Death of Black Radio

Arbitron's new ratings tool could destroy black-owned stations.


Morris, the Arbitron CEO, told the executives that the company planned to move forward with the change even though the voluntary Media Rating Council had not approved the new meter system.

Last month, both the New York and New Jersey attorney general’s offices opened investigations into the matter. In his letter to Arbitron, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said that the state was “gravely concerned” that the new meter system is “neither reliable, nor fair.” Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have also expressed concern about the meter system’s potential threat to media diversity. Their voices were recently joined by that of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, who told Broadcasting & Cable that the rollout should be delayed, pending accreditation by the Media Rating Council.

The Federal Communications Commission has concluded its public comment period on the matter, and replies from station owners are due today.

For sure, Arbitron is not black radio’s only problem. Ethnic Minorities today own just 7.7 percent of radio stations, no. Tough economic times and changing advertising models, have left many owners to worry about that small share falling in coming years. The Portable People Meter may just speed up the process.

Kristal Brent Zook is the author of I See Black People: The Rise and Fall of African American-Owned Television and Radioand an associate professor of journalism at Hofstra University.