Selecting The Radio Station List
( Originally Published 1932 )
NO infallible formula for the selection of radio cover-age has yet been devised. The purchaser of time to-day is guided by miscellaneous evidence, little of which is entirely adequate. Personal opinion, the results of too few national surveys, popularity contests, previous experience, and plain faith are among the indices used at present. The vast maze of information, near information and misinformation now dangling before the advertiser's eyes has yet to be scientifically unraveled. Because of this lack of standarized information the work of those who spend millions of dollars of clients' funds to secure profitable radio coverage is rendered unnecessarily complex. An audit bureau of circulation in radio would benefit every one.
The radio section of Standard Rate and Data has done much to provide the simple facts about station power, management, equipment and time cost, but even these data are not yet presented in a perfected form. Occasionally, some of the useful bits of information, such as prices for particular broadcasting periods and the actual operating schedule, are left out. It is encouraging that the American Association of Advertising Agents and the National Association of Broadcasters are working with the publishers of Standard Rate and Data in an attempt to standardize the information now included in that valued guide. and to supplement the facts which it contains.
Even when we have this helpful information arranged by Standard Rate and Data in an ideal manner, we will have made little progress toward solving the important problem of the purchase of time. We have not attacked the ever-perplexing, ever-shifting and ever-elusive questions of station popularity and coverage.
Coverage today is probably the most complicated aspect of commercial broadcasting. Reliable and satisfactory coverage tables can be arrived at only by field surveys of the general type heretofore used in connection with magazines and newspapers. It is reasonable to believe that present efforts of this sort will be furthered in the near future, mainly because the many interests concerned are eager to assist. The national advertiser, the broadcasting station, the network, the advertising agency and the radio manufacturer are directly involved. Perhaps the stations and networks should be most intent to aid, since broadcasting is their sole function and sup-port, and since a more scientific understanding of the service they sell can only benefit most of them.
We have learned from the majority of the stations in the country that they have been heard, on occasion, in practically every state in the union and in some instances in foreign countries, including the Scandinavian! We have on the tips of our tongues the call letters of all the 50,000-watt stations in the United States and are duly impressed by their tremendous power. We have, in our old files, exceedingly neat maps of coverage of radio stations, maps which indicate coverage in perfect circles, drawn by infallible compasses! Also there are to be found in the files a complete collection of printed book-lets with illustrations, mimeographed sheets, etc., relating the value of certain stations as advertising media. Some of these mean something and most of them do not. The more recent ones doubtless can be relied upon more than those of earlier date, simply because station managers are coming to realize that, in dealing with large advertising interests, they cannot hope to make an impression with eloquent statements unsupported by proof. Also, as radio grows in importance in the advertising field, radio learns more about itself and can speak for itself more authoritatively. However, the advertising agency is continually flooded with gilt-edged surveys from individual stations. Any station owner can prove to himself how useless 90 per cent of such documents are by securing a hundred or more and comparing the claims of each. True, a number of stations have compiled information of value and conviction, but the majority of surveys are written upon any formula, however strained, that will glorify the station. Yes, a little standardization of methods is badly needed.
A step toward the accumulation of standardized radio coverage information is that having to do with microvolt tests of radio stations. The National Association of Broadcasters has proposed microvolt tests for the uniform measurement of station signals to determine physical. coverage. We may presuppose that such engineering surveys may also develop data on quality of reception. Strength of signals would be designated by microvolts, arbitrary units of measurement. This physical coverage survey plan, however, will be of comparatively small value unless it is complemented by standardized surveys showing the degree of listener acceptance for each station. If only physical tests were made, stations which had been in operation for only one week might be ranked quite as high as stations of the same power which had been in operation for years. This obviously would be fallacious.
The advertising agency would like to know from every station how much local, how much spot and how much national business the station enjoys. We would like to have a classification of this business according to products. We would relish knowing over what period of time various contracts extend; what season; whether the program is on at morning, noon or night; whether it is transcription or live talent and what type of talent is employed. After this data is forthcoming, we would like any and all tables of results together with a description of any unusual merchandising methods employed in conjunction with the radio campaign.
From this body of facts plus such available knowledge as population, power, wave length, per capita wealth, net-work affiliation, modulation, etc., we can much more easily reckon the value of a given station. We can more aptly appraise its type of audience, and we can more justifiably recommend its use.
