Nashville Cats

The people powered meter (PPM) has come to Nashville, which has also suffered a change of format to its NPR affiliate. According to this post on the site

Big changes may be coming to a radio station near you soon.

Nashville is the latest city to take part in a real-time radio audience survey system that has led to dust-ups on morning talk shows, surprising ratings changes and shifts in music formats at stations across the country over the past three years.

It’s all because of a cell-phone-size listening device based on submarine warfare technology retooled to pick up inaudible signals from your favorite — and not so favorite — radio broadcasts.

The portable people meter, or PPM, clips onto a belt like a pager and tracks every snippet of radio broadcast that a handpicked sample of paid wearers hears. Nashville is the 44th market to get the high-tech system that has been praised by many for the accuracy of its data and damned by others for the same reason.

As the story notes, the PPM system gives an entirely different picture of who listens to which stations in a market.

Some popular programs have taken a plunge in other cities once data from the people meters entered the ratings. The Sean Hannity Show, for example, endured a 20 percent drop in listeners in some markets in which the PPM was introduced, according to Alton Adams, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Arbitron until recently. Adams came to town earlier this month to meet advertisers and executives from Nashville’s 30 radio stations.

“For high loyalty stations, there are more overstatements,” Adams said. And the fallout hasn’t always been pretty.

In Detroit, Breakfast Club morning show hosts Kevin O’Neill and Lisa Barry found themselves without a job in April when the Clear Channel-owned WNIC-FM switched to a music intensive format after PPM ratings showed the formerly No. 1 morning show was coming in at No. 11 among 35- to 64-year-olds. In Chicago, “smooth jazz” station WNUA abandoned its format seven months after the PPM was introduced, as the latest ratings showed it had slipped from No. 6 to No. 14.

The story touches on some of the controversy that has plagued Arbitron, including suits against them for a lack of diversity in their samples and a suit settled disputing ownership of the technology going into the PPMs.

In Nashville, the company says it has recruited a representative sample to reflect the entire market of potential listeners — balanced by age, race and income criteria. “With any market, if the percentage of men is 48 and women 52, we build the panel to be 48 percent men and 52 percent women. If the market is 15 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic, 15 percent 12- to 17-year-olds; the panel is built to reflect each demographic,” Arbitron spokeswoman Jessica Benbow said.

But one astute commenter pointed out the main criticism of Arbitron’s PPM:

The far more important question surrounds the number of “people meters.” 754.

Used to be (and I assume it still is) that the “Nashville Metro Survey Area” was Davidson County AND the seven counties that surround it. Anyone want to take a guess how many people that is? It’s more than 754.

They will project the data they have (all 754, I assume) and issue a report that concludes this sample is representative of the entire populace in the eight counties. This is the system by which radio lives and dies. What amazes me is that radio continues to be led around by the nose. The industry has the power to say “we want better than this.”

The lure of the money must be too strong. Isn’t that “addiction”?

Recommended listening for every Arbitron-addicted bean counter at every station: Frank Zappa on why the music sucks.


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