By GeeAlice (self-made from Image:Cat silhouette.svg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As you know, I’ve become a bit unnerved by the current state of talk radio in the Bay Area.  I’ve been doing the same thing I used to accuse Bill Wattenburg of doing – saying the same thing over and over again.  Just replace ‘eco-freaks’ and ‘bubble-butt politicians’ with ‘no callers’ and ‘Gil Gross’.  Add to that Gil’s disastrous Friday shows.

I can’t guess why Bill Wattenburg does it, but I do know why I do it – out of pure frustration.  I also know I’m not the only one who is thinking the same things I’ve been posting in a public blog that few see.  Search terms for this blog ask the same things I’ve been asking:

What is wrong with Gil Gross

Why isn’t Gil Gross taking any callers

Why does Gil Gross have his wife on his radio show on fridays talk 910

Why doesn’t kksf have any callers

Why does Gil Gross suck

What happened to Len Tillem podcast – (I’ll get to that in a minute)

And, my personal favorite:

Len Tillem naked

Sorry about that last visual…

I’ve read comments on other sites that attribute this new programming style of changing topics continuously, throughout half-hour segments, to Arbitron’s new ratings measuring tool: the Portable People Meter (PPM).

PPM has devolved radio into cat-chasing-tail programming.  Around and around, keep it going, turn it around, trying to catch listeners who tune in for less than five minutes.

Finally, I found a comment by David Kaye in radiodiscussions.com that explains it as told to him by Gil Gross.  It’s in a thread from October 2012 titled ‘Jerry Doyle Takes over Savage old TRN spot’ and this is the comment and the link to the discussion:

http://radiodiscussions.com/smf/index.php?action=printpage;topic=220596.0

“Or it could be that he has changed the formatics of his show to work better with PPM.  The 15 minute block is now THE way to do talkshows.  I was talking with Gil Gross about this a few weeks ago.  If you notice, he changes topics every 15 minutes and seldom takes calls.  He told me that he does this specifically because of the PPM periods — gotta keep the topics fresh every 15 minutes or it’s too easy to lose listeners.  PPM relies on 15-minute blocks of time and transponders reflecting actual listening.  The old days of filling out diaries and *saying* that you listened to X station are gone.  A station has to keep goosing up those quarter-hour ratings.”

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It also explains why Frosty is following Gil’s program format, but it doesn’t explain why Gil’s wife is still on his Friday shows, unless it adds to the PPM when people click off the station when they hear her and return when she stops talking.

Gil is adapting to new technology.  The degradation of his show is directly associated with chasing those five minute listeners to attract advertising revenue through higher ratings published from PPM results.  Who cares about loyalty?  Listeners who tune in for hours detract from the ratings meter.

It explains the direction of the new KGO under Cumulus management, the Dick-eys, chasing those PPM hits by running all news all day, thinking they’ll get hits every few minutes from people who change stations constantly.  (It doesn’t explain Cumulus’ callous treatment of the former KGO hosts and the Dick-eys obvious disdain for the Bay Area listening audience).  They want hits from anyone wandering by their frequency and who happens to hear a minute or two of content before leaving again.

Is Arbitron the real culprit here?  Have they set-up a flawed tracking tool and radio now has to chase a lowered standard of broadcasting to compete?  Maybe Arbitron should be dropped as a revenue tool, or broadcasters should question why they chase what Arbitron dictates.  It’s evident in this market that Arbitron has miscalculated the loyalty of the old KGO listeners.  More than a year later, people are still searching for the content of the old KGO.  They’re still looking for their beloved broadcasters.  The listeners are left wanting.  Why can’t Arbitron measure that?

Add to the equation advertisers who buy air time.  They are losing as well.  Who will be there to hear about a product when stations garner and value two minute listeners?  Does this make any sense?  Why aren’t the advertisers speaking out?  It’s a long chain and someone up or down the chain has to speak out to change it.  The ironic thing about this is the advertisers benefit the least from this new structure.  Yes, the ones who supply money to the stations don’t get anything out of it.  It’s no mystery why advertisers are abandoning radio.  Advertisers understand brand loyalty – something that is not even considered in the PPM environment.

Radio broadcasters and advertisers should get together and find a better system.  Why should they accept a ratings system that pushes them all down the road to failure?  Is no one listening?   Where is the voice of the local advertisers in all of this?  No one is listening to the stations, but is anyone listening to what hordes of frustrated radio listeners are saying?

I don’t think anyone really believes this is working.

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I looked up articles about PPM to find out more about it and I found some articles of interest.

This variety.com article written by Bob Lefsetz examines the culture of radio, and I’ve included some excerpts:

http://variety.com/2013/music/news/radio-digs-its-own-grave-as-cultural-currents-shift-1200500285/

“Luddites in radio still believe the Internet didn’t happen, that we’re all prisoners of the dial, where there are few stations and little innovation.”

“Most people under age 20 have never experienced good radio. So when baby boomers and Gen X’ers start waxing rhapsodically about their old-time favorites, wanting them to come back, it’s the equivalent of wishing that musicvideos would come back to MTV.”

“Insiders believe that there’s no revolution in terrestrial radio because the owners know it’s headed into the dumper. They’re just milking it for all they can before it falls off a cliff. So if you’re waiting for format innovation and fewer commercials … you’ll be waiting forever.”

“To grow mass, you’ve got to make us feel included. In other words, it’s all about culture. Talk radio has culture. As does public radio. After that, it’s a vast wasteland of sold-out stations with the same fl aw of network TV. … Trying for broad-based appeal, they appeal to no one, and cede their market to excellence. HBO and the cable outlets killed networks with quality. … If you don’t think new services will kill terrestrial radio, you must like inane commercials, you must like me-too music, you must think airplay on one of these outlets will sell millions of albums, but that almost never happens anymore.”

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This nab.org article explains PPM and it includes an image of the meter equipment:

http://www.nab.org/xert/scitech/2008/Radio_TechCheck/radio/rd032408.asp

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This Mark Ramsey Media article addresses PPM and talk radio:

http://www.markramseymedia.com/2011/08/is-ppm-unfair-to-newstalk-radio/

“In any given quarter-hour under diary methodology, you used to have to listen at least five continuous minutes for that listening to “count” you as a listener and to “count” your listening as an “occasion.””

“Under PPM however, I’m told that those five minutes no longer need to be continuous.  That is, if I flip back to the station several times in a quarter-hour I count as a listener and my listening counts as one occasion as long as all those minutes and seconds add up to at least five minutes.

“This hurts the performance of News/Talk.”

“In other words, because of the nature of spoken word content you will need a much longer trial period to determine whether you will keep listening or not. This means you’re far less likely to flip back and forth to a News/Talk station during a quarter-hour, thus your chances of aggregating a qualifying amount of listening in that quarter hour are slimmer.

“Due to the lower churn you’re less likely to “count” as a listener to News/Talk.”

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This Talkers.com article by Michael Harrison talks about the audience factor and the purgatory of PPM:

http://www.talkers.com/2012/09/19/can-terrestrial-radio-thrive-in-the-digital-era/

“The internet is a miraculous medium but terrestrial radio stations must use it more wisely and not be in such a rush to sacrifice the uniqueness and indispensability they need to earn in each local marketplace – where the loyalty and revenue lies – for the fool’s gold of being just another of a thousand mediocre versions of its equally mediocre self co-existing on a single national dial in everyone’s dashboard.  Yikes!”

“PPM notwithstanding, there is no “meter” to measure actual usage the way electricity, water and telephone consumption is tallied.   No tickets are sold. No circulations are audited. There are no “click-thrus.”  As advertisers expect increasingly precise metrics, radio lags behind.”

“Again, Arbitron does a good job within the limits of reason and reality – but the PPM is not good at measuring the audience loyalty and quality-appreciation factors better served by the admittedly imperfect diary that also apply to getting positive results for advertisers.  Simply put, if radio allows itself to be judged in the advertising marketplace solely on numbers, it’ll soon be lights out for most of the stations currently on the air.”

“Those 30 and 60 second “spots” pile up into PPM pits of purgatory. Something must be done soon about the elephant in the room.  Commercial spots are ratings killers.  It is the cruelest of ironies that the very commercial itself can prove to be the downfall of commercial radio.”