It seems probable that such uniform procedure among stations can best be developed with the aid of a separate and independent research service. No publication ascertains its exact number of readers, but its paid circulation is used as the first yardstick. That radio has reached its present level of advertising prosperity without such a yardstick, indicates how sturdy a child the new medium must be.
Crossley, Inc., with its survey made for the Association of National Advertisers, has gone precisely in the right direction but hardly far enough. The radio coverage survey made by Price, Waterhouse and Company, for the Columbia Broadcasting System also is notable. It is extremely gratifying to note that the Crossley survey and the Price, Waterhouse survey agree in an overwhelming majority of cases. When both of these surveys are in agreement on a particular station, the time purchaser can be reasonably sure that their conclusions are fair. As to the popularity of individual programs, neither of these surveys is large enough in scope to provide a reliable index.
In purchasing time from the National Broadcasting Company on its Red or Blue Chains or from the Columbia Broadcasting System, there are not the same perils to be encountered as in buying time from scattered stations for use with electrical transcriptions. The three networks are generally representative of the high water mark in radio station organization, business management and effectiveness. There are weak points in all of them, of course, and no one of the networks parallels the cover-age of another. One hundred per cent circulation is just as difficult and impossible to obtain in broadcasting as in publications. Any one of the three national networks may be reckoned to have a potential audience from 35 to 45 per cent of the nation's population. This estimate rests upon the Department of Commerce census of set owners multiplied by the number of persons in the average family, and applied against the country's total population. We can certainly assume with conservatism that, as mass circulations go, radio set ownership is one of the best.
Spot broadcasting, as a supplement to chain use, is obviously desirable to the advertiser seeking the most complete distribution.
In the very nature of radio some duplication is inevitable, but a measure of overlapping often favors the sponsor by reducing the number of other stations to which the listener may turn.
Long ago we were introduced to the fact that because stations are listed on a particular network's rate card, it does not follow that the network can always deliver such stations. The individual station, being torn between the desire to sell local time for real profit and to accept chain programs chiefly for prestige, frequently embarrasses one or another advertiser by refusing to move a local program to accommodate the network or vice versa. I rather believe that all commercial stations would be wise and helpful in appointing definite hours when network pro-grams have precedence and other hours reserved exclusively for local and spot programs. Despite such deficiencies once a particular network is decided upon for a campaign, the radio time buyer can be fairly certain that his program and the product which it is to advertise will reach a sizable audience—provided, of course, that his program meets popular demands. Net-works and stations too frequently suffer blame because of ill-conceived, ill-executed, and inappropriate program ideas insisted upon by inexperienced sponsors. Usually such campaigns are of short life and terminate with the dissatisfied advertiser attributing his lack of results to radio broadcasting at large rather than to his own program. It is only in the case of the supplementary stations or supplementary groups that the time buyer has the privilege of option with its accompanying possibility of selecting inferior stations.
Even if individual surveys could be accepted as infallible at the time information is collected, by the time data is put together in some instances conditions have changed to such an extent that the result is out of date and inaccurate. An example of this is to be seen in a comparative glance at the results of the Crossley survey and the Price, Waterhouse and Company survey as applied to Boston.
Using its method of calculation, the Crossley survey ranked the three leading stations in Boston as follows: WBZA 80.6, WEEI 59.2, and WNAC 50. The Price, Waterhouse survey placed WNAC ahead of both WBZA and WEEI. A survey made some time ago by Emerson B. Knight, Inc., for Boston only, gave WNAC a score of 62.11; WBZA 17.19 and WEEI 16.59. As a possible illustration of the point that conditions change almost overnight in some instances—it will be interesting to see what Crossley discovers in Boston now that the transmitter of WBZA has been moved. Even the most cautious could not discount entirely the value of the Crossley and Price, Waterhouse surveys because of the great difference of their findings in Boston.
Another check on station popularity, a check which is not without fallacy and certainly is far from scientific, can often be made in cities where there are three or more stations of about the same value, providing each station issues a statement ranking the radio stations in that city. If station X ranks itself first and station Z second; and if station Y ranks itself first and station Z second and if station Z ranks itself first, it may be reasonable to assume that station Z is the most popular of the three, admitting the not reprehensible inclination to put one's best foot forward.
A still further index to station popularity can be had by soliciting the aid of the sales and distribution forces employed in selling a product advertised by radio. Regardless of whether or not these men know anything about radio advertising, it is more than likely that they have a fair conception of the stations their friends and neighbors listen to. If there are five stations, the chances are that the majority of the people would designate one or the other of two leaders as being first choice. Of course, after all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and any station, the use of which has resulted in increased sales and good mail response, will certainly be favored.
