Down East 2013 ©
The Portland radio market just got a lot bigger. According to the rating service Arbitron , the estimated size of the metro Portland market it surveys will now include 856,900 people or almost two-thirds of the population of Maine.  That change boosts Portland from the 168th largest market in the country to the 89th.
Until Arbitron revised its size in March, the Portland metro market consisted of just Cumberland County. The expansion means that starting this fall, radio ratings for Portland will also be surveyed in Androscoggin, Oxford, Sagadahoc and northern York counties.
Although Arbitron didn’t say so, this change effectively eliminates Lewiston-Auburn as a separate radio market.
The reasons behind the move prompted considerable speculation among broadcasting insiders, with Tom Taylor’s Radio-Info.com newsletter  initially suggesting it was designed to lure Saga Communications , which owns eight stations in South Portland and stopped subscribing to Arbitron in 2009, back into the fold.
"[Y]ou wonder if Arbitron isn’t secretly hoping to encourage Saga to come to the party by making Portland … likely to attract more ad dollars,” Taylor wrote on June 28.
But a day later, Taylor had a different take.  “It may also be that Saga didn't want this expanded metro, but other (subscribing) local owners do,” he wrote.
That shift in Taylor’s thinking seems to have been prompted by postings on industry message boards , where the speculation was that that the change would be detrimental to several of Saga’s top stations, including news-talk WGAN  (AM 560) and country WPOR  (FM 101.9) because they have relatively weak signals in much of the new market. The posters also indicated the expanded survey area would most help the more powerful FMs, such as WHOM  (94.9 FM), WJJB  (96.3 FM) WBLM  (102.9 FM) and WFNK  (107.5 FM) while hurting stations with less coverage such as WJBQ  (97.9 FM), the Portland market leader in the most recent Arbitron ratings  for fall 2010.
The next Arbitron rating book is due to be released to subscribers only (although Media Mutt will likely get the results, as well) in early August, but it will cover only the old market of Cumberland County. The first survey to reflect the expanded market will be conducted this fall and released in early January of next year.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .