Yesterday when I went to visit my parents my mom showed me something she had received in the mail. Two BBM ballots.
BBM stands for Bureau of Broadcast Measurement, and it’s the archaic way that radio ratings are determined in Canada.
Even though many a career has been destroyed through this peculiar system of determining who’s listening to radio, it survives through convenience, money and influence.
Paper diaries are sent out to thousands of homes across the country asking people to fill out their listening habits during a given week. You’re asked to keep track of what you are listening to in quarter hours segments for the seven days.
Only a small percentage are returned.
I could spend another six thousand words explaining why this system in flawed and how it favours certain formats over others, but I'll condense my thoughts.
When I started in radio we played vinyl records, now they play music digitally. When I started in radio, we used reel to reel tape but now things are recorded digitally. When I started in radio editing was done with a razor blade, but now it too is done on computers.
When I started in radio BBM ratings were done through mail out ballots......... oh well.
Yesterday when I arrived at my folks my mother seemed rather confused by the whole process and that’s not surprising because the diaries are confusing for most people.
Most people don’t have time to fill them out and the toonie they send you as a gesture really doesn’t make up for the bother.
Anyway I explained to my mother what to do and she quickly declared who were going to be the beneficiaries of the ballots.
“I going to write down Mike Stafford” she said. “And I’m going to write down my Johnny.”
“My Johnny” to my mother means John Oakley. She gets up every morning at 5:30 and sits in her chair with a head set on listening to her Johnny.
To be honest it bugs me a bit because I’d much prefer she be listening to her Freddie, but thanks to an unfortunate turn of events, that’s no possible right now.
There was a ballot addressed to my mother and another to my father, but what happened next is probably the biggest problem with BBM ballots. There was no way my dad was going to sit down and fill out his diary, so my mother filled out his as well.
John Oakley and Mike Stafford got credit for a listener who really isn’t a listener.
My dad loves Mike personally, but to be honest he’s not much of a radio listener at all so Mike and John got credit where credit wasn’t due and it also explains why CHFI and CHUM-FM are always at the top of the ratings.
They’re female stations and a lot of females fill out ballots that belong to their mates.
But that’s the deal and it continues to be the deal and nobody seems to want to change the deal even though the deal sucks.
After my 80 year old mother finished filling out both ballots I asked her if she was sure she didn’t want include any other stations.
“No” she said. “640 is the only station I listen to. It’s all I’ve listened to since you and Howard were there.”
“You didn’t listen to us on the MIX?" I asked.
“No, I couldn’t stand that bloody station” she said. “You guys sounded like you were muzzled and the music was awful."
“What about other talk stations. Don’t you ever listen to CFRB?”
“No way” said Junie. “That’s for old people.”