Fan mail is a valuable light in the determination of relative intensity. It is also a reflection of the type of audience listening. It is partial evidence of the station's popularity, and any sufficient quantity may be marvelous proof of sales stimulated by broadcasting. A sufficient quantity of mail—aye, there's the rub. Few programs of this age other than those with so-called hooks draw the tons of mail common to the early days of radio. In the evaluation of closely competitive stations, fan mail seems to be of little or no moment.
Population, the number of radio receivers in a given area, and the number of listeners per set are certainly factors of importance particularly in any comparison of station rates. All such information is free for the asking at the Department of Commerce.
We are beginning to realize more and more that radio stations differ in audience character as do newspapers and magazines. One station may be admirable for automotive advertising while another enjoys the largest and most consistent following of women interested in house-hold products. One station may have developed an audience chronically addicted to jazz or fast popular music. Naturally a station whose schedules are largely made up of such programs finds an audience to match. An-other station specializes in presentations of a more cultural trend. Both stations may be commercially productive depending upon whether you are selling saxophones or encyclopedias. The general nature of a station is easily ascertained. Its character is very definitely understood in the community where it is located, and the agency buying time from an advertiser may al-most determine its character by examining its printed programs of the week. All these characteristics would be very apparent if uniform information were forthcoming from station records.
The question of position is a meaty one. Here lies a true distinction between the methods of publication selection as against radio. In buying space on the second page of the New York Times the advertiser has little reason to worry about what the New York Herald Tribune carries on its second page of the same day. This is because readers are not obliged to neglect one if they read the other. In radio, the listener's ears will adjust to only one program at the same time. Consequently local competition must be reckoned. Also, the hour, for theoretically the advertiser may reap greater advantage from an eight o'clock evening time over a lesser station than from 11:30 evening time over a very fine station. In the same discussion it is recognized that the period following a very popular program has a value in excess of the same period following a dud program. All of these points should flavor the purchaser's selection of stations and time—especially for campaigns of spot or local character. As I have said before, there is little margin of choice in the purchase of network time. It is a case of taking what time is available, which, at this writing, is very little, particularly between the hours of 7 and 11 P.M.
Campaigns employing transcriptions invite three additional questions about stations. First, whether or not the station maintains sufficient turntable equipment; second, whether the station policy restricts transcriptions to specific hours; and third whether or not the station rate is greater for transcription broadcasting.
A more scientific consideration of station rates will be in order when more definite data on circulation are forth coming.
The purchaser of printed space is chiefly governed by three factors—the quality, quantity, and distribution of circulation. In this medium he has a few more statistics to work with than in radio, although it is just as likely were station owners better able to appraise their audiences that rates would increase rather than decrease. It appears that quality in radio audiences is more easily determined than quantity, but it is the combination only that will ultimately afford us a comparative check of rates. Prevailing rates are apparently arbitrary and are arrived at on the basis of upkeep, population, market, power, and previous advertising results.
Another subject which frequently arises in dealing with the stations has to do with the allowance of a cash discount for the payment of bills within a prescribed period. The rather general custom in the publication field of allowing a discount has caused the advertising agencies to expect it on all invoices, particularly those involving large sums of money. Many radio stations do not allow the cash discount on the basis that large advertisers pay their bills promptly without it. It is hardly sound, however, that this majority of radio advertisers who do pay their bills promptly should be penalized along with those who do not pay promptly. Such large sums of money are now involved in radio that some advertising agencies may adopt the policy of paying station charges within thirty days where discounts are not allowed. General practice on the part of stations of allowing the discount, even if it calls for a readjustment of rates, will help situate radio on a better business foundation.
A feature of time buying which every purchaser should regard is the nature and form of individual station contracts. As opposed to the accepted practice of space purchased in publications, radio time may under many contracts be abbreviated, removed to another time, or canceled at will by the station but not by the sponsor or agency. Those privileges are accorded the station operator in broad clauses allowing for cancelation to accommodate special events, censorship of programs and copy and so forth. Such provisions have some sense and justice behind them, but they should be a little more definite and not permit the station to shift commercial programs at will. Much of this shifting in the last year has grown out of the competition between chain and spot broadcasting.
We should not deceive ourselves into believing that we have yet obtained sufficiently accurate information on radio. Facts are still sorely needed, and the bright boy who steps out to get unassailable radio information—and gets it—will be very popular with those who propose to buy radio time on a factual basis.