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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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by John C. Abbott, ©2013
(From Radio Recall, April 2013)

The scene is the boardroom of Amalgamated Fondulator. Present are AF's Marketing Manager and CEO, AF's advertising agency Sandbar Quagmire, Flotsam and Jetsam, the lawyers from Dewey, Cheatem and Howe, and the program director from MBC - Monolithic Broadcasting Company. The discussion centers on the small fortune that AF is being asked to renew the 13- week contract for the Fondufalor Weekly Comedy Review, starring Rocko Romulus and his Mighty Radio Review Actors.

The AF folks are nervous; $5,000 per week will buy altot of fondulators. The going is rough for the MBC folks and the advertisers. Finally Snidely Farquhar, Fondulator's CEO finally asks the pivotal question:"How do we know that anyone is even listening to this program?" That question was asked almost from the first days of radio, and continues to be valid today. The question originally arose due to the unique nature of radio. The manager of a stage theater vaudeville show or cinema can easily tell what is selling by counting the ticket sales at the end of the day.

Radio was different. Other than the programs which had a real studio audience - who may have been paid or otherwise lured into the studio, and who were definitely queued as to when to applaud and when to laugh, there was no real way to tell if anyone was listening, unless you irritated someone - then you got a letter!.

This was a scary situation for the sponsor, as they were the ones who were footing the bill for the program. Fortunately, during the period of roughly 1920 through the early 1950's there were several ways to determine who was listening. Three different companies, Crossley, Hooper and Neilson, undertook the task of trying to quantify just who was listening.

Archibald Crossley

Archibald Crossley was a researcher who started his own firm in 1926 to do consumer surveys. In 1927, Crossley was asked by a national company who was using radio advertising to confirm the reception of their programs in the markets where their ads were sold. What Crossley found was a scandal - a fraud on the part of local stations that took the company's money for the ads, and then substituted ads for local companies. Crossley's reputation was madel

Using the fallout of the scam, Crossley started a telephone sampling of listeners to establish a program's popularity - and invented the word "ratings· in the process. The popularity of his surveys grew and in 1930 he started network surveys in 33 cities. In 1934, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) established the Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting (CAB) whose goal was to finance and marKet Crossley's surveys.

The Crossley Ratings were an audience measurement system created to determine the audience size of radio broadcasts between 1930 and 1935. Crossley conducted tests by calling the homes and asking them what they had listened to the previous night, so-called "counting the house" or "Next Day Recall" Business was good, but there was change in the wind by the name of Claude E. Hooper.

Claude E. Hooper

Hooper was a Wall Street account exec until the depression took away most of Wall Street. Looking for a job, Hooper remembered a course he had taken at Harvard which was taught by Dr Daniel Starch. Hooper contacted Starch, and joined his company, Daniel Starch & Staff as a salesman for Starch's services, which included radio surveys.

Along the way, Hooper met L. Montgomery Clark, and the two of them formed Clark-Hooper Inc. in 1934 to perform magazine based research. Hooper realized earty on that the magazines were upset that radio was stealing advertising dollars and that the magazines felt that the Crossley studies were misrepresenting radio's popularity.

Hooper and Clark ultimately came out with "Yardsticks of the Air" in 1934, which suggested that a better way to survey listeners was to use a technique called "Telephone Coincidental" which was based on calling listeners while a program was on the air. This technique avoided trying to recall what was listened to last night.

The C. E. Hooper Company was founded in 1935. after Clark and Hooper broke up, and Hooper set out to provide information on popularity of radio programs. The information Hooper gathered allowed the radio networks (NBC, CBS, ABC and Mutual) to charge advertisers based on the popularity of a program, with more being charged for a popular series than a less popular series.

Crossley tried to distance himself from the term ·Crossley Ratings· but Hooper was a born salesman and realized the value of calling his product "Hooperatings" Such was the influence of Hooperatings that President Roosevelt recognized them as the major rating system within the industry. Roosevelt's recognition allowed Hooper to participate in radio audience measurements for the President's radio addresses. Ultimately, seven of the top ten Hooperatings were speeches given by Roosevelt. In 1948, as the radio networks began venturing into television, Hooper began measuring TV ratings as well. However, in February 1950, the company was bought by competitor A.C. Nielsen.

