- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The merry sandbox that is the radio-ratings business is no longer big enough for two heavyweight players, Infinity Broadcasting Corp. and Arbitron Inc.

Infinity — which owns about 185 stations, including WPGC-FM (95.5) and WJFK-FM (106.7) in the Washington area — announced last week that it won’t renew its contract with Arbitron, the nation’s largest radio-ratings service.

Instead, Infinity has signed on with Media Audit, a Houston outfit, to provide audience research for its advertisers.

Arbitron will still include Infinity in the ratings it releases every quarter, but come mid-July, Infinity won’t have access to the data. No one with an Arbitron subscription will be legally permitted to share the research with Infinity, either.

The spat comes down to the money Infinity — a Viacom Inc. subsidiary — pays for its data. Ratings cost Infinity $25 million, about 1 percent of its $2.69 billion annual revenue, according to trade publication Media Week.

Infinity is Arbitron’s second-biggest customer behind Clear Channel Communications Inc. Without Infinity, Arbitron said its annual revenue will be $12 million less than expected.

Of course, this could all be a negotiating ploy.

But when you consider the war raging between the TV networks and Nielsen Media Research Inc. over its research methodologies, you have to believe the Arbitron folks are nervous.

And just listen to Mary Catherine Sneed, chief operating officer of Radio One Inc., the Lanham company that owns stations geared toward black listeners.

When Infinity honcho Joel Hollander explained his company’s position at an industry convention last week, trade publication Radio and Records reported that Ms. Sneed told him, “Dude, you’re my hero.”

Name game

You’ll recall that last week we asked readers to help us name our cubicle.

One reader suggested we memorialize pioneering CBS radio newscaster Lowell Thomas. Another said we should honor Melvin Lindsey, the suave Washington-area disc jockey who still influences the airwaves, 14 years after his death.

Both are good choices, but frankly, we think they deserve a better tribute than our crowded cube can provide.

WMAL-AM (630) talker Michael Graham — who got this ball rolling two weeks ago when he dedicated his studio to Ronald Reagan — suggested we honor of the sage of Baltimore, newspaperman H.L. Mencken.

Another nice thought, but we don’t feel worthy.

A joker who knows our affection for local TV commercials of yesteryear suggested we honor the “nobody bothers me” youngster from the Jhoon Rhee karate studio ads.

A fine idea, except plenty of people bother us.

Nope, the most fitting recommendation we saw came from local movie critic Willie Waffle, who suggested we name the cubicle in honor of Les Nessman, the nebbish “WKRP in Cincinnati” newsman who — like us — longed for a private office.

So the Les Nessman Cubicle it shall be.

Thanks to everyone who submitted suggestions. As Les would say, good day to you all — and may the good news be yours.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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