Radio One regional VP Doug Abernathy watched in horror as his once top-rated Houston stations plummeted after the market converted from diary to PPM currency measurement in June 2007.

"After 20 years of dominance, it was a hard pill for us to swallow," he told attendees at the RAB conference here during a session devoted to urban and Hispanic radio in a PPM world on Monday.

However, urban AC KMJQ and urban KBXX have since become textbook cases of how to adjust programming to adapt to the new ratings technology. "If you keep doing what you're doing, you will not be successful," Abernathy said. "You have to look at everything: jocks, where you place stopsets, how you do your contesting. PPM is so unforgiving."

The sales component of Radio One's PPM strategy involved training account execs to educate the marketplace about the new ratings currency. "We became students in PPM, so that we could be the voice of our city that would answer questions for clients," Abernathy added.

Barry Fischer, executive VP of rep firm McGavren Guild Media, which counts Spanish Broadcasting System among its clients, said he isn't out to bash the PPM. "If we didn't jump on electronic measurement we would have accelerated our path to oblivion," he said, noting that SBS was among the first companies to ink a ratings contract with Arbitron for the metered service.

But as has been widely reported, some Hispanic and urban stations have not fared well with the new system. "Our AQH ratings are down 40-50-60%," Fischer said. And while Hispanic radio cumes have gone up under the PPM, they haven't shown the staggering cume increases of general market stations. "Buyers are not paying more attention to cume and reach," Fischer said.

Fischer said that the PPM validates that Hispanic stations, as a whole, have delivered almost exactly what they said they would deliver. For SBS, that is a total national radio cume of 7.2-7.6 million, he said. "Our story is not that dramatically different. Our strategy revolves around that and selling an audience that is engaged."

Abernathy said the cume for KBXX shot up from 750,000 under diary measurement to 1.2-1.4 million with the PPM. But after incidental and accidental cume are removed from the equation, "your cume is really close to several percentage points as to what it was with the diary," he said. "If you're top station in the diary, you_ll probably be a top station in the PPM."

Both managers said buyers aren't buying Arbitron's conversion formula, where 70 rating points as measured by the PPM is equivalent to 100 diary-based rating points. Fischer said despite the conversion formula, buyers invariably want the other 30 points. "They're still trying to buy 100 points. Buyers, agencies and planners didn't stop at 70."

Abernathy declared "over" the practice of advertisers using general market stations to reach black audiences and said a huge opportunity exists "to sell the exclusivity that we always thought we had and can now demonstrate. Urban and Hispanics are the most loyal audiences and you can_t get them through other stations."

Fischer echoed the notion saying that advertisers are better off zeroing in on a smaller, more engaged audience. "Would you rather advertise on an urban or Hispanic station that is culturally relevant, which is out in the community doing events that engage that audience, or on a general market station that doesn't?"

Abernathy said that agencies, planners and buyers now look for more targeted, diversified ad campaigns that reach a wider audience, in contrast to past practices of merely buying the top 5 stations.

In early efforts to sell the radio industry on the costlier PPM system, Arbitron commissioned a study of advertisers that showed they were likely to increase radio spends after it converted to electronic measurement. But that was before the economy cratered. "We haven't encountered many agencies who have said, 'Let me add to the radio pie because you have electronic measurement,'" Abernathy said. "Hopefully that will happen."

Fischer said Hispanic stations in Los Angeles "will get more of a fair shake" with the PPM due to the market's high Hispanic audience composition (41% according to Arbitron), compared to New York where Hispanics account for a lower percentage (21%). Noting that some ethnic stations in New York "don't show up" in PPM ratings, Fischer said there is a challenge to ensure that such voices don't disappear. "If there isn't an appreciation of the unique audiences that urban and Hispanic stations deliver, some of them may go away," he said.