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Must Radio Stations Sell Political Rates to Local Candidates?

Radio stations are bombarded by political advertising during the last weeks of an election cycle. More often than not, a radio station commercial log is filled to capacity. Some political insertion orders are turned away... will it be your candidate?


With political dollars scarce in most campaigns, especially local races, cost savings is important.

The most common question I have been asked over the past twenty years of working on political advertising is: “Must a radio station sell the Political Rates to local candidates?”

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), along with Congress, have required radio stations operating in the United States to provide airtime at low rates (Political Rates) to candidates running in Federal elections. Specifically, stations may not charge a candidate more than the lowest price they charged a client for a spot during a given time slot. For example, if the lowest amount any advertiser on a given station paid for a 30-second morning spot during the previous year is $50, then the station can not ask a candidate for more than $50 for a 30-second morning spot. This rate is typically offered sixty days before an election.

The working effect this has on radio stations can be horrific: Last minute large buys, finding enough air time, preventing different candidates from running back to back. The bottom line is that station revenue is reduced by selling prime-time air at reduced rates. This is compounded by the fact that many political commercials are poorly written, giving the audience reason to turn the radio off. Radio stations do not like the political season as a general rule. But no matter, the FCC and FEC are on the campaign's side!

It has been my experience that local campaigns can leverage the power of the FCC to their advantage as well. True, the law is specific to Federal candidates, but the inference of the regulations can be argued to apply to all. Radio stations, when presented with choosing between air time for local candidates at Political Rates or an open letter to the FCC and FEC from the candidate and scores of supporters, usually concede the lower rates. All letters to a radio station must remain in the public file. This file is reviewed when a station license is renewed by the FCC.

When I contact a radio station, I ask for Political Rates. I assume my candidate will pay this rate regardless of the level (Federal, statewide or local). I have never had an issue. If I were to encounter resistanceHealth Fitness Articles, I would impress upon the sales representative that the candidate's money will be going to other stations and media outlets. The competitive market will do its job.

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Scott Perreault is CEO of Scott Radio ( a Political Advertising Agency and Voice Works specializing in Radio. We represent National, State and local candidates or issue campaigns. Over twenty years experience. 2006-2008 Agency of record for U.S. Senate Campaign in Texas. We assist Independents, Republicans and Democrats. Scott Radio services include: Voice Work, Advertising Agency