MacKenzie tests Rajar alternative

Kelvin MacKenzie's The Wireless Group is to challenge Rajar's monopoly on radio audience assessment by commissioning a rival three-year survey using electronic measurement devices.

In recent years, MacKenzie, The Wireless Group's chairman and chief executive, has been a vocal critic of Rajar's current diary-based measurement technique.

He claims it robs certain stations of ad revenue by misreporting their audience size.

To back up his claims, the radio group, which owns the national station talkSPORT, has announced a three-year deal with the international market researcher Gfk, which will commission a survey of radio listening using the Radiocontrol measurement system.

Radiocontrol, which is owned by Gfk, has developed an electronic wristwatch that records the listening habits of the wearer for a week. By audio-matching the watch's recording against the output of the monitored radio stations, the wearer's preferences can be identified.

The survey will begin on 3 March. Audiences of the five national BBC analogue stations and the three national commercial analogue stations - Classic FM, Virgin Radio and talkSPORT - will be measured in the survey.

The results will be published on a monthly basis beginning in mid-June, and will be based on a sample of more than 1,900 respondents.

Ten London radio stations will also be monitored, and the first results from that will be published on a monthly basis from mid-September.

MacKenzie commented: "In essence, watches are a mobile version of Barb, which has supplied stats for the TV industry for the past 20 years. The Wireless Group will continue as a member of Rajar for the foreseeable, but not indefinite, future."

In autumn 2002, The Wireless Group completed two three-month tests of the Radiocontrol measurement system - one in the Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead area, the other in Bolton, Bury and Prestwich.

While MacKenzie isn't alone in doubting the reliability of the Rajar system, he has been criticised for being too quick to favour the Radiocontrol system over its electronic rival, the Arbitron pager system.