That makes it a good time to remember the words of the late Tom Church, founder of the Radio Research Consortium (RRC), who encouraged us to "Think Audience."
Though he championed working with Arbitron data, Church didn't say "Think Share Points" or "Think Cume." His words were "Think Audience" and their purpose was to get public radio programmers to focus on how listeners respond to a station's programming.
It is a point that is lost on those who only concern themselves with counting how many people are listening, particularly at the network level. A network program can have a million weekly listeners and still be a poor performer for most of the stations that carry it.
Underneath the Cume and Share numbers Arbitron creates for commercial radio is a rich vein of information about the listening patterns and preferences of our audience. Those patterns and preferences help us understand our listeners -- when we are serving them well and when we are not. And once we understand our listeners, we should act to serve them better.
Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. Instead, Arbitron numbers are combed until a success story for just about every program. That might make good PR, but it's not good stewardship of the air waves.
We have to get away from that if public radio is to remain a strong competitor in the new media landscape. We can't write off even one weak hour of programming a week because that 52 hours of weak programming per year -- 52 missed opportunities to better serve the public.
So as you look at your Spring 2005 Arbitron information, concern yourself less with the size of your Cume or Share and "Think Audience." It will serve you well.