The radio world thought it knew how many people listened to each radio format.
But it turns out that this was wrong. Up to now, radio ratings have been calculated the old-fashioned way. A sample of people kept diaries in which they wrote down what they listened to, and all the ratings — how many people listen to each station, to each show on each station, and to each radio format — were calculated from what the diarists wrote down.
But now there’s a new system, which TV ratings switched to 20 years ago. In the new system, people in the sample have their radios connected to a device that automatically records their listening. And with this in place, classical listening drops 10%. Which means that, in the diary system, people weren’t accurately reporting what they listened to. They were fibbing, just a bit. Reporting what they wanted to say they were hearing, not what they actually heard.
The New York Times story about this stresses that classical radio isn’t the only format affected by the new ratings. The really surprising finding — and the one most notable in the radio biz, the one that’s already making advertisers change where they advertise — is that more men listen to soft rock than was formerly reported. Apparently men didn’t like to admit they listened to soft rock stations, and undereported how often they did. Now the truth comes out.
But the story does emphasize that this is a blow for classical radio. The new ratings, says the story, “are part of what an industry consultant, Marc Hand, calls ‘a smorgasbord of issues’ facing commercial classical music stations,” whose number has been steadily dropping.
Sometimes people hold out classical radio as a beacon of hope. People may not go to classical concerts, but they listen to classical radio. Well, that may be true, but the number of listeners is smaller than we thought.