“The terrestrial radio industry, armed only with draconian budget cuts, increased centralization of management and programming, and letting it all hang out online, can only hope to survive as long as the FM/AM car radio remains dominant in America’s dashboards.  After that has changed, all bets are off.”

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This 2010 radiostationmanagement.blogspot.com article by Doug McLeod believes there is a need for speed:

http://radiostationmanagement.blogspot.com/2010/12/ppms-lesson-for-talent-get-to-point.html

“While Top 40 programmers have preached short-and-snappy for decades, PPM makes talent who get even a little too chatty pay a stiff price: less cume. And make no mistake, it’s a cume world now. No more diary-based recall methodology. The PPM simply sits there and logs what’s being listened to. As a radio station manager that means your stations – the only brands you have to sell – had better not be wasting listeners’ time.”

“This is especially true for talk radio, both issues-oriented and sports. Many a talk show host has grown up professionally listening to the kings of talk radio but that isn’t always good. The long-winded hour opens (or teases or churns) practiced by some of the most famous yakkers in radio became Old School the day the first PPMs powered up. Now, it’s not only antiquated to cruise through a ten- to twenty-minute show or hour open, it’s deadly”.

“But one of PPM’s crucial lessons is that programmers’ long-time habits of loading up the first quarter-hour are wrong: listeners stay aboard fairly evenly – and desert just as evenly – throughout the hour. Thus the need to get into compelling subject matter fast and keep it moving.”

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This article by harkerresearch.typepad.com discusses the declining numbers of morning drive and questions the accuracy of PPM:

http://harkerresearch.typepad.com/radioinsights/2010/01/is-ppm-antipersonality.html

“Questions remain regarding the accuracy of PPM. Some critics believe participant panels are too small. They note that AQH and share are calculated based on a very small proportion of active panelists who actually carry their meter. Unfortunately, most personalities won’t get very far with their general manager rationalizing low numbers with methodological explanations.”

“The goal of a morning show has to be to produce ratings regardless of measurement issues or problems. PPM may be flawed and unfairly punish personality radio, but personalities have to understand that the game has changed. The personalities that survive will be the people who adapt.”

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This ocregister.com article written by Gary Lycan is also about PPM’s effect on morning DJs and it includes excerpts from Jeff McKay’s RadioInfo article.  I’ll add links to  McKay’s feature article as well, its focus is on music but his five-part series touches on all aspects of radio play.

First, the ocregister article titled  ‘DJs in the ’60s would never survive today’s ratings’:

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/radio-413884-station-feb.html

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Now, RadioInfo’s Jeff McKay’s Five-Part series on ‘The State of the Disc Jockey’:

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Part One: Personality Radio is “Dying” – But Still Gets Solid Ratings

http://www.radioinfo.com/2013/01/28/the-state-of-the-disc-jockey/

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Part Two: The PPM – a DJ’s Downfall

http://www.radioinfo.com/2013/01/29/the-state-of-the-disc-jockey-part-2/

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Part Three: Radio Killed the Radio Star

http://www.radioinfo.com/2013/01/30/the-state-of-the-disc-jockey-part-3/

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Part Four: The “Evolving” DJ – Adapting to Radio’s Changing Times

http://www.radioinfo.com/2013/01/31/the-state-of-the-disc-jockey-part-4/

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Part Five: The Future of the Radio DJ

http://www.radioinfo.com/2013/02/01/the-state-of-the-disc-jockey-part-5/

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Finally, This radioinsights.com article is about digital dashboards:

http://www.radioinsights.com/2013/07/ford-dumps-digital-dashboard.html

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And, before I wrap this all up in a big, bright bow, I’ve noticed that Len Tillem has not posted any podcasts since June 10th.  Is he on vacation?  Why aren’t there any ‘best of’ shows?  The beauty of podcasting online is the ability to inform in real time.  I hope all is well with our loyah, well enough to update his listeners about his formerly daily podcasts.  We wonder and worry.  We need our loyah fix.

Here’s the link to his Spreaker page.  Follow him, so he can break the 6,700 followers mark this week.

http://www.spreaker.com/user/lentillem

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So, to wrap it up, now that we know why Gil Gross and his fellow broadcasters are churning their shows, the question to ask now is how…

How do we change it?

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