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As Election Coverage Winds to a Close, How Will Local TV and Radio Stations Fill Their Ad Space?

Did you know that commercial TV and radio news stations are obligated under federal law to sell advertisement space to political candidates running for office? During election season, viewers can expect a plethora of political propaganda in opposition, or in favor, of certain candidates and political issues addressed on the ballot. But what happens to that ad space after Election Day is over? KSMU’s Rebekah Clark has more.


Tomorrow is Election Day. By this time, many people have already made up their minds about what issues and what candidates they plan to vote for. However, that doesn’t stop the last-minute bombardment of political advertisements from local radio and television stations.

In the last two weeks, the demand for political advertisement has soared, according to Danny Thomas, the general manager of the CBS affiliate station, KOAM-TV in Joplin.  He says commercial television has a fixed number of ads it can show in one day, and unlike radio, that number always stays the same.

 “Any time of year, it could be the first week of January, or the week before Christmas, we have the same number of commercials to sell in the same shows we always do year-round. So we can’t create more spots and we can’t sell more than we have.”  

Thomas says this industry is a classic case of supply and demand. The supply of ad space stays the same year-round, but sometimes, like during this election season, the demand for advertising space changes significantly.     

“For instance, January and February, we might have lower demand than we would the month before Christmas. It’s really no different with elections. Candidates not only want to buy those spots that are available, but many advertisers recognize that those are probably going to be times when they run less advertising. The reason is because there is a fixed amount, and the politicians will demand it.”

 Thomas says politicians have a right to buy it, according to federal law.

“In fact, there’s a fairly large book called A Political Catechism that spells out all of the rules relative to selling to candidates, how you sell them, you must make it available, and so on.”

He says many non-political entities that choose to advertise with his station usually wait until after the flurry of election season before continuing their own business campaign.

Rex Hansen is the general manager for KTTS-FM radio in Springfield. He says his station had a higher demand for political ad space during the primaries than it has during the general election season.

“Our advertisers, local advertisers, those are the ones that are with us 52 weeks a year. During political season, they just basically have to take a backseat, if you will, to the political advertising, and particularly the federal candidates. Those are the ones that receive the lowest unit rate treatment and preferred client treatment per the law.” 

What he means is that legally, his station must offer the same ad price to candidates as their most favored advertising customer. Hansen says the station has to allow ad time to all different candidates.

“The political advertising—the ones that have the voice of the candidates—those are the ones we are require to air as is. We don’t have any ability to modify the message. That’s part of the way the rules are written.”

He says the station gets frequent calls from upset listeners about the ads. But, he says, there isn’t much they can do about them.

Hansen says that many of the normal advertisements, such as local public service announcements, national advertisements and self-promotions will resume later this week, after the hype of the election has ceased.

For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.