Number Fumbling

This from Tom Taylor’s newsletter on, about four Arbitron diaries that turned up in one household, leading to a re-doing of the rankings. It says a lot about the small sampling for Nashville — a major criticism of the ranking system:

The re-issued Spring Arbitron for Nashville no longer contains four tainted 25-54 diaries that Cromwell owner Bud Walters told the market about. (He cooperated with Arbitron’s investigation and though his two FMs benefited, he had nothing to do with the funkiness involving the diaries and a former AE.) What Bud said last week came true — four diaries can have a huge impact. (Four People Meters can make an even larger impact.)

Meanwhile, this post from the Yakima in the Northwest, where one company switched from Arbitron to Eastlan:

The Seattle-based company decided to turn to Sammamish-based Eastlan Ratings to determine listener trends for its 31 stations, which span over six Pacific Northwest cities. It switched over for the fall 2009 ratings period.

“Arbitron is very spendy,” said Dewey Boynton, who is New Northwest Broadcasters’ operations manager in Yakima and morning show host for KXDD. “There are certain inadequacies in the methodology that concern everybody.”…

Stations have been frustrated by Arbitron, whose operation dates back to the late 1940s. The biggest issue is Arbitron’s survey sample, which radio station operators say is too small, and too expensive.

“People are always looking for an alternative radio ratings system,” said Bob Burke, vice president/manager director for Friday Morning Quarterback or FMQB, a trade publication for the radio industry. “Many stations and companies question the measurements of Arbitron.”

Later in the article, he says “Gonzalo Cortez, general manager for the company in Prosser, said he believes that it costs $25,000 a year to subscribe to Arbitron ratings for just one station.”

According to local radio stations, the sample size for Arbitron in Yakima is about 500-600 participants. Those surveyed receive a diary where they record their listening habits every 15 minutes for a week. They then return the diary to Arbitron.

The sample size of Eastlan is about 1,000 people. Participants recall their listening habits by answering questions during a single phone call.

Any way you slice it, the numbers fumble all over, and as posted here before, GMs who blindly follow them will end up in a blind alley. As the Arbitron site itself says about its “new, improved” Purple People Meter: “PPM ratings are based on audience estimates and are the opinion of Arbitron and should not be relied on for precise accuracy or precise representativeness of a demographic or radio market.”

On a lighter note, Mitch Mizel, Director of Research for CBS Radio in New York, had a couple funny Arbitron diary stories in this article on

The two stories I remember best were the Arbitron diary that that listed 18 hours a day of listening with the diary-keeper adding in the comments that she left the radio on all day because her parrot liked the music. Arbitron counted that diary because there was nothing in their rules against it. And there was the station that had a 99 share from Birch for a weekend daypart because there was only one diary that reported any listening at all!


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