Two Iconic Business Models That Failed — 2
Arbitron’s Pivotal Year: 1949
In 1949, all radio was AM (Amplitude Modulation). FM did not show up until 1960. At that time, the New York area had four network-affiliated stations in operation: WCBS (CBS), WOR (Mutual), WJZ (ABC) and WNBC (NBC). In addition, I found another 12 independent AM stations, for a total of 16. There may have been more.
The big question after the War: How was an advertiser to know where to spend money in radio?
In 1949, the American Ratings Bureau was launched to track what radio programs consumers were listening to. It morphed into Arbitron in the 1960s.
If I had been asked to track my radio listening back when I was a kid, it would have been a no-brainer.
I would have been delighted to fill out an Arbitron diary, collect the $1 bills and send the diary back. It would have been a precise record of what I listened to. For example, I loved the commercials. Not only were they fun and inventive, but also it never occurred to me to jump to another program because, with so few stations, I was not interested in anything else at the time. And I might miss something.
Would sponsors be interested in the listening habits of a 10-year-old kid? I did not pay the bills, but I was a recommender. I remember persuading my parents to buy Ovaltine (“Captain Midnight”), Grape Nuts Flakes (“Hop Harrigan”) and Wheaties (“Jack Armstrong”).
Yes, advertisers would have been happy with me as a listener and with Arbitron as an audience measurement service.
Fast Forward to the 21st Century
I still listen to a lot of radio. So when Arbitron contacted me to say they were interested in a record of what radio I listened to for a week, I agreed. I was curious to find out what I listened to in a week.