The latest radio ratings released by Arbitron, Inc. show NPR member station WVTF Public Radio ranks #1 against all other commercial and non-commercial radio stations serving Charlottesville [Virginia]. WVTF is ranked #1 with a 9.9 share of the area’s radio listening. The #2 station has a 9.3 share (country WCYK-FM), and the #3 station (adult contemporary WQMZ) has an 8.1 share.Charlottesville is an interesting radio market. It has the standard mix of commercial stations, with a few oddities. It has two AAA format stations, non-commercial WNRN and commercial WCNR. It also has four non-commercial stations serving the area, WVTF, the afore-mentioned WNRN, WMRA, and WTJU.
For WVTF to capture the majority of the public radio audience is no mean feat in itself -- there's lots of competition. But to capture the majority of the total audience, mixing in folks who prefer classical rock, top 40, country, etc. is news, indeed.
As I said, I don't want to take away from WVTF's accomplishment. According to Arbitron, they're the winner. But before we read too much into this, let's look at how that data was collected.
Arbitron stats aren't quite as cut and dried as those for, say, website traffic data.
While Arbitron collects data in some major markets with electronic devices known as Personal People Meters (PPMs), for smaller markets they still rely on people filling out listening diaries. Which is what was used in the 231st-ranked Charlottesville market.
So how reliable is the information from such a diary? Well, it depends on how much get filled in. Arbitron provides some info about their diaries. Mark Ramsey gives a little walk-through of the competing (but very similar) Nielsen radio diary.
One other piece of information: potential diarists are contacted initially by phone to ask if they would like to take part in the Arbitron survey. Which automatically eliminates homes without landlines (about 20% of households), skewing the potential survey pool to an older demographic.
For a public radio station to emerge on top is still a big deal, though. Because as flawed as the Arbitron system is, the numbers are still used by stations and their advertisers/underwriters to determine ad/underwriting rates and whether or not advertising/underwriting on a station makes good business sense.
So even if WVTF doesn't actually have the 15,503 listeners the numbers say they do, it doesn't matter. Because, like Wall Street investors, it's not what the numbers are, it's what you believe they mean.
Day 118 of the WJMA Podwatch.