New device should provide far more accurate radio ratings

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Old habits die not very easily, which is what makes the introduction of Arbitron’s new Portable People Meter so fascinating.

The device is what Arbitron will use to measure radio ratings in the future, being used in the top 50 markets by 2010. The PPMs, which people keep on their person throughout the day, can actually identify what radio station you’re listening to by recognizing some sort of inaudible identifier. This way, Arbitron can collect much more accurate listenership data. With more accurate data radio stations can turn to their advertisers all, “See, we have *this many* listeners.” And since the PPMs are accurate to the minute, radio stations will know what type of programming “works” and what doesn’t. Hopefully that results in better radio for everyone.

Of course, the pendulum swings the other way, too. Stations that thought they had huge audiences based on the old method of calculating ratings—people would write in a little notebook what they were listening too, but some people would fill out the data days later, merely make up information, and so on—could see a downturn in their numbers. That happened to Spanish-language stations in Houston, whose program directors are now freaking out because they thought they had more listeners then they actually do.

I think this new method goes into full-use in New York this fall, so it’ll be interesting to see the new radio numbers. I refuse to believe that so many New Yorkers actually listened to El Vacilón. After five minutes of listening to it I wanted to defect to Mars.

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