2009.01.14 All of a sudden, my opinion seems to matter

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

This must be the busiest time of year for those in the survey business, or at least it’s their favorite time of year for bothering me. I’m in the process of filling out an Arbitron radio ratings diary (the second time in two years they’ve asked me to do this), plus I’ve just finished completing a phone book’s worth of questions for the Census Bureau.

Several months ago, I received a letter from the Department of Commerce, saying in a few days I would receive a questionnaire in the mail for the American Community Survey. It turns out my address was chosen, not me personally, so they had no idea who I was until I returned the survey.

The survey’s purpose was to collect information about education, housing and jobs. Government agencies then supposedly use the information to determine where schools, highways, hospitals and other services are needed. Since Fayette just got a new school, is on a main highway just six miles from an interstate and can’t seem to find a doctor so the idea of a hospital seems impossible, it would seem like a waste of time to fill out the survey. But they’re not allowing me to make that decision.

No, they make it clear that my response is required by law and that the United States Code imposes a penalty for not responding. Probably the worst penalty they could come up with would be to make me fill out a few more forms, but first they had to send the original one.

After the initial letter, came a wait of several weeks with no survey ever arriving. Just about the time I was thinking they had changed their mind or forgotten about me, I returned home one day to find my apartment had been visited by the Census Bureau. A field agent wasted an entire afternoon to drive to Fayette from Detroit and leave his business card and a letter asking me to call if I needed any help filling out the form.

Help? Nah, how about just sending me the form so we can get this over with? Another month passed by, then I received another letter in the mail identical to the original, telling me to watch for the survey. Excuse me, I have been watching for a couple of months now. This time, they were serious, as I received it the next week. The following day, before I’d even had a chance to open the package, I got a postcard reminding me to return the survey as soon as possible. After waiting almost three months to send out the survey, now they’re in a hurry. OK, OK, let’s get to it.

I loved the questions asking for more information about the address on the mailing label. Choices included mobile home, one-family house, and “Boat, RV, van, etc.” Next they wanted to know about when it was built. Is “Chevy Van, 1984” an acceptable answer? Who has an RV or van as a mailing address?

Then there’s the question “Is there a business (such as a store or barber shop) or a medical office on this property?” If you’re not sure, the instructions give these easy hints: “A business, such as a grocery store or barber shop, is easily recognizable from the outside and usually has a separate entrance. A medical office is a doctor’s or dentist’s office regularly visited by patients.” Thanks for clearing that up.

I probably shouldn’t be making fun of the questionnaire, especially if there’s a chance something good could come of it. In fact, the longer I fill out this Arbitron radio diary, the more I think Fayette needs its own radio station.

When I filled out a ratings diary last time, I complained about the lousy Christmas music played by what was then my favorite classic rock station. This year, the station decided to include Christmas tunes from other types of music, adding Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby (with and without David Bowie), Nat King Cole and others to the play list.

 You can probably guess my reaction to that. I changed stations in November and haven’t returned. My Arbitron diary will have no mention of my former favorite station. I just wish the Census questionnaire broadened its scope to include entertainment options. That’s what Fayette really needs, a radio station programmed by me.

Just think of it, air waves filled with Meat Loaf, Billy Idol, Waylon Jennings, AC/DC, Warren Zevon, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Roky Erickson, Darden Smith, Neil Young, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett and recording artists even more obscure. Now, if the Commerce Department will just write that check....

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