Radio Ratings Case Study: If You Made Decisions Based On This Information, You Would Be Fired…

Radio Ratings Case Study: If You Made Decisions Based On This Information, You Would Be Fired…

by Tracy Johnson

Here’s a radio ratings case study that should scare you to death, question the ridiculousness of the ratings process, and chart a new course for measuring the impact of your station brand.

I’ll tell you the story. But first, let’s put it in perspective.

Imagine that you are deciding the future direction of your radio station. Let’s say the management team is considering a format change. A perceptual research project to measure the health of the station brand is commissioned. Current opportunities and available positions in the market are evaluated. Decisions are to be made based on the information gathered. The only thing you know for sure is that you want to win with 18 to 34-year-old women.

Let’s assume this is an average-sized large market with a population of 500,000.

The research company reports back to you with their findings based on the following sample:

  • Women 18-24: 14 respondents
  • Women 25-34: 29 respondents
  • Total Women 18-34: 43 respondents

This doesn’t take into account ethnicity, primary language spoken at home or listening preferences. Just raw numbers.

And if you target 18 to 24-year-old women (typical for a CHR), you wouldn’t even make weekly music decisions based on a sample of 18, even if they were screened by music or station preference.

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And this sample includes rock fans, country fans, jazz fans, Christian music listeners, etc.

Radio Ratings Case Study: Actual Market Data

If you make important decisions based on information gathered from this sample, you should be fired. It’s irresponsible. I don’t know of a single research company that would present this sample to a broadcaster. It’s unreliable. And it’s malpractice to represent it as data that can inform decisions.

Here’s the thing:

The in-tab sample from a Nielsen Ratings Report in a market I work with is in that proportion. Not a weekly. A full report. In a Top 20 market with a population of over 2 million. The actual numbers were 58 women age 18 to 24 and 115 25 to 34-year-olds. That’s how many carry meters that determine the ratings for all stations in the market.


Millions of advertising dollars are spent based on this research.

And broadcasters are paying how much for this data? Really? We collectively sell this to our advertisers and they actually have confidence that their marketing investment is in good hands?

I have a (fairly) strict personal code to avoid criticizing unless I can offer a solution. I have no solution to Nielsen’s sample crisis. But I have a warning to broadcasters: This must stop before our advertisers wake up and realize what their ad rates have been based on.  

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Ratings Case Study: If You Made Decisions Based On This Information, You Would Be Fired…

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