Hey, How About Them Nielsen Surveys?

Hey, how ‘bout them Nielsen’s surveys? I can’t remember getting any Nielsen media rating surveys before I retired and I’ve gotten two of them since then. They send you a crisp, new dollar bill in the mail to entice participation. More likely, it elicits guilt. You’d return the dollar bill but not in the mail, would you? Is this some kind of rite of passage or what?

Technically, you’re not supposed to talk about whether or not you participated in the survey, but I saw one blogger’s post about his radio diary survey. Is there a penalty for admitting you’re a part of “Nielsen Family”? Are there Nielsen Enforcers who come to your house and break your kneecaps while listening to the Godfather soundtrack through their earbuds if you don’t obey the rule?

One white commenter thought Nielsen just targets old white guys for some reason. Then a black commenter pointed out that Nielsen mails the surveys to old black guys too, so it didn’t have anything to do with skin color—and he did it with a sense of humor. He speculated that Nielsen might just target grouchy old retired guys with strong opinions because we remember what the value of a dollar bill was back in the day.

It reminded me of what I used to listen to on the radio in my younger days. Back then, the radio was what you had to use to listen to music. Well, there was a TV music show called American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark. The format was pretty much young couples dancing to the latest tunes while the camera panned over the dancers randomly. I remember watching it one day and noticing the camera was moving a lot less randomly and kept focusing on a young blonde woman in the crowd in the middle of the dance floor. That is, it did until she made a very lewd gesture which immediately led to a return to very random camera meandering—and possibly higher Nielsen ratings.

 I listened to the radio a lot when I was a kid. One of the local radio stations was KRIB, which the announcer always pronounced “K-OW-I-B because he talked so fast. Many of the songs were bad, so bad that a humorist named Dave Barry published a book about it in 1997, Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs. He’s a Miami Herald newspaper columnist who has written a lot of funny books. I had nearly all of them at one time, including the bad songs book. I have only a few now, including an autographed copy of one about getting older, Lessons from Lucy (2019).

One of the worst songs in my opinion was a 1976 tune “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. It’s actually a cover of a song by Bruce Springsteen. I kept hearing a lyric I definitely thought was “wrapped up like a douche,” which I swear I never shared with anybody nor looked up on the web (or as Dave Barry would say, “I swear I am not making this up.”) until just today to discover I’m far from the only person to hear that. I also found out that kind of error is called a “mondegreen” (a mishearing of a phrase in a way that gives it a new meaning). The actual lyric was “revved up like a deuce.” That was the kind of bad song Dave Barry wrote about—although I don’t remember that specific song being in his book.

Nowadays I listen to KCCK (88.3 FM) for blues and jazz. Years ago, I used to listen to Da Friday Blues show starting at 6:00 p.m. every Friday. It was hosted by John Heim, who is still doing the show, even after a devastating accidental neck injury which left him paralyzed from the neck down a few years ago. He was hospitalized at The University of Iowa and his family and friends donated a lot of money to help him get to a rehab center in Omaha, Nebraska. John actually retired from teaching in 2004, but has been a DJ at KCCK for years because music means so much to him. He’s a brilliant example to retirees everywhere.

There’s a lot more to radio than Nielsen ratings, no disrespect to Nielsen Families everywhere—and just a reminder, I have no kneecaps worth breaking.

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