Emmis’ local radio stations get big lift from new ratings system

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The Portable People Meter era has been good to Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications Corp.'s local radio stations.

Since New York-based Arbitron Inc. scrapped its pen-and-diary ratings method last fall in favor of the PPMs, Emmis’ four local stations have seen ratings go up and revenue increase.

For its most recent quarter, ended May 31, Emmis reported that its radio revenue increased 20 percent compared with the same quarter a year ago. During the same period, all radio stations in the market combined saw advertising dollars increase only about 2 percent, according to Miller Kaplan Arase & Co., a Los Angeles-based accounting firm that does radio market analysis.

The PPM is a pager-sized device that is worn by a sampling of people in the market and acts as a third ear, picking up in real time which stations a person is listening to. Each radio station puts out a special signal undetectable to the human ear that the PPM picks up and records.

The PPM is thought to be more accurate than the old diary system and has led to some ratings shakeups in markets nationwide since its rollout in 2007. Arbitron began using PPM in the Indianapolis market last summer and began basing its ratings on the data in the fall.

“Since PPM came to this market, no cluster is doing better than Emmis,” said Scott Uecker, communications instructor at the University of Indianapolis. “They’re using a purposeful strategy to bring more audience to the table, and that in turn is giving Emmis’ sales staff a good product to take out and sell.”

Since PPM took hold here in October, Emmis has had three stations rate consistently in the top 10 across all demographic sets, according to Arbitron data. In the most recent data—for June—Emmis’ adult contemporary station, WYXB-FM 105.7, ranked No. 1 with listeners ages 6 and older. Its news-talk station, WIBC-FM 93.1, was No. 3 and its country station, WLHK-FM 97.1, was No. 8.

Meanwhile, Uecker said, Emmis’ sports talk station, WFNI-AM 1070, is grabbing ratings not seen in a very long time—if ever—for a sports/talk station in this market.

“In June, [WFNI] pulled down a 2.8, and in March it earned a 3.3 rating,” said Uecker, who is general manager of U of I's WICR-FM 88.7. “I don’t ever recall a sports-talk station in this market earning a 3 rating. Not even close. And they’re doing it consistently over at least the last four months.”

No Emmis station has benefitted more from the switch to PPM than WYXB, which vaulted from a station that usually ranked from No. 6 to No. 10 to a solid No. 1 contender.

“I think a lot of people in radio knew WYXB was underrated in the old diary system,” Uecker said. “It’s a station that is programmed to appeal to a broad audience, and it’s the kind of station a lot of people listen to all day at work, and that’s shown up with PPM.”

Emmis local market manager Charlie Morgan said WYXB has seen a double-digit percentage revenue increase in the last 12 months.

“All four of our stations are up more than 10 percent in the last 12 months,” Morgan added. “WIBC is still the biggest revenue generator.”

In 2009, BIA Financial Network Inc., a Virginia-based research firm., pegged WIBC’s annual revenue at about $7.5 million. That amount has likely fallen over the last three years due to the economy and struggles in the radio industry.

Morgan credits Emmis recent revenue increase to several strategic changes, including emphasizing local traffic, weather and news on WIBC and local content and personalities on WFNI, also known as the Fan.

Uecker said some of the improvement is simply due to better programming, but  Emmis also has taken advantage of the change to PPM.

“We did a pretty good job of studying PPM in the six months leading in,” Morgan said. “We took a close look at what was working and what wasn’t under the PPM rating system.”

Morgan also credits his program managers, directors and on-air talent for the gains.

Uecker agreed.

“Just look at WLHK,” Uecker said. “The reason that has made such gains is because you have the brain trust that built WFMS now residing at [Emmis’ headquarters on] Monument Circle, in Charlie Morgan and Bob Richards.”

Country station WFMS-FM 95.5 has been a market leader in ratings and revenue for a number of years. It still has a solid lead in the country sector, but WLHK has closed the gap.


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