From where I sit On The Kowch, it used to be radio stations waited until ratings were over and the results were in before firing their morning show. Or until after the summer boat cruise or the station's Christmas party. But I guess those were the good old days.
Now, in Canada's largest market, two Toronto radio stations decided to not even wait until ratings end May 29th or the book comes out June 9th to fire their morning hosts and in one case introduce a new morning show duo.
In Montreal, one FM station even fired their long time program director half way through this rating period. Wow, if you can't make it through the end of a ratings period it really is not IF but WHEN you get fired in radio.
I suspect the new Portable People Meters (little pager like devices that capture inaudible tones designated for each station) and year round ratings has changed the rules about firings.
Ratings in radio are now almost endless with four 13 week rating periods and monthly preliminary result updates that make radio executives jittery when data indicates their station is not attracting new listeners or losing listeners from the previous month.
One of those monthly updates came out on May 5th and within hours radio station executives started sharpening their knives and HR began generating severance packages. All this in an attempt to create something new on air to attract attention and hopefully reverse the station's slide into ratings hell.
In the old days (before PPM ratings) we didn't have monthly updates so talent was safe from the man with the axe until the book came out.
The firings we've seen in radio this past week across Canada is management's attempt to change the course of destiny and influence the final outcome of the Spring ratings that end May 29th. A bump in listeners over a two week period with PPMs in particular can make a difference for this current rating period and the release of the Spring Book on June 9th.
The Spring Book is one of two key rating periods for a radio station. The next important rating period is between September and November with the Fall book released in December.
Advertising agencies use the Spring and Fall books to decide which stations get the advertising contracts for their clients. One share point in Toronto is worth almost two million dollars. In markets the size of Montreal one share point is worth about a million dollars.
This puts a lot of pressure on the talent and their support team of producers and operators to attract new listeners on a daily basis. In a world where you're only as good as your last show, radio has become a blood sport.
Even at the CBC where ratings are more about ego than generating revenue because the public broadcaster is commercial free, the pressure to boost audience numbers prompted a host to break the rules in the ratings process.
BBM Canada is the company that conducts the ratings. They weren't amused!
"CBC Radio has been found in breach of Rule #1 of the Radio Rules and Regulations - Ratings Distortion," BBM announced to its members after learning about the incident.
"The specific incident relates to comments made on Twitter by a CBC on-air-host where the host asked that members of the PPM panel tune into his program that day at specific times.
"BBM recognizes that many radio personalities and stations use Twitter, Facebook and similar sites to maintain contact with listeners. As long as the usage is to encourage overall listening and maintain contact there is no issue with these activities in relation to BBM Rules and Regulations.
"An issue arises, however, if there is any attempt to contact PPM panelists (those who carry the portable people meters) or sensitize PPM panelists in any way. All members and their staff need to be aware that there is no reason to have contact with BBM panelists or survey respondents, whether directly or indirectly.
"You are reminded that any attempt to contact or influence the behavior of survey respondents is specifically prohibited. This includes on-air comments, postings made to social media and public opinion websites, and all other forms of communication. There is no acceptable activity that could result in PPM panelists believing they are being targeted."
From where I sit On The Kowch, it will be interesting to see on June 9th what sanctions if any, BBM imposes on the CBC in the market where the host works. BBM can go as far as not listing results of the CBC's ratings in that market for this rating period.
I can't see BBM has a choice but to do that. Rules are there to keep everyone on a level playing field. If BBM doesn't impose the ultimate penalty stations will see this as a sign they too can get away with cheating the ratings process.
Financially it would have no impact on the CBC in the market where the incident occurred because the public broadcaster doesn't accept advertising, but it would send a strong signal to commercial radio stations that do rely on ratings to drum up advertising.
That's why, in between generating severance packages, radio execs have been busy issuing memos to staff about the need to respect BBM rules and regulations when it comes to the ratings process. Failure to do so would most likely end with someone being fired for cause - that means no severance package would have to be written up.