Americans have never been very honest about the kinds of books and entertainment programming we enjoy. For instance, for some reason or another, we all seem to pretend to like classical music. When in polite company, we profess to listen to it. We say it is a tragedy when the local NPR affiliate cuts back on its classical programming. And those of us who participate in the listening-habit surveys that determine the size of radio station audiences habitually lie about how frequently we turn in to classical stations.
But a new technology has finally called our collective bluff.
Radio ratings firm Arbitron has developed a new device that survey participants wear on their belt. The device picks up sounds and analyzes them to determine, which, if any, radio stations people are listening to.
Since 2007, Arbitron has deployed some 57,000 of these devices across most major radio markets. And the results they are producing are wildly different from what their respondents used to self-report in journals.
It turns out that the market for classical music is 10.7 percent smaller than previously thought. Also, fewer people are listening to talk radio or Spanish-language stations than say they are, according to a story in the New York Times.
So here is my proposal. Now that we all know that we’re lying to each other about liking classical music, perhaps we can just stop. Call a truce, as it were. If nothing else it will hasten the transformation of public radio into a decent news service.