Why should the three letters, A R B, evoke such diverse and intense comments from the powers-that-be at these local rock radio stations? Because ARBs are the radio stations ratings; that's why. In radio, ARBs (so called because they were developed by the American Research Bureau) are what earn some station officials six-figure salaries and some station officials six-figure salaries and some station officials slit throats. "We live and die by those goddam ratings" is the common feeling among announcers and program directors alike. in San Diego, the results of the ARB ratings for the period October/November have just come in.
There are altogether three methods of radio ratings:
1. Hooper This method is known as telephone coincidental. A lady, earning $1.65 an hour, calls people at random and asks them what station they're listening to.
2. Pulse This method is known as sided recall.The surveyor walks up to people in their homes and asks them what station they listen to, and what time they listen.
3. ARB Operated with a large computer n Beltsville, Maryland, this it he most popular and influential method, at least with radio advertisers and their agencies. A large booklike questionnaire is sent out to selected numbers of people in certain age and sex groupings. Those who receive the books are asked a large number of questions about their radio listening habits including the times of day they listen. The ARB read-outs then give to the stations the average percentages of a certain grouping listening to the radio over a certain time period in the day. It is these ARBs that make or break a station. By looking at the leaders in ARBs, advertisers can determine what stations to buy.
In San Diego, at least four radio stations, KPRI, KGB, HIS/HERS and KDEO, look to the 18 to 34 male as their most important target. There are 142,000 men int hat category here, making them the largest single demographic group locally. (In the age group 12 to 17, male and female combined, there are only 171,400.) This 18 to 34 group is about twice as important as it si in most cities; here, the 18 to 34 males make up 12 percent of the population, while in Phoenix, for example, they account for only 6 percent. Thus, we have an unusually large umber of "progressive rock" stations trying to appeal to the 18-34 group, and paying close attention to their ARB scores in this category.
Although there are twelve Hopper and four Pulse ratings taken in San Diego every year, it is the semi-annual ARBs that make waves. Taken in the two period April/May and October/November, the ratings have just been released for the latter period. According to these new figures, teh following percentages of those in the 18 to 34 market listen to the following San Diego stations during an average 15-minute period 6 a.m. to midnight:
Men 18 to 34
- KCBQ — 9.9%
- KPRI — 9.9%
- KGB (am) — 8.6%
- KGB (fm) — 4.4%
- HERS — 7.0%
- HIS — 2.9%
- KDEO — 6.0%
Women 18 to 34
- KCBQ — 11.5%
- KGB (am) — 4.9%
- KGB (fm) — 3.5%
- KDEO — 6.3%
- HERS — 5.6%
- HIS — 2.4%
- KPRI — 2.1%
Combined 18 to 34
- KCBQ — 10.5%
- KGB (am) — 7.0%
- KGB (fm) — 4.0%
- KPRI — 6.5%
- KDEO — 6.1%
- HERS — 6.4%
- HIS — 2.7%
Each station, of course, has its own explanation of the figures. Almost all of the five rock stations listed above complained about the smallness of the ARB sample and about the fact that there were very few books returned by the 18 to 24 male grouping — only 35 from that group came in, making each of those books represent five thousand listeners.
KDEO complained loudly and explicitly about the new ARB samplings. Ralph Lawler, KDEO's program director, put it simply, "We're not pleased with this new book at all. They didn't get the proper return int he 18 to 24 male category, so the men who responded got undue power. Also, a large portion of the diaries (ARB books) came from North County, and we don't have a signal there. We got screwed." Then Lawler tried to give a few more reasons. "I'm not trying to sound like a sore loser but basically no one did very well in this book. Too many people are doing the same thing. Back when we started, it was just KPRI. But now it's getting awful goddam crowded with people hunting for the same audience. The pie's not big enough to split up..."
Ron Jacobs, the program director of KGB, recently written up in Rolling Stone for KGB's Charity Ball, which brought upwards of 50,000 fans to San Diego Stadium and some helpful pub, to KGB, is, in his own eyes, a victor. He can say that the combined ratings of KGB AM and KGB FM make him Number One. But, wearing football jersey and tinted wire rims, he talked philosophically, "The ARBs aren't everything. But they did serve to show us that our efforts weren't wasted. It was important for us to come out good in the ARBs because there were a lot of people waiting to say, 'See they couldn't do it; they just don't know the music.' In radio, there's always the hostile competitiveness. I'm used to it bey now. Myself, I just like to rub their noses in it... Anyway I have to give credit where credit is due. KDEO laid the foundation in AM radio for a progressive audience. Still, KGB is a real San Diego station; it's not located in El Cajon (as is KDEO) or Santee (as is KCBQ). Our reception is the best. We don't have to turn our transmitter up and distort the music... KGB and KCBQ used to complete; they tried to outsell and outyell each other. Well, we don't do that anymore... All I can say is that I had to get out of the exploitative mediocre trip I was in at KHJ... I've contributed to polluting the air waves and I'm through."
If one combines the KGB AM and FM ratings, KPRI came in third. But Jack Lane, KPRI's general manager, stresses that KPRI is an FM station and that its listeners have maintained a consistent loyalty. he spent a lot of time defending his past reputation as a muckracker, "When I started at KPRI I was Sales Director. I saw rate-cutting and price prostitution and wanted to do something about it. People around here weren't used to that sort of thing and reacted to it strongly." Mr. Lane also defended the station against the accusation of bad taste, "We started some ads for KPRI, one in admittedly bad taste that said, 'Don't take sloppy seconds,' but it was in better taste than KGB's 'no shit' ad. We had our reasons. KDEO had been distributing literature with old ARB ratings, completely misrepresenting the figures. Okay, so our ads got negative response, but it served a purpose in getting us a mailing list of dissenters, people who cared."
In one breath, Mr. Lane seemed to say KPRI was changing. "We're finally getting out of being the hippy dope-smoking station," but in the next breath seemed to sing the praises of the "movement": "We were the first station to open up the counterculture to the public via broadcasting. You could say that we were San Diego youth's first lover, and because we were first, we're the most remembered. That's the phenomenon KPRI has become."
KCBQ, long known as the bubble-gum station of San Diego made no concession in light of the new ARB figures, "We're still Number One." Jack McCoy, KCBQ's program director claimed. But Mr. McCoy, KCBQ's program director claimed. But Mr. McCoy said he didn't know why everyone made the 18 to 34 male so important, "we want to appeal to everyone from 12 to 49." He did let the fact slide that "usually we're ahead by two or three to one — not this time, of course — but we're still Number One, we're still Number One!"
Although not interviewed personally about the San Diego ARBs, Marshall McLuhan seemed to be talking about them when he prophesied, "Radio is provided with its cloak of invisibility, like any other medium. It comes to us ostensibly with person-to-person directness that is private and intimate, while in more urgent fact, it is really a subliminal echo chamber of magical power to touch remote and forgotten chords." Somehow the indirectness and the invisibility that surrounds the ARBs make it difficult to see through to the truth. Especially with the charges of distorted samplings. However, the more one looks at the figures and listens to the rationalization of them, the question becomes where does the indirectness and invisibility lie in the figures and their validity or int eh postmortem explanation.