Vote Theft Is Not Just For Elections

Cheating radio-"listeners" inflate trash-radio scores.

Have you ever surfed through the radio stations in the car hearing channel after channel of nauseating cacophony that hardly even qualifies under the name of "music," and wondered, "Who the heck listens to this garbage?"

Where I live, there are probably a hundred channels, and of those, I can count those which I ever would listen to on one hand.  There probably aren't more than two dozen I can even understand, and from a quick look at the lyrics of a lot of modern... artistry?... I suppose I should be grateful for that small favor.  It's almost as if there's a conspiracy to clog the airwaves with trash.

Guess what?  There is!  But it may not be who you think it is.

First, some background.

Is Anyone Listening?

For corporations buying ads from any source, the very first question is, "What's your circulation?"  Newspapers have arrangements going back decades to ensure that ad buyers know how many people are reading each issue, although that doesn't appear to stop rampant cheating.  At least with a printed product, in theory it would be possible to get fairly close to an actual answer: if nothing else, check the receipts for how much paper got bought.

With over-the-air media, there isn't even that potential.  A radio station can broadcast a show that nobody listens to, or everybody does; there's no technical way to find out by the inputs or expenses.  Of course, relying on guesstimates simply won't do; advertisers want something that at least pretends to be scientific.

For many years, they've had that, in the form of ratings companies.  Much like the famous Nielsen ratings for TV, radio too has data-collection.  As nice and neat as the data might look in a table, though, how they get it is decidedly unsophisticated: They recruit individuals to carry around a diary with them all day, and record which radio stations they are listening to when, and with whom.

The weaknesses of this system are almost too numerous to count.  How can you know how many people are listening to you listening to the radio, especially if you're blasting it?  What if you forget to record exactly when you turned it on, or off?

What about when you're channel surfing?  Or in the car - do we really want people to be writing things down while driving?  Oh, and there's always the problem of certain shows that people enjoy, but don't want to admit to.

A ratings company, one Arbitron, has introduced new technology to help with some of these issues.  The Portable People Meter (PPM) is a pager-like gadget that, quoth the company, "automatically reports audience exposure to inaudible codes embedded in a broadcast signal."

This way, the survey participants don't have to do anything except wear the device around all day, and plop it back on its base at night.  All the tallying and scorekeeping is done by an impartial computer with no human intervention.  What could be more fair and unbiased?

Hah!  If you think that's good enough, you have not been paying attention.  Today's modern grievance culture is about everything but being fair and unbiased.  The more biased you are, the better, as long as it's in the politically correct leftist direction.

As the Radio Equalizer blog explains:

Under the old diary-based system, cheating was a cinch: major fans of a program could simply "vote" for it by recording a wildly inflated amount of listening over the week-long survey period. This tended to favor Hip Hop and perhaps one or two other formats where listeners have a particularly strong devotion to the music and personalities... While the PPM system has already been implemented in a number of major cities, New York was forced to abandon it after a one-month trial last year resulted in collapsing Hip Hop numbers and a surge for conservative news talk radio[emphasis added]

When the going gets tough, the tough leftist starts cheating.  It should come as no surprise that the ambitious AG of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has launched an investigation into Arbitron's "bias" - on what possible legal pretext we cannot imagine.

Ad revenues going down for hip-hop stations that, it's now revealed by the PPMs, are "listened" to mostly in absentia by liars?  Ad revenues up for Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity that the hip can't bear to admit to liking?  Al Sharpton's radio audience decimated?  Can't have that!

Now comes Mr. Obama's FCC:

In this Notice of Inquiry ("NOI"), we seek comment on issues relating to the commercial use of a radio audience measurement device, developed by Arbitron, Inc. ("Arbitron"), known as the portable people meter, or "PPM."...  Broadcasters, media organizations, and others have raised concerns about the use of the PPM and its potential impact on audience ratings of stations that air programming targeted to minority audiences, and consequently, on the financial viability of those stations.  They claim that the current PPM methodology undercounts and misrepresents the number and loyalty of minority radio listeners[emphasis added]

Oh, indeed it does undercount their loyalty - as represented by their willingness to support their preferred shows by fraud.  Our national elections are equally supposed to undercount the loyalty of cheaters and illegal aliens voting fraudulently.  One man, one vote - no more, and no less.  That's why conservatives so strongly support laws requiring voters to produce IDs at the polls, and why the left fights such efforts with such venom, to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Will Arbitron stand up for truth?  Will the advertisers, whose money is being stolen, support greater accuracy?  Or is the threat of the FCC so great as to force Arbitron back to the old-fashioned, and now provably wrong, methodology?

Well, Rush Limbaugh has long crowed about his massive advertising-funded wealth.  Just as much as it's in the interest of minority radio station owners to push back the clock, it's in the interests of the EIB and all the rest of conservative talk radio to make sure the change sticks.

Should be an interesting fight - and the result will tell us all something we'll need to know about November 2010.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments
Obviously I don't know if the company is using the same demographics that they did before switching to the PPM, but I certainly don't know why it would change at all.

Assuming they have stuck with the same demographic mix it is impossible to believe that the PPM in any way unfairly excludes minorities. Obviously they were represented in the old diary system so they would therefore also be included in the new PPM system.

Is it even conceivable that any part of the government would have cared to act if it had been the right, white portion of the people of this Republic that were losing numbers under this new system? I believe we all know the answer to that question.
May 26, 2009 12:27 PM

I think it's about the length of time the minorities were really listening. If the minorities were manually recording their time on the station as much longer than it really was, there would be a large disparity between that and the new computerized thing that recorded every second. So the number of minorities listening would remain the same, but the overall "time listening" by minorities would drop precipitously.
May 26, 2009 1:19 PM
That certainly would be a very possible reason behind the change. However, the point I was trying to make was instead on the possibility that Arbitron is incorrectly weighting the different minorities.

If Arbitron is using the same demographic mix that it was using before then any argument that they are being unfair with the new PPM is shown to be invalid. If the demographic mix that Arbitron is using has been changed to contain more white, middle class people in it then the argument that it is not correctly balanced could be legitimate.

Being a company I doubt that Arbitron would risk its reputation to intentionally change the numbers. Which leads me to conclude that it is likely that this is much to do about nothing.
May 26, 2009 1:25 PM
As far as I can tell from the documentation available online, Arbitron took special care to ensure that their sample was properly diverse. In fact, they delayed the PPM's introduction to NYC by several months specifically to allow them to INCREASE the number of minorities involved in their sampling - and even so, as soon as the PPM went forth, the hip-hop audience plummeted and Rush/Hannity/etc skyrocketed.

Over the years, apparently, Arbitron has cultivated a reputation of scrupulously including minorities, and in the past they've been accused of "packing the vote" by OVERsampling them.

The only logical conclusion, it seems to me, is indeed that the minorities are lying, saying that they listened to every show by the people they like when in fact they only listen occasionally.

Now that's no crime. The real crime is the government weighing in - and not to enforce the truth (which, while not being its job, is at least defensible) but to enforce the lies. Figures.
May 26, 2009 2:58 PM
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