By Carl Wolfson of Portland, Oregon. For six years, Carl was the local host of KPOJ's "Carl in the Morning" show.
Today’s Willamette Week contains an excellent cover story by Aaron Mesh, headlined, “Who Killed KPOJ?”
It is fairly written. But here’s the rest of the story.
Aaron points out the consequence of Bain Capital loading KPOJ’s owner, Clear Channel, with $16.4 billion in debt. I hope the loss of our signal – deeply felt by tens of thousands of Oregonians and many thousands more who streamed KPOJ nationwide – will renew a deeper discussion of media consolidation and corporate control of the public airwaves.
If you came to Portland in the 1970s, and there were 15 AMs and 15 FMs, you could talk to 15 different owners. But since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, in markets of 45+ stations, one entity can own eight radio stations.
Check out the WW chart. Three companies, Clear Channel (Texas), Entercom (Pennsylvania) and Alpha (Oregon) dominate our licensed airwaves.
That means less diversity and fewer points of view; it is a market model that increasingly fails to deliver radio in the public interest.
I applaud BlueOregon’s SAVE KPOJ petition, which now has more than 15,000 signatures, and its newest petition calling on Congressman Walden to hold official hearings in Portland on media consolidation.
Your voice is critical. This is how change begins. If you were a loyal listener, you heard me quote Frederick Douglass a hundred times: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
I have immense respect for Clear Channel Portland president, Robert Dove; during my six years at KPOJ, he was the perfect boss – helpful and kind to me, especially after I lost my dad in 2010 and my mom this past May.
Robert is fond of pointing out that he’s from Oregon and that the Clear Channel Portland cluster is locally run. But that is not entirely true. Many of Robert’s toughest decisions (like having to lay off dozens and of hardworking employees since 2007) were forced on him by the heavy debt squeezing Clear Channel’s bottom line.
There is a difference between capitalism and vulture capitalism.
The LBO boom of the 1980s, the fever that hatched Bain, has become an incalculable curse on American workers. Fed chair Paul Volcker rightly protested at the time that the greed would eventually destroy jobs and assets.
Similarly, when the firewall between commercial banks and risky security firms (part of FDR’s Glass-Steagall Act) was finally obliterated in the 1990s, the Wall Street collapse of 2008 became inevitable. That takedown of the county’s and world’s economy also took with it the homes, savings, jobs and self-respect of millions of human beings.
Any “Carl in the Morning” listener knows that.
On the other hand, if you tune in to Houston talker Michael Berry (Hey—he’s on Portland station KEX!), you’ll hear that Bill Clinton is Hitler, government-cheese eaters are destroying America, and that Barack Obama is “a big-eared ass clown.”
When Congressman DeFazio called to wish me well, his first words were a critique of that “entertainment,” and the fare that now runs in my old time slot: “Soma.”
Peter’s analysis, as always, was spot on. It’s all Huxley’s delicious soma.
The Bain squeeze affected KPOJ in smaller, yet consequential ways. We were never allowed one penny for promotion.
I, like other on-air talent at Clear Channel Portland, spent nights and weekends at community events. But $200 to produce something creative or sponsor an entry in a parade? You’d have better luck getting Mitt Romney to stick to one position on an issue.
Bill Dickey and Morel Ink graciously donated our bumper stickers and T-shirts. If you saw a KPOJ billboard on Clear Channel Outdoor, it was an original one from the 2005 rollout that was uncovered in between postings.
FM music stations can flourish without the extras. It’s much harder to nourish and cultivate a niche market like KPOJ’s without those precious promotional dollars.
WW’s infographic lists KPOJ as #22 overall and #21 among the 25-to-54 demo. These are Arbitron rankings. And, by the way, KPOJ’s weekly cume for October was 75,200 persons.
WW did not include figures (not measured by Arbitron) for streaming or “unique visitors” to our KPOJ web site. KPOJ was consistently #1 in unique visitors among the seven-station Portland cluster. We ranked anywhere from #70 to #115 among all 850 Clear Channel stations.
Further, in-depth reporting of Arbitron’s radio rating methodology rarely makes an appearance outside of the trades.
For years, Arbitron used its “Radio Listening Diary.” The small journal was sent to randomly selected households that agreed to the weeklong survey. Everybody in the house over 12 years old kept track of what they listened to on radio.
It was easy, dependable and even bilingual – just fill it out and mail it back.
With the diaries, there was a new group of participants every week (it began on Thursday and ended on Wednesday).
