Community Radio & RAMS … All quiet on the Western Front!

SAARF has announced they will host a Community Radio Symposium in September. The aim of the symposium is to address issues related to the successful running of a community radio station. Issues such as managing and marketing a community radio station, using & understanding RAMS data, and research that should be conducted by community radio stations themselves.
That community radio has been totally under-marketed, and consequently under-supported, we all understand. According to RAMS, some 10million people listen to community radio every month. That’s about 1 in every 3 radio listeners. But these same stations pull only 1,4% of annual radio advertising revenue. Not even Pieter de Villiers has a conversion rate as bad as this.
So where does it go wrong?
Even if community radio stations did have the energy & the expertise to market themselves, the question remains, what would they use for information? Experienced marketers & media decision makers don’t need numbers to make every decision but the vast majority of media decisions are made by increasingly under-trained and inexperienced media planners & buyers. So, bottom line, community radio needs the numbers. They need numbers that more accurately reflect the vibrancy & viability of daily listenership.
So where might they get that data from?
There are two basic options …
Source 1: The Main AMPS report which comes out twice a year.
This is where we get the “big picture data” which consistently confirms that listenership to community radio (“yesterday” or “past 7 days”) is huge. So, strategically, the collective weight of evidence is that community radio is a crucial part of the mix. The problem is that when you tunnel into the data at a station level, the samples for each station are really unusable.
Source: 2 The RAMS diaries which come out 6 times a year.
This is where the pencil really hits the paper. This where planners move beyond the “yesterday” and “past 7 days” figures into the detailed average ¼ hour data which forms the currency for detailed media planning & scheduling. If the samples in AMPS are bad, at implementation planning level the community radio station level samples in RAMS are almost non-existent & essentially unusable. Try as hard as you might, you simply can’t extract data out of RAMS which could be used to sell individual community stations.
AMPS & RAMS data is financed by a levy on all advertising, which is nominally paid by advertisers and collected by media owners, who then pay this over to MAMCA & SAARF. This is of course a moot point and many broadcasters would hold the opinion, that this is their money. This issue is currently being debated within the advertising industry. The bottom line on this is that the commercial broadcasters are not motivated to use this levy to promote the interests of community radio stations. In fact, they have a vested interest in ensuring that community radio never reaches its full potential. So we continue to produce 6 diaries a year, where nothing ever happens.
The phrasing of the latest press release from SAARF regarding the release of RAMS2011/ 3 provides the insight …
In a world of ceaseless change, it’s good to know there are some things you can still count on. Like radio! The SAARF released RAMS June 2011, with stable listenership once again being the name of the game.That’s SAARF speak for “ho hum another round of incredibly boring radio data where absolutely nothing new & exciting has happened”! So what SAARF celebrates as reliable old radio data, is really just designed to entrench the same old “business as usual” approach.
In defence of SAARF, this is not a unique circumstance and highlights the limitation of the SAARF industry-funded research initiative. It is quite frankly impossible for AMPS & RAMS to cover the interests of every single media sector. We all understand that. With newspapers for instance, the AMPS sample does not hold up for scrutiny at a suburb or community level & consequently totally under-reports community newspapers, relative to primary daily & weekly titles.
That’s why the Caxton newspaper group pulled out of AMPS and established its own research study called ROOTS, where the sample is specifically structured to highlight the community level readership of local newspapers. AMPS under-samples Soweto and as a consequence, many newspaper titles such as Sowetan & Sunday World are totally under-reported. So, what Avusa has done, in order to better market its own titles, is to produce a study called the Gauteng Wealth Study with a more representative sample in Soweto.
Sound marketing responses from the big media players.
Well it’s the same principle for community radio. The only way community radio will ever get the ammunition they need to sell themselves, is to have a dedicated RAMS diary that comes out annually, with the appropriate sample for community radio.
There is, I believe, quite a simple solution, summed up below …
1] The current 6 RAMS should revert to quarterly diaries. Despite the protestations of commercial broadcasters, there is absolutely no value generated by an additional 2 diaries, which endless report “all quiet on the Western front”, other than entrenching the status quo & protecting existing ad-revenue streams.
2] One of the remaining diaries should be dedicated to community radio (CRAMS), with an appropriately constructed sample that will allow individual stations to stake a reasonable claim to exposure on the average radio schedule. This would be an annual diary and would form the basis of any future marketing of community radio!
To expect community radio to fund CRAMS out of their advertising revenue is unrealistic. They barely have the funds to run themselves, let alone create expensive research. When it comes to CRAMS, the other thing we know one thing for sure, is that the NAB & RAB are not going to push for this solution. After all, why would you feed the baby crocodile that is beginning to think your outstretched hand might make a very good meal one day?
So that leaves the MDDA or some other relevant authority with a stake in, or even responsibility for, growing community radio. Without external funding for CRAMS, either from within the advertising industry or externally, community radio in Mzansi will never get off the ground.
What about the second remaining diary? What the industry needs is a radio diary which is dedicated to improving the quality of data in the major metropolitan areas … Gauteng, Durban & Cape Town. (METRAMS) But that’s another story, so watch out for the next installment in this gripping tale of radio advertising intrigue.
Or brace yourself your another fascinating celebration of “stable listenership” and “things you can still count on” when SAARF release RAMS2011/4 in a few months.

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