While during this election season we have undoubtedly seen an array of political yard signs and television advertisements, Kentucky has not been exposed to a high volume of campaign advertisements aired on the radio, thus far. When starting this blog, the only radio ad that came to mind was Secretary of State Alison Grimes’ “I have a message for President Obama” where she states her dissatisfaction with Obama’s EPA regulations that aired over the summer, and after doing research, it doesn’t look like Kentucky has been exposed to many other radio ads, at all. In this post, however, I will suggest that perhaps that is an area where Senator McConnell and Grimes should focus some of their efforts. I will answer the question of: what is the effectiveness of radio advertising in a campaign.
First, it is important to note that even with the rise of the digital age, a vast majority of Americans are still listening to AM/FM radio . Over the past ten years, the percentage of Americans listening to AM/FM radio has remained relatively unchanged (between 92% and 96% of Americans 12 and over). Interestingly, when looking at the top talk radio shows, Conservatives dominate. Below the Pew Excellence in Journalism project has taken Talkers Magazine’s listing of the top radio shows and listed only the political pundits for 2010 and 2011. Even in 2014 Conservatives are dominating the radio talk show game, with Rush Limbaugh now in first place, overall, but I chose to show this graphic because it specializes in political talk shows hosts, only. (Here you can find the 2014 listings, though not sorted)
Now that we know people are listening to the radio, we can explore the topic of radio advertising and its effectiveness. L. Marvin Overby and Jay Barth took on this task. According to their research, radio advertising differs from television advertising in one prominent way: narrowcasting. Overby and Barth explain that when it comes to television advertising, candidates are playing their ads to widespread audience. In radio advertising, however, you can narrow your audience, and cater your message for a certain demographic in particular area of the state. While you could do that with television ads, too, the difference in monetary spending for a television ad and radio ad can be substantial, and that is why, normally, television ads are played statewide, rather than regionally. Thus, at a much lesser cost, candidates can target specific audiences in specific areas of the state, and speak about issues that are most pertinent to that area, when using radio advertising as opposed to television advertising.
What does this suggest for Grimes and McConnell? It suggests that in this final sprint of the race, there is an effective way to meet a target audience without having to broadcast an advertisement statewide. Candidates have the ability to talk about single issues that affect different parts of the state, and leave out the rest, because voters take the greatest interest in issues affecting them the most. While in this past week McConnell and Grimes have each released new television ads that cost them six figures, this less expensive campaigning could be the way to reach those voters who feel like the candidates only talk about the big issues, and localize the campaign for target audiences. While I am not suggesting that they take dollars away from television advertising, because that, too, has proven to be effective for undecided voters, I am suggesting that the candidates take the time to realize the possibilities that radio advertising has to offer in a state like Kentucky.