Is FM 94/9 in trouble or are radio ratings flawed? Maybe both.
One local radio exec says that men aged 25–34 is the most sought-after group — the “bullseye” for modern-rock stations. According to Arbitron, the Maryland-based ratings company that has a virtual monopoly on radio-ratings research, there are about 249,000 men aged 25–34 in all of San Diego County. Although most listeners move around between different stations, Arbitron has one category called “P-1.” If you spend more time with one particular station, you become a P-1, or a loyal listener for that station.
Rock 105.3 has more P-1 listeners among men 25–34 than any other station. Arbitron reports that Rock 105.3 had 25,600 (10 percent of San Diego men 25–34) P-1s in October. KSON had 18,600, and 91X had 7900 P-1s in October.
Arbitron reports that of the 249,000 men in San Diego County in that age range, none claimed FM 94/9 as their favorite station.
Insiders point to two factors that may have driven longtime listeners from 94/9, which launched ten years ago this month.
They say the station used to engender listener loyalty by championing artists such as My Morning Jacket and the Black Keys, but now 94/9 has a much less adventuresome format relying on safer, more commercial artists such as Incubus and Fun.
Also, the introduction of Mike Esparza and his morning show may have put a dagger in 94/9’s cred. The Mikey Show, which was heard from early 2010 through March 2012, supplanted music with comedy bits laced with forced laughter and a weekly religious testimonial. (Now a podcast, The Mikey Show can be heard at mikeyshow.com.)
While 94/9 seems to be in trouble, every radio insider contacted maintains that Arbitron’s data cannot be trusted as much as it used to be. Until two years ago, Arbitron relied on monthly “diaries” that were filled out by listeners and sent back to Arbitron’s headquarters. But then came Portable People Meters (PPMs), which are carried around by the listeners being sampled. Every minute a listener spends with a station is recorded by the PPM, and that info gets sent to Arbitron.
While that process sounds more scientific, the local radio industry decries the process because Arbitron is using a smaller group of listeners. For instance, of the 249,000 male listeners aged 25–34 in San Diego County, Arbitron PPMed just 83 daily listeners (on average) for October. “When [Arbitron] used diaries, it used to be that they would sample one out of every 1200 or 1500 persons,” says one insider. “Now they use fewer than half of that sampling size because those meters are so expensive. Arbitron just won’t spend the money it would take to get a proper sampling in a market this size.”