Sayonara in Seattle

Smooth jazz is gone in Seattle, according to this online post of the Seattle Times, courtesy of a switch in the Arbitron system used in the ratings to the flying Purple People Meter.

Seattle fans of smooth jazz were confused last week when they dialed their favorite radio station, KWJZ 98.9 FM, and heard Dave Matthews and the Kings of Leon. At 3 p.m. Dec. 27, the station changed its format to modern adult contemporary….

Smooth jazz has experienced a dramatic ratings decline since a new system for tracking listenership was introduced by Arbitron. In Seattle, the Portable People Meter (PPM) replaced the old personal “diary” method in 2009.

According to Carol Handley, program director at the now-defunct KWJZ, when PPM came in, the station plunged from a No. 3 ranking to No. 22 among adult listeners.

“The change in Arbitron measures has not been favorable to certain lifestyle-driven formats, including smooth jazz,” said Handley.

As the story notes, Arbitron ratings are used to determine ad rates for commercial radio, but see increasing use in public radio stations as they hunger after “community” support. As mentioned, KWJZ plummeted in the ratings when Arbitron switched from the diary system to PPM. So which system is bogus? If PPM gives the “good” numbers (though their own website prominently features a disclaimer as to its accuracy, here), then what kind of numbers are leading radio-station PDs around by the nose in the vast majority of cities (PPM juju is only featured in about 50 cities)?

Comments on the website overflowed with plaints from the disenfranchised “underserved“:

Moving on doesn’t always mean improvement, but the truth here is that the future of free radio is pretty bleak. Fewer and fewer stations are locally owned and most are the property of huge national corporations like Clearchannel. In recent years the bottom line has meant less formats featuring live on air personalities and more pre-programming. The listener will find more and more commercial advertising being thrown at them and fewer format choices. Those that enjoy jazz, blues, classical, or anything besides “modern music” will be forced to go somewhere else and free radio will probably go the same way as the newspaper business.

Is it lost on folks that this format change is an object lesson in why the radio exists? Still believe it has something to do with providing something of substance to an audience? Come on. It’s about delivering an audience to corporate advertisers — nothing more, nothing less.

Maximizing market share = lowest common denominator = blah, blah, blah. Conform or be cast out.


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