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The portable people meter – changing the sound of radio

Posted on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010 at 10:00 am. #

Virgin Radio - their launch jingle master

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.

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* “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.

9 comments

Stuart
commenting at January 12th, 2010 at 11:12 am

I remember the Live and Kicking number as having an extra digit – 0181 811 81 81.

I’m obviously slightly younger than you – this was presumably after BT introduced the extra “1″ to all telephone numbers which I remember happening – a shop sign in my hometown still has their dialling code as “0536″.

John Handelaar
commenting at January 12th, 2010 at 11:38 am

“Kellogg’s Bran Flakes” appears before the chorus in the lyrics to said annoying tune, twice.

james
commenting at January 12th, 2010 at 11:46 am

Yup. Sounds like a splendid idea.

I wonder how many PPMs get dropped down the toilet (accidentally, of course).

Brian Greene
commenting at January 12th, 2010 at 11:51 am

how does PPM work with DAB and no frequency. and national stations are in a frequency block 90-92FM or 909&693.

is the frequency reminder for the listener or the PPM?

as i sing “Kellogg’s Country Store”

Steve Campen
commenting at January 12th, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I do a lot of ‘radio’ listening online so a PPM would not work. This morning I was in a shop that had the local radio station on, would that then register that I am a ‘listener’ to that station? The diary system is far from perfect and has caused (in the past) a few major cock-ups I can’t write about here. But in an uncertain future-radio-world maybe best to keep to the diary.

James Cridland
commenting at January 12th, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Brian: it, of course, listens to the audio (wherever it’s from); and in the US, where the comments about frequency were relevant, there’s always a frequency or a channel number to help you tune in. Of course, the UK has DAB which uses the station name to tune in – perfect for memory-aided research like RAJAR.

Steve: PPM works just fine when listening online – it listens to the audio, wherever it’s from. And yes, since you listened to the local radio station in the shop, your PPM would have noticed that – you’d only register as a listener if the research company – RAJAR, in our case – wanted you to appear as one. Currently, a diary only counts you as a listener if you tune in for longer than five minutes, and there’s no reason why that has to change with PPM. Still best to keep to the diary?

Adam Bowie
commenting at January 12th, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I’ve talked a bit about the whys and wherefores of PPMs before, so I won’t get into that again right now.

But interesting news from the US in the last 24 hours, where the CEO of Arbitron has left at the same time as the PPM has failed to gain accreditation in most markets from the Media Rating Council (MRC). While these are seemingly unrelated, this has to be concerning for US stations in those markets.

One of the purposes of the MRC is: “To secure for the media industry and related users audience measurement services that are valid, reliable and effective.”

It should be pointed out that PPMs have gained accreditation in three US markets.

Richard Morris
commenting at January 12th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Interesting. For a few Australian stations the station name actually is the frequency – eg “92.9″ (www.929.com.au). Others use the frequency as part of the station name -eg “Mix 106.2″ (www.mix106.com.au) or “973 Coast FM” (www.973.com.au). These names work for both the diary and the dial.

Paula Cordeiro
commenting at January 13th, 2010 at 9:43 pm

It’s curious no notice the change from the frequency – to name – and back to frequency once again. In Portugal we don’t have PPM, but I’m sure that the same would happen.
When we had analogue receivers, stations cared much for the frequency and all the marketing communication, most specially station’s jingles, were built around the frequency. Later, the name, as a brand, was the most important feature and today, few stations promote their frequency. Nevertheless, regional stations that have different frequencies around the country still do it, with different jingles for each frequency.
And the URL? Most stations in Portugal often have on air jingles with their URL.

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