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Who's on first? In radio, it depends on who keeps score

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Greg Jarrett

There’ve always been a million ways to slice and dice the Arbitron ratings. If you don’t like what they say, just look at them another way -- by age group, by gender, by time of day, by whatever. Or wait a few weeks and, like Chicago’s weather, they’re sure to change. That’s especially true since Arbitron’s new Portable People Meters turned the whole ratings game upside down.

So after I reported last week the Arbitron figures for January showing a surprise upset in morning drive for Don and Roma Wade on Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890), I fully expected that the competition would step up with its own set of numbers to dispute my point. Lo and behold, Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720) didn’t disappoint.

For the record, Arbitron defines the morning-drive daypart as 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. In almost 30 years of reporting radio ratings in this market, that’s the standard I always used whenever I listed the rankings of various stations. By that measure, there is no doubt that WLS beat WGN for the first time ever among listeners age 12 and older (which is the same demographic by which I’ve kept score since Larry Lujack competed against Wally Phillips). WLS had an 8.7 percent share of morning drive listeners, while WGN had an 8.2 share. As the man said: You could look it up.

But now the losers are crying foul. In an email to me Friday and in items that turned up Monday on and, WGN officials pointed out that their morning show, hosted by newcomer Greg Jarrett, doesn’t conform to Arbitron’s definition of morning drive. Both Jarrett and Don & Roma are on from 5 to 9 a.m. -- not 6 to 10 a.m. When you look at the audience shares for those four hours, they say, Jarrett comes out on top.

But does he really? Here are the precise hour-by-hour shares for the four hours in question:

  • From 5 to 6 a.m.: Jarrett has a 12.8 share, Don & Roma have a 9.7 share. (Jarrett wins.)
  • From 6 to 7 a.m.: Jarrett has an 11.3 share, Don & Roma have an 8.5 share. (Jarrett wins.)
  • From 7 to 8 a.m.: Jarrett has a 9.2 share, Don & Roma have a 9.6 share. (Don & Roma win.)
  • From 8 to 9 a.m.: Jarrett has a 6.4 share, Don & Roma have a 9.5 share. (Don & Roma win.)

While Jarrett’s strongest hour is at 5 a.m. (which doesn’t even figure into “morning drive” by Arbitron’s definition), his shares drop sharply in each hour that follows. Don & Roma, on the other hand, remain remarkably consistent for all four hours of their show.

In the scheme of things, I know it doesn’t mean much. The 12-plus shares may provide bragging rights for whichever station wins, but they have nothing to do with financial success. For advertisers, the real prize continues to be listeners between the ages of 25 and 54. And by that measure, it’s still Eric Ferguson & Kathy Hart of Bonneville International hot adult-contemporary WTMX-FM (101.9) all the way.

So go figure.

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