Monday, November 12, 2007

Black radio shafted in New York

There's a huge row brewing in the New York radio world, as a new electronic method of measuring audiences has stood the accepted positions of stations on its head:

Under the new system, rock and pop stations saw their numbers shoot through the roof, while the AM talk station WABC suddenly became the 6th most popular station in New York City. The station that had occupied the top ranking under the diary system -- the "urban"-focussed WBLS -- plummeted to the 12th spot.

The new system has dumped the traditional diary-based method of keeping track of what listeners are tuned into, and gone instead with electronic devices which pick up inaudible watermarks in broadcasts to track numbers.

The debate, of course, centres on how the two systems could be throwing up such different figures, and if it's a sign that the electronic method of data collection is unfairly skewed against urban channels, or if the old system was undercounting rock, pop and talk listenerships.

There's a lesson for the UK here, too: for several years, while he was at TalkRadio, Kelvin Mckenzie was pushing for RAJAR to abandon a system which asked a sample of listeners to tick boxes in diaries in favour of an electronic method. McKenzie's claim was that a new ratings approach would cause a sudden change in the favours of British networks. Perhaps fear of what's just happened in New York was why McKenzie never got his way.