Believe it or not, fake survey brings real ratings to Rewind

It comes in the mail from an outfit called Impact Research, listed to a post-office box somewhere in southeastern Pennsylvania. And if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was a legitimate survey about Chicago radio programming.

But it’s actually a cleverly disguised marketing tool designed to get you to listen to a particular radio station in order to boost its ratings in the survey that really counts — the one conducted by Arbitron Co.

Thousands of Chicago area women between the ages of 25 and 54 were targeted in recent weeks by just such a mailing, commissioned by WILV-FM (100.3), the adult contemporary station known as Rewind 100.3. It’s nothing new for owner Bonneville International, which has been using versions of the Impact Research survey for years to promote WILV and classic rock sister station WDRV-FM (97.1). Sources said it is the product of Impact Target Marketing, an interactive marketing firm based near Boston.

Here’s how the latest pitch went:

Dear Chicagoland Radio Listener:

We’re conducting a research study on radio listening preferences in the Chicago area, and we need your opinion. Your thoughts can help shape the programming you hear on local radio.

Please listen to your assigned station for at least one hour, preferably more, over a couple of days in the next week. Then complete and return the enclosed survey card. The postage is prepaid. For participating, we’ll give you a chance to win $1,000 for yourself and $1,000 for the charity of your choice.

For this study we’d like you to listen to a new radio station at 100.3 FM, it’s called “Rewind.” Please listen to it at your earliest convenience, then complete and return the enclosed survey card. If you’d prefer, you can submit your response online at instead of using the reply card.

Your honest opinions are vital to improving Chicagoland radio. Thank you for your participation.


R.H. Harshaw

Research Director

Enclosed with the letter was a card inviting participants to note where and when they listened to the station, evaluate what they heard (on a scale of 1 to 5), and tell how often they’d listen in the future. There’s also a space for comments.

Bonneville International bosses insist that all of the responses they receive are read and carefully considered in conjunction with other market research and programming feedback.

But insiders acknowledge that the primary goal of the questionnaire is to get people in the station’s target demographic (in this case, women between 25 and 54) to sample Rewind 100.3, and if they like what they hear, to win them over. “It’s no different than Starbucks handing out little samples of their coffee cake,” one executive explained. “Once you try it, the hope is that you’ll like it and want to come back for more.”

While outsiders may view the Impact Research piece as intentionally misleading, if not downright deceptive, industry experts see it as just another weapon in a station’s marketing arsenal that also includes television commercials, outdoors advertising and a variety of other media.

Is the device effective? Let's put it this way: There’s no way that a smart, blue-chip operator like Bonneville would spend thousands of dollars on it year after year if the company didn’t believe it to be worthwhile.

In the past two weeks — right around the time the mailing turned up in thousands of Chicago area homes — a funny thing happened: Arbitron Portable People Meter ratings showed Rewind 100.3 jumping ahead of its main adult-contemporary competitor, Clear Channel Radio’s WLIT-FM (93.9) among adults between 25 and 54, and among women between 25 and 54.

Free coffee cake anyone?


1.locally and lively
March 7, 2011 at 5:42 am 
 I remember getting one of these in the mail awhile back, and I thought it was pretty funny. Somehow I forgot to listen to my “assigned station”. Pretty amazing the lengths they have to go to, to get people to listen to radio. I just wish they’d go back to “Love FM”, that was my favorite incarnation of that station.


March 7, 2011 at 5:57 am 
 Tricks…lame. The station is a bore.


3.elaine benes
March 7, 2011 at 7:50 am 
 Repeat after me: All marketing is lying. All marketing is lying. All marketing is lying.


4.Kathy Posner
March 7, 2011 at 7:59 am 
 Remember–this is Chicago where politicans pay homeless people $1 for each signature they get on a petition, so nothing surprises me when it comes to trying to “stuff’ the ballot box.


5.Stella 5200 North
March 7, 2011 at 8:00 am 

 Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t one of Bonneville’s geniuses Greg Solk? Don’t you often mention him as one of the up and cumbers?

 And yet here his name is missing so that he doesn’t have to be stuck with the cooties of outright fraud.

 How does that boy do it? Gets credit for the station’s success but no blame for pulling the wool over the dipshit women who listen to that pile of crap. (Let the record show that I am a man and I have 100.3 set on my car FM dial. FM 1, no less!)

