SCBA hits the LA Times for “fuzzy math”


Did the Los Angeles Times lay off its fact checkers before running last week’s ad claiming that a single ad in the newspaper delivers more people than spots in morning and evening drive on 20 radio stations? (4/30/08 RBR #85) The Southern California Broadcasters Association (SCBA) says it only takes three stations to beat the LA Times in Cume and wonders why audience powerhouses like KRTH-FM and every Spanish station in the market were conveniently excluded from the newspaper’s list of “20 top stations.”

Here’s the analysis from the SCBA:


This past Wednesday, April 30, the LOS ANGELES TIMES ran an ad on page B9 of its California section with the headline, “Sorry, Radio, but the numbers send a clear signal.” The ad made several specious claims about Radio reach compared to the LOS ANGELES TIMES’ single day reach. It also made many false assumptions. (Apparently the fact checkers at the LA TIMES didn’t see the ad. Or the paper’s well-documented, recent budget cuts have been so deep that all the fact checkers are home or in their cars listening to Radio.)

In the interest of accuracy and fair, honest reporting, let’s revisit the "facts" stated in their ad and indeed send, as they put it, a clear signal.

1. Their source. They claim to have used “Scarborough LA 2007, Release 2” as their sole source of data for comparing Radio Average Quarter Hour Ratings to The LOS ANGELES TIMES Average Daily Readership. Unfortunately, Scarborough does not report Average Quarter Hour Ratings for Radio stations. So we have no idea what legitimate source they really used. Especially since no source exists that could give a fair comparison of actual reach.

2. The Apples and Oranges Thing. Their average daily readership is the cumulative number of people who have seen one or more pages of a single daily issue of THE TIMES. That doesn’t mean the average number of people who saw a single page of THE TIMES. It means the total potential reach of the entire issue. Even THE TIMES cannot possibly believe that every reader goes through every single page of every single issue.

In fact, we know people don’t read everything in an issue of THE TIMES. Another well-recognized multi-media local market ratings service, The Media Audit (Sept-Oct 2007), shows that even when 5 days of readership are accumulated, less than half the total readers see the Calendar Section. And this is a supposedly well-read section that serves as the cover page for part two of THE TIMES.

An AQH in Radio represents the number of people listening during any given 15 minute period. That’s the equivalent of ratings for a single page of THE TIMES. That’s handy for THE TIMES, since there are no single page ratings of any kind available in Scarborough, the only source they claimed to have used. Or anywhere else.

Given these facts, it’s impossible to imagine how their claim for readership of page B9 ever made it into print.

3. Their Choice of Stations. They list “20 top Radio stations in LA”. How did they figure that? There is no software for Scarborough that would create that list. It appears to be randomly drawn from the 5 county DMA and omits not only KRTH (a station that reaches more people than THE TIMES has subscribers) but also omits every Spanish language station and one English and Spanish language Radio station.
This ad sends a clear message to every Hispanic in Los Angeles who listens to a Spanish language Radio station that THE TIMES does not consider them part of THE TIMES’ readership.

4. Let’s try to figure out how they got their numbers. We already know that their statement can’t be based on Scarborough, the only source they cite. So what was it based on?

They must have used an un-named source. And since Arbitron is the only rating Service that reports Average Quarter hour results, let’s assume they used Arbitron data along with Scarborough. They don’t reference a geographical area (several are available), but based on the random stations they chose, let’s assume they meant the Los Angeles DMA.

And let’s assume they actually meant to talk about reach (as in net reach, the number of different people who actually saw or heard an ad). Again, they can’t compare the data because it simply doesn’t exist. The “net reach” of an ad in THE TIMES is unknown. The potential readership of the entire issue as reported in their source is 1.9 million adults 18+.

So to help them along, let’s add Arbitron into the mix. Because using Arbitron DMA data from Fall 2007, the net reach of the 20 stations THE TIMES picked is indeed 1.9 million adults 18+, and they would have heard the ads an average of 1.2 times per person. However, THE TIMES omits the frequency factor and then equates actual reach with potential reach. We see how they got numbers – but not ones that mean anything.

For their ad to be correct, all of the readers of their Wednesday issue would have to have seen their below-the-fold ad on page B9. Even THE TIMES knows better than this.

5. Fuzzy math. Let’s assume THE TIMES was confused and meant to talk about impressions instead of actual or potential reach. Then let’s grant them their hypothetical, non-documented, far-fetched belief that 1.9 million adults 18+ saw the ad, thus generating 1.9 million impressions. Giving THE TIMES the benefit of the doubt and trying to help them out of their confusion still wouldn’t help their case. Because the Radio schedule they picked delivered 2.3 million impressions. (Oops, wrong again.) (Based on Arbitron Fall 2007 DMA Adults 18+, because once again, Scarborough doesn’t provide the data to calculate those facts.)

6. Let’s compare Apples to Apples. What Scarborough does report is potential reach. Potential reach of an issue of a newspaper. Potential reach of a radio station in morning drive. Or all day, or all week.
Using their source, average daily readership (cume) of THE TIMES is 1.9 million adults 18+. The unduplicated average daily morning drive listenership (cume) of people 18+ who just listen to KFI, KIIS and KROQ, three of the stations they picked, blows right past that number. Apples to apples, it doesn’t take 20 stations to beat THE TIMES it only takes three. THE TIMES cannot compare to radio.
Now let’s look at it using the only comparable data published by either of the sources they apparently used, the “cumes”, or “potential reach”:

5-Day Cumulative Audience
Los Angeles TIMES 3,085,000
Their 20 Radio Station Selection 7,288,000

Sources: Scarborough LA 2007 Release 2 DMA 5 day cume Adults 18+, Arbitron Los Angeles Fall 2007 DMA Cume, M-F 6-10A + 3-7P, Adults 18+

What were they thinking?

If THE TIMES really wanted a fair comparison, we’d need to compare the projected daily readership of page B9 with the projected daily listenership of any of the top 10 Radio stations. I’m sure they would never take the challenge, because they would be utterly embarrassed by the results.

7. Perhaps The LA Times should face the facts instead of distorting them. In the Los Angeles DMA, THE LA TIMES’ daily circulation and readership has diminished every year since 2004. In that same time, the number of people listening to Radio each week in the LA market has increased each and every year.
On the average day, nearly 90% of the Adults 18+ in the Los Angeles market will spend over 3 hours with Radio, and 70% of that will be spent with just their favorite Radio station.

We don’t question that THE LA TIMES could have a place at the table in a given media mix. We do question why they have to resort to distorting the facts in order to get there.

As the person who has the responsibility of representing all the stations in Southern California, the world’s largest revenue market for Radio, I’m proud to tell our story. A story based on documented facts and figures from reliable sources.

I’m also angry and appalled that one of the nation’s largest newspapers would attack another medium based on such loosely gathered and poorly put together facts.

I can only guess that by presenting their attack as an ad, instead of a news article, THE TIMES hoped to preserve their remaining journalistic integrity.

No such luck.

I believe THE TIMES owes its readers, its advertisers and the members of the LA Radio community an apology.


Mary Beth Garber


Southern California Broadcasters Assn

RBR/TVBR observation: As our observation noted, we were skeptical of the way the LA Times was throwing numbers around. The SCBA has now dug down and generated real numbers, as much as is possible with very different measurement systems, and found the ad’s claims to be unsupportable. Even in the best case scenario for the newspaper, the SCBA found “fuzzy math” because 20 radio stations still come out ahead of a newspaper ad that is somehow lucky enough to be seen by every person who read any part of that day’s edition.