Political Season Will Rely On Radio’s Reachability


Nielsen tracking shows radio reaches 92 percent of U.S. adults 18+, every week. Roger Rafson, SVP Political/Issue Advocacy & Strategic Alliances for Gen Media Partners, tells Radio Ink it’s the reachability and targetability of radio that has advertising-dollar decision-makers looking forward to this political season.

Radio Ink: What is the response from buyers about the upcoming political season?
Rafson: Based on meetings we’ve had with political agencies and other decision-makers across the country, the feedback we are getting is that the campaigns recognize the importance of radio for the 2020 election cycle. While I don’t like to prognosticate about how much will be spent across the entire radio industry, I can comment about the level of activity we see for our stations. In the 2016 Presidential election year, our political team set a record for billing. Two years later, in a midterm election cycle, we broke that record. We broke it by 37 percent, in a midterm year! So we are anticipating the 2020 Presidential election cycle to be bigger and better. We have instituted processes and resources so we will be able to handle the volume of activity.

Radio Ink: Do you see radio’s targetability as a big plus this election cycle as candidates look to win over those undecided voters?
Rafson: In 2018 we noticed a shift to “preaching to the choir.” For example: conservative Republican candidates advertising on Conservative Talk, Country, and Christian radio formats. This was expected leading up to the primaries. But they did that leading up to the general election, too. This time, we see buyers for Republican candidates asking for planning rates and information for other formats, including the Hispanic formats, Urban, and high-reach stations as well.

One feature of radio that is especially desirable is the targetability of the medium. To win that middle group — and this is my opinion — move away from reaching out to just the base. For example: ad agencies for conservative candidates should use Adult Contemporary, Urban, or Hispanic stations. For agencies that have progressive candidates, they should be on Conservative Talk, Country, or Religious stations. Go for it. Stir up the pot a little bit.

Radio Ink: When will the buying frenzy start?
Rafson: It’ll start the same week the first candidate begins in earnest. This speaks to the importance of competitive spending information. It’s one of radio’s best sales tools. We’ve been trying to persuade decision-makers that their candidate should be on the radio regularly for six to nine months before the election. When voters go to the polls they’re going to pull the lever for people they know, especially names they know. So if the campaign has used radio effectively by having the candidate relate to the voters with messages during the whole election cycle, it will really pay dividends on election day.

Radio Ink: How does a candidate avoid burnout by being on the air six to nine months prior to the election? How do you keep it fresh?
Rafson: By coming up with a lot of different ads and by rotating them. There are so many different issues of concern to the voters, things like health care, immigration, military spending, and climate change. The candidate can speak about his or her approaches to each of those issues using many different radio ads leading up to the election. This avoids burnout, and a candidate keeps their message interesting and relatable. It has the added benefit of getting the radio listeners wanting to contribute dollars to the campaign. Inviting listeners to the website to learn more about an issue presents an opportunity to donate to the candidate.

Radio Ink: What type of ads can we expect?
Rafson: We recommend ads that tell the story about the candidate. Ones that help build a relationship between the listeners and the candidate. But you know it will happen that the issues and PACS will come on the air and either support one candidate or bash another. Ultimately, it’s up to the campaign and their political consultants.

Radio Ink: Is it a good buy for local stations to go after local and regional races?
Rafson: We think it is very constructive for stations to be involved in the political process in their communities. When they have on-air programs dealing with topics of government, the candidates will gravitate to the stations. We encourage it.

Having relationships with local candidates is very helpful in securing political ad dollars from the national agencies. We can point to many cases where stations which have a strong, local presence in their market have been able to impact buys from the ad agencies. It’s very much working the account from both ends in a cooperative manner.


  1. I agree that with so much different content to be addressed by all candidates, radio can broadcast tons o’ spots – without becoming redundant.
    I won’t say “annoying” ’cause that’s a radio thing and not, necessarily, a political thing.
    Likely, it will be a combination.
    The key, as always, will be in the writing of the spots whether agency-supplied or locally produced.
    I have to say, however, that over the years I have voiced way too many American political ads that have been pure junk.
    At least when I was doing national ads for Canada’s Conservative Party, I had input into the copy.
    We won! And it was all my doing!
    I was, meanwhile, more than willing to cash the American checks.
    Hypocrisy on my part?
    To be sure.
    I am, after all, just another V/O ho’. 🙂

  2. I suspect the same consultants and agencies will be handling political buys in 2020 as they have for the last several national election cycles. Which means the money goes to news-talk and sports stations. I have a couple of AC stations and a classic rock–actually saw some national money in 2012 from the Obama campaign–but they didn’t pay for most of it until after the election (long story).
    In 2018 our political money came from aggressive outreach to local and state candidates. Remember that the on-line political files are an important research tool–bookmark the news-talk station’s on-line public file at the FCC–you can find lots of contact info from copies of their orders on-line.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here