Tuesday, July 5, 2011

PPM Forces Quiet Changes For Charlotte Radio

From Mark Washburn, charlotteobserver.com
"Our show radically changed overnight, with people saying, 'I hate you and am going to burn your village,'" says Sheri Lynch, the female half of the WLNK-FM ("Link" 107.9) morning show, which has been carrying on an intimate conversation with listeners for 18 years and is syndicated on more than 40 stations.

Driving the change is something called "Personal People Meters," or PPMs, distributed to about 1,000 people in the Charlotte area by Arbitron, which compiles radio ratings.

Last summer, Arbitron abandoned its long-time method of monitoring radio usage, which relied on people in a sample audience to keep a listening diary.

Now they wear PPMs, a pager-like device that detects an inaudible code in radio signals, providing a minute-by-minute digital log of what people listen to. They're more accurate, Arbitron says.

As meters were placed in major radio markets, analysts began to see trends that hadn't been evident. Classic hits and top 40 stations generally performed better than before. Niche audience stations and some ethnic stations lost ground. Overall, Less chit-chat and more music buoyed ratings.

As PPMs drew near, Charlotte stations began making changes. WQNC-FM ("Q" 92.7), abandoned its urban talk format in favor of music. WBT-AM (1110) launched a "Traffic on the 10s" campaign to remind commuters when they could get updates and ended the practice of welcoming guests onto the faster-paced "Charlotte's Morning News" show, now just jumping right to a question.

At WLNK-FM, Bob and Sheri were summoned to a meeting with management last summer to talk about their show, an unusual move.

Among those present were program director Bill White, general manager Rick Feinblatt and Buzz Knight, vice president of program development for Greater Media, based at the company's Braintree, Mass., headquarters. PPMs would bring changes to their show, Lacey and Lynch were told.

"They said it's going to be a little bit different," Lynch says. "They were studying what was happening in other markets."

"That first meeting was a short one," recalls Lacey. "I was angry. Sheri was angry. I was like, 'I'm not going to do a show for some damn machine.'"

But in August, the pace of the show changed. Music breaks. No more rambling callers. Tighter segments.
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