I have a friend who is obsessed with metrics. Every time he posts something on Facebook or Instagram or TikTok, he checks to see how many people viewed it, how many liked it, how many responded to it. If the numbers are lower than he’d like, he blames the subject matter and insists he won’t write about that topic again. Conversely, if the numbers are high, he steers his content in that direction.
He’s a very good writer, but he acts like he wants to be an influencer, someone who has a few hundred thousand followers. Which he doesn’t. But popularity like that only has value in two areas: ego and money. The latter comes from being able to attract sponsors who want their brands promoted adjacent to (or by) those social media posts. His numbers — which he has shared with me from time to time — are nowhere near big enough to allow him to turn them into an income stream.
So, it comes down to ego, and I can relate to that — but just a little.
For most of my four decades in radio, I was aware of the ratings my show garnered. While it was nice to know how many tens of thousands of humans chose to pay attention to what I had to say, I didn’t really care. The bottom line for me was doing radio that entertained enough people that I got to come back and do another show the next day. Fortunately, most of the program directors and general managers I worked for understood those dynamics, too. Once I was established in a market and increased the listenership from whoever preceded me — it usually took a year — the ratings didn’t change dramatically from one report to the next.
Besides, regardless of whether the numbers went up or down a little bit, there was never analysis from the ratings company to explain why. So, I just kept doing the show I wanted to do, rather than veering one way or the other chasing topics that might attract more listeners.
In St. Louis, that might have meant bringing up the Cardinals more often, since that’s the most common area of interest to people in this area. But I never cared about baseball and knew little about the team — any random listener was more knowledgable on the subject — so I only talked about them when they were making news (e.g. the season opener, the playoffs and World Series, Mark McGwire’s congressional testimony about using steroids). I couldn’t have cared less about a game they played against the Brewers in the middle of July. Besides, there are plenty of other radio stations and shows in town and online that spend large swaths of the day discussing the ins and outs of Cardinals baseball.
My not discussing the topic didn’t mean I saw anything wrong with those who were diehard (or even casual) fans of the team. It just meant I refused to choose topics based on public opinion. I take the same approach to this website.
Despite her enormous popularity, I don’t have anything to say about Taylor Swift other than admiration for her success. I don’t see most superhero movies, so I have nothing to add to the conversation about them. The same is true of video games, monster truck shows, craft beers, and lots of other things. Instead, I stick to whatever piques my curiosity, and if what I have to say about them engages you, I’m glad. But I won’t know.
Unlike the days when I was generally aware how big the estimated audiences for my radio shows were, I have no such information for the readership of this site. While I’m sure those metrics are available somewhere, I have never seen them, nor do I care to. For myriad reasons, my numbers are likely lower than they were years ago. If so, it doesn’t bother me one bit.
I’m reminded of something I once heard from Phil Rosenthal, showrunner of “Everybody Loves Raymond”:
The best advice I ever got from anyone about anything was from a creator of great television shows. His name was Ed Weinberger and this is what he said: “Do the show you want to do, because in the end, they’re going to cancel you anyway.”
Now, the only person who can cancel me is me. I don’t have to worry about keeping sponsors happy because Harris Online has always been ad-free. I know I’ll never be an “influencer,” and have no desire to chase that status.
But if one of my reviews made you want to see a movie or play, or if one of my road trip stories inspired you to travel more, or if anything else I’ve written has put a smile on your face, that’s all the influence I need.
Metrics be damned.