Former BBC Radio boss dissects the RAJARs

Stephen Chapman's picture
by Stephen Chapman

Once a quarter, breaths are held at radio stations up and down the country, as the RAJAR figures get released.

The official radio listening figures break down each station’s audience in terms of reach, market share and how many hours people listen.

Mick Ord, who led BBC Radio Merseyside for 17 years has endured countless RAJARs and gives an insight into what it’s like.

“When I began life as a BBC radio boss in the 90’s I was told by my senior colleagues to wait at least 18 months before deciding on the future of a new presenter, brought in to boost the programme and the ratings.

“In other words, sit through the quarterlies, bite my lip and keep my eye on the long game. Many bleeding lips later I realise it was meant as a guideline, not a rule, and sometimes events take over, dear boy, but generally it was useful advice.

“Every radio station goes through periods of boom and bust and if you’re hoping to bounce back from a poor set of results believe me there aren’t many worse feelings at a station than experiencing another set of baddies in a row.”

For non-industry people, the most remarkable thing about the RAJARs is how they’re compiled.

“Listening diaries” are sent to families, which are deemed representative of a particular broadcast area, and then one member of the family completes it.

As Ord points out, this is either “‘rigorous in a reassuringly traditional way’ or ‘hopelessly out of date’ (depending on whether you’ve had a good or bad set of figures).

“Some radio insiders see the diaries as outdated and a throwback to the 50’s and there are certainly drawbacks. For example, most households have more than one radio and exactly who in practice logs the radio listening and are those choices accurately reflected when the stickers are put in the booklet?

“Do people remember to log every different radio station? And there’s an in-built margin of error with the stats but….and so on…

“Wonderfully, according to RAJAR, ‘All individuals taking part in the survey are given a pen' for their troubles. Those who fully complete their diaries are entered into a monthly draw.

“With such riches at stake how could anyone resist? But don’t hold your breath as only 1 in 1000 households is likely to be surveyed (damn, I need a new pen).”

RAJAR have started using online surveys, with more digital ones being sent out that the old paper diaries.

The results are then sent to statisticians at IPSOS/MORI before being released:

“If you’re the boss of a commercial radio station or cluster which depends for survival on advertising your RAJAR results can determine whether you’ll still have a job next Monday. And if you’re a DJ (or presenter at the BBC…) at the smelly end of a set of bad RAJARs and the boss hasn’t spoken to you this morning you might get a nervous, itchy feeling on the back of your neck and start ‘looking around for other opportunities’.

“Having been at the helm of a BBC local radio station for 17 years I can confirm that “RAJAR bum” is not confined to the independents, although it’s certainly not as brutally career-defining as it can be at some.

“It can make or break your career in both sectors and instigate a ‘process of upheaval’ – job losses, programme changes, or worse.

“Yes, just like in the real world.”

Mick Ord is now a media consultant, based in Liverpool.