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Keep Houston Press Free
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Houston Audiences Changing The Way Radio Measures Itself

You may not realize it, but Houston is at the forefront of a revolution in radio, at least in terms of how to measure audiences.

We're one of only three cities (Philly and New York are the others) using "people meters" -- beeper-sized things that measure what a person is listening to. Other places ask listeners to fill in diaries listing what stations they've listened to during the day.

There's a lot of debate over the effects of what's called PPM, and now a study has been done talking to some people who actually wear the things.

The results: Of all the stations the PPMs picked up as being listened to by the wearer of the device, that wearer couldn't remember hearing half of them.

Half the stations that showed up on the PPMs were examples of "incidental" or "invisible" listening, the report by Coleman Insights says.

"Virtually every panelist we interviewed listened -- according to PPM data -- to stations that they did not mention when prompted to name stations that they listened to or were aware of on an unaided basis," the report says. "Furthermore, when we shared individual PPM data with many of them, they could not explain how some of the stations the meter reported them listening to were listed."

Some of the reasons -- the stations were background noise at work or around town; the meter was worn by a family member (which isn't supposed to happen), or even the wearer forgot to put it on and whatever was playing at his house that day was picked up.

The bottom line, the report says, is that stations should be careful about reading too much into increases in their "cume" from PPMs. "Cume" is the total number of different listeners to a station.

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Concentrate instead, it says, on growing the loyal listeners who listen regularly.

The report noted that some PPM wearers disliked toting around the things on their belts -- they thought they looked like outdated beepers from the 80s or 90s.

That won't do in Houston, man. Unless you're wearing scrubs.

-- Richard Connelly

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