Radio research – learning from the Irish

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

It’s been a fascinating few weeks watching the US deal with potential issues with their ratings system.
Here’s the thing in a nutshell. US radio uses, in large markets, electronic measurement through a PPM, a portable pager-like device. It listens for inaudible tones in the audio, and works out what you’re listening to. Voltair is a system that acts as a kind of Optimod for those inaudible tones, making them clearer and easier to recognise. Some people claim it overcomes deficiencies in the PPM, and therefore you get better figures. Others claim it’s sorcery and witchcraft.
Voltair is fascinating. A well-adjusted audio compressor will make your output audibly ‘easier’ to listen to, levelling out the quiet and loud bits and making it easier to understand. The only difference is that Voltair is fiddling with the output for the ears of the PPM, not for the human being. And if your output sounds better (to the human ear or to the PPM), your figures will go up.
PPMs are in use in other places, too – Norway, for example, uses a PPM to measure both radio and TV. That allows the ratings to be exactly equal, and makes it as easy to buy radio as it is to buy TV. The Swiss, famous for clock-making, naturally use an electronic system in a watch. You’d expect nothing less.
The Brits use an online diary (and a paper one). Sounds archaic, but in the most multi-platform radio landscape in the world, it works pretty well – or, at least, almost equally flawed for everyone.
The Irish? They use interviews; no PPMs in the Emerald Isle. And it’s the Irish I’d just like to point out, because they’ve just announced their most recent JNLR figures, which come out every quarter. The headline is that 84% of the Irish listen to the radio every weekday.
JNLR figures are a 12-month roling average, which helps smooth the changes out, but also makes it almost impossible to get any quick results.
So, first, I’d point out the success of Cork’s Red FM a slow, steady increase over the past 18 months in all demographics. That’s the kind of audience graph you’d kill for, and there are precious few of them in this industry.
But second, I’d also like to point out that if you do a Twitter search for #JNLR then you’ll see a strange thing. Every single radio station excited about their results, and stations even dissecting individual show figures. Brilliantly, the ratings publicly come out at 4.00pm – stations get theirs a few hours earlier – so it’s a great way to end the day and presumably for most stations means a trip to the pub, regardless of the results.
Stations talking about individual show figures is also very welcome. In many places, the ratings are kept secret from the on-air talent, and not openly discussed. Not in Ireland.
We can, I think, learn from the Irish: releasing ratings during the working day (and not at midnight as we do in the UK) is great for staff morale; but being open and congratulatory about those figures is good for the entire industry, since you’ll have spotted that everyone always wins on ratings day.
If you want to sing radio’s story, make sure your ratings method works for the entire industry first – then be really loud about your ratings and the ratings of the industry in general. We’re still in a great place, if only people knew it.

James Cridland is a radio futurologist, and is Managing Director of, a companion website to radioinfo and AsiaRadioToday.

He has served as a judge for a number of industry awards including the Australian ABC Local Radio Awards, the UK Student Radio Awards, and the UK’s Radio Academy Awards, where he has also served on the committee. He was a founder of the hybrid radio technology association RadioDNS.

James is one of the organisers of, the radio ideas conference each September, and is also on the committee of RadioDays Europe. He writes for publications including his own, Radio World International and RAIN News.

James lives in North London with his partner and a two year-old radio-loving toddler. He very, very much likes beer.

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