We felt distinctly abandoned. I'm a man without a meter.
For the last 2 years, me and my significant other have been toting around the little pager-like PPMs™ (Portable People Meters™) collecting puny sums of money for couriering data from Seattle to data bots in Columbia, Maryland.
Arbitron surveys 1/40 of one percent of the population and every two years rotates the sample.
We just got rotated. It hurts.
We wore them in the gym, but not in the pool. On the john, but not the shower.
I say 'stunned' because, though we were picked randomly, I've been a self-appointed, listener-oriented radio and teevee critic since 2005, despised, and ridiculed but read by a lot of radio people.
You'd think my blog would have disqualified me... and you'd be right: of course I lied through my teeth when asked: "do you know any one in the radio or TV business?" or "Have you ever worked in media?"
As 1 of just 1,317 (out of 3,453,000 media consumers) secretly chosen to carry the receivers that tell the powerful radio ratings company what media are passing by our bodies every minute of every day, I became way more powerful in the Seattle radio market than by anything I could scribble on this mighty, yet sad little blog.
Add in my girlfriend and her meter, that awesome power was doubled.
(photo: a PPM™ and some fine BlatherWatch ass)
(BlatherWatch has even been the recipient of a couple of cease and desist letters over the years from Arbitron attorneys not amused by my publishing their privileged ratings numbers. I've routinely ignored these letters and they, in turn, have never followed up. One of the legal threat letters was prompted by a blog post asking other PPM™ wearers to write me about their experiences. A few fellow meter-wearers contacted me and I reported their experience, while adding a few details of my own).
Did I game the meters -- try to buttress my own views on talk hosts and radio stations? The answer is I could have, but no... it would be too much effort and besides: it was interesting to observe what was being metered in our daily media-absorbing lives.
The PPMs™ turned Seattle radio upside down. Music stations sprung back to the fore and news talkers sucked. The PPM™ onset was almost simultaneous to talk market leader KIRO's flip to FM and their AM dial spot to sports. KIRO, always big, headed for the tank because of the PPM™ data
Live and local shriveled; klassic konservative KVI let go its longtime host Kirby Wilbur, laid off the expensive Mr. Bryan Suits™; and flipped to hits from the '60's (and was never heard again).
KIRO went "lifestyle talk" and conservative KTTH pulled back their single local talker (whatever his name was) to one hour, and absorbed some of KVI's syndicated programming.
This was huge news for local radio and bread and gravy for my blog. The irony that I was carryng around the instruments of destruction of this medium, and so many professional lives was not lost on me.
Our household contributed to KIRO's problemas: FM reception for KIRO sucked in most of our house, and we weren't spending that much time in our cars. If it weren't for podcasts, I'd have never heard the station. PPMs pick up signals from podcasts, (if they're less than a week old) I only went to KIRO on a need-to-know basis.
The money wasn't much of an incentive: 15 bucks a month, and a chance at a weekly sweepstakes, based on points earned for wearing the meter. It's "Keep the green light glowing" which refers to the light on the meter which goes out if you set it down or you happen to die.
It stays on long enough for a shower (or a quickie) but that's about it. Clipped to you from rising 'til bedtime, it shines on even if you're napping.
At night, the meters slept in their docks located on my dresser, getting a battery re-charge and at about 4a, the daily data is sucked over to the living room where a collector sends our daily data aloft via the phone line.
Arbitron made us feel special. We were good panelists, wore our meters dutifully, accumulating a lot of points: they constantly praised us (in lieu of a raise).
(photos: meters at the BlatherWatch docks)
If I left my meter on a pair of pants hanging in the closet or went to Kona without telling them (that happened) they'd call.
We had member privileges at www.meandmymeter.com where we read gushing testimonials by other anonymous panelists, and see up-to-the-minute graphs of our points accumulated by time spent wearing meters. Arbitron encouraged competition among family members in "fun" competitions. (Apparently it ain't easy getting kids to keep the green light glowin').
No one busted me. I couldn't help myself pulling out meter and showing it off to certain radio types (you know who you are) who could appreciate the intense irony that I WAS WEARING ONE OF THESE THIS THINGS!
We were a little pissed reading Ben Fong-Torres' interview with a Bay Area panelist who said she earned $45 a month with "bonuses, like $100 twice a year." We got none of that big money and my l'il partner dropped Arbitron a gentle (that's the kind of person she is) note inquiring, but they never answered.
For me, watching what media I was exposed to throughout the week through the ens of a PPM- wearing panelist was fascinating. No matter whether it was teevee sports in a Vietnamese restaurant; or KWRM at my haircutters'.
As criticism against President Obama got nastier on the right: gotta say it, I listened less to talk radio. It was an organic, rather than an intentionally political choice. It sounded ugly and for the first time in years, I turned it off. I wasn't the only one in the Seattle market.
We helped in the destruction of KVI, KTTH and the old KIRO order. We turned to public radio - the news hours on KUOW; and more music: KBCS, and KPLU. There was TSL the radio was on in our office - both meters were listening to hours of NPR each day.
I'll write more about this experience: did I meet cool chicks wearing meters on the streets and clubs of Seattle? Did I ever wear the meter into the KIRO Eastlake studios? Did I ever get someone else ... or an animal to wear my PPM™?