(HOT TOPIC) Mason: I Was Wrong About PPM


Recently retired former CBS Radio President Dan Mason (seen here with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai and Radio Ink Publisher Deborah Parenti) was a keynote speaker at Radio Ink’s Hispanic Radio Conference in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday, and he made some news. Mason told the crowd that when the Portable People Meter was introduced back in 2006, he was all for it. He said PPM was going to put a shiny new coat of paint on radio. Now, with a decade of ratings experience in the rearview, Mason says he was wrong.

Mason said that when former CBS radio researcher,  master of the all-news format, and ratings expert the late Roy Shapiro told him radio would be better off spending all that money on improving the diary system, he didn’t believe it. “When PPM came out, I was jumping up and down,” Mason said. “I was all for it. I didn’t listen to Roy. I wanted to make radio the shiny new thing.” Mason also made reference to Nielsen’s Brad Kelly, who recently said the diary system still has legs, even today.

Mason said, “Roy was right and I was wrong.” Then he elaborated on what the industry has done  since radio began programming to the PPM. “I thought, ‘Wow, look at what we’ve done.’ We’ve made determinations about talent based on PPM. We’ve reformatted clocks and music based on what people were allegedly wearing on their belt.”

Mason went on to say that Voltair proved radio listening jumped up, then Nielsen put out a new (ECBET) product, and listening jumped up again. He said, “Brad Kelly was right. Roy Shapiro was right. I was wrong. I wouldn’t mind having the diaries back.”


  1. Like it or not PPM will be around for a while so how do you deal with it so it doesn’t effect revenue in a negative way. Be creative! With every obstacle comes an opportunity. Now is the time for a perfect opportunity to be creative with ideas and get back to the basics when programming your radio station. Don’t be swayed by the latest gadgets. Be local talk about your community, keep stopsets an acceptable length, and give them good content with its music or talk. PPM shouldn’t change that. Stick the basics. As far as advertising even in large markets you will get agencies to notice you if you present them ideas, creativity, and uniqueness. Believe me they are looking for ideas as they get more pressure from their clients to bring them an idea. You get what you get when you just give them your rate and take what they give you, you have an idea a concept. That is what radio was always good for AMs can still be. Don’t play the blame game, instead focus on the basics, take some risks by presenting ideas.

  2. Permit me to tell everyone the entire story. When I was in one of my terms as President of The Arbitron Advisory Council they showed us the first prototype of ‘the meter.’ My question to them at that time and for a long time thereafter was whether they would place as many meters as they then placed diaries. They assured us beyond a doubt that they would. When they failed to I repeatedly reminded them of their promise. By that time our ABC cluster in San Francisco was in the hands of Citadel. I begged Farid Suleman to take them (Arbitron) to court. Suleman sarcastically asked, “Do you want to go before a congressional committee?” My answer was, yes. He said, “Well I don’t want to.” At that time several Arbitron employees who had been present in meetings when we (The Council) had heard assurances about the number of meters said they would positively support any testimony I gave. Suleman refused and the rest is sadly history!

  3. I was working for ABC radio when PPM was introduced, and I was actively describing the carnage that I expected the new measurement method to bring to the Newstalk format, for our leadership. They just seemed to think that if Arbitron was pitching it, that all was well, or perhaps I was just the crazy engineer out in San Francisco (they protest everything out there you know!). This mystified me at the time. They weren’t even concerned. I was making technical arguments and they were only dealing with political ones.

    We had three radio stations at the time, all AM: KGO (Newstalk), KSFO (Conservative Talk) and KMKY (Radio Disney, music). It was all very clear to me when we did the initial “confidence tests” by holding the phone handset up to a radio speaker for Arbitron. KGO and KSFO each took about 10 minutes for the watermark to be detected, KMKY (music) took about 10 seconds.

    Ratings suffered. Ownership changed. Stations value destroyed.

    So Gentlemen: Forgive me, but… I told you so.

  4. Mason is an incredibly smart, and decent, principled guy. I applaud his candor for saying what we all know to be true: PPM has ruined radio, made it boring, and in many markets unlistenable. Only adding to the cliche that radio is dying/dead because its no longer the sexy medium,…. because it is now boring as hell.

  5. Same lesson second verse. Education fell first. Teaching to the test. Qualitative (diary) preferable over quantitative (PPM). Opinion/purchase polls, just the opposite: quantitative (randomized surveys) over qualitative (focus groups) any day.

  6. I’ve always thought that the diary measures passion and PPM measures ears. Passion drives people through the door of direct advertisers. Ears are two things on the side of your head that drive ad agency CPP. Passion is what drives (drove) formats such as Smooth Jazz, Classical and AAA as well as several personalities who sadly, did not survive the PPM world. That special bond between a format or a personality with its listeners is what has always driven results for our clients.

