Thursday, March 5, 2009


Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - Saturday, August 11, 2007

Broadcast music witnessed what amounts to a volcanic eruption this summer. Local FM radio station 101.5 switched from an all talk format to hip-hop music and Internet radio took a day off to protest legislation pending before Congress that would impact what it must pay in copyright fees to play music.

The top three songs on the Billboard singles music chart the last week of June were all songs that get more play on stations like the new KZON format rather than Internet radio; indicating the power to form music opinion still lies in the hands of broadcasters that use Federal Communications Commissions licenses rather than Internet.

A further testament that commercial radio still has more influence at shaping public opinion and musical tastes was the response the format change caused on a local public relations Web site/blog. This is a site PR practitioners can go to exchange ideas to sharpen their knowledge and skills.

The week 101.5 changed its format, the blog site had the greatest input that it has seen on any subject. These PR practitioners won't take the time to learn about marketing experts like Philip Kotler, Alan Center and more, people who expanded public relations to what it is today, but they thrive on gossip about a radio station changing its format.

Broadcast radio is ruled by Arbitron ratings. This is a rating service that sends "books" to individuals and asks them to list the radio stations they listen to. It is a very small group that receive the book, but in my lifetime I had the chance to be chosen once. I diligently listed the time and what station I was listening to.

Arbitron then uses a formula to determine the most listened to radio stations in a market. Phoenix ranks 15th in all radio markets, meaning that even though we may be the fifth-largest city, we are only the 15th largest radio audience in the nation. I put more faith in Arbitron than I do the fifth-largest city statistics.

Arbitron ratings also rule how much stations charge for advertising. A station like KFYI, a talk station that came in first in spring 2007 Arbitrons, can charge more per minute than KSUN-AM that showed up in last place.

In this day-and-age, where our lives revolve online, from the forms we need at work to reservations from airline to dinner, it is interesting to note more people are influenced by FCC broadcast than Internet radio.

A personal opinion as to why radio personalities like Beth and Bill on 99.9 or Pistol Pete on 92.7 or 101.1 are popular is that listeners connect to local personalities who embody a neighbor. Someone who can tell you it's going to be 117 today, traffic is snarled on Loop 101 and there is a great show coming up at some concert venue or bar.

We may be a global village, but even in a metropolitan area like Phoenix, people still want that grass-roots small-town feel, which they get by connecting to local radio. That explains why the Billboard charts are dominated by performers who get play on these stations rather than the choices we have with Internet radio.

Watch for more radio format changes this fall when another Arbitron is released; especially in personalities at KTAR's new FM side. KTAR is used to being in the top five and neither it nor its sister AM station made the top 10.

Richard C. Kelleher is a media-relations expert based in northeast Phoenix. He is a former Billboard magazine journalist who lived and died by Arbitron ratings for stories.