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Coming to Our Census

August 27, 2019

The census is coming! Officially, we begin counting ourselves on April 1, 2020. This is an important event for our country but holds particular significance for radio.

Why? Besides the fact that we are federally licensed to serve our communities and the results of the census directly affects those communities of license? Yea, that. But the census will also have an impact on the two pillars of the radio industry – ratings and revenue.

Whether you are in a PPM or a diary market, Nielsen will be using the results of the 2020 census to determine your market population and therefore how many meters/diaries are placed in your market. And, you will have to live with those numbers for the ensuing ten years. If you are howling about sample size today, what will you do when the census determines your market has shrunk?

Getting proper representation from your target audience in the census is crucial. If the census counts your portion of the population (ex. Men 18-24), then that is going to be reflected in the market population and Nielsen weighting.

Since ratings usually beget revenue, this could adversely affect revenue. If your market gets smaller, that means the size of the revenue pie starts to shrink. No one likes shrinkage.

So, what can radio do about this? Simple – embrace, support, and encourage the process. Most Americans will fill out a simple 11 question form. That is it. The Census Bureau also conducts another survey called the American Community Survey. Think of this as a monthly book.

Radio’s traditional response to situations like this is to run PSAs. Well, we all know how effective those are. Most are slotted in unsold inventory or are the first to be bumped. Besides, they do not capitalize on the power of radio to tell a story.

Cynically, radio has a vested interest in seeing an accurate census count. We can use that self-interest to help our communities to get involved. As you read, the Census Bureau is reaching out to community leaders, pastors, and trusted voices to get the word out about the need for participation. This is where radio personalities can be invaluable.

But wait … there’s more. The Census Bureau has a budget! They will be using some of that for recruitment. At its height, the Census Bureau will be the second largest employer behind Wal-Mart. These are real jobs in your community. In addition, the bureau will be running participation campaigns leading into the count (that’s Q1 revenue, folks).

What can radio do?

First, reach out to your local area census office. Establish a relationship with them.

Second, do what we do so well – promote! Use your personalities. Talk about the importance (and safety) of the process.

Third, involve the Census Bureau. In many markets they do have their own version of “street teams.” Give them a table at your events. Display their collateral material.

Radio is, or at least can be, a trusted voice in the community. This is one of those moments where we can use the power of our medium to truly make a difference. This is not a political stand. This is not a mercenary play. This is about making sure everyone is represented.

And, as John Mellencamp would say: “Ain’t That America …”

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant