Thursday, August 14, 2008

KIIS-FM rises to No. 1 over KFI-AM in first metered Arbitron radio ratings for L.A. area

Arbitron's switch to electronic devices for listeners scrambles the rankings for July.

By Steve Carney, Special to The Times
August 14, 2008

Spanish-language stations don't dominate the Los Angeles-Orange County market as once thought, while oldies and Top 40 stations are even more popular than believed -- at least according to figures from a new radio rating system released Wednesday.

Arbitron, the rating service, released the first figures for the local area using its new electronic method of measuring listeners, while phasing out its decades-old diary system. The new method surveyed listeners in July, compared with the spring diary, which measured audience habits from April to June.

In July, Top 40 station KIIS-FM (102.7) ran far ahead of the field, snagging an average of 5.8% of the audience ages 12 and older, while second-place KFI-AM (640), the talk station, garnered 4.4%. In the prior rating period, KIIS was second with a 4.9% share and KFI was tied for fourth with 4%.Meanwhile, Spanish-language pop station KLVE-FM (107.5) fell out of the top spot it held in the spring, when it captured 5.6% of the local audience, finishing in sixth place with 4%. Its sister station, regional Mexican music outlet KSCA-FM (101.9), fell from third in the spring, at 4.4%, to seventh in July, at 3.7%, where it tied with adult-contemporary KOST-FM (103.5).

The news wasn't all bad for Spanish-language broadcasters, however: Regional Mexican music station KLAX-FM (97.9) rose from 10th to ninth, increasing its audience share from 3.2% to 3.6%.

Arbitron's new system for calculating the ratings uses Portable People Meters, or PPMs, pager-sized devices that listeners wear all day and that keep track of what stations they hear and for how long. The company says they're more accurate than the diary system, in which survey participants wrote down their radio consumption for the week, usually relying on memory for what they'd listened to each day.

Arbitron has been testing the system here and in other markets; the PPMs have been in official use in Philadelphia and Houston since last year. In both of those cities, the results startled many broadcasters: The meters showed, in many cases, that broadcasters had many more listeners than the diaries gave them credit for, and shuffled the previous station rankings like a deck of cards.

The meters appear to have done the same in Los Angeles. According to the July PPM figures, oldies station KRTH-FM (101.1) took third place with 4.3% of the audience, compared with its 11th-place showing in the spring, at 3.1%. Alternative rocker KROQ-FM (106.7) took fourth with 4.2%, compared to seventh place and 3.5% in the spring, and rock station KCBS-FM (93.1) rounded out the top five with 4.1% -- quite a change from its 2.2% and 16th-place showing in the spring.

Hip-hop KPWR-FM (105.9), on the other hand, fell from a tie for fourth in the spring, at 4%, to a tie for 14th in July, at 2.9%.

Spanish-language stations showed declines in Houston, and that was repeated in many instances here. Univision, which owns outlets in both markets, already has raised questions about whether Arbitron's new group of rating subjects is an accurate demographic reflection of the population.

But the rating numbers don't necessarily indicate that any of the stations are suddenly more or less popular than they were in the spring -- the changes could be just a function of the differences in the survey methods.

In the diaries, listeners often marked down that they stayed tuned to their favorite stations for long blocks of time, either forgetting or not bothering to mention that they switched around here and there. That discrepancy inflated some stations' audience-share figures while undercutting others. But the increased accuracy of the Portable People Meters reveals listeners' tendency to flip around the dial, thus undercutting the audience-share claims of some stations.

The PPM statistics for July also showed huge increases in stations' raw audience numbers -- in some cases doubling them, a phenomenon seen in the other markets where the PPMs had been introduced. In the spring Arbitron diary, for example, KIIS averaged just under 2 million listeners a week. The July PPM put that figure at 3.48 million. KRTH grew from 1.19 million to 2.46 million.

Even KLVE, despite its tumble from first to sixth, had more listeners than previously thought. Its cumulative weekly audience appeared to increase from just over 1 million, according to the spring diary, to 2.06 million, according to the July PPM.

But even with that rise, the loss of diarists who over-reported the amount of time spent listening may have cost the station the audience percentages it once enjoyed.

Greg Strassell, senior vice president of programming for CBS Radio, which in Los Angeles owns KROQ, KCBS, KRTH and four other stations, said the numbers from Portable People Meters are a testament to the overall health of the radio industry. "It's been a very positive lesson: We really reach more people than we thought," he said.

The new ratings still won't be official, though, until October. Then Arbitron will allow stations to combine the figures from July, August and September, and use those quarterly rankings in their pitches to advertisers.

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