Brenda Barnes of KUSC-FM

Brenda Barnes, president of USC Radio, which operates KUSC-FM (91.5) in Los Angeles. (Diane Alancraig / July 9, 2013)

There was good news for classical music station KUSC-FM (91.5) in the local monthly radio ratings from Arbitron: It jumped from 29th place in May to 23rd in June, with the number of people who tune in at least five minutes a week climbing from 554,000 to 640,900 -- a healthy gain of nearly 16%.

But KUSC officials weren't breaking out the champagne. Instead, said Brenda Barnes, president of USC Radio, they were taking the long view and chalking up this boost to the variables of Arbitron's measurement methodology. The company periodically changes the panel of people whose listening habits are surveyed, she noted, and different panels can produce different results.

"The ratings jump for KUSC ... probably has more to do with the panel change than it does with anything we are doing on the air," she said in an email to The Times.

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KUSC ranked 29th in the Los Angeles-Orange County market in April, 30th in March and 31st in February.

"The No. 1 demographic factor that draws people to classical radio is level of education," Barnes said. But that isn't a factor for most radio stations, she continued, so Arbitron doesn't recruit panelists on that basis, which can lead to variations from panel to panel.

"If there is a panel with more college graduates (particularly college graduates 50-plus), KUSC will fare better," she said. "If a panel contains fewer college graduates in our age demographic, KUSC will fare worse."

So although Tuesday's results were gratifying, Barnes' attitude is wait and see.

"My experience at KUSC suggests that you have to look at the numbers as trends over a relatively long period of time to get actionable information that can be used to make programming decisions," she said.

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