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CITY LITTER: Radio Radio

by Mark Cubey, the voice of Smartass Wellington

The response to last week's resurrection of the column I used to write for City Voice back in the mid-90s was positive. Topped the Scoop ratings in fact.

And with Scoop polling twice as high as a news provider site, compared to competitors and (according to the sample of 35,000 sites at anyway), that makes for a serious readership. So, here we go, with a regular Friday rave, to the end of the year at least.

Wassup this week? Well, I've been listening... to the radio – though not with the same assiduous care that I did a fortnight ago.

Why? Well, two weeks back, I was one of the official participants in the latest half-yearly radio survey by polling organisation Research International (

This survey involves filling out listening habits on a minute-by-minute basis in a little booklet for a week (mine was week 4 of 6). It's an interesting process... especially when you're on the street or in a shop and have to endure cackhead "personality" announcers rabbitting on and playing dire bubblegum synthpop excrescences or (worse) Mark Knopfler. But more of that later.

Survey results have just been released for all Wellington listeners aged 10 or over, from midnight to midnight. And although it's the "key demographics" that most industry people are interested in (except for us at LOOP; we bank on psychographics), the results are interesting.

Previously top-rating National Radio is now out of the picture. All non-commercial stations are now excluded from the results – even though NatRad and ConcertFM figured in the actual poll – because the survey is really about just one thing: delivering figures that advertisers can use.

This means that the big guns from The Radio Network – 91ZM and Newstalk ZB – now top the list (though ZM dropped three points). The three CanWest stations (The Breeze AM/FM, More FM, Channel Z) are next in line, followed by two more TRN stations (Radio Sport, Classic Hits), with the four RadioWorks stations (Radio Pacific, The Rock, The Edge, Solid Gold FM) at the bottom of the list.

Of course there are more stations than that in Wellington; NZ generally is what is described as an "over-radioed" market compared to most other countries. These stations are all clumped together in the "Other" category; a grouping that made the only significant leap in this year's survey: a 4.7 point increase to 10.8%. This "Other"grouping includes Radio Active 89FM, Atiawa FM, Radio Rhema, Access Radio, Te Upoko o Te Ika and low-power outfits The Firm and Wellington High School station Livewire FM.

While all these stations (apart from the latter two) are listed on the survey form, not all stations choose to pay the reasonably hefty sums to be listed in the survey results.

Their concerns are methodological as well as monetary – and probably justifiable.

As the Weekend Herald reported in a feature last week, most stations engage in all manner of inane promotional activity during survey time in an effort to snare casual listeners and boost ratings, with competitions, stunts, TV ads, and the usual sort of rubbish that has been going on for eons in the low-common-denominator radio biz.

What the Herald failed to consider, however, was the flawed nature of the survey methodology.

For instance, the survey guy who came round to my house in Karori late on a wet Saturday morning was overjoyed to find someone who would actually agree to fill in a survey.

He'd started out at 9.30 – but was greeted by hungover, underdressed, unhelpful and unwilling people. He gave up for a couple of hours, but still wasn't having much luck. Which means, I guess, that apart from myself, it's mainly responsible people of sober habits living regular suburban lives who get to be surveyed. The central city is largely ignored, as are areas of transient populations. This of course makes for a definite skew in the sample.

Further, the system is reliant on people filling in the form accurately and honestly. I did so, of course. I'm a Radio Active and National Radio kinda guy, but I didn't feel it necessary to disclose my potential conflict of interest: I used to be General Manager of Radio Active, and still contribute to the LIP show on Monday nights from 7-9pm.

In fact I went on air on that survey Monday and had the interesting experience of marking down that I was listening to myself on the radio. Whoa!

I wasn't driving much that week (most people's radio listening takes place in the car), which was lucky, as filling out forms while driving can be hazardous.

Anyway, just because someone has the radio on, doesn't mean they are actually listening to it – often it's just aural wallpaper. Smart influential people like me who actually do listen to the radio – for the good music, the information and the sly humour so rarely found on conventional commercial radio – are surely the most desirable kind of consumers.

Yet the survey sample is so small, and so haphazardly collected, with the differentiation between station ratings generally so small and open to error, that the whole thing can really only be seen for what it is: a load of rubbish.

Yet, as is so often the case with old-school habitual behaviour, careers and reasonably large advertising spends often hinge on survey results. Instead of trusting their gut instincts, and admitting that nearly everyone changes channel or mentally disengages when ad breaks come on, media placement people persist in the fantasy that there is such a thing as listener loyalty, and that percentage differences that lie within the margin of error matter a damn.

It's a joke. And anyone who places advertising on the basis of ratings needs their head read.

Still, if you're interested in Auckland ratings, here goes. The Radio Network had four of its stations in the top six, including the #1 slot for AM/FM station Newstalk ZB with a 15.6% rating (up 2.6%), beating More FM, Mai FM, 91ZM, Classic Hits, i98 FM. From there on down, most placings were margin-of-error prone. Auckland university station 95bFM surveyed for the first time in a while, listing 4.1% and (just) trumping bigger-budget contenders The Rock, Channel Z and Radio Hauraki.

That's enough for this week. I was going to hold forth on the recent criticism of Totally Wellington by the guy who held that scaly exhibition of Dear Dead Diana's Dresses. But that can wait to next week.

Any gossip on the subject will however be gratefully received at

© Scoop Media

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