    Sadly, in my opinion, in an effort to get more and more data for itself, Arbitron/Nielsen sold radio a bill of goods which in the end, only served to commoditize a product which was always best positioned as a one-to-one medium. We used the passion of the diary with qualitative data from Scarborough/MRI and drove results. Now, with PPM and the compression it brought, we are at the mercy of technology that flies in the face of what has always made radio so special…That bond between the station, it’s personalities and format with its listeners. Sadly, no meter I’ve ever come across can measure that.

  7. It didn’t just kill songs and morning shows – it killed ENTIRE FORMATS! Smooth Jazz and Classical were BOTH murdered by PPM – and now we’re finding out that it had NOTHING to do with listeners – it was a TECHNICAL FLAW in the PPM system that shut off the encoding most of the time for stations running these formats!

    • Yes. And Arbitron, and later Nielsen, kept denying and denying and denying. Suddenly, Voltair comes out, and Nielsen says “well, there is still no problem with the system, but….ah….here’s a fix”.

      Arbitron evidently sold Nielsen a flawed system and Nielsen ignored subscriber complaints until they were forced to act by Voltair.

  8. Tweek all you want. Radio ratings are irrelevant. Results are what advertisers want.
    Toss out the book. Work on creative, rates and frequency schedules.

    Consider this……..
    Station “A” has 200,000 AQH listeners and puts 10 listeners thru the advertiser’s door.
    Station “B” has 50,000 AQH listeners and puts 20 listeners thru the advertiser’s door.

    With which station does the advertiser renew

    • “Radio ratings are irrelevant”.

      Uh huh. Let me know when you get back from Disneyland.

      “Station “A” has 200,000 AQH listeners and puts 10 listeners thru the advertiser’s door.
      Station “B” has 50,000 AQH listeners and puts 20 listeners thru the advertiser’s door.”

      Your sentiment may be well intentioned, but the reality is that between one third and one-half of major market radio advertising are national buys based on ratings. There is no “door”.

      • Peter:

        “…the reality is that” buying radio has always been disproportionate to its reach. The industry cries for a bigger slice of the ad pie; which is what Dave Mason addresses.

        Boasting about reach – metaphorically flexing your muscles – is a fading technique.

        Agencies are beginning to take metrics seriously. Soon, knowing that a 200,000 AQH is delivering a 0.01% rate of customer response against a 50,000 AQH 0.04% rate matters. Using cost of campaign math will point to exactly where future money should go – no emotion needed.

    • Bob, you’re 50% correct. Like them or not, ratings are a fact of life. Just like taxes. Right or wrong, they’re here for the foreseeable future. Creative and Frequency-another issue. The days of 12 unit, 7-minute stopsets aren’t because of PPM. If the listener wants more music/content/news–we should give it to them. Whether they have a PPM or not – they’ll listen if it’s what they want. Sadly, radio’s most creative voices in the commercial world (Dick Orkin comes to mind) are being very very quiet. If we spent 1/2 the money we spend on ratings services on CONTENT, you’d see a different radio world. I can tell you the story of one station in a very very very large market that carved out a strong #1 position that lasted a year (at least) in the world of PPM and extra long stopsets. I was there. . and it worked.

    • That’s excellent in markets where that approach can pay the bills. But in the Top 10 Radio Markets over 70% of the ad revenue comes from agencies. Agencies buy Radio on Ratings. If you don’t Rank you aren’t even in the discussion about generating results.

      • In all ppm markets, if you don’t have ratings you don’t get the buys. When 80+ percent of all monies in the market comes out of agencies you are forced to play the game.
        This is not Nielsen’s fault , it is the fault of the agencies to finish an equation of grps and cpp. The agencies need the discussion and education of actual results versus Cpp goals.
        I have sold smooth jazz formats and I have sold AC formats. From a sales perspective, in an 80% + agency world,I will gladly sell the ratings over the results pitch. When a client decides to leave the agency due to lack of results, at that time we can have the discussion of actual ROI. Until then it’s an agency world.

  9. I had breakfast with the legendary Jim Harper a couple of years ago. He said, “For all those years, we wanted “better ratings.” Then, we got the PPM system. And, it quickly killed a whole bunch of morning shows.”

    I remember the conversations with Roy. He said the same thing about qualitative information. He was right on all counts.

    Great see and hear from Dan Mason. Sounds like he is turning into quite the play-by-play guy and a larger and larger visionary for the future of radio.

  10. Just because there’s something all “new and shiny,” it doesn’t mean that it’s better than what came before. The PPM was brilliant in concept, but terrible in execution, and it led to radio programming to the meter (as Mason said) and NOT programming to the listeners, which in turn, helped (not caused, helped) drive listeners to streaming services and away from radio.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here