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IF YOU'RE GOING TO KEEP AN ARBITRON DIARY, YOU MIGHT AS WELL LISTEN TO THE RADIO

Last week's column focused on the process that went into receiving an all-important Arbitron radio ratings diary. To recap: the system is outdated because Tucson is considered too small a market to bother with upgraded PPM (People Meter) ratings equipment, the folks at Arbitron are really nice, but call a lot to try to beg you to return the outdated diaries, and they supply participants with crisp, sequentially ordered dollar bills. Five of them total.

So since they went to that trouble, the least I could do is actually log my local radio listening habits, at least for a recent week that started on a Thursday and ended the following Wednesday.

Here goes.

My first experience in the car for diary, day one, was early in the afternoon. I tend to listen to my share of talk radio, so the factory stereo was already set to KQTH 104.1 FM. Sadly, talk radio in this market in the early afternoon is pretty wretched. I just can't deal with a large dose of Dave Ramsey. Ramsey has a good show, but I don't feel like it fits in an early afternoon time slot, so I'm not going to deal with "debt is bad" at the moment. The other talk options in the 1-3 pm window are the unbearable Thom Hartmann on KEVT, Sean Hannity on KNST and the reasonably acceptable, in doses, Michael Medved on KVOI. The syndicated sports options aren't significant upgrades.

So I tried my hand at music and started with classic rocker KLPX 96.1 FM, which was playing Ozzy. I couldn't change the station fast enough, so one minute of Dave Ramsey kicked the hell out of six seconds of Ozzy in the all-important time spent listening criteria. Next was KUAZ 89.1 FM, because every Arbitron diary must include NPR as part of its listening habits, so the listener can pretend he/she is intelligent and educated and willing to listen to droning newscasts and classical music. When Arbitron releases its ratings, it generally only includes privately owned stations in its rankings, however, it's acknowledged that KUAZ consistently ranks about fourth every Tucson ratings cycle. Even with the People Meter, given Tucson's demographic makeup that might apply here, but in numerous People Meter markets, NPR stations don't do as well as they did under the diary format.

Why? Well one of the theories goes that even though the diary is anonymous, and some numbers cruncher compiling an excel spread sheet with ratings info just plugs in data, some folks have a stigma about their listening habits, and feel NPR makes them come off as more cultural.

That aside, NPR is talking to someone who just wrote a book about John Philip Sousa. For some, that might seem interesting. For me, not so much. I flipping hate John Philip Sousa. Good-bye NPR.

Since it's now past 3 p.m., a number of local talk shows have hit the airwaves. It's off to Kevin Woodman and Mike Luke on KCUB 1290 AM, then at commercial Zach Clark on KFFN 1490 AM/104.9 FM, then to John C. Scott on KEVT 1210 AM. He's talking with Jan Brewer.

Friday, I'm up and around a bit earlier. It's the noon hour, and thank goodness for Bill Buckmaster on KVOI 1030 AM. As it is, Buckmaster is chatting with Mike Varney from the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, and Mr. Varney is delicately sharing what I already know, because I checked the "poor" box on the Arbitron diary form that asked about my income status. Tucson's economy pretty much sucks, he says, without saying it like that. The upside: At least we're not Fresno.

On that note I'm off to FM options, and encounter one of mysterious engineer Ted Tucker's stations, KRDX 98.3 FM, The Fox. It's sort of an album oriented classic hits station (if that makes sense, and since it doesn't it probably explains why I kind of like it) with a signal that is sporadic at best within the Tucson confines.

Saturday and Sunday is spent mostly bouncing between the sports stations to see if there are any football games, and lamenting how cool it might be to have satellite radio, which has loads o' games. But satellite radio costs 13 bucks a month and would requite a new car stereo, and where am I going to get that kind of money after marking the poor box on the Arbitron diary form? As a result, it's the KGVY 106.3 FM, the Groove, found its way into the rotation on Monday, but only because I was the passenger in a friend's car en route to lunch, and since said friend's radio feels as if the knob was snapped off on The Groove, the Groove it is. Incredibly, not a single Michael Jackson song, is a near impossibility for anyone who listens to The Groove for longer than seven minutes.

Since I was heading out of town Tuesday to check up on my mom (I threw that in there to earn good son points), KLPX and Tucker's other station, KCDX 103.1 FM, based in Florence, earned a bulk of the listening. KCDX is sort of a random classic AOR type format, and might rank as one of the best road radio stations in the state.

So that was that. Once the week had concluded I mailed the Arbitron diary as requested, and received yet another letter from the company thanking me for my participation, which included two more sequentially numbered, crisp dollar bills.

I'm happy to note that Gina from Arbitron still calls. It seems we've chatted quite a bit over the course of the last couple weeks. At this rate, I expect to be invited to her wedding. If I can get five crisp, sequentially numbered dollar bills, I'd gladly rate that event as well.

In next week's Media Watch, a conversation with KVOA news anchor Tom McNamara, who concludes his 18-year tenure with the station later this month.

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