Enough radio biggies have raised enough Cain now, so Arbitron, the radio ratings monopoly, has delayed the rollout of its new electronic listening-spy gadget. In its initial outings, some stations that appeal to young adults digitally lost their audiences. Arbitron’s been trying desperately to juggle their samples to try to keep the customers simply peeved instead of livid–stations pay Arbitron big bucks for the numbers. Arbitron pushed their rollout in New York in spite of industry doubts about their methods. Way back when, Clear Channel and other radio owners held a competition for new ratings methodologies. There were some worthy competitors. Whatever happened to those guys? I’ll sniff around. (How often do I get to link to the New York Times?)

Afterthought:  Three things steel-tower radio doesn’t need right now: an explosion of new music and programming-distribution technologies, a too-little-too-late digital conversion of its own technology, and a ratings mess. It has ’em all right now. A stable ratings situation, as backwards as Arbitron’s system is, would at least keep the advertising status quo quiet for a little longer. But now, the wheels are flying off the new PeopleMeter, at a time when the bigtime media buyers are already fed up with the old diary method. This could quicken the erosion of radio ad business from traditional radio to the Internet, which targets particular buyers even better. In fact, radio’s always been more interested in appealing to “mass niches” like country music fans and spleenish talk listeners than real niches, like, say, news junkies or local activists in smaller towns. How about “smart people” as a niche? As long as ratings are the only reason offered to buy ads on a station, radio’s stuck with programming to the ratings rather than the potential listeners. About now, radio people are saying, “What’s he talking about?” I’m saying, there are opportunities for radio out there that radio people don’t even see, because ratings reports don’t report on why a growing number of folks don’t listen at all. In my town, if you’re not a country, hard rock, hip-hop, oldies, Mexican music, Christian preaching or hip hymns, or conservative ire-talk fan, all you’ve got is National Public Radio, and there are quite a few folks who don’t find much there to love. Sirius and XM are fine, but not comprehensive, no matter what you might think about services with over 100 channels. There’s still a place for a good hometown radio station, and local radio staffs are so repressed and stressed, we’re not getting much local stuff out of them these days. I wonder how much the radio business infrastructure will have to collapse before somebody in the business takes a risk and starts deserting the outmoded standard industry song and dance.

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