You Really Can't Live With Your Radio

November 8 2006, 5:01 PM
Last week I wrote about four campaigns that were skipping television advertising in order to spend their money on the radio. While each of the candidates who made big radio buys did it for different reasons, I maintained that it was nearly impossible to reach enough voters through radio alone. As I wrote at the time:
Republican candidates Mike Coffman (secretary of state) and Mark Hillman (state treasurer) are advertising almost exclusively on radio, as are Democrats Bill Winter (congress, CO-6) and Fern O'Brien (attorney general). While some candidates are using radio instead of TV because of a lack of money, some are doing it because of a lack of planning. Either way, a failure to make it onto television when your opponents are all over the tube does not put you in a good position for victory on Election Day. Of the four candidates mentioned here, Coffman is the only one who seems to have made his decision with other options on the table. He chose radio for strategic purposes, not because he couldn't do TV, and we'll see if he was wise. O'Brien never had enough money for television, and it's hard to explain why she would spend money on a radio buy that included 760 AM (Air America). Most of the people listening to 760 AM are active Democrats; in other words, people who are already going to vote for O'Brien. Hillman and Winter both spent more money than they could afford to spend and still make it onto TV, and neither are doing radio buys that are likely to be particularly effective. Hillman has purchased time on Rush Limbaugh's show, for example, targeting a group of voters (like O'Brien) that were probably going to vote for him anyway. Hillman accepted the spending limits provision, as did Democrat Cary Kennedy, but Kennedy saved every penny for television while Hillman had spent a third of his warchest by the end of the summer.
So what happened to these candidates? Only Coffman managed to win his race, and he was the only candidate for whom I said the decision to use radio advertising might be effective. Hillman lost to Kennedy by a small margin, and there's no question that Kennedy's ability to advertise on television made the difference. The percentage of voters you can reach via television dwarfs the voters you can reach by radio alone. There's just no comparison, because so many more people watch TV than listen to the radio at any given time. Hillman wasn't able to compete on TV because he didn't budget his campaign funds well enough, and he made radio buys that didn't make a lot of sense (advertising on Rush Limbaugh is preaching to the choir for a Republican candidate - you're not reaching undecided voters that way). In the Attorney General race, Democrat Fern O'Brien didn't have the money to make it onto TV, but the advertising she did invest in didn't make a lot of sense (advertising on the liberal 760 AM isn't the best use of money for a liberal candidate - much like Hillman, she was also preaching to the choir). Winter was blown out by Republican Tom Tancredo, due in large part to the fact that voters weren't familiar with him as a candidate. Winter didn't budget well to have money left for television and devoted all of his dough to radio. What Winter should have known is that the radio audience for a congressional race is much less useful than the audience for a statewide race; if most of the voters listening to your radio spot aren't likely to live in your congressional district, then you are spending a lot of money for a very small potential reward. Winter would have had enough money for a targeted cable TV buy that would have reached voters in his district, but he spent more money than he could afford to spend early on in his campaign. Radio may be a good form of advertising for political candidates if it is only a piece of a bigger advertising push. But as we learned from yesterday's results, if you're relying on radio to carry you to victory, you had better be prepared for second place instead.