Terrible news, friends: Shifting radio tastes could put beloved radio personality Delilah in jeopardy. Or at least, changes in the way radio audiences are measured. (Depends on who you ask.)
Delilah is, of course, a legend; for instance, you’ll hear her soothing voice late at night in a surprising number of New York City grocery stores, bodegas, and produce stands. As recently as February—her 20th year on the air—she got a loving tribute from BuzzFeed, all about how she’s conquered an industry with her relentlessly understanding persona.
“I think I’m very corny. And maudlin sometimes. But I am who I am. I was corny at 16, I was just cooler. Now I don’t even bother trying to be cool,” she told BuzzFeed contributor Nick Murray. “If you listen to the show for any length of time at all, I hope it doesn’t take long to figure out I’m pretty real.”
But according to an alarming report from Bloomberg Businessweek, challenging times may lie ahead for Delilah:
Trends in radio have turned sharply against her. Adult contemporary, the format for almost all of her carriers, has gone into decline, with programmers preferring newer, more up-tempo music—less Fleetwood Mac and more Katy Perry. From 2007 to last year, the number of adult contemporary stations fell from 660 to 600, according to Insideradio.com. Soft adult contemporary, the even milder variant, lost more than half its stations, dropping from 242 to 115. Many of the remaining AC stations have cut back on DJ talk, filling the time with music and, in some cases, abandoning Delilah’s show. Between format changes and drops, she’s lost more than 50 carriers from her peak of 225 in 2008.
Say it ain’t so!
But the trouble isn’t simply the popularity of Katy Perry. Bloomberg Businessweek says that Delilah takes issue with how radio audiences are now measured by Nielsen. Once upon a time, it was listener diaries. Now it’s a pager-like device called the “Portable People Meter.” You wear it around and it picks up frequencies encoded in any broadcasts you hear—a form of passive measurement. But not everybody is happy with the PPM, Delilah very much among them:
Often, when a city moved to PPM, thousands of her listeners seemed to vanish. Relaxed conversations and mellow songs—the things that make her show—suddenly fell out of favor with programmers. “The damage is horrendous,” she says, her famously warm voice turning hot. “It’s destroying radio in general, and especially shows that don’t play for the meter.”
She says the PPM sample sizes are too small, and critics insist the meters don’t pick up softer, Delilah-style programming as well. Nielsen says they work, and the lead engineer on the project suggests that hey, the truth hurts. Stalemate.
In response to the new numbers, Delilah has begun doing “segmented” versions of her show, where the syndicating station can play with the selection of non-dedicated songs based on their particular format. But she says she’s got no intention of chucking the approach that she’s spent decades honing: “I’m not stupid. I’m not going to blow up my career and break a promise to my listeners because somebody’s having a knee-jerk reaction to a piece of machinery.”
Delilah: much scrappier than the stereotypes would suggest!