The portable people meter – changing the sound of radio
Posted on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010 at 10:00 am. #
A while back, I wrote about the Portable People Meter – the PPM, which many countries and markets are now using for measurement of radio listening, replacing the memory-based paper diary that we use in the UK.
What I didn’t quite appreciate was that PPMs aren’t just a game-changer for radio programmers. If your marketplace changes to using PPMs, it means, bizarrely, changes to your jingle package.
I was lucky enough to visit TM Studios in Dallas, and was given a look around. Above, you’ll see the original multitrack tape of the launch jingles for, as it was known, Virgin 1215 – now Absolute Radio. (TM Studios was TM Century back then, too.) I’m not that interested in jingles (shhh) but it was rather a privilege to see this piece of history, given how much of my life I devoted to that station.
TM Studios is interesting: we probably know it for its jingles, but it also produces a lot of music CDs, which stations (and mobile DJs) can subscribe to, ensuring they always get the latest music (and profanity edited, too). A quick tour round their post room showed a huge amount of packets being sent out. Perfect, of course, for a market which can ‘format-flip’ at the whim of a programmer or marketeer: if your station changes from an urban format to a smooth jazz format, it’s as quick as giving TM Studios a call, and you’ve got yourself a music library.
I spoke to Chris “UK” Stevens, the VP and Creative Director of TM Studios. The “UK”, in case you’re wondering, is to differentiate him from the other Chris Stevens who works at TM Studios; and, over a rather good beer in a local hostelry (well, he had cider), he told me what PPMs have meant for jingles.
The point of jingles, of course, is to firmly embed a message into your brain. Jingles do this by giving you a little tune to help it stick. It’s why “Tasty, tasty, very very tasty – they’re very tasty!”* sticks in your brain (though, classically, they forgot to include the brand name in that one. The answer’s at the bottom, in case you wondered). It’s why it’s easy to remember the telephone number for Live and Kicking – 081 811 81 81 – or the telephone number for Steve Wright in the afternoon – 01 637 43 43.
So, in the days of diaries, jingles were made to firmly embed the name of the radio station you’re listening to. You need that information – what station you’re listening to – to fill in your paper diary. But PPMs mean an end to the paper diary; and therefore, the name is not important any more. Instead, the thing that is important now is the frequency. Because with that, you can tune in and listen. And the PPM can hear you’ve tuned in to listen, and all is well.
So, jingles are changing – to sing the frequency much more. Some clients are requesting “two frequency sings” – jingles that sing the frequency twice, to help it sink in. Some stations are even cutting their names out completely, so you might hear a jingle for “92.5″, and that’s it.
Incidentally, PPMs have also had another interesting effect: they tell the truth. Christian radio stations have historically been very popular in the south of the US… because, to a point, people “tick for God” – ticking the stations they think they should be listening to, rather than the ones they actually are. As a result, religious stations have dipped with a move to PPMs… and sports stations have increased. Who’d have thought it.
Should the UK look at PPMs? Or does the industry need uncertainty like it needs a hole in the head? Let me know in the comments.
* “Tasty, tasty, very very tasty – they’re very tasty!” was for Kellogg’s Bran Flakes, of course. No, not Fruit ‘n’ Fibre; that had a different jingle involving “raisins, coconuts, sultanas”. And not for Coco Pops, which had posh kids singing “I’d rather have a bowl of Coco Pops”. My knowledge of breakfast cereal-based jingles is worrying me.
Disclosure: I stayed on Chris UK Stevens’s blow-up bed, and was terrorised by the cat and the big basset hound.