Seven months after Cumulus invited qualified vendors to submit proposals to conduct a new audience measurement service in 50 small markets, the radio group has confirmed that the Nielsen Co. has been selected to carry out the task.

At the same time, Clear Channel has signed with Nielsen to take the service in 17 of the 50 markets where Cumulus will be measured.

The April 14 proposal request by the Atlanta-based broadcaster sought a company that offered a service designed to measure both quantitative and qualitative audience characteristics beginning Jan. 1, 2009, after deciding to no longer subscribe to the Arbitron Radio Market Reports.

The five-year contract calls for Nielsen to measure radio, using a diary-based methodology, once a year.

Lorraine Hadfield, Nielsen Media Research's managing director for North America, said a pilot survey of listeners would be conducted during the first week of December in an undisclosed market. The company will use that initial effort to get a sense of the material and do an analysis of the market.

The first of the annual market measurements will be taken during an eight-week sweep in March and April and the results, processed through Nielsen's Radio Advisor software and reviewed with a careful analysis for its debut, are expected to be delivered by the middle of August. However, Hadfield says that subsequent annual measurements should be delivered within a month after the measurement sweep is finalized. She says the number of panelists in a survey will be determined by a market's population and economic activity and that surveys will generally consist of either 1,200 panelists, 1,600 or 2,200, depending on the market.

When Cumulus originally asked for proposals, it requested that "vendors must have proven credentials in both qualitative and quantitative media research; that vendors must possess the human and technical infrastructure to execute, process, and deliver, and support a high volume of concurrent research today and significantly larger volumes in the future," and that "the vendor must design and execute the research in accordance with Media Ratings Council (MRC) standards for accreditation. Though MRC accreditation will not be required at the outset, the vendor must pledge its intent to secure accreditation in a reasonable time frame and maintain it for the life of the service."

Nielsen, which has more than six decades of experience measuring radio around the world in a dozen countries such as Australia, South Africa, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, and India, has not provided radio diary service in the United States for nearly four decades but is considered the leader for measuring television audiences in America. The company will debut its new service in the spring and the results will be available in the summer. Nielsen will use its proven address-based sampling (ABS) to recruit sample households. The method uses randomly selected addresses rather than telephone numbers in its domestic television measurement in order to reach the 34 percent of U.S. households that are not covered by current sampling methods, including cell-phone only and many unlisted landline phone households.

Nielsen surveys also incorporate its easy to use/easy to edit "sticker diary" that the company says has improved the quality of radio measurement data around the world and offers a more exact audience measurement by simplifying the reporting process. The diary comes with a preprinted list of station names that the panelist peels off and sticks in the diary. The Nielsen method also features larger than usual sample to reduce relative error and bounce, along with a significant investment in oversampling and differentiated incentives to improve response rates and representativeness among hard-to-reach demographics. Nielsen says its survey is intended to be a robust, single-source qualitative measurement of lifestyle, consumer behavior, and purchase intent.

Nielsen rep Gary Holmes said that the New York-based company will seek MRC accreditation after the service is launched and the service is in the field.

The Nielsen Co. is the parent company of Radio and Records and Billboard.