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Ethnic Radio Audiences Protest New Rating Device

By:Dean Meminger

October 10 , 2008

Protesters said Friday that a new way of determining the size of radio audiences may undercount predominately black and Latino audiences of some of the city's most popular radio stations. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.

Popular voices are heard every day on black and Latino stations like WBLS and La Mega. But there are big fears those voices could be in jeopardy because of a new ratings system for the radio industry.

This week, Arbitron, the company responsible for gathering ratings for radio stations around the country, unveiled its most recent ratings of stations in the New York area using a new method to count an audience, and to determine advertising money.

"For our company this is a civil rights issue, this is about survival," said Charles Warfield of Inner City Broadcasting.

Selected listeners use a device called a “Portable People Meter,” or PPM, to determine what stations people listen to. It records stations it hears during the day, which could be from passing cars, stores or in someone's home.

An old method had listeners keep a paper dairy and list the stations they heard.

On Friday, opponents of the PPM held a rally at Manhattan’s City Hall and said not enough people of color have the device, making it seem like black and Latino stations have smaller audiences than they really do.

"I don't want to tweak my format. I know that if you advertise on La Mega and you’re a concert promoter, I know you are going to sell out Madison Square Garden,” said Frank Flores of Spanish Broadcasting System. “I know I have lead accounts that have been on air for years. Don't tell me change something I know is right."

"Minority radio stations could lose as much as 30 to 40 percent of their revenue, forcing many broadcasters out of business," said Democratic Brooklyn-Manhattan Representative Nydia Velazquez.

Also on Friday, the state attorney general filed a lawsuit against Arbitron, saying the PPM is flawed and should not be used in New York until it truly reliable.

Arbitron says it respects and understands the concerns about the PPM system and is working with the radio industry and advertisers to help them smoothly transition to the new method.

The affected radio stations say they don't mind new technology, as long as it is fair to black and Latino formats.