A.C Nielsen

Nielsen founded Nielsen Media Research in 1934, and his research area was tracking grocery and pharmacy purchases. In 1943 Nielsen branched out into radio using a devise called an Audimeter to monitor when a radio was turned on, how long it was on. and to which station it was tuned to. Interestingly, Hooper had looked at this device with Clark in 1936 and determined that it had one flaw - it did not tell if anyone was actually listening to the radio.

Nielsen was successful, but wanted to expand, so in 1950 they bought C.E. Hooper This purchase. along with their move into television in 1948 allowed Nielsen to ultimately become the primary source of audience measurement information in the television industry around the world. Along the way, radio ratings gave way to TV ratings. Hooperatings

Hooperatings were a hot topic during the 1940-195O's. However some radio actors did not feel so approvingly of the rations. Bob Hope for example called the Hooperatings "an ulcer with a decimal point." Fred Allen. one of radio's most active intemal critics also skewered the ratings. In a skit with Edgar Bergen set in "heck" - hell did not exist on radio· Charlie McCarthy asked Allen how he had gotten so low. Allen replied, "I was going along minding my own business. and the new Hooperating came out."

After Allen claimed he could disprove the Hoopers and failed, he was said to remark, "The next time you see a radio comedian gray before his time, his cheeks sunken and his step halt, please understand that he isn't dying. His wife hasn't left him. His children aren't sick. He isn't going bankrupt. He's been caught with his Hooperating down, that 's all.

During Allen's last year on the air when he was competing tooth-and·nail for ratings with Stop the Music, a bad joke was usually followed by a comment that it would have a bad effect on his Hooperatings.

But it was not only the actors who watched the Hooperatings - the networks eyed them as well, sometimes to their detriment. More than once the networks would juggle the schedule by moving programs around to try and capture a time slot· sometimes with disastrous results. "Network Radio Ratings. 1932·1953" by Jim Ramsburg details the Hooperatings by year, and details the efforts of the networks to try and capture a time segment.

The Hooperatings also played a part in several major changes in the industry. In 1946, Bing Crosby wanted to pre-record his program onto tape. This was anathema to the ABC, who wanted live programming, but Bing won this battle by tying his recorded shows to his Hooperatings; Bing agreed to return to live broadcasts if his Hooper dropped below 12. It came close (12.2) but an infusion of big-name guests - and higher ratings· saved him and changed radio.

Likewise, when William Paley stole Jack Benny from NBC in 1949. the sponsor. American Tobacco, made Paley promise to pay them for every Hooper point that Benny lost. Ultimately, Paley never had to pay anything.

On a side note, the Hooperatings evaluated only programs with sponsors. For that reason, the author's favorite program, Yours Truly, Johnny Dolllar only got a Hooperating once - during the 1952-53 season when it was sponsored by Wrigley's. During that year, YT JD ranked 22nd - tied with Fibber Magee and Molly - with a Hooperating of 6.3. That rating was good enough to get it into the top 25 programs, but not good enough for a sustaining sponsor Even so, the program lasted until the end of radio drama in 1962.

The Hooper, Crossley and Neilson ratings for radio ceased to be important in 1950, when Neilson bought Hooper's network business and concentrated on television. Hooper was still around, but he concentrated on surveying local radio.

Postscript: After looking at the "Hoopers" for their program. Amalgamated Fondulator opted to move Rocko from the radio studio to his favorite chair in the unemployment office. The Hooperatings were off the scale - the low end of the sale, so AF opted to pull their sponsorship, and put the money into a new line of fondulators. Such was the power of the ratings, they allowed a sponsor to determine who was listening, and by inference, how popular their program was. So if you were not popular in the polls, you risked a fate worse than death -no radio program, or even worse, a move to television!

Sources: Network Radio Ratings, 1932-1953 by Jim Ramsburg
Audience Ratings: Radio, Television, Cable - Revised edition by Hugh M Beville. Jr (Googlebooks)