Information is power. This is especially true when it comes to marketing. In the modern digital world we live in every tiny scrap of data that can be collected about each of us is. Our preferences and our buying habits are constantly being quantified, identified, collated, packaged, sold and resold to marketers who target us directly through our web browsers, Facebook pages and web surfing activities. Buy a California Pizza Kitchen pie at the grocery store in the afternoon, see a coupon for another on the internet that very evening. Modern marketing is amazing almost to the point of being creepy.
When it comes to determining our radio habits, though, one bizarrely antiquated system holds a monopoly. Neilsen Audio, formerly known as “Arbitron” uses a random sampling of scarcely-compensated people in every major market (Denver / Boulder is the 18th largest radio market in the country) to fill out paper surveys a couple of times per year and to wear “portable people meters” which record sub-audible tones which identify the radio stations the wearer is listening to. The data the company collects becomes the basis for how much various radio outlets can and will charge for advertising.
Neilsen makes no effort to analyze our on-demand (podcast) listening habits nor does the system allow for any credit to be given to outlets for making such content available. It doesn’t track what we listen to online or streaming through our phones. It only utilizes the information that it gathers from a miniscule sample of listeners who happen to be willing to be monitored.
It’s pretty insane.
One local sports talk radio outlet, Mile High Sports, doesn’t pay the monthly fee to subscribe to Neilsen Audio’s rating service. Sales people for the station simply explain to clients that the ratings are too arbitrary to be useful to them. The strategy allows Mile High to market itself without comparing apples to apples when it comes to listenership. Most outlets, however, continue to utilize the system. The resulting rating can sometimes be embarrassing.
In December 2016 the top radio station in Denver / Boulder was KOSI (adult contemporary) with a rating of 6.5. This basically means that 6.5 % of the population tuned in to KOSI at one time or another that month. Second and third were KQMT (classic rock) and KTGO (country) each of which attained a rating of right around 6.0. In contrast, the very top sports radio outlet in the market, KKFN (the Fan) boasted only a 3.4 (down from a peak 4.9 in October). KOA which is primarily a news talk station, is expanding its sports talk offering in afternoon drive this winter. KOA routinely posts ratings in the area of a 4.0.
Lesser signals post even more shockingly pathetic numbers. Denver sports 760, which runs mostly syndicated programming produced a .3 rating for December. That roughly indicates that one third of one percent of listeners tuned in. As bad as that sounds, though, that station TRIPLED the ratings of AM 1600 and Altitude Sports 950 AM - each of which posted a .1 - the smallest recorded rating possible.
It’s a safe bet that Mile High Sports radio would produce a .1 rating also were the station eligible to be rated. But since they don’t subscribe they don’t have to suffer the indignity of staring at a rating that poor. Other stations are owned by radio conglomerates like IHeart (Clear Channel) and Bonneville, however. These radio companies only seem to know one way of measuring themselves against their competitors - the tired and clunky “Arbitron” method - and when it comes to that method of establishing ratings the sports talk radio universe is hardly a blip on the radar.