Our original program director, Mike Dirkx, my mentor and friend, went over the results with us every week. KPOJ was sometimes up, sometimes down, but, as I recall, usually somewhere between #7 and #15 in the market of nearly 50 stations. At the end of 2008, we were #4. We had a good stretch of consistent top-10 rankings, which garnered us national ad buys (It is common for agencies to say, “Put me on the top 10 in…” whatever city.).
Then Arbitron switched to a device it had developed called the Portable People Meter (PPM). You wear it like a pager and it picks up radio (or TV) signals; it has a charger and a base station which transmits data back to Arbitron. It promised more accurate data than the diaries.
Test figures were reported in the Portland market in December 2009, and the system went into effect in 2010.
Many months before PPM debuted in Portland there was apprehension as to its effects on everyone’s ratings. It was already being used in larger markets, causing significant drops among many AM sticks.
First, what if the person wearing a pager is in a place where the station choice is controlled by others? You might be in a doctor’s waiting room, for instance, and your PPM picks up the easy listening FM.
This quote in Media Life Magazine, illustrates my point:
“An example is you’re sitting in a cab talking to someone and you find out you were counted in the ratings for a Hispanic station because that’s what the cabdriver was listening to,” says Nancy Haynes, communications director at Collins, Haynes & Lully, an agency in Charlotte, N.C.
“There’s a lot of room for error with the diaries, but there’s enormous room for errors with the PPM.”
Second, after the Bush years of illegal wiretapping and surveillance, we laughed that no KPOJ listener was going to agree to wear an electronic device that reported their habits and God-knows-what-else to a major corporation.
And third, unlike the diaries, which sample a new set of people each week, PPM panelists can serve for two years. And what if the panel you are stuck with is not weighted correctly?
Sure enough, in a drop of around 975 meters in the Portland area, our listeners got about 8 or 9.
All stations, you might say, are measured under the same system; all can grow or adapt. But for the reasons listed (and more I will discuss in the future), KPOJ was fighting an uphill battle with PPM. If you don’t think there’s an FM bias, check out WW’s infographic again.
In my opinion – and I know this counters conventional wisdom – Arbitron’s diaries were more accurate than Arbitron’s PPM.
And consider this story by Harker Research last year about PPM panelists gaming the system to keep getting the $1,000/month they are paid by Arbitron:
RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research), the UK’s radio ratings service, spent more than $5 million studying electronic measurement, and rejected PPM in favor of an online diary, which was introduced in the Third Quarter of 2011.
In a separate story, Harker concludes:
“The difference between American and UK broadcasters was that rather than accept Arbitron’s assurances that everything about PPM works, RAJAR insisted on testing PPM. And after the tests were in, RAJAR rejected PPM. UK broadcasters had serious reservations regarding PPM. They chose not to sign with Arbitron.
“No such vetting of PPM has taken place in America. In what is supposed to be the toughest most sophisticated radio market in the world, radio rolled over and signed up without asking a single difficult question.”
After Mike Dirkx left in 2010, we received some coaching on how to net more listeners under PPM, but Arbitron numbers were not shared with me, and I had the lingering suspicion that KPOJ was being left to wither and die until another format became available. And diluting our brand with college baseball was a major mistake.
I worked with alacrity with our sales staff (the absolute best!) to identify potential sponsors and book advertisers. At the end, I had the maximum number of live endorsements (six) and I was told our revenue was excellent.
KPOJ’s audience was fiercely loyal. And our advertisers saw incredible ROI. Listeners would drive 50 miles to buy their glasses at Eyes on Broadway. Liberty Coin and Currency told me they had more traffic from KPOJ, by far, than any other station. Ask Tom Dwyer what KPOJ did for his automotive business.
Our community of fans, callers, sponsors and guests should still be together on KPOJ. I miss it! I miss it every day.
I cannot tell you how proud I am of Paul Pimentel.
Together, we produced and hosted three hours of radio each weekday that was packed with fun, important reporting, history, thoughtful dialogue and the essential faith that knits together a more healthy democracy.
And we did it all with civility and class.
As to my being “constantly in defense of Democrats,” perhaps WW never heard my criticism of President Obama whenever I felt he veered too far from progressive values, or the tongue-lashing I dished out to Senator Wyden when he embraced Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan. (To the Senator’s credit, he came on the show and acquitted himself well.) I tangled with one of my favorite legislators, Congressman Brian Baird, over the Patriot Act. I called them as I saw them.
My Web site debuts next week. And not long after, I will outline my plans for 2013. Get ready!
For now, please know that being your voice on KPOJ was the greatest honor of my life.
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