right?
- How can I do better?
- What’s missing from my performance?
- How can I increase TSL?
- What can I do differently to be more valuable to the radio station?
- How can improve the listener experience?
- Where should I focus more of my effort?
Specific questions lead to specific answers. Be prepared – you may just get what you ask for.