The woes of radio-listener research

VICTOR STREDICKE – January 5, 1989 -It’s not easy, writing down what radio station you are listening to.
A traditional rating service might mail diaries to 1,200 homes, get back 900 and find only 700 acceptable for tabulation. The 700 responses represent up to 2 million listeners in the Puget Sound area.

The ratio is not objectionable to statisticians if the sample is carefully drawn.

But some younger listeners and some ethnic groups fall by the wayside. They don’t fill out diaries. It’s possible some formats have a better chance at audience stability: the news stations, talk, classical music and jazz. Youth stations and contemporary stations might be under-represented because of a reluctance to doff the headphones for a booklike report.

Birch-Scarborough Research is second by a long shot to Arbitron Radio Ratings, the granddaddy of radio auditors. Birch, a radio specialist, was recently combined with Scarborough, which concentrated on newspaper-reading patterns. The merger makes Birch more competitive with Arbitron as a one-stop research service.

Birch-Scarborough thinks it has solved some concerns by collecting its data by phone, from a centralized interview office. It boasts a 60 percent response rate, rather than the 40 percent rate from diaries.

Almost every major Seattle radio station buys and most advertising agencies use Arbitron Ratings. But Birch-Scarborough is making slow inroads. Four Seattle stations buy the information, but only one, KUBE, relies on it exclusively.

“We do not use ratings to sell our station,” said Gary Bryan, KUBE program director. “We know the response we can generate. Our in-house research correlates with Birch.”

The fall Birch-Scarborough figures show contemporary music stations edging out KIRO, the traditional top-rated station from Arbitron.

Jazz series begins

A series of one-hour jazz performances begins at 7 p.m. on KBCS, 91.3 mHz.

The concerts were recorded by the Jack Straw Memorial Foundation at a series of New Jazz New City concerts. This is the first major distribution project by the folks who used to run KRAB.

More than 70 jazz musicians are involved, drawing from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland, Ore. Fare runs from mainstream to avant-garde. Nick Johnson, producer of jazz programs at KRAB, is host.

The series is also being distributed to other noncommercial stations, including KAOS, Olympia, KPLU, Tacoma, KSVR, Mount Vernon, and KCED, Centralia.

Remembering Elvis

A four hour “Elvis Presley Birthday Tribute” is scheduled at 7 p.m. Friday on KVI, 570 kHz. It will include all the Elvis hits, including “Heartbreak Hotel,” with comments by artists influenced by his work and vintage interviews. It’s from United Stations.

Author: Victor Stredicke

Former radio columnist for the Seattle Times (1964-1989). --- View other articles by Victor Stredicke
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