Can Black stations win the radio ratings game? KMOJ’s general manager on the complexities of counting a growing Black audience



By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


Radio broadcasters added nearly 1.7 million weekly listeners in the past year, and radio reaches over 93 percent of Blacks in the U.S., says the nation’s leading radio ratings service.

Arbitron recently reported in its 2011 RADAR (Radio’s All Dimension Audience Research) that 93 percent of the U.S. population — an estimated 241 million, ages 12 and older — listen to radio each week.

Locally KMOJ-FM also has seen an increase in listeners since boosting its broadcasting power earlier this year, reports General Manager Kelvin Quarles. The power increase now allows the longtime noncommercial station to be heard in St. Paul, whose residents “were not able to get it, but we also wanted to reach those outlying areas where African Americans have moved to,” adds Quarles.

Because the station does not subscribe to Arbitron, Quarles can’t publicly discuss the numbers, he but says, “I have had people in the industry that know me [who] call me on our numbers.”

More importantly, the ratings firm seems to be doing a better job tracking Black listeners in the area: “Arbitron now has a better understanding that all the Black folk in Minneapolis don’t live in North Minneapolis any more,” notes the GM. “I think we can [now] get a better snapshot of what is going on.”

Now Arbitron uses the Portable People Meter (PPM) to measure listeners’ preferences. When it was introduced a few years ago, many Black radio executives criticized the move on the belief that Blacks would be undercounted, continuing the longstanding belief that Arbitron historically undercounted Blacks.

“One theory was that when [Arbitron] sampled the market, they didn’t sample enough ‘Black’ ZIP codes,” believes Quarles. “A lot of [Black] stations [then] dropped from number one [in their market] to five or six, and people lost their jobs behind that.

“I was one of those guys who were totally against PPM initially,” continues Quarles. “I thought PPM was put in place to dismantle the African American station.”

He admits that the old radio diaries Arbitron once employed oftentimes benefited Black radio stations, however. “You lived in St. Paul, and our signal didn’t reach St. Paul but you love KMOJ — you go back, get a diary and write [in] KMOJ,” he explains.

Now, Quarles sees the benefits from the PPM, and his station staff has been brought up to speed on it. “I brought in a couple of consultants to work with my program director and to educate me on the whole PPM phenomenon,” he says. “Our [listening] numbers actually have doubled due to our power increase and our knowledge of the PPM. It’s a lot more challenging, but everybody is getting rated by something now in real time.”

He also says his station, and the radio industry in general, now competes with personal technology devices, such as cell phones, that people can use to hear music and other programming. “Now you have to compete with computers and people streaming online [as well],” he notes. “One of the reasons why we fought so hard to get our power increase was because we knew our market had shifted.”

In its annual Black Radio Today edition, Arbitron reports that Urban Adult Contemporary has continued to be the top musical format among Black adults for the past five years.

“That’s our format the majority of the time,” says Quarles. “We are trying to reach the 25-to-54-, or in our case, the 25-to-49-year-olds as our target [audience].” He says the format is commonly referred to in the industry as “the money demographics format.” “Urban AC attracts 25-49-year-olds who are the spenders,” he points out.

KMOJ also plays hip hop on weeknights (7-10 pm) along with regularly scheduled public affairs programming.

“Our mission is to uplift our community, and you can’t do that by just playing music,” notes Quarles. “That’s why we do a lot of community-focused talk in the morning. Our public affairs shows have a different purpose in trying to help people of color gain some sort of access or knowledge about some situation, whether it be health, finances or basic politics.

“We focus on the music…but we also focus a lot on our public affairs [programming]. I think we’ve got some award-winning public affairs people — some really deep-[thinking], articulate, educated people who really know what they are talking about when it comes to the subject[s] they are addressing.”

Although he quickly points out that KMOJ “is the only [radio] entity in the state that solely focuses on Black people,” this isn’t always appreciated as he seeks underwriters.

Quarles is pleased on the upward direction KMOJ is heading. “I always tell my staff that we are competing against everybody — we are not just competing against other non-commercial stations,” he concludes. “Now that we have the power to compete with the other stations in the market, I think the biggest challenge now is to develop ourselves as individuals and continue to develop as a radio station based on what it sounds like.”


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