Political Electronic-Messageboard Ads Boost WHKP’s Revenue

NC AM Station complements airtime buys with display ads

By Steve Aust

WHKP, a Hendersonville, NC, AM radio station, with a combination Top 40/talk format, upgraded its exterior electronic message center from a monochrome display to a full-colorWatchfire by Time-O-Matic electronic message center (EMC). The station enjoys greater standing than most on the AM frequency; Richard Rhodes, the station’s advertising director, noted that, with an average of 14,300 daily listeners, it had the highest Arbitronrating of any station in Henderson County. The county has a population of approximately 120,000, and is also a popular tourist destination for fans of the Tarheel State’s picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains.

To leverage its standing among local media (and its office’s location, which 35,000 vehicles pass by daily, the North Carolina DOT estimates), WHKP officials use its EMC to display political ads for various local and statewide candidates (it also sells display space to commercial entities). Rhodes said candidates typically begin purchasing time on the 8 x 16-ft. display approximately 30 days before an election. WHKP enlists three of its sales reps to broker ad space for the display, and one uploads candidates’ content into the system.

“We work directly with the candidates, unless they’ve hired an agency,” he said. “We ask them to send their materials online to be uploaded via PDFs, which works well. We also can upload .TIF files effectively. Some of our more tech-savvy customers try to upload Quark files, but we haven’t found them to be compatible.”

A standard sales package for EMC space is $1,000 for 10 messages an hour for 30 days (for five messages per hour, the rate is $550). Some candidates opt for greater frequency over a shorter period of time, such as 20 messages an hour over two weeks.

The station sets up its advertising message in a continuous loop that doesn’t exceed 60 minutes. If aggregated content doesn’t occupy an hour, the candidate benefits with extra exposure. A candidate’s message typically occupies two or three displays that last eight seconds (North Carolina highway regulations dictate eight seconds of dwell time between EMC messages).

“Unless it’s sent by an agency, we design the ad,” Rhodes said. “We have to leave room at the bottom for a message that lets the viewer know who paid for the advertising. A full-color monitor allows us to use any color under the sun, but, naturally, red, white and blue are popular choices. For high contrast, red and black or red and yellow are also common.”

WHKP doesn’t give away messageboard space as a value-added premium for a radio buy, although Rhodes said it does offer bundled deals with radio spots and EMC ads. Roberts also noted the absence of regulation over advertising fees proves advantageous when selling EMC space for political purposes (which could be a solid selling point when touting displays to the owner or manager of a radio or TV station).

“The FCC requires us to sell airtime to bona fide political candidates for no more than our lowest published rate, what we would sell to a commercial customer who makes a maximum buy,” Roberts said. “However, the lack of Federal regulations over EMCs allows us to sell display space for fair-market value.”

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