Are You Ruining Your Radio Station By Programming to Ratings Methodology?

Managers and programmers wring their hands over how to structure their radio stations in an endless cat-and-mouse game to manipulate the ratings system. The mechanics of winning credit for a quarter-hour share vary depending on whether ratings are measured by diaries or meters. There are many theories and philosophies, but the key question is how much to allow a flawed rating system to influence programming decisions. This is particularly the case in PPM methodology.

How To Program PPM Methodology

PPM (Portable People Meter) has been around for quite some time and is generally accepted as more accurate than diaries despite shortcomings, flaws, and failures that border on ridiculous.

Here’s the problem: A new generation of programmers and personalities has been implementing tactics designed for PPM methodology without regard to the bigger picture.  Radio station brands have been affected, contributing to a decline in top-of-mind awareness and importance.

If the process of capturing information from a handful of unique types of people who participate with a rating service causes stations and personalities to connect less with listeners, personality radio has a bleak future. Radio’s future success depends on creating communities of listeners connected around common interests through personalities.

The Tug Of War Between Programming And Personalities

Many air personalities are frustrated, claiming programmers are “killing” the flavor of shows because of their obsession with meters, which leads to a robotic presentation in short segments. Some even describe morning shows as having turned into a presentation more appropriate for attention-deprived X (formerly Twitter) users. This hot take is on target.

Well-meaning programmers suppress personality by overanalyzing numbers on a spreadsheet. They apply the science of radio, but without applying art, entertainment is often polished off the air.

When stations are programmed for PPM, personality is often pinned in a corner, and this led this show to blow off some frustrated steam with a hilarious video story about the relationship between a PD and personality. This is an exaggeration—kind of. A little.

Programming Principles For PPM Methodology

There is a better way, but it starts by realizing that rating reports are not an accurate measure of a brand’s success. You can’t disregard it because ratings impact revenue. But programming to PPM methodology is killing your brand.

Here are three generally accepted PPM concepts with some thoughts on how to react to each:

Talk Is Bad/Music Is Good…Not

When the PPM methodology showed that talk causes tune-out, the popular adjustment was to remove personality. However, the “talk is bad” theory assumes that all talk is equally harmful, and it’s not true.

Pointless talk is dangerous. It is a tune-out in the diary world, and it’s a tune-out in a metered world. However, an interesting, targeted, emotionally connected personality creates reasons to listen.

Coleman Research says:

EVERY INTERRUPTION (OF MUSIC FLOW) HAS SOME DETRIMENTAL IMPACT ON RATINGS. THE INSTINCTIVE REACTION OF MANY PROGRAMMERS IS TO WIPE THE STATION CLEAN – 30 SECOND PROMOS BECAME 10 SECONDS. IDS WERE FIVE SECONDS. JOCKS TALKED LESS.

BUT INTERRUPTIONS, WHILE DETRIMENTAL IN THE MOMENT, CAN BE ADDITIVE TO THE BRAND. MAKE SURE EVERY INTERRUPTION HAS BRAND VALUE. IF IT BUILDS THE BRAND, IT’S WORTH IT.

High Profile Personalities Are Over-Not

Ratings on stations with well-known, high-profile personalities were first rated lower in PPM than when diaries were in place. There are many reasons. The most significant cause is that diary methodology rewards familiarity with listening credit that doesn’t take place (phantom cume). Listeners say they listen more than they do. That’s the value of Top Of Mind Awareness.

But even in metered markets, these “votes” are essential because they provide marketing equity. Weak brand values reduce stations to commodities with few reasons to become fans. When listeners have no reason to remember a brand, there is little reason to expect them to return. Top-of-mind awareness is one of the most important qualities for a radio brand.

Interaction

When manipulating ratings tactics replace interaction, stations lose their point of difference. Programmers try to save each precious second and, in doing so, lose humanity. Stripping the station of character leaves your station as a music platform without personalization and way too many commercials.

How is that supposed to compete with Apple Music or Spotify? Radio stations will lose the music battle. Don’t lose the personality war trying to fight a battle you can’t win. Sun Tsu (The Art Of War) would be turning over in his grave.

Conclusion

Hundreds of millions of dollars are shifting to digital media because advertisers don’t care about cume or time spent listening and aren’t interested in petty squabbles between radio stations competing for ad dollars.

Ratings are important, but radio has allowed ratings services to have far too much influence on how we engage and influence the audience.

As Coleman concludes:

NEVER GO IN WITH A PPM MINDSET, BUT WITH THE MINDSET OF DEVELOPING A BRAND BY EXPLOITING AN AVAILABLE MARKET POSITION. YOUR GOAL SHOULD BE TO MAKE THE STATION ENTERTAINING AND FOCUSED.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOUR BRAND MESSAGE IS AND HOW YOU WANT TO COMMUNICATE THAT TO THE AUDIENCE. THEN START THINKING ABOUT PPM.

Pic designed by pvproductions for www.freepik.com.
Tracy Johnson is a talent coach and programming consultant. He’s the President/CEO of Tracy Johnson Media Group. His book Morning Radio has been described as The Bible of Personality Radio and has been used by personalities worldwide.

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