Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The PPM's Granddaddy: The Audimeter

All the tumult of late caused by the introduction of Portable People Meters (or "PPMs") to the radio ratings game is eerily reminiscent of concerns voiced more than 70 years ago when the "Audimeter" (left) was introduced.

The excerpt below from 1939 (with BOLDING courtesy of yours truly) was pretty darn prescient in its thoughts about what automated ratings tabulation can and can't do, or can and can't reveal to the people trying to make sense of the data and what it means for a particular radio program:

The Audimeter Survey
Excerpted from pages 205-208 of Radio as an Advertising Medium by Warren E. Dygert
(McGraw-Hill Company, Inc.: New York and London, 1939)

Another type of popularity survey which has definite limitations but also certain advantages is the audimeter survey. This is strictly a mechanical survey made possible by the audimeter, an instrument which when attached to a radio set makes a continuous record of the times when a set is turned on and of the stations to which it is tuned.

The audimeter was designed by Professors Robert F. Elder and L.F. Woodruff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is about the size of a lunch box and can be placed in any radio, uses little extra current, and by means of a techron clock, a roll of graph paper, and a marking indicator connected to the dial of the radio set actually shows a 2 weeks' record of what stations were tuned in, how long they were tuned in, and how often. The claim for the method is that the type of radio home can be definitely determined and the listening habits of that type definitely recorded. Thus 2,000 audimeters in Class A homes within a given market area would give an intimate picture of that type of home. Obviously how many are listening to each audimeter equipped set, whether they really are listening, whether they can identify the sponsor or his product, are things this automatic survey cannot determine. Nor can one be sure whether Mr. and Mrs. "Class A" are listening or their servants.

Certain listening habits in general, however, can be observed. The number of dial shoppers [presumably what they called "channel surfers" in the 1930s], the number having favorite stations to which they tune first, and also the holding value of an individual program, can often be determined.

For example, in the present Chase & Sanborn program, if a goodly percentage tuned out at 8:15 approximately, it would show Charlie McCarthy and Charlie McCarthy only to be the drawing card. If listeners stayed until after the dramatic production at approximately the halfway point in the program, its holding power would be known. If many tuned out immediately after that, it would show that the attractions on the balance of the program had little holding power. If many tuned out exactly on the half hour, it might show a competing program of greater magnitude or that a half-hour program of this type is all the average listener cares to contract for. The author believes that the possibilities of the audimeter in this connection are worth exploring, particularly for checking the holding power of different types of entertainment and different stars on a single program.

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