 And the boy didn’t even go to college. But now he will be able to afford to send his children to Northwestern where they can learn how to use sex toys!


March 7, 2011 at 8:19 am 
Of course it’s marketing, pure and simple. Big deal. Anyone who doesn’t see it for what it is hopelessly naive.


7.Star Buck
March 7, 2011 at 8:35 am 
 Rob, any word on who won the $1000? And what charity did they pick?


8.Pipes Morgan
March 7, 2011 at 8:42 am 
 the afternoon guy should be working in Scanton not the 3rd market


March 7, 2011 at 9:05 am 
 Using direct mail (old school medium) to fool people into tuning into a radio station (old school medium) to listen to music that hasn’t been popular in 20 years. Yep, those old Mormons are really on the cutting edge.


March 7, 2011 at 9:20 am 
What “really” is the difference between doing this and getting a coupon to try a new product, in exchange for your opinion on it. If radio stations would cut down on the commercial clutter, that WOULD make a difference. Could be worse, Bonneville could be “voice tracking” from the other side of the country.

11.Perry's Wife
March 7, 2011 at 9:23 am 
 They really only needed to send letters to the blondes.


March 7, 2011 at 9:39 am 
 To #2: Your name is “Kramer”. You’re not the target.

13.Dan Miller
March 7, 2011 at 9:50 am 
 i listen to far more radio than I do television, by a factor of 3-to-1, and I listen to at least six radio stations on a frequent basis. And not once in all my years have i ever been part of the Arbitron survey or participated in any kind of phone or mail survey — misleading or not — regarding my listening habits. I am beginning to feel ignored.


March 7, 2011 at 9:59 am 
 I’m still trying to figure out how calling a station REWIND is supposed to induce people to listen. It sounds like the name of one of those cartoon Cosby kids. It’s like calling a restaurant “Leftovers” in my opinion. They’d be lined up down the street for that one.


15.Dan Verbeck
March 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm 
Bonneville Int’l ? Business arm of the Mormon Church? Doing something shady ? Perish the thought.


March 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm 
Hey Freddy @#9: Direct is still one of the most effective forms of advertising. Although radio is on the decline, it still in very big business and we will all be dead before it is obsolete.


March 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm 

 This reminds me of that company that sent out invites to watch & rate TV shows.
Except you were there to watch & rate TV ads.
Your old boss Gary Deeb blew the whistle on that one & now you’ve blown the whistle on this fraud!


18.drews combover over
March 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm 
I have no problem with it. I wouldn’t waste my time on it but someone else might like the grand, or need it.


19.Darlene Silvestri
March 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm 
 I recieved one in the mail and was suspicious of it (your gut feeling is usually right). How low can you go? Apparently they went to the lowest point to get ratings. The bottom line is always the same, money. Just wanted to add that no amount of money will turn me away from my beloved Dick Biondi!


20.Doug D.
March 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm
Radio stations have been programming to the rating services, rather than the the listeners, since there were rating services. I can’t feel bad about this.
March 7, 2011 at 11:15 pm
Good God….if WGN or any other station Feder is waging a vandetta against were to do something like this….all hell would rain down on this site.


22.He Who Must Not Be Named
March 8, 2011 at 8:59 am 
These surveys have been around since the late 1970s and have been used all over the USA. Every radio programmer knows about them. To claim ‘foul’ about them is like a politician claiming he didn’t know the 2 women he was paying to have sex with were hookers. To those who were fooled by them I suggest you give me your bank account numbers so that I can protect them better for you. S-U-C-K-E-R!


March 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm 
I can’t believe that anyone is seriously either outraged or surprised by this. It’s business as usual for most radio stations and has been for years, and Feder surely should know this. It’s no big deal, plus as one other person noted above, someone might follow through with it just because they need the $1000. The station probably looks and takes some note of the information coming in as well. The “indignation” is rather amusing.



Follow us

Time Out Chicago on Facebook   Time Out Chicago on Twitter   Time Out Chicago on Instagram   Time Out Chicago on Pinterest   Time Out Chicago on Google Plus   Time Out Chicago on Foursquare   Time Out Chicago on Spotify

Send tips to:

Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)