By RICH FOLEY
I had to laugh when the Arbitron Ratings people recently asked me to take part in their radio ratings survey. They made it sound like I was joining some sort of exclusive club in the brochure they mailed me, stating that “a computer selects households by picking phone numbers at random, much as winning lottery numbers are selected.”
If that were true, then I’d be a three-time lottery winner, having also been selected by Arbitron in 2006 and 2008. Unfortunately, the Arbitron lottery “prize” is a measly four bucks, paid out over a series of three mailings. First, they send a dollar bill with the news that you’ve been selected, two more when they send the ratings diary you fill out for them, and a fourth and final buck with a reminder to return the diary at the end of your assigned week.
Yes, I’ve done this three times for a total payment of 12 dollars, hardly what I’d consider a lottery-type payoff. And even though their website claims that chances are I’ll not be selected again for many years, if ever, how do they explain my being picked three times since 2006?
I wouldn’t bother volunteering the few minutes required for such a small payoff, but it can’t hurt knowing what other media are up to and I like the idea of radio stations hearing what I want to hear them broadcast, even if they ignore my input. And ignoring my opinion seems to be just what happened the two earlier times I participated in the ratings survey.
Back in 2006, I complained about the station I listened to playing too much Christmas music, as well as too much Elton John and Pink Floyd. I suggested more Neil Young with some Jason and the Scorchers and Wall of Voodoo thrown in the mix now and then. I never noticed any change in the station’s playlist at the time, but it was to get even worse.
By 2008, when I again won the Arbitron lottery and received another ratings diary, the unthinkable had happened at what was soon to be my former favorite station. Not only had they continued with the Christmas music, they added songs from such sleep-inducing artists such as Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby (both with and without David Bowie).
That wasn’t exactly what I would call classic rock. I spent a Christmas season listening to Lucinda Williams and Roky Erickson on the Buick’s CD player, and the following January looking for better radio options.
When Arbitron came calling this November, they had an additional request included with their mailing. They asked “that during your participation you do not discuss your role in the radio ratings with people outside of your household, including people on social media web sites such as Facebook or Twitter.”
I’m not sure why Arbitron asked this. Did they think some radio station might offer to double Arbitron’s four dollar payment to include them in my ratings diary? Or were they just afraid my friends might ridicule me for handing over my opinions for such a measly payoff? At least they didn’t say not to write about it in an award-winning newspaper so their secret is out.
This time, I had a new complaint for the ratings survey comment section. The Sunday of my ratings week coincided with the final race of the NASCAR season, which I listened to on a Defiance radio station. At least I tried to listen to it.
The race had a couple of rain delays and at about 6:30 p.m., the station cut off the event and returned to regular programming. Yes, with the championship in the balance and only 50 or so laps to go, it was back to country music.
I had to wait until the 10 p.m. television news to find out Tony Stewart eventually won the race and his third NASCAR Cup title. When it was time to add my comments to the survey, I had more than a few choice words for a station that brags about being my “Home for NASCAR,” but can’t see its way clear to broadcast the end of the most important race of the year.
Things may be looking up, though. Last week, I happened across the classic rock station that so upset me three years ago. Not only had they cut way back on Christmas music, this year they had eliminated Como, Cole and other non-rock artists from their playlist. That’s an improvement. Now if they would only play some Wall of Voodoo.