Terry Chen, as Ben Fong-Torres, in 2000's Almost Famous.
In my story this week on the Portable People Meter -- the little device Arbitron uses to determine radio ratings -- I mention that some critics of the device claim that the people wearing the PPMs, and whose listening habits are magnified to determine ratings, aren't representative of radio's broad audience. Ben Fong-Torres, a former editor at Rolling Stone who was immortalized as "William Miller's" editor in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, wrote about the issue in a recent column for The San Francisco Chronicle, where he follows the radio business. He notes that Aritron has had a hard time recruiting young people to participate, but that he found a living, young participant to question about the device.
Unlike the old diary system of tracking listening -- when participants would write down what they listened to -- the PPM picks up a signal that reports back what stations listeners encountered. This, according to proponents, provides a more accurate look at what listeners are actually listening to, rather than what they say they listen to.
Here's what "Angella Sprauve" told Fong-Torres:
[Arbitron], she said, didn't address the issue of accuracy, of panelists picking up signals of stations they had not chosen to hear. "When I was out - at a mall or the eye doctor or wherever - I was conscious that it was picking up other stations," said Sprauve, whose favorite stations include KMVQ ("Movin" at 99.7) for the morning show, KYLD ("Wild" 94.9) and KPOO (89.5 FM). "The only time it picked up what I'd chosen was at home or in the car."
The real Ben Fong-Torres.
After joining her current company, Sprauve felt less at ease wearing the meter. "Someone asked if I was wearing a pager," she said. "Pagers are like '80s things. And it was bulky." (Arbitron has remodeled the meter into a smaller, sleeker item that doubles as a clock.)