Dear Diary: My week as a Nielsen radio survey respondent

Dear Diary: My week as a Nielsen radio survey respondent

[Diary, cash and radios. Photo: David Kramer 3/4/21]

Last month, I received a call from the Nielsen Radio Survey saying I was one one of the very few selected in our area to participate. After clearing some preliminary questions — no one in my family is employed by a radio station — I happily agreed. As a frequent radio consumer, I was an ideal candidate.

From the Nielsen Diary

A packet arrived, including four crispy one dollar bills as a courtesy. When perusing the diary, I realized I was a relatively unique subject. The “PLACE” section listed “Other Place.” Actually, much of my listening is unusual and other. I often take my battery powered, hand-held Sony Portable AM/FM Radio on walks on the trails in Brighton or when bicycling on the canal path.

Actually, the SONY has appeared prominently in several Talker articles.

The Sony Portable AM/FM Radio I used during the summer broke. I learned that in our area only Best Buy actually carries one in store stock. The salesman says the radios very rarely sell. From MLB’s expanded playoffs and three game series are a travesty. Or maybe not.

The last time I was a Nielsen respondent —  about twenty five years ago — I was not an ideal candidate. When a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island and living in a beach house on Narragansett Bay, I participated in the Nielsen TV Survey for which I was also bribed with a small cash emolument.

At that time, I only had a small black and white tv, rarely used. Mostly, I watched tv at the Twin Willows restaurant and sports bar. The Willows was literally a short walk from my backyard; all you had to do was cut through a gate  and up a short slope. Life was good.

The beach house, 7 McMillen Way in Narragansett, Rhode Island, 1997. Although difficult to see, the tv appears in the photo to the left along with Jessica. Jessica occasionally visited to work on our Shakespeare essays but not to watch tv. (right) David Kramer in his URI Intramural Badminton Tournament t-shirt he won after coming in third. From If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, credit Talker

At the Willows, I watched Princeton beat UCLA in the 1996 NCAA Tournament and in 1996 Roger Clemens strike out 20 batters (listening to the first six innings on the radio then through the backyard gate to see the last three innings on NESN). As a Bills fan, I painfully watched the Music City Miracle on the crappy black and white tv in the beach house.

January 8, 2000. Music City Miracle, Tennessee Titans 22 – Buffalo Bills 16    (Nashville News)

At the end of my Nielsen week, I realized I had only watched a few episodes of Friends.  I was loathe to promote that block buster show that didn’t need my help.

So, I made a potentially ethically-dubious decision. Instead of just listing Friends, I read over that week’s tv guide looking for shows I didn’t watch but felt I should support: boring PBS insect documentaries, grainy late night cable access community programs and soporific Italian operas, etc. Hence, I larded up my diary with socially redeemable shows I didn’t actually see. Whether I was acting in good or bad faith is debatable.

25 years later, I was honest.

First, as for that SONY. While most of the articles are sports related, most recently Mr. Sony took a political turn in Listening to the inauguration at the same spot, four years later: From “American Carnage” to “The Hill We Climb” when he appeared at Cobb’s Hill.

On January 20th, 2017, I walked to the Washington Grove trails behind Cobb’s Hill where I listened to Trump’s inaugural address at the Water Towers on my SONY hand held radio. I remember thinking the speech was dark but well crafted, perhaps authored by Steve Bannon. Trump’s use of the phrase “American carnage” sounded very much like a Bannonism. In a Bushism, former President George W. Bush supposedly remarked of the speech: “That was some weird shit.”

1/20/21. 11:53a.m. The Water Towers in Washington Grove, Cobb’s Hill. The ice is not thick enough for walking. Note the hole in the slush marking the spot where my lower leg got very wet and cold. From Listening to the inauguration at the same spot, four years later: From “American Carnage” to “The Hill We Climb”

On Wednesday, January 20th, 2021, I went back to the same spot with my SONY hand held radio where I heard Youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem: “The Hill We Climb.”

