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
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.
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 ...