Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Shout Radio (Take Two)

A few more thoughts about the devolution of shout radio, and the latest publicity (ratings-building) stunt from Rusty Limbo.

If you are not a broadcaster or haven’t worked in the advertising industry, you may not be aware that “suspending” your ads is not the same as “cancelling” your ads, yet the widespread misunderstanding of that important distinction when talking about Limbaugh is the same as the misuse of “innocent” when talking about Ryan Braun.

For those not as cynical as I am, you may not want to believe this, but these “suspensions” have become more and more common (even long before Imus called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos”) in the world of shout radio.  If you still haven’t figured out the difference between suspension and cancellation in the advertising world, suspension simply means you’re putting your schedule on hold until the heat dies down.

And it seems clear that’s what Rush’s sponsors are doing.  I have yet to see or read that any of the sponsors who participate on Rush’s show have actually cancelled their ad buy.

Several hundred thousand years ago when I had to help craft sales pitches to sell airtime in Rush’s show, the argument we advanced (in Madison) to the many potential sponsors who said “I don’t like Rush and I don’t stand for the same things he does” went something like this: Rush is the number-one rated radio program in the market in his time slot.  (You must understand that “number-one” can mean a lot of different things – like number-one among males 25-54, number-one AM radio program in the time slot, and so forth.)  We’d simply say to the potential advertiser, you’re not buying Rush, you’re renting his audience, and that’s what advertising is about.  You want your ad heard/seen by as many people as is possible.

Rush’s show is the number-one radio program in America – and in this case, it means more people listen to Rush when he’s on than any other radio program available – and Rush’s calculated attack on the Georgetown co-ed was nothing more than a ploy to boost sagging ratings.  Rush was doing what he’s done since 1988: whatever it takes to keep his show on top of the ratings.

In a few weeks, Cumulus, one of the largest radio group owners in America, is going to roll out the Mike Huckabee show, to compete directly with Rush in the same time slot.  Clear Channel, the largest radio group owner in the known universe, is keenly aware of this; and is also aware that this move by Cumulus is going to affect Rush’s ratings, hence affect how much money they can charge for ads on Rush’s show. And if you’re following the game at all, you know that radio today is leveraged to the hilt and it’s the unsustainable debt that’s killing the industry by forcing it to shed payroll (i.e., shed talent).

Rush’s ratings have been slowly but steadily declining; Cumulus is mounting a viable challenge; Rush is doing what he has always done, creating some huge stir that boosts his ratings back up.  And, that’s exactly what happened yesterday.  His ratings skyrocketed.

And, in a couple weeks when this latest flap with Rush has disappeared from the news cycles, the sponsors who suspended their ad schedules will be right back on the air with Rush.

I am not in any way defending any aspect of what Rush said.  It was disgusting, unfair, extremely objectionable, and downright nasty.

But it did what it was calculated to do: raise ratings.


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  2. Will advertisers be troubled by the fact that a couple of radio stations have already dropped Rush over this flap?