Mr. Sony made his presence felt in Peter Fornieri weaves his award winning tailgate magic on Bonnie Brae in Brighton:

Unfortunately, I had to leave early. On the short walk home, I listened to the game on my hand held radio. As the Ravens drove and looked to tie the game, I saw people watching tv’s in living rooms, looking nervous. Then, in a franchise alerting instant, I heard John Murphy’s exultant call of Johnson’s interception. An excited roar emanated from the tailgate that may have shaken New Era Field. I considered going back, but felt with the crew in spirit. Besides, Buffalo was destined to win this game.

1/16/20 (The Raven’s quarterback Lamar Jackson on screen) Bills fans are very intense at this point in the game.  Watching closely and hoping for victory [Photo: David Kramer from Peter Fornieri weaves his award winning tailgate magic on Bonnie Brae in Brighton

And also in another football piece, The Grey Cup is a tough sell, on the Canadian Football League:

I realized I’ve never watched a full [CFL] game on tv and maybe not even a half. On summer nights, while bicycling on the canal path, I’ve listened to faintly staticky radio broadcasts of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats playing this unique game that has only three downs and a one point score called a rouge.

David Kramer on the canal path, August 1, 2015, from Two on a Rickety Bicycle

In MLB’s expanded playoffs and three game series are a travesty. Or maybe not., Mr. Sony was at Lake Ontario last summer.

I still enjoy listening on the radio while biking. On the radio, while the crowd noise is fake, I can’t see the lack of fans. On Sunday August 16th, 2020 — a day that was a brief respite from the searing heat wave — I cycled on the Genesee Riverway Trail up to Charlotte and then over to Durand Park with a hand held radio in my shirt pocket tuned to the Red Sox – Yankee game. I find the that flow of passing landscape and the flow of the baseball game are complimentary.

Beach-comber at Durand Beach with his metal detecting gear. (waymarking) I’m glad no one with a metal detector found the radio. See MLB’s expanded playoffs and three game series are a travesty. Or maybe not.

At Durand, I hid my radio under a log and went for a cooling swim. Given how long Red Sox-Yankees games are, I didn’t miss much. Upon return, the radio was safely under the log, although if someone from the current generation found the handheld device, they might find it a mysterious object, much less steal the analog throwback.

Mr. Sony was there during the 2018 National League Eastern Division pennant race, Eliminate the Wild Card Game, please:

Last September I joined the New York Mets bandwagon — via radio, MLB Gameday and the occasional Channel 13 broadcast — as the Amazin’s almost turned a late streak into a playoff berth — even if as the last seed.

SONY radio and Panasonic RP-SPT70 Active Speaker System. The bench where last summer I listened to the New York Mets fail to win the second wild card. From Eliminate the Wild Card Game, please

My Diary Week confirmed what I expected: I almost always listen to WXXI (1370 FM) and WHAM (1180 and 1270 AM). While I was mostly honest in my report, I was also not super diligent.

The Nielsen flyer said I should I carry the Diary with me wherever I went. I did not. I also went a few days where I jotted down some reminders about what I listened to, but did not make the full effort to inscribe the booklet.

Some jottings as to my radio habits.

Because I did not dutifully carry around my booklet and pen, some of my listings are guesstimates, especially as I often scrolled the radio, failing to record each five minute interval as mandated by the survey.

The first day was somewhat of an aberration. The day started with The Bob Lonsberry Show which is common for me. While Bob and I generally vote differently (I, Democrat; he, Neanderthal), I admire Bob’s wide ranging knowledge of local history and politics, and he can be quite funny in a Will Rogers way.

Anyone who once offered a disquisition on the literary deficiencies of  Rochesterian author Arch Merrill (1884 – 1974) who gained a measure of fame as the “Poet Laureate of Upstate New York,” knows his stuff.  Plus, Bob has interviewed me a couple of times. Good man.


