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Monday Memo: Curing the Radio Advertising Pandemic

| June 29, 2020

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — If you’re reading this in Arizona, PLEASE be careful. As I file this week’s column on Sunday, the Active Infection rate there is 23%. Florida and Texas (14%) closed the bars, and other states that now seemed to have jumped the gun are slamming the brakes on re-opening. Wherever you are, you’re witnessing an ongoing challenge to public health…and advertiser-supported media.

“Local-Local-Local” has been the desperate plea of programmers, as corporate bloodletting whacked station staffs. Independent Texas owner Paul Gleiser, my longest-suffering client, weathered the coronavirus pandemic better than absentee-owned competitors because his sales strategy is so grassroots and focused on the service retailers deemed “essential” during the shutdown.

Meanwhile, as the shutdown disrupted habit listening, digital audio competitors are thriving. TALKERS publisher Michael Harrison and I discussed “Mainstream Media, Redefined,” on my TV show. If you missed it, here’s the video.

On that same show, I debriefed Gleiser, asking:

  • Take us back to early March, when everyone was told “stay home.” How suddenly and how severely was local commerce whacked…and how close-to-the-edge did that push YOUR business?
  • Fast-forward to present day. How-recovered is retail business there, compared to pre-pandemic numbers?
  • Here in Rhode Island, we sat uncomfortably between the two hottest hotspots as the virus peaked, New York and Boston. There in Texas did this seem like a regional plague…elsewhere? Did the precautions you were seeing here in the Northeast, and in hard-hit Washington state, seem overdone?
  • Earlier this month, Las Vegas re-opened. Accompanied by the voice of Elvis singing “Viva Las Vegas,” the waters danced in front of Bellagio for the first time since March. But not before a bunch of big conventions were canceled, including the April NAB Show. If that event WAS being held, would you have felt safe attending?
  • Would you attend a Trump rally in Texas now?
  • With Texas now among the USA’s top COVID hotspots, and the governor keeping all options on the table, would compliance be attainable if another shutdown was declared?

And – in what Paul Harvey used to call “shoptalk” – I asked:

  • A couple years ago, the 737 MAX crashes exposed how the FAA was letting Boeing self-certify that its aircraft met safety standards. Around that same time, the FCC has abolished what was called “the Main Studio Rule” that required stations like yours to actually broadcast FROM the communities they are licensed to serve.
  • Today, most AM/FM broadcast hours are robotic. Other than the morning show, many music stations sound like automated apps; and most talk radio programming is nationally syndicated shows. And “local news” has become an oxymoron as big over-leveraged corporate owners have cut back.
  • Locally owned, locally staffed stations like yours are outliers. What you’re doing is a heavier lift than the out-of-town owners you compete with, so did being a conspicuous local business help you through this?

I will let Paul speak for himself, and his replies, sometimes surprising, are instructive as The New Normal remains in soft focus. Here’s the video, which continues to my conversation with Michael Harrison.

Stay safe.

Holland Cooke ( is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is the author of the e-book “Holland Cooke: Greatest Hits” from Talkers Books.  Click the ad banner in the right-hand column on this page for an instant download.  And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America.  Follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Advice