Do the numbers add up?

This week another set of ratings get published for radio by Rajar. Every 3 months new numbers appear- distributed to stations on Wednesday, then made public at 00:01 Thursday morning.

This isn’t a post about the ratings analysis- who might go up, or down, or dramatically collapse or gain. There are a few of those blogs available and I would recommend Matt Deegan for his analysis. I calculated on my last Rajar result when I was at a station, that it was something like the 128th set of results I had seen- yes I’m THAT old! Most times someone, usually from the sales department but not exclusively, would say on one of the days leading up to the results day, “What do you think the results will be?” My reply was always similar, “I don’t know, if I did I would be lying on a beach right now!“.

The results are hard to predict, in fact I’d say impossible. I’ve gone into results days with a decent if not stellar 13 week number (explanation coming below)– and the published result been disappointing. The opposite has also been the case.

The highs are temporary. The lows are temporary. Neither are a true barometer of how you are doing (probably). I’ve never trusted large swings in numbers upwards or downward, preferring a modest steady trending- showing some consistency or rigidity in the numbers perhaps.

The majority of stations and some networks report on a rolling 6 months set of numbers. Reporting every 3 months, the earlier 3 months drops off and a fresh new 3 months gets added on. The 13 week numbers I referred to above, and I’ve heard them called “discrete” and “forced numbers”, refer to the 3 months (13 weeks roughly) that remains in the published book- so this week in Wave 4 the figures will be from July to Dec and the previous report would have been from April to Sept, meaning the July to September period features in both sets of results. Its not an exact science- the numbers are unweighted and as I’ve said, can give you false expectations or false hope!


Analysis of Rajar became a bit of thing for me in my career- I’ve mentioned before that I devised a style of report- The DAMS report which still features in the excellent analysis tool from DPSAS, RALF. I was taught all about Rajar, and JICRAR before it by the person who first hired me into a radio station, Chris Hughes. He was the Programme Controller, then Managing Director of Radio Trent and was a figures supremo. He could analyse numbers like no-one I’ve met, could give insight and explanation and, thankfully for me, had the patience to teach and coach.

I don’t miss the stress of Rajar day if I’m honest, but the day still interests me and I catch up on the headlines and movers and shakers. The pressure is actually quite huge- instant analysis is required from a massive amount of information which is only available at 10.30am. Pulling out the threads, the reasons and the full story from a complex data dump is tough. I remember the demands- “send me the highlights and headlines within the first half hour!”. Impossible really as you are asking for insightful critical review of a complex bit of fresh information within a very short time frame. A considered critical review requires time to CONSIDER after all. Many is the time the actual themes of the results, the nuance and the actual story didn’t materialise until later in the day after time to chew on the results a bit and come to some conclusions. Exhibiting a bit of Slow Thinking in this is helpful but I recognise the expediency required for urgent press releases and presentations! I created a number of number crunching tools to automate the process a bit and try and make the picture clearer, sooner. Some of those tools exist to this day!

To all working in radio and crunching, pondering and fighting to find the right angle, positive or thought- I applaud you and understand the stress.

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Published by Dick Stone

Radio...its always been radio.

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