How to Measure Radio Listeners

Measuring Radio Listeners

Broadcast radio is what most of us grew up with, forming the soundtrack of our childhoods, adolescence, and all of the happy and sad events in-between and since. If you want to know how common the influence of radio is, start humming some famous jingles or your favorite road trip song and see how many people start calling out the brand names and sharing stories about the memories the songs evoke. It isn’t an official listenership survey, but it does illustrate that radio reaches and influences almost everyone.  

Broadcasting is a one-way medium. By itself, it does not provide listenership data. Third-party firms acquire that data by gathering and distributing listenership metrics. The insight offered by the radio ratings and metrics gives business owners an indication of their brand awareness impact.  

What Are Ratings? 

Ratings represent the number of all potential listeners in a market expressed as a percentage. Though frequently used synonymously with share, the measures are slightly different. Share estimates the total of all actual listeners at any one time, expressed as a percentage. Companies such as Nielsen and Eastlan provide these and other metrics through statistical analysis. 

Though seemingly subtle differences, they are used by advertisers in determining the best stations for their marketing strategy. For instance, the station’s share or actual users may be more valuable for meeting short-term goals, like attracting listeners to a limited-time sale. Understanding the entirety of possible listeners is more critical for brand awareness, as the goal is to let as many people as possible hear your message over time. Understanding the terminology for measuring radio listeners puts your business in a better position to recognize greater ROI on your radio marketing efforts. 

A Note on Qualitative Data 

Ratings primarily indicate the volume of listeners, but often do not provide insight into the type of listener. Many businesses will benefit more from advertising on smaller or medium-sized stations since they may have a more suitable audience to what they’re advertising. 

Qualitative data, through firms like Nielsen Scarborough, measure consumer lifestyles within local markets through yearly surveys. They conduct surveys through booklets, online, with diaries, or through phone interviews, and their analysis covers consumer insights across multiple demographics. Using this information additionally will help businesses find suitable stations that balance a high volume of listenership with interest in what you sell. 

How Are Ratings Calculated? 

Companies calculate ratings using multiple methods based on a small subset of the population. Since there is no single, definitive way to measure the full listenership of broadcast radio, it requires estimates. However, there are ways that you can partially validate these numbers.  

Portable People Meters 

Also called Nielsen Meters or PPMs, a Portable People Meter was originally a pager-like machine. A listener wore the device to give Nielsen a way to log which stations they listened to by recognizing and logging hidden audio tones in the broadcast to identify the station. Manufacturers claim that they are more accurate than logs or wired meters which are subject to forgetfulness.  

Most recently, Nielsen also started using wearables as the next generation of PPMs, which are worn as wristbands, clips, or pendants that people can carry easily. These smaller and updated models require less effort from wearers, look better, and can be worn more comfortably. Offering these updated devices allows people to wear them more flexibility, opening up greater possibilities for researchers 

Radio Diaries 

The Radio Listening Diary is a manual measurement method that depends on the vigilance of the listener. A folded paper pamphlet allows the survey participant to record each station they listen to each day of the week. Questions also include demographic information and a checklist for completion. Some smaller markets have an additional five pages of demographic and lifestyle questions to provide data unavailable from other sources.  

Households in the market have their radio diaries mailed to them. Each participating person in the home gets their journal that includes: 

  • Daypart – Time of listening, such as early morning, midday, or night 
  • Beginning and ending time of listening sessions
  • Station identifiers – WDRV 97.1 FM, for example
  • Listening location – Where they were when they listened, such as in the car, at home, or work.   

Online Live Stream Analytics 

Unlike broadcasts, you can measure online streaming using streaming analytics software. Listener statistics allow stations to measure reach more accurately. Stations can analyze the source by country or city and even by the device.  

What Other Methods Can I Use To Measure Impact? 

Though ratings are a crucial metric for measuring listenership, it isn’t the only method for measuring impact. You can set up proxy metrics as a way to determine the effect of your ads for yourself. Proxy metrics are data points that can indicate the value of something else you want to measure. For instance, increased traffic to the landing page cited in your call to action can be a proxy metric. 

You can also measure impact by modeling the timing of the traffic. By creating a baseline of traffic over time without advertising, you can compare the traffic with ads to the baseline. Increases in web traffic or sales volume that coincide with radio campaigns indicate effective marketing.  

Multiple Methods Give Better Insight to Listenership and Ad Effectiveness 

Radio station ratings are one way to predict how effective your radio ads can be. Like ratings, radio share is another metric that you can use when planning a radio marketing campaign. Understanding how the data is collected gives businesses valuable insight into different stations’ listenership. Listenership numbers can help you determine potential brand awareness impact. 

Measuring listenership for broadcast or terrestrial radio can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. There are multiple ways to do so, from manual diaries to PPMs. You can measure listenership for streaming radio more accurately using streaming analytics software to produce a variety of metrics you can analyze. In addition, you can use statistical analysis provided by companies such as Nielsen and Eastlan.  

You can conduct your analysis yourself using proxy metrics to measure the volume or timing of website traffic. While you can conduct these yourself, a media partner can give you the best insight into your radio ad impact. 

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