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Net Talk • MScores Again – Why do Listeners Change Stations?
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MScores Again – Why do Listeners Change Stations?

Posted: Tue Mar 22, 2011 11:35 am
by rogerwimmer
Roger, as a great researcher, you did a great job in explaining how Mscores can't be used exclusively for research. Would you also agree that in many cases, if not most, the #1 reason people change stations is because they don't like the content? Mscore's POSITIVE numbers don't always mean that people flock to your station because you're playing Lady Gaga either, but while there are other reasons people change, what would you say the #1 reason is? - Anonymous

Anon: Thanks. I'm happy to hear you liked my first response. I will alert my wife. I decided to put your question as a stand-alone question rather than tacking it on to a Reply to the original Mscore question. I think the original question and the replies are getting rather long.

Based on more than 35 years of radio research experience, here is my response to asking me if I would agree with you (your second sentence). Notice my additional words. I would agree with you that in some situations it would be appropriate to say that in many cases, the #1 reason listeners change radio stations is because they don't like the music/content on the station. I will also agree with you that in some situations it would be appropriate to say "in most" cases. In other words, I partially agree with what you said in your second sentence. Allow me to explain.

While listeners in many cases change radio stations or turn off the radio (hereinafter, "change stations" also includes turning off the radio) due to music/content, there also many cases where this isn't true. If 10 people listening to the same station simultaneously change to another radio station, how many changed because of content? How many changed because they received a phone call? How many changed because they arrived at work? How many changed because they were going to take a nap? And so on. I don't know that answer, you don't know that answer, and there is no one on the planet that I know who knows that answer. The only way to know that answer is to ask each of the 10 listeners why they changed stations and that isn't done at this time. We know how many are listening, but we don't know why. (The "why" is the task of follow-up research such as a telephone study.)

To my knowledge, Arbitron doesn't ask Portable People Meter (PPM) participants to record on paper why they change radio stations, and to my knowledge, there is no way for the PPM to record such information. The only information available is whether a participant is listening to the radio and which radio station the person is listening to. That's it. And this is the fundamental problem with Mscores.

Since we know that listeners change radio stations for a variety of reasons, it is wrong to assume that changing to another radio station always indicates a dislike for the music/content. I can't say it any simpler than that—it's wrong—and I can't think of anything, not one single thing, that would allow such a explanation to be valid. Not one. (By the way, this relates to your comment about listeners switching to a radio station producing Positive Mscores . . . people "flocking" to a radio station to listen to Lady Gagme. Positive Mscores only indicate an increase in audience, but no reason can be attributed to the increase.) In other words, changing stations is a complex variable, and interpreting station change as only a positive or negative action isn't right. There is no PPM information available related to why listeners leave a radio station and/or tune to another radio station. The PPM information shows only that they did leave.

Finally, you asked me what I think the #1 reason is why people change radio stations. In all honestly, I think that is an impossible question to answer. Why? Consider these examples . . . If 10 listeners in Tulsa this Friday at 10:07 a.m. change radio stations due to content, I would bet my entire $10 savings account that the same thing wouldn't be true for 10 listeners who change radio stations in Philadelphia next Tuesday at 5:47 p.m. Or . . . if 10 18-24 year-old females in Miami change radio stations due to content on Monday at 1:14 p.m., I would also bet my entire $10 saving account that the same thing wouldn't be true for 10 45-54 year-old males in Seattle on Saturday at 3:16 p.m. In some cases, a dislike for content may be the #1 reason for switching to another radio station, but there are also some cases where the #1 reason might be something else.

Some listeners may change due to music/content, but how many is "some?" I don't know and no one else does either with the information that is currently available. If the reasons for changing to another radio station are not known, then it isn't right, from any perspective, to attribute a specific reason or reasons to that action. Changing to another radio station means only one thing at this time—the listener or listeners changed to another radio station or turned off the radio. That's all it means and attributing a reason for the station change without any supporting information is wrong.

In summary, I'll repeat . . . listeners who change to another radio station or turn off the radio are collectively assumed to have done so because of a dislike (or maybe even a like) for the music or content. That, as some people say in Atlanta, "Don't be right."