The aberration was when I tuned into the Rush Limbaugh Show on the second day after his death. The grief of the guest host seemed heartfelt. Only an intermittent listener at best, I avoided Limbaugh entirely after the election when he angered me by recklessly and corrosively spreading baseless lies that Biden stole the election, promoting the big lie that will negatively impact American politics for a long time. By contrast, I appreciate that from the very beginning, Bob rejected the big lie and even hoped that Trump would be removed from office via the 25th amendment the day after the January 6th riot.

I also listened to Connections with Evan Dawson. Connections is a hit or miss proposition. For example, I liked Evan’s recent show on how Rochester may benefit from climate change. I called to ask him and his guests — in an admitted mercenary mode — when they thought local property values would rise as a result of climate change. Evan rightfully laughed that he never gives real estate predictions. Evan’s guest said values would be rising, good for sellers but also potentially bringing gentrification.

But, to be honest, when the show turns to earnest and high-minded but tedious if not tendentious topics like preventing childhood asthma, my attention wanes.

2/19 and 2/20/21

My Friday fare during my walk to take photos at the Highland Crossing included a bit of the sports talk show Greeny. A few years ago, I enjoyed Mike and Mike in morning with Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. Greenberg would leave for tv and the new show Golic and Wingo was cancelled and replaced by Greenberg’s one man show, Greeny. Greeny is uninspiring without Golic, much like what happened when Mike and the Mad Dog ended a 19 year run and Francesa went solo.

On Saturday, I heard the WXXI humor program Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.  Unfortunately, during the pandemic the show has gone remote with no audience and the comedians zoomed in. The jokes often fall flat in this virtual vacuum, but I am loyal enough to tune in.

Other household radios

I also listened to a bit of the Bob Matthews Show. For decades, when Bob was on nightly, I was a fan. My first call was in June 1976 when baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided Charlie Finley’s $3.5 million sale of three Oakland A’s stars. I was happy because I hated the A’s, but Bob was right that the proposed sale was bad for baseball.

At the Highland Crossing, I heard the Hidden Brain on WXXI as is often my wont. One time, by good luck and unexpectedly, I listened to a show on curbing anger that featured my friend Harold Pollack from the University of Chicago.

2/21 and 2/22/21

On Sunday, I heard WXXI’s Weekend Edition. As I did on Saturday and as I do every weekend.

On Sunday — although I messed up my chart — I listened to an hour of the Syracuse University basketball game on the canal path. I actually find basketball to be a very boring spectator sport. I like baseball and football because the drama unfolds slowly — when runners are filling the bases or a team is making a long drive — towards a climax in which the game can change on a single play. In basketball, any single play has very limited impact on the final score.

Basketball on the radio is excruciatingly boring. But I listen as might a zen master, lost in the flow of time in which one moment is much like another. That game, the ‘Cuse rallied after being down by 20 in a comeback that was hyped by the announcers as if the Orange had parted the red sea.

At the Highland Crossing, I also caught The Other Latif on WXXI’s Radio Lab. That week, the riveting story, Namesake, walked us through the painful process that came close to releasing Abdul Latif Nasser in the waning days of the Obama administration, but fell apart at the last minute.

2/23 and 2/24/21

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I caught neanderthal Lonsberry’s morning show. The primeval does have the newsman’s gift for explaining local issues well and in detail.

I also tuned into the Dan Patrick Show. Recently, I’ve come to appreciate the improvisational wit of Patrick and his ensemble, the Danettes. They have a knack for turning an ordinary interview into a performance. For example, Patrick interviewed Dr. Myron Rolle, a former NFL player and now a surgeon specializing in sports injuries, about the Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes who suffered from turf toe during the playoffs.

First, the Danettes had to improvise their own medical explanation as to what they thought turf toe is (they fared well). Later, each Danette was allowed to ask Rolle for free medical advice on their various ailments, such as tennis elbows and knees, which they accepted even while making excuses not to see their doctors. Finally, Patrick asked Rolle if he would perform orthopedic surgery on the Danettes in the studio “Man Cave.” Rolle agreed, saying he’d use a bullet and whisky as anesthetics.

With my ill gotten gains in my week as a Nielsen guinea pig, I bought radio batteries.


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About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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