Expat Files : Ronnie Stanton
Ronnie Stanton is a former Program Director of K-Rock Geelong, Music Director of Nova 100 Melbourne, and Breakfast Announcer on the Sunshine Coast, in Townsville and Wagga.
These days he hangs out in Vancouver, Canada, programming Virgin Radio 953, Shore 104 and AM 650.
In 'the Expat Files' Ronnie writes for Radio Today on programming in a PPM world.
There are huge differences in the methodology of gathering ratings between Canada / US and Australia.
Having programmed on both continents (now at Virgin Radio / Shore 104 and AM 650 Vancouver), I wanted to share the way it works here and the learnings so far.
As you know, Australian radio is measured through diaries where respondents declare their listening habits through recall, thus the brand value of a radio station will often drive numbers.
The stations 'perceived' to be listened to most are the ones with the ratings numbers, not always the stations 'actually' listened to most.
In North America, PPM (or Personal People Meter) technology is used. A PPM device is a small pager style receiver that picks up encoded signals (from TV and radio) – the signals are inaudible to the human ear but the little machine hears them and registers actual tuning.
It also marks whether the listening happen in home or out of home and transfers data daily to the measurement centre when it is placed in its recharge dock at the end of the day. Those ratings are then delivered back to the radio stations monthly in Canada and weekly in the US.
PPM doesn't measure brand value – it only measures REAL tuning and picks up what we describe as the three 'I's of listening:
- Intentional – this is the best one! When someone actually makes a conscious decision to switch you on and listen.
- Incidental – refers to tuning that the listener is aware of but didn't decide on (a passenger in a taxi listening to a station the driver chooses or a worker who listens to a radio blasting through the entire office).
- Invisible – a customer with no awareness of the radio shopping into a store that is playing a station.
So trying to get the most possible out of these 3 types of listening to maximise your ratings redefines the role of the PD.
In fact, measuring activation of your brand instead of awareness of your brand changes everything. It forces you to not only create great radio brands that illicit usage and 'tune in' but also flawless execution to eliminate 'tune out'. It alters the way you market your station, the mechanics you use to build contesting, the length of talk breaks, the position of commercials – everything.
We have learnt lots since PPM came into Canada mid 2009.
Some of the biggest stations in the market slipped in ratings and under achievers in diary soared. It has been a really interesting experiment. And, I love it. It it real.
As a PD you are responsible for the sound of your station and the minute by minute execution of what you do. No system is perfect though and PPM has its drawbacks as well – for us, it is sample size.
The concept of PPM is brilliant and honest but it can't be truly 100% accurate unless every human in the market had a device AND consciously took it with them everywhere they went – obviously this is unrealistic and cost prohibitive but every PD in North America would like more devices in his or her market.
Vancouver (2.5+ million) has 800 households; Seattle (3+ million) has 2,500. This often means that in any given minute you only have 2 or 3 meters on your station.
Whatever the system, great radio still wins. The power of your brand gives listeners a reason to punch in and the power of your content gives listeners fewer reasons to punch out.
Ronnie Stanton is Operations Manager at Astral Vancouver, and Brand Director for Virgin Radio 953, AM 650 and Shore 104.3 in Vancouver.
You can say hey to Ronnie here.