Radio’s Ratings Icebergs: part one

Radio Consultancy

Let me share a 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 rollercoaster 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 (see below), the future was looking dire.

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

All staff e-mail: “Survey Party. Midday. Boardroom. 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.

Notes: Mystery FM is a major market radio station which I've never consulted to or programmed. The ratings figures are all real, though disguised beyond recognition. 

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


Please don’t get hung up trying to figure out the identity of Mystery FM, or whether it's one of your stations ("where there is doubt, there is no doubt". If you think it might be your station, then it might as well be your station).

Scott Muller is Director of MBOS Consulting Group, a media management and consulting firm.

Click here to contact him.

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