The Portland Radio Non-Ratings
Nothing but static: On July 19, Arbitron, the broadcast rating company, put out its latest survey of radio stations in the Portland market, reporting results from polling done this past spring.
Arbitron’s new policy is to publicly release only the figures for stations that subscribe to its service. In Portland, that’s the stations formerly owned by Nassau Broadcasting (now operated by New Hampshire businessman Bill Binnie) and nobody else. So, instead of average quarter-hour shares for listeners aged 12 and up for nearly forty stations, the latest list includes just four.
The numbers for classic hits WFNK (107.5 FM), country WTHT (99.9 FM), and classical WBQW (104.7 FM), and WBQX (106.9 FM) don’t reveal anything about where they stand in relation to the usual market leaders, such as contemporary hits WJBQ (97.9 FM), which is owned by Cumulus Broadcasting, or Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s WMEA (90.1 FM).
(MPBN usually subscribes to Arbitron and may have done so for this book, but the rating company doesn’t include noncommercial stations in the figures it releases.)
Of course Arbitron subscribers – or, to be more accurate, subscriber – get the full listing, but with stern admonitions against releasing it to the media. That means there’s unlikely to be a leak (since it would be pretty easy for Arbitron to trace the source). For the foreseeable future, there won’t be any reliable information on how local radio is doing, not only in the Portland market (which includes Lewiston-Auburn and much of southern and western Maine), but in the Augusta-Waterville and Bangor markets, as well.
Electrical interference: The Maine news media, with one exception, suffered a collective meltdown when it came to covering this past week’s story about huge recommended fines by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission against two defendants for illegally manipulating the electricity market.
MaineToday Media reporter Tux Turkel was first with the news, but in an account that left me and several others I asked scratching our heads about exactly what an energy consultant for a paper mill had done to deserve a seven-figure penalty. According to Turkel, the consultant gave “improper advice” to the mill, which resulted in it saving money by reducing its own power generation and buying electricity elsewhere. The story says that cost consumers over $3 million, but doesn’t explain how or why.
In the Bangor Daily News a few hours later, staff writer Nick Sambides Jr. blundered through much the same territory concerning a different mill, but with much the same result. Something to do with “initial baseline load” and extra “demand response.” Incomprehensible to the average reader.
The Lewiston Sun Journal didn’t bother to cover the story itself, even though one of the mills is within its circulation area. It just mashed together the stories from the other two papers (it has story-sharing arrangements with both), falsely credited the mess to “Staff Report,” and slapped it on the front page in a blatant display of non-journalism.
The only news source that came close to doing a decent job was Maine Public Radio, where reporter Jay Field carefully explained how the New England power grid works to avoid problems on high-demand days. Field noted that it’s not clear whether what the mills did violated any of the laws and regulations designed to avoid maxing out the system or whether they simply took advantage of legal loopholes to save themselves some money.
It’s worth noting that Field’s story was the shortest of this bunch, but because it approached the subject methodically, it was reasonably clear about what occurred. But even here, there are holes, since Field never explained why these power plays affected consumer prices. That would seem to be something the public would want to know.
Cable repair: Late on July 19, Time Warner Cable settled its dispute with WMTW-TV in Portland and was in the process of restoring Channel 8 to its customary position in its lineup. The station had been blacked out for ten days in a disagreement over rights fees. The deal is described as “long-term,” but no details were released.
Lincoln succession: Colby Tenggren is the new owner and publisher of the Lincoln News, according to a story in the Bangor Daily News. She’s the daughter of former owner Kevin Tenggren, who died suddenly on June 17. Reporter Chris DeBeck has been appointed acting editor of the Penobscot County weekly.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.