Wireless Group's Mackenzie threatens to sue in radio audience ratings row

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The Independent Online

Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun and lately-turned radio executive, threatened to sue the radio industry's audience measuring body after it rejected the electronic measuring system he advocates.

After a 15-month study, Rajar, an official radio industry organisation, rejected the possibility of moving to measuring audiences electronically. It will stick instead to its diary method involving a sample panel manually note down which stations they have listened to each week.

Mr MacKenzie, chief executive of Wireless Group which owns the talkSPORT station, contends that audience for speech-based stations such as his are massively under-estimated by the diary-keepers and yesterday he said the courts offered the only solution for him. "We're sick of it and so are our shareholders. We're going after them. There has been foot-dragging of gold medal-winning proportions."

He said that revenues at talkSPORT would more than double to between £25m and £30m if electronic measuring was used. In trials, the number of listeners recorded for the station jumped from 2.2 million under Rajar to 8 million by using an electronic wristwatch, which records the stations the wearer is listening to. Rajar independently tested the wristwatch and another system which depends on picking up an inaudible signal that needs to be broadcast by each station. The organisation said that there was "no consistency" in the results produced by these systems which, Rajar said, cast, "doubts on the perceived accuracy of meters."

Rajar which represents both the commercial sector and the BBC said it would consider switching to electronic measurement again but put no timeframe on it.

Jane O'Hara, chief executive of Rajar, said: "We're not saying no. We're just saying not yet.... It would be irresponsible to adopt technology we don't think is quite right."

Audience figures dictate the amount radio companies can ask for advertising slots on their stations. Mr MacKenzie further condemned Rajar for not publishing the results of its trials but Ms. O'Hara said, given that share prices of listed radio groups are highly sensitive to audience data, it could not release the data from the trials.

Mr MacKenzie said there was a vested interest among members of the Rajar board to maintain the "status quo" as their stations do well out of it. He said audience numbers did not matter to representatives of the BBC, which is funded by the licence fee, while those commercial operators on the board, including SRH and Virgin Radio, wanted to maintain the current system.