Should You Program Your Radio Show Based on PPM Methodology?

Should You Program Your Radio Show Based on PPM Methodology?

by Tracy Johnson

I had an interesting email dialogue with an air personality in a major U.S. market about PPM methodology. Specifically, the question is whether it’s possible to connect with the audience in a radio ratings world judged by PPM (Portable People Meter).

The personality claims programmer responses to new ratings methodology have resulted in “killing” the flavor of morning shows. As a result, we’re left with a robotic style of presentation in short segments.

He describes most of the morning shows in his market as having turned into a Twitter style presentation.

How should you respond to the challenge?

4 Creative Programming Principles For PPM Methodology

It continues to amaze me that we assume the ratings are accurate. Sure, meters are an improvement. But the fundamental problem has not been solved. Recruiting a representative sample. PPM methodology isn’t bad. The meters are an improvement from the diary method.

They problem remains sample sizes and the recruitment problem. And that’s always been an issue. Those who are likely to respond to the ratings services are very different than the overall population. That’s why my email friend refers to the ratings information as “science fiction.”

Knowing that, be careful if you’re  treating it as reality. It’s killing creativity on the air in these four ways:

Talk Is Bad/Music Is Good…Not

Programmers over-reacted to evidence from early PPM methodology suggesting that removing personality was a good practice. The reason is because “talk causes tune out”.

First, this was more a function (or dysfunction) of the meters failing to measure spoken word. But the theory assumes that all talk is equally negative. That’s patently false.

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Meaningless, pointless talk is dangerous. It was a tune out in the diary world and it’s a tune out in the metered world. Relevant, useful, targeted, emotionally-connected personality creates reasons to listen. And it’s far more powerful than music alone. In fact, personality is your greatest weapon now and in the future.

High Profile Personalities

Ratings on many stations with well-known, high-profile personalities have taken a hit. There are many possible reasons, including that the diary methodology rewards celebrity and familiarity.

Personalities are rewarded with listening credit that doesn’t actually take place. But these votes are significant in that they provide awareness, significance and marketing equity. When brand value is removed, stations eventually become a commodity with few reasons for the audience to remember them.

You might think this is irrelevant in PPM. Not so. If you’re planning to buy a car, you likely will prefer a familiar, known, trusted dealer over one you’ve never heard of.

Top of mind awareness (TOMA) is still the most important quality for a radio brand. It’s what brings the audience back when they tune out.


As meaningful interaction with the audience is removed in the interest of playing the ratings game, we remove the unique point of difference between our brands and competing technology.

Stripping the station of character leaves a music platform that doesn’t allow personalization-oh, and it plays commercials. Personalities are a competitive advantage. A fundamental principle of marketing and positioning is that you can’t compete with a brand by becoming more like them. Long term, we lose the music delivery battle.

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The radio industry currently depends on traditional advertising budgets based on ratings. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars shift to digital media.

In this new world order, nobody cares about your cume or time spent listening. They judge your ability to influence and create response. Welcome to accountability. It’s here to stay, and it’s pushing aside non-accountable models.

High profile, relevant air personalities with the ability to command attention and lead a community of fans are valuable. A collection of listeners without an emotional connection to the brand are nice, but less desirable.


This is not to claim that ratings are unimportant. Of course they are. Radio has allowed ratings services to have far too much influence in how we engage and interact with our audience.

Radio’s 90% reach is only valuable if the audience responds. Our industry’s strength has always been promotion: the ability to aggregate, engage and mobilize a collection of listeners with common interests.

If we lose that, we lose everything.

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MUSIC RESEARCH DONE RIGHT. Online music research is highly effective if you follow these guidelines to attract more respondents that deliver more reliable and deeper information.  

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