radio's silent ratings killer

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how the silent survey killer impacts every year – and how to swerve that ‘berg in 2012

Let me share a true and tragic tale you may find familiar.

It is the tumultuous story of a real radio station in a metro market. It is the story of Mystery FM’s roller-
coaster ride through 2011.

The previous year their ratings had grown, and by mid-year they were absolutely soaring. Then, suddenly, they took a shocking and unexpected ratings dive.

From there, things didn’t get better. By the end of 2010 Mystery FM was more than 2.0% lower than their mid-year highs. And after the summer survey break, by Survey 2 of 2011 (below), the future was looking dire.

So, naturally, in Survey 3 (above) – when Mystery FM got their first significant ratings increase in almost a year – they celebrated big time.

All staff e-mail: “Survey Party. Boardroom. Midday. This ain’t the ‘80s. Bring a plate”

And they celebrated even more when the Survey 4 result came out (see chart). After all, Survey 4 proved it wasn’t just luck. It meant that, finally, after all that time in the wilderness, they were back on track.

Fast forward a little and the shine had worn off – but they were still doing okay. Then, suddenly, they took a shocking and unexpected ratings dive. What had happened!?! Until now, everything had been going so well!!

By the end of the year they were more than 2.0% lower than their mid-year highs. Clearly Mystery FM was now on a bad downward trend. And the worst was yet to come …

A split second’s frequent flyer points later the S.W.O.T team swooped in – crashing through the station windows and dynamically monitoring the breakfast show from a hotel room.

Fingers were pointed, music was overhauled, breakfast was told they need to improve their “fun & entertaining” research perceptions by 10%, by being 10% funnier and more entertaining … and, throughout the team at Mystery FM, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

See the obvious oversight?

Sure, it’s easy to spot when it’s presented like this. But it’s not so easy when you’re caught up in the thick of it, focusing on the day to day.

And the really frightening thing is … it happens every year. And that’s despite all the dramatic and fundamental changes at Mystery FM – to leadership, key on air talent, music direction, etc.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The series of articles to follow will save your station from much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

After a bad survey result, they will save you from months of agony. After a great survey result, they will keep you focused on the next 6 months.

In the next part, we’ll go through why Mystery FM didn’t see the obvious oversight – followed by how to make sure your station strategy doesn’t fall foul of the same. For an email update see bottom of this page, or check in again from Monday February 20th.

Note: Mystery FM is a real, major market, radio station. I’ve never programmed or consulted to Mystery FM. Please don’t get hung up trying to identify Mystery FM.

The ratings figures in the example are real, though disguised beyond recognition.

However, the S.W.O.T team generally isn’t.

For enquiries about how this applies to your station(s), feel free to contact mbos director, Scott Muller. This is the first in a series written for Radio Today.

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