Eddy Says

Eddy Says: Is anybody listening?

By | Published on Monday 20 June 2011


I thought you might find it interesting to have some insider knowledge as to how radio station audience figures, in this country, are decided, and why, in my opinion, and the opinion of many of my colleagues in the industry, they simply don’t reflect reality.

The ‘audience figures’ for each radio station in the UK are decreed by a company called RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research). In order to derive these figures, this is what they do in this digital age, this brave new world where we can hold a mobile phone up to a speaker and have it tell us the name of the song that is playing, in this era where we can send the contents of an entire library to someone in a matter of seconds, this, my friends, is how RAJAR do it: They take a ‘representative sample’ of the UK population (one thousand people chosen at random, we are told) and they give them each a diary.

Yes. An actual diary. Paper, bound with glue and thread, maybe a nice bit of cardboard on the outside. I don’t know, I’ve never seen one. You’re probably thinking I’ve never been given one because I have a show on one of these UK stations and therefore my filling in this diary would compromise the actual figures, on account of my understandable bias. That would stand to reason, and I’d agree entirely, but you’d be wrong again to think it. The only person I’ve ever known to have been given one of these diaries was the Chairman of a local radio station in the Midlands.

RAJAR evidently don’t check these key people’s jobs or concerns. Even though he listened to Radio 4 in the morning and BBC Local radio most days, he, of course filled his diary with the name of his local commercial station, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and, of course, the station had consistently great audience figures at that time.

Now, young people, the youth of today, I’m talking to you now. You might be confused at this point. A diary is like this book sort of thing, but with blank pages which you have to fill in yourself using a pen (it’s like your finger on an iPhone but has ink in it).

Sorry for the patronisation, but I’m just trying to make a point here. Young people don’t give a shit about diaries and pens. They know how to work computers, they know better than all the rest of us. It’s hardly outrageous to assume, therefore, that the system is stacked against any radio stations that target people under 35.

Surprise surprise, the biggest radio station in the country is Radio 2. An ‘oldies’ station, listened to by people more comfortable with a diary than a blog. Classic FM does great, too. I’m sure they’re wonderful stations, they sound good on the few occasions my ears accidentally bump into them, but it’s safe to assume that both these stations are targeting the kind of people who would be both familiar with the concept of filling in a daily diary, and having the time and inclination to do so.

So why has nothing been done about this, the greatest and most ridiculous anachronism in broadcasting? Interestingly, nobody is challenging the status quo (except Kelvin McKenzie, formerly of Talk Sport, who has been shouting about this for years, though less loudly since he stepped back from radio) because everybody has something to lose.

Good old Auntie Beeb is fine with the prehistoric system, because Radios 2, 4, 5 and the local stations all benefit from it. Global Radio, which owns Xfm, Capital, Heart, Classic FM and many others, don’t want to kick up a fuss either, because Classic FM does great and I presume nobody wants to rock the boat too much in these uncertain times.

It’s only stations like Xfm, Radio 1, 6Music (less so the latter because it has an older audience profile) and the like that suffer, so much so, everyone in the industry accepts they have more listeners than their official figures.

Of course, the BBC doesn’t officially care about such things, its remit is to provide a public service paid for by each one of us, irrespective of audience figures, in so far as there is no link between the numbers of listeners and revenue. But commercial radio lives and dies by these figures.

To understand the deep effects these numbers have on a radio station, consider this: My friend Zane at Radio 1 will have a posse of people to help put his show together. Meanwhile, the likes of John Kennedy, Ian Camfield and myself are producer, presenter, researcher, assistant, engineer and teaboy rolled into one.

The only reason for this is money. Xfm cannot charge advertisers for any listeners other than the ‘official’ ones that RAJAR says are listening to us, even though we know there are more. Therefore, the advertising income from the station cannot justify giving any of its shows the benefit of hired help. I’m going off on a slight tangent here, but the lovely Marsha Shandur was tweeting away the night of the Sony Awards (UK radio’s version of The Oscars) earlier this year, pointing out how it’s criminal that John Kennedy is overlooked year upon year, because it’s never taken into account that he puts that incredible, content-filled show together entirely alone. If the playing field were level, then it wouldn’t be just the BBC laying siege to Moss Bros’ suit hire department the morning of the Sonys.

In the last RAJAR sweep I saw, the boss’s boss assured us that more diaries then ever before had gone out, giving a slightly fairer analysis of the true picture out there, and as if by magic, Xfm’s audience figures shot up to near our all time high. And there is now talk of putting these old paper diaries online.

These are a positive steps in the right direction, though I can’t help feeling as if they are just baby steps when what we need is a leap. Will people entering diaries online make much of a difference? Not if it isn’t equalled by a bigger more diverse sample group. Now the system is going online, there is no excuse to keep the survey so low. Bring the numbers up, bring the accuracy up with them. Then, and only then, we’ll really know who’s listening to what. Bring it on.

X eddy