Radio Column for April 3, 1998

One of the complaints about radio ratings surveys centers around the methodology used in collecting the data. In the case of Arbitron, for example, a diary is sent to a random sample of radio listeners who then fill in very station to which they listened during every quarter-hour throughout the day.

The problem, of course, is that few people can remember every station they listened to during the day, and fewer still fill out the diaries as they listen. Often they can't -- as when they are driving, leading to memory as the primary force in filling out ratings diaries.

Ever wonder why station advertisements on billboards don't really say much about the station? Simple -- the stations don't want to say anything. They just want you to see the station name over and over again, so that just in case you have a ratings diary, you'll "remember" to write that station down ... whether or not you ever even tuned in. I've heard of stations being mentioned in diaries that were no longer on the air.

To the rescue comes a company called Tapscan, which has been testing a new system in Toronto and has recently begun installing the system in Phoenix. The system, called MobilTrak and acquired by Tapscan from a company called TrendData, uses sensors installed on utility poles to measure radio listening in passing cars.

No its not an adaption of Superman's X-Ray vision. It's actually a simple process of measuring the "leakage" of radio frequency (RF). It seems that radios "leak" radio waves in the same frequency to which they are tuned. The sensors can measure FM RF up to 150 feet away, although only one at a time. That one-at-a-time limit is designed to keep the same radio from being measured twice -- the sensor locks onto the signal until it passes -- but it keeps busy intersections from giving any accurate data.

Interestingly, the system currently works only for FM -- modern AM radios leak far less than older models, so older cars and radios may introduce a bias that needs to be worked out before the AM system can be introduced. Tapscan president Jim Christian says an AM system is expected in the near future.

The system cannot determine the age, sex or any other demographic about the listener either, so its use may be somewhat limited. However, it can be used in conjunction with other forms of ratings research, as well as telling a store owner what tastes his or her customers may have by monitoring cars in a parking lot.

Why Not

Jeff Wyatt, former programmer of KPWR (105.9 FM) and KIIS (102.7 FM), and manager of KACD/KBCD (103.1 FM) for a few minutes when they switched from decent music to that junk they play now, has resurfaced again. This time he's at KCMG (Mega 100.3 FM), currently for an airstaff-only position (morning drive, reunited with Monica Brooks), although rumor has him moving toward the programming side of things again ...