chapter  1
18 Pages

Establishing the Analog Currencies for Network Radio Audiences: The Telephone Recall, the Telephone Coincidental, and the Household Meter Initiatives

Pioneer radio ratings services were the first to establish a more tangible measure to estimates of otherwise intangible broadcast audiences. Unlike the print media, which used circulation figures as a measure of mass eyeballs, radio advertisers had no way of knowing how many listeners they were reaching through their sponsored programs. The Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting (CAB), C. E. Hooper, and A. C. Nielsen entered the field of radio audience measurement in 1929, 1934, and 1942, respectively, to provide an answer to this problem. Each research firm made significant advances in research methods and developed conceptual standards that were to continue throughout the history of broadcast audience measurement. In particular, the first generation of audience research pioneers established uniform industry standards to eliminate the chaotic use of varied techniques all resulting in different and often incomparable size estimates. (This chapter is a summary of the conclusions of my earlier work. For more detail on marketing and advertising as they influenced the rise of ratings, see Buzzard, 1990, 2002.)

The Need for Audience Measurement

Early radio, similar to the Internet, had originally floundered about in search of a viable business model. Eventually a business model was advanced-one known as radio networking, whose origin was in chain-stores marketing. The resulting chain of centralized outlets or network chain empowered the national advertiser, who became the main financial underpinning for the newly commercial radio system. Because, during most of this period, commercial success meant network affiliation,

the drive to create a regular syndicated system of audience measurement initially was tied to the needs of national or network radio advertisers. By late 1938, the four major national networks-NBC Blue, NBC Red, CBS, and Mutual Broadcasting System-had affiliated with all but two of the fifty-two clear-channel stations (a regulatory category of AM broadcast stations with the highest protection from interference from other stations, particularly concerning night-time skywave propagation) and had ties with regional stations and lower-power stations. Network affiliation rose from 60 percent of all stations in 1940 to 95 percent in 1945 (Sterling and Kittross, 2002). Never before or after was radio so dominated by networks.