Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Rush to Dump Right-Wing Radio Shouters

Within the past few weeks, Glenn Boeck has lost his home in several of the nation’s largest radio markets, including New York City. He was pulled from a Madison station a couple months ago, but the reason was different. More on that, later.

As any broadcaster will tell you, shows like Boeck’s live and die on ratings, and Boeck is dying. His tiresome schtick no longer amuses the masses. The other headline in this story is the waning audience for Rush Limbaugh, which has been the top-rated radio national radio program since 1991, but that’s changing.


A new way of measuring audience, called the portable people meter (PPM). It’s from Arbitron, the broadcast ratings company. The way radio (and TV) audiences were measured for decades was by people keeping “diaries” of their viewing or listening habits. So, it was really a memory test, and a popularity test. It’s why radio stations say their call letters about 15 times every hour. You need to remember what you’re listening to, to write it down. But around the turn of the century, a far more reliable way of measuring radio listening was devised, and it is in some ways similar to the way TV viewing is now measured: using a device attached to your TV that records which station you’re actually watching.

The PPM is a device about the size of a pager, and it “hears” which radio station you’re listening to and records the information. Not every radio market is measured that way – yet – but slowly Arbitron is putting portable people meters in every radio market. Madison will be a PPM market soon. The bigger the market, the sooner the PPM arrives. And what the PPM is telling radio stations and advertisers is that Boeck is failing badly. And Rush is nowhere near as popular as had been thought.

It’s heinously easy to “game” the system of dairy-keeping; people tend to write down stations and programs they don’t actually listen to. But the PPM can’t be gamed like that. It simply keeps track of the radio station you’re actually listening to, wherever you are.

Boeck has lost his gig in some really big radio markets in the past few weeks, because PPM data shows people simply aren’t tuning him in, and, in the radio biz, that means you’re gone. Stations that carry Rush Limbaugh are having their eyes opened in the PPM markets, discovering there’s a huge difference between “diary” reports and PPM data. Dairy-keepers apparently were reporting listening to Rush when they actually weren’t. Practically, what this means for radio stations that carry Rush in PPM markets, is that they can’t charge as much for ads in Rush’s show, because they’re delivering a smaller audience.

It’s not the “death of right-wing radio”, as some are saying. But as the PPM moves into more and more radio markets, we’re discovering that Rush doesn’t have nearly as big an audience as was once thought. Boeck’s antics that drew so many advertising boycotts were one thing when he had strong ratings, but now that his ratings have eroded, he’s going….going….gone in market after market.

As to Boeck’s demise in Madison….I don’t think it had anything to do with ratings. Boeck was on a station that for years has been at the bottom of the ratings in Madison, and Boeck’s show was dumped at the height of the capital protests against the Walker administration. Boeck’s show never fit with the lefty programming of the station, and it was probably a convenient time to show him the door.

Sean Hannity must be very nervous.


  1. Colonel,

    You've had some interesting things to say about the apparent death of local radio. This seems to point towards the death of syndicated radio, too, or am I misreading this?

    I don't listen to B(o)eck. I've read one of his books and I consider his treatise on the 2nd Amendment to be excellent.

    I listen to Limbaugh if I'm in the car during his broadcast. I also listen to other syndicated talk shows...but only in the car.

    When I read what you wrote about PPMs, I wondered if those things were also mounted on car radios. I've experimented with GoreNet radio and I know that it works just fine...I just can't listen while I'm trying to work. It's too distracting. Are there PPMs that listen in on Internet radio, too?

    This is quite interesting. If local radio is dying only to be replaced by syndication...and syndicated radio is dying, we're talking about complete annihilation, aren't we? Except for music programming, I guess. I find myself tuning into "The Avenue" when Hannity comes on. I tire of the leading questions.

    Be that as it may, I was intrigued by your report that B(o)eck had been broadcast on a "lefty" station in the PRM. Were they not paying attention when they signed up to broadcast his show?

    The Town Crank

  2. Steve - This deserves a longer response, but simply, the PPM is worn like a pager, and picks up a discreet signal (subcarrier - I'm sure you're familiar with the concept) broadcast by every radio station. Hence, it measures in-home, in-car, in-store, on-i-pod, wherever/whenever listening. Instead of keeping a diary, the, "listener" agrees with Aribtron to carry the pager, and to submit to several "reminder" calls about wearing it, and is paid, like a diary-keeper, a small stipend.

    The station that carried Boeck in Madison was, of course, WTDY. When one of the local talk show hosts decamped to begin his study of law at Marquette, the woman who ruled the roost at MidWest declared that Boeck would be added to provide "balance" to the otherwise hard-core-lefty programming. (This is the sort of thing that passes for "program management" over there.) This woman met an untimely demise via cerebral insult (stroke) shortly after she'd given me (and Glen) the heave-ho; and when the calls to complain during the "riots" of February and March at the Capitol became tedious, they decided to remove Boeck.

    Program and content management have never been a strength over there at MidWest; putting Boeck on an all-lefty station for "balance" is about as smart as if Air America would have carried some right-wing shouter in the middle of the day to "balance" the lineup.

    Remember Phil's "program directors at the Post Office?" That's exactly what obtained in this case - conservative business types from the northern end of Dane County complained to this woman about how TDY was "too liberal."

    As the young folks say, SMH. (Shakin' my head.)

  3. Colonel,

    I went to the Arbitron site and read a bit on this encoding scheme of theirs. Looks like stations install the encoding devices in their transmission racks (like the Orban Optimod!) and audio thingies are inserted into the broadcast...I suppose something akin to the secondary tones we used to add to commercials and what the God Station added at the end of songs on automation tapes. I dig. Very interesting.

    The Town Crank

  4. Colonel,

    A follow-up in the form of an opinion piece in the American Spectator: Talk Radio Hosts Targeted in Ratings Scandal?

    Presents another angle on the supposed decline in conservative talk radio.

    The Town Crank