Looking up for noncommercial radio

For most of radio’s history, at least in the U.S., ratings “books” ignored noncommercial stations. Commercial radio shares never added up to 100%. Usually the total was around 87%, give or take. In the market where I spent the most years caring about this stuff — Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s (when Dean Landsman was also operating and becoming far more expert than I) — everybody knew that in Chapel Hill had serious numbers. But you couldn’t tell unless you went to Beltsville, Maryland, where Arbitron kept the “diaries” on which listening estimates were based. (In radio one often heard disgruntled managers of stations with unsatisfactory ratings saying “I’m going to Beltsville. I gotta see those diaries.”)

Well, times have changed. You can see noncommercial ratings now. Radio-Info.com is one service. Radio Research Consortium is another. I’ve known about the latter for awhile, but I’m new to the former.

Looking at the December ratings for Los Angeles, has a 2.2 share, which is quite good, especially since the station is just 600 watts (atop Mt. Wilson, where most of the other FMs are, some with over 100,000 watts). Classical has a 2.5. KCRW has a 1.0. (Perspective: the top station, KOST, has a 5.5. And many commercial stations are below both those non-comms. News landmark KFWB has an 0.7. Pacifica’s 110kw KPFK, considered the biggest signal in the whole country, has an 0.2.)

In New York, -FM has a 1.9, WNYC-AM has an 0.8. Freshly noncommercial classical (on a new channel with a weaker signal) has a 1.8. (We’ve had a thread going for months here about that change.) Jazz has an 0.5. (“Party 87.7), which is actually a low-power TV station on old analog channel 6, with audio on 87.7fm, gets an 0.2, but they’ve had as much as an 0.8, which is pretty good for a weak signal below the FM band from the top of the CITI building in Queens, rather than some higher place, such as the Empire State Building. The great music station (broadcasting a directional signal — mostly away from the city — from Fordham in the Bronx, but with boosters coming on all over the place) also gets an 0.2.

In San Francisco, is #4 in the market with a 4.8. (They also have the biggest FM signal, with 110,000 watts coming off Mt. San Bruno.) The big news there is that is tied for #1 with . Both have a 5.8, as both had the month before. KGO has been #1 since the Eisenhower administration. Classical has a 3.4. Jazz has an 0.7 (good for a signal that’s basically just the Peninsula and parts of the East Bay). Little , from the San Francisco Unified School District, gets an 0.3.

Here in Boston, has a 4.5. So you can understand why , with a bigger signal and just an 0.9 rating, decided finally to compete head-to-head as a news & talk NPR-based station. Also why they bought , the classical station with the edge-of-town signal. ‘CRB has a 2.9. , another great music station (but with a secondary signal in the market) had an 0.7. All-folk (with a signal mostly for the south side of town) had an 0.3. Harvard’s WHRB (with a directional signal) got an 0.2).

, my (#213) home market, was last ranked in Fall of ’09. Classical KDB got a 4.2. It’s still commercial, though owned by a nonprofit. I don’t see any noncommercials listed, alas. I’d really like to see how well the new is doing there. Same for its FM, which is a 4-watt translator that does pretty well, considering..

Same goes for Sussex, the then-rural New Jersey market where I got my start in the earliest ’70s, on , a little station on a mountain overlooking Franklin and Hamburg. Back then WSUS was just 360 watts. Now it’s a whopping 590 watts. But it kicks butt in the ratings: down to 13.8 after peaking in the last period at 15.0. Those are very high numbers. I don’t see any noncommercials here either.

Nor do I see any for Raleigh/Durham on Radio-Info, though I’m sure WUNC, WCPE, WSHA and WNCU all do well. Radio Research Consortium is also opaque on the matter.

Continued in the next post.

3 comments

  1. Tom Guild’s avatar

    I was one of those radio guys who went to Beltsville–twice. Some of the diaries were actually filled out in crayon. We always thought that was a joke. Also, listening for daytime stations entered 24/7…

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hey, Tom. (For you other readers, Tom is a colleague and friend from my earliest Radio Daze in North Carolina.)

    I never had the pleasure of a Beltsville trip, but I do remember these enormous fan-fold print-outs of Arbitron’s crayon translations. My favorite reported listening by one of the diary-fillers was to WWV, the beeping clock on shortwave.

    I think the new ratings are by some method other than diary-keeping that I’m sure pisses off the losers as much as the old system did.

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