From The New York Times:
On its surface, the merger last week of WRKS and WBLS, longtime rivals in the R&B radio format in New York, was business as usual for the broadcast industry. Two struggling competitors combined operations, and a deep-pocketed third party — Disney — came along to lease the leftover frequency.
But radio executives and analysts said the deal also reflected a broader trend in the business that has taken a toll on black and other minority stations. Since the introduction five years ago of a new technology for tracking audiences, many such broadcasters have experienced shrinking numbers, forcing radio companies to consolidate stations or switch to general-audience formats.
Arbitron, the standard radio ratings service, has long had sample audiences record their listening in a diary. In 2007, it began using the Portable People Meter, or P.P.M., a small electronic device that tracks radio signals, offering broadcasters far more precise listening data.
The technology, now used in 48 markets, has already had significant effects — for instance, increasing ratings for news and oldies stations. But many black stations have suffered under the new scheme, including WRKS, known as Kiss-FM, (98.7 FM) and WBLS (107.5 FM). While both were once ranked near the top of their desired demographic — adults ages 25 to 54 — since P.P.M.’s arrival they have slipped to between sixth and 11th place, said Jeff Smulyan, chief executive of WRKS’s parent, Emmis Communications.
“The recent economic downturn has affected the profitability of everyone in radio,” Mr. Smulyan wrote in an e-mail, “but the decline has been much more pronounced in adult African-American targeted stations, largely because of the impact of P.P.M.”
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