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October 20, 2014

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02/17/03 Radio Metapause: The Big Change
I hop in the elevator, heading to lunch. Next to the pager on my belt is a little device registering my Radio listening ó an Arbitron People Meter. The elevator is playing the Soft Rock station I never listen to. Leaving the building, I drop into the 7-Eleven for a pack of mints. For the five-minute wait in line, I am subjected to the Hip-Hop station blasting in the background. During lunch, I talk business while the overhead speakers play the local Classical station. None of those formats are a part of my self-selected listening, yet the Arbitron People Meter will credit me with listening to them.

That night when I get home, I take the stuff out of my pockets and off comes my People Meter, which goes into its charging cradle. I enjoy time with my family, and we watch some television. I listen to my favorite Classic Rock station while I check e-mail and then head to bed. In the morning, my alarm goes off, playing Rick Dees, my favorite morning show, which plays as I work out, shower and dress. The People Meter has not recorded anything since I put it in the charging cradle last night.

Arbitronís People Meter clips on your belt and makes record of what you hear: Radio, cable or TV. Panels of people are selected to represent listening, and those people wear the meter for a full year for $132. Based on my patterns, I would be credited with listening to things I encounter but do not choose, and some of my favorite programming wonít be recorded. How will it affect listening reports if I leave the meter at home with a Radio turned on?

Will the People Meter reflect dramatically different Radio listening? Will entire dayparts, such as mornings, shift in advertiser popularity based on what it records (and does not)? What if advertisers start thinking upscale adults donít listen to Radio because they refuse to wear the device, or that Hispanics donít listen to the Radio because some may fear the device is an INS monitor, checking for illegal aliens?

Many Radio groups are fighting the People Meter because it will indeed show different listening patterns. Though itís important for the industry to work with Arbitron to answer industry concerns, the reality is that the agencies want the People Meter, and they are salivating to get it in operation nationwide. Radio can squawk all it wants, but the battle was won at the agency level. The People Meter is a reality that Radio must embrace (albeit with strong industry input).

There is no perfect system. The People Meter will change Radio, although it may take a while to determine its exact impact. Some formats, not considered strong now, may become stronger; and some dayparts will see major upsets in listening patterns. (Face it ó some people donít like to admit in writing that they listen to Howard Stern or Mancow.)

Recording exact listening will make Radio uncomfortable for a while. Yet for Radio to grow, we must give agencies the accountability they expect from other media. Without it, they will stop buying Radio. Radio is uncomfortable with accountability. Yet, this one change could increase Radioís overall piece of the total advertising pie significantly. Trying to stop this train does not seem realistic. Advertisers want it. Isnít it time we listened to our customers: the advertisers?

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