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Published: Monday, 11/5/2001

Dishing up an Arbitron alternative

At age 72, one might expect Don Lea to be living a life of leisure as a retiree.

But to do that, he would have to retire. As owner of one of Toledo's oldest advertising agencies, he's too busy -- and, more importantly, having too much fun -- trying to gain a competitive edge.

Lea's business radar is always searching for a “better mousetrap.” And he believes he found it -- one with state-of-the-art technology, no less.

His new “mousetrap” -- MobilTrak -- has the potential to dramatically change the radio landscape in Toledo. It is an alternative to Arbitron, the undisputed leader in providing radio ratings.

Don Lea: value for clients Don Lea: value for clients

The ways they measure listenership are fundamentally different. Arbitron relies on listeners to fill out diaries during its four 12-week surveys each year. In its winter survey, Arbitron's ratings were based on 1,844 returned diaries. In contrast to Arbitron, MobilTrak does not employ scientific methodology. Instead, it depends on sheer volume -- its sample size is at least 25,000 per week. When a vehicle drives by MobilTrak's satellite dish on Reynolds Road, a device determines what FM station the passenger is listening to. (The technology does not allow for AM stations to be counted.)

Lea's goal is simple: Maximize the value of radio advertising for his clients. MobilTrak “pinpoints and targets [an audience] better than anything I've come across,” said Lea, who has 41 accounts. Unlike Arbitron, MobilTrak does not measure listenership at home or work, nor can it provide information on how much time people spend listening to a radio station.

Five auto dealers are sharing the cost of the first MobilTrak monitor, he said. He hopes to add three MobilTrak locations in Toledo within the next year.

As with the Arbitron ratings, WKKO-FM (99.9) is a clear-cut No. 1. From Sept. 1 to Oct. 14, MobilTrak's five most popular FM stations and their percentages of the overall audience were: WKKO, 14.9; WVKS (92.5), 12.5; WIOT (104.7), 8.6; WRQN (93.5), 7.8; and WXKR (94.5), 7.7.

MobilTrak ratings are available weekly for all time slots. During the week of Oct. 8-14, for example, WKKO dominated the morning-drive time slot with a 15.9 share, followed by WIOT at 11.2.

PASSIVE: Toledo's television and radio news operations have got to be among the least aggressive in the country. That's never been more evident than during this political season. Amazingly, no TV station broke any of the major stories in the mayoral race. On the radio, Mark Standriff lobs softball questions to candidates on WSPD-AM (1370) and Toledo mayoral candidate Ray Kest got the last laugh against Jack Ford's softball pitcher, Denny Schaffer, by snubbing WVKS.

MIXED MESSAGE?: Clear Channel's local right-leaning radio stations (WSPD might as well change its call letters to WGOP) have been active politically, with regional manager Andy Stuart making election endorsements. Not everyone at Clear Channel is on the same wavelength, though. As one on-air personality said, “Andy doesn't give a crap about the city of Toledo.”

Russ Lemmon's column on the local media appears Mondays. Readers may contact him at 1-419-724-6122, or e-mail rlemmon@theblade.com.

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