Is the slow-rolling COVID-19 vaccine roll-out having an impact on local advertisers enough so they increase their ad spend? That’s the focus of our daily series of interviews with radio executives. Ron Stone’s Adams Radio Group owns stations in Tallahassee, Fort Wayne, Northwest Indiana, Salisbury-Ocean City and Las Cruces. Here’s what Stone is hearing…
Radio Ink: The Vaccine is here, what sense are you getting from the community, the people you talk to about it, even though the roll-out is slow?
Ron Stone: I do not get the sense that anyone feels this nightmare is close to being over, even with the vaccine. All the inconsistencies around the country regarding how we have dealt with this has a lot of people feeling frustrated and angry. When a governor says idiotic things like “229 girls can practice fast pitch softball together under a dome tent but two teams, 24 girls, cannot play a game” it leaves people wondering about the integrity and quite frankly the intelligence of the people that are supposed to be leading the country out of the crisis. As for the vaccine, even that has been made far more complicated than it should be and is frustrating everyone. It should have been a simple rollout by age group. Nothing else. To say that we have to divide people up by categories for the shot, ie: who goes first. People on the “front line” need it first, yet people that have been on the front line along (for example people that work in grocery stores) are not considered front line. It seems that the easiest way would have been to start with people 65 plus…then do 10 years at a time…and make the vaccine available local pharmacies to administer no different than the flu shot. They say that cannot happen because the vaccine has to be in a special freezer. However, why could we not have asked GM and Ford to make enough of them, just like they did with respirators last year? They could have created 50,000 freezers, sent them to pharmacies…and done! Kids cannot go to school in one state, but they can another. You can eat inside a restaurant in one state, not another. We need leadership in the country…not politicians getting off on excessive control.
Radio Ink: What is the business community feeling?
Ron Stone: Many if not most of our clients are not comfortable making long term decisions. Clients that have traditionally booked annually, now only want to book month to month. It seems like many feel that another shoe is going to drop…that just don’t know when.
Radio Ink: How are pacings looking compared to the middle of 2020?
Ron Stone: January did not turn out to be stronger than January 2020. Q1 is currently pacing to exceed 2020 Q1, however, as of the last week of December, so was January. You cannot rely on pending business to close like you would have done in the past. None of the forecasting we did before seems to work now. We are budgeting 2021 assuming an average of 2020 and 2019. In other words, getting halfway back to 2019 performance. Will we get there? If Q1 makes it, I think the rest of the year will also.
Radio Ink: Overall, how is your company doing?
Ron Stone: We are doing okay. We have very low leverage on our company and that has made our situation much better than it would have been otherwise. Our employees contributed 10% of the their wages last year to assist our cash flow and gave up the 401K match. In Q4 of 2020 we restored half of the wages they contributed, and the 401K match. Our goal is to restore the other half after Q1 if we hit our numbers. We have kept a record for each employee’s contribution and fully intend to repay them 100% of their contributions when business returns to normal. The best news is we survived all this and never had to release a single employee due to covid…and we never lost an employee or family member to the virus.
Radio Ink: Is Radio out of the woods yet?
Ron Stone: No. I do not believe we will see our revenue back at 2019 levels before 2022 or 2023. The 30% drop in 2020 will take some time to recover.
Ron Stone is the CEO of Adams Radio Group with stations in Tallahassee, Fort Wayne, Northwest Indiana, Salisbury-Ocean City and Las Cruces and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]