Annual Edition 'Buying Power of
Black America' report breaks down billions in expenditures Black
consumers are responding to tighter economic condition by focusing more of
their spending on items and services that improve their homes and
lifestyle. That's one of the trends revealed in the 15th annual report,
"The Buying Power of Black America," published by Target Market News. The
report analyzes spending for black households in 2008 and finds that
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PPM's arrival in Columbus, Ohio has urban radio stations and listeners
By Tim Feran
The Columbus Dispatch
(June 15, 2010) Like it or not, radio in Columbus is about to change --
not only in the music that it airs but in the money that is spent on
And it's all because of a device the size of a cell phone.
The Portable People Meter, known simply as PPM, will be officially
introduced into the Columbus market in September by Arbitron Radio
Ratings and Media Research.
It's designed to measure listening habits more accurately than the
current diary system. That helps determine the kind of music a station
plays and, based on audience size, how much it can charge for
While all this might sound benign, the PPM's arrival in other markets
across the country has left a trail of format changes, shifts in ad
spending and allegations of racial bias.
For example, a station in Chicago that was one of the first and most
important "smooth jazz" outlets abandoned the format only seven months
after PPM was introduced in the city.
"Smooth jazz certainly has not prospered in the PPM era," said Sean
Ross, executive editor of music and programming for Radio-Info.com. "A
lot of stations have gotten out and not even waited to see what would
While smooth-jazz stations formerly thought that they had a few people
who would listen for long stretches, the PPM often shows that the
stations were second or third choice behind a "soft adult contemporary"
station such as WSNY (94.7 FM).
Since the mid-1960s, research firm Arbitron has measured audience tastes
by asking radio listeners to log what they listen to in paper booklets
-- diaries, in radio jargon. That information was presented to stations
every three months, and traditionally it has been used to make changes
in formats and to set advertising rates.
But radio programmers have for decades complained that the diary system
is flawed. They say listeners forget what they heard, accidentally omit
a station or even lie about their listening habits.
Then there was the problem of gaining adequate samples of some listener
groups. Although more than 2,000 diaries typically are in use in central
Ohio each quarter, the number and responsiveness of minorities and young
men participating was always considered a problem.
"The diary method was always ludicrous," said Jane Peters, president of
Media Management Services, a Columbus marketing and advertising firm.
"Men wouldn't fill it out. Young African-American men wouldn't fill it
out. You always knew there were reporting errors."
In 2007, Arbitron began replacing the written surveys with the PPM
system. The goal was to make the switch in the top 50 markets by the end
of 2010. Columbus is the country's 36th-largest radio market.
The device is worn like a pager and electronically detects and logs a
station's signal whenever it is within hearing distance of the signal.
Results will be offered to stations on a monthly basis rather than just
Arbitron thinks the benefits are obvious: The PPM is much more accurate
than the old handwritten logs because it sidesteps the old test-subject
problems such as forgetting to write down a station or writing down an
But critics of the PPM say the meters still have problems.
"It's a failed attempt at ratings," said R.P. Hutchison, president of
Hutchison Media Consultants, a Columbus marketing and advertising
firm. The problem boils down to numbers, in his view.
"You have to remember they are currently doing 2,400 diaries, four times
a year (in central Ohio)," Hutchison said. "Now, you'll have 750 to 800
people meters. I don't think the number can (accurately represent) the
Another complaint: the effect of the electronic record-keeping when
someone goes shopping at a mall.
"There are some stations they don't know they're listening to, and the
meter registers it," said John Crenshaw, director of programming for
Clear Channel Columbus. That's the company that owns seven stations in
central Ohio, including WTVN (610 AM), WYTS (1230 AM), WCOL (92.3 FM),
WLZT (93.3 FM), WNCI (97.9 FM), WBRW (105.7 FM) and WRXS (106.7 FM).
"If you went to Best Buy and someone has an FM station on, or you went
to Great Clips in Gahanna and they had a station on, it will register.
And you don't realize you were listening to whatever they had on."
Such concerns have particularly alarmed minority broadcasters, who have
always been concerned about underreporting errors. They think the
problems in the new system could lead to less diversity and less
competition in the business.
Their concerns are so great and so much money is at stake that Arbitron
recently settled a dispute with a coalition of minority broadcasters,
agreeing to several improvements that they think will address their
Arbitron has agreed to redouble its efforts to seek out hard-to-reach
listeners, such as young men, by recruiting them in person -- a far
better way of pinning down on-the-go young folks who rarely answer their
But even with improvements, the PPM is bound to offer a new image of the
radio audience that will affect programming.
"Under the diary system, people would often say they listened to two or
three stations in the course of a week, but the meter shows it's
actually between four and six," Crenshaw said.
While this is partly because of the walking-in-themall effect, it is
also due to the fact that listeners often don't realize how frequently
they flip around among popular stations.
What this tends to mean, ad executives and radio programmers say, is
that the meters favor stations with larger audiences, while those with
smaller audiences -- regardless of the fervor of those listeners -- will
be out of luck.
The likely losers?
"The biggest thing we're going to see here is the urban market," said
Peters, whose clients in Atlanta and Detroit are already using the
people meter ratings.
"We did see in Cincinnati the urban station did drop quite a bit," said
Bobbie Termeer, broadcast director at Fahlgren Advertising.
"I think Radio One will really be hurt by this," Peters said, referring
to the company that owns WXMG (98.9 FM), WJYD (106.3 FM) and WCKX (107.5
FM). "It's a shame. A lot of people are really upset because this is
going to hurt stations that don't pander to the mainstream. It's going
to make it harder to have variety on the dial. The nation's media is
going to become much more white bread.
"This is going to have a big impact."
Radio One Columbus operations manager J.D. Kunes, who is also program
director for WCKX, was upbeat but cautious in his appraisal of the new
"I think the big stations are still the big stations," Kunes said. "I
think the only thing we can agree to is it's going to be different. We
hope we maintain the ratings and the rankings and continue to build on
that. But it's tough to say.... because (the diary system) is the only
thing we've ever known."
Other stations might be in for a pleasant surprise.
"Classic rock generally does well," Ross said, so a station in that
format such as WLVQ (96.3 FM) could benefit.
And a sports station should have "just amazing" ratings on a big game
day, said Tom Taylor, executive news editor at Radio-Info.com. "In
Cincinnati, for instance, the opening-day baseball statistics showed
over 50 percent of listeners were at WLW."
The upshot is that there could be fewer stations down the road.
The PPM "doesn't like when there are four of anything," Ross said. "So I
think Columbus is probably going to have one or two rock stations in a
All of this is important to advertisers because they use the ratings to
decide where they'll buy commercials and how much they're willing to pay
for those commercials.
Columbus was a $69 million radio market in 2009 as reported by Miller,
Kaplan, Arase, & Co., although revenue has approached $100 million
annually in better days.
Broadcasters, marketing executives and Arbitron officials say that a
large part of the solution for worried stations will be in educating
advertisers about the new survey methods.
"We know those listeners are still there," Termeer said. "It's a matter
of educating the client. All the listeners are still there. We just have
a different way of measuring them."
But some still aren't convinced that educating advertisers will help
those stations most affected by the meters.
"If you look at Radio One in this market, they've done an excellent
job," Peters said. "It's not just African-American listeners they reach.
It's young, very vital, under-21 listeners of all races.
"So when their numbers go down now, it's going to hurt them more because
it plays into the stereotypes that it is just African-Americans who
listen," she said. "They're going to lose ad revenue, not so much from
the agencies, but from the direct clients themselves. If you're a
60-year-old male and don't follow the business closely, you're not going
to understand this."
In the midst of so much uncertainty and worry, radio programmers do know
one thing: Their lives are about to become far more complicated. .
"There's a sense of pressure on program directors for sure," Taylor
said. "What it teaches is that every minute on air counts."