A post about RAJAR

Posted on February 3, 2012

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RAJAR is the system used to measure radio audiences.

Sometimes I’ve been lucky. Figures for my old show on Clyde 1 increased 6 quarters in a row.

Sometimes I’ve been unlucky. When I started, the numbers went down for the first 9 months.

And there is an element of “luck” in both the good and the bad RAJAR days.

The temptation is to think you’re a broadcasting great when the reach and market share are going up and throw yourself into a pit of despair when they’re going the other way.

The truth is, as a radio presenter, much of the success or failure of the programme is outwith your control.

If you’re playing music in commercial radio, chances are you don’t choose any of the songs. That’s a huge chunk of your programme you can’t influence. Then there’ll be adverts. For most of my time hosting a daily commercial radio show I had to broadcast 16 minutes of commercials every hour. Add in news bulletins and promos and more that’s more than a third of the show gone and I hadn’t played a single tune or opened my mouth.

Then you’ve got the programme that’s on before you. If that’s going well you’ll start off with a high audience. If that programme performs poorly you could be starting from a very low base.

Then there’s the station’s overall marketing strategy. If they’ve put you on the side of busses, billboards or on TV you’ve obviously got an advantage.

And to be fair, the stations I’ve worked for tend not to hold RAJAR against presenters. I don’t know anyone who’s been fired becaused of a bad set of figures. And when mine were going down I never felt under pressure to change things. That’s the mark of good management. The other side of course is that when the figures show you’ve increased the numbers listening and you think you might deserve a whopping pay rise…forget it!

So, good radio stations avoid knee jerk RAJAR reactions. They set an overall long term strategy, and tend to stick with it for a good while.

What people forget, is that RAJAR was never really designed to compare individual presenters on individual stations in different dayparts. When it was set up there was generally one major commercial radio station in each part of the country, competing against a BBC station. Now, there are so many more stations – at least half a dozen in each area.

RAJAR is for advertisers. If I’m deciding where to promote my product RAJAR tells me how many people are listening to the radio compared to the numbers watching television, or reading newspapers. Or how well local radio in general is doing compared to national stations. The real value in RAJAR is in looking at long term, industry wide trends. It doesn’t claim to show “Presenter X” is doing better than “Presenter Y” although naturally that’s the way presenters tend to intepret it!

It works by getting members of the public to fill out their listening habits in a paper diary for a set number of weeks. The results are used as the basis for calculations which show how many people listen to a particular station at a particular time of the day.

It’s a large piece of market research, everyone plays by the same rules and it seems to be the best system we’ve got.

But it’s by no means perfect.

RAJAR figures are published every 3 months and cover the previous 6 months. So the results that came out this week cover the period to the end of December. So if they’re not what you’d hoped for, maybe you’ve already improved things.

One of the challenges with a daily radio show is how do you know what you did today was better than what you did yesterday? For an athlete it’s easy. They have a personal best time they measure everything against. For a radio broadcaster, what do you measure?

The number of texts or calls you got? How much praise or criticism you got in those texts or calls? Your own intuition? Anonymous posts about you on industry message boards? Feedback from the Programme Director? It’s highly unlikely you’ll get any feedback from him/her each day unless you’re the breakfast show. More likely you’ll get a chat once a fortnight, if that. And in any case what makes a “good” radio show? Who decides? It’s highly subjective.

When I was on air every day at Clyde 1 I decided I needed another way of measuring my progress and that’s really what turned me on to social media. I tried to grow my Twitter followers with engaging content. If the numbers went up, I figured I was doing well. If they didn’t or if my posts didn’t get interaction I figured I needed to make some changes. So I’d try things out on social media and if they were well received I’d use them on air. I added extra, behind the scenes content and realised anything I couldn’t fit into the radio show, or that didn’t quite suit the format, could be “seeded” on Twitter.

My own, very crude method of trying to measure success but it did coincide with a period of growth in the RAJAR figures.  

What’s your opinion of the RAJAR method of calculating radio audiences? What do you think when you hear a station referring to itself as “Number 1 Again!” And if you work in the industry, how do you measure you success day to day?

Let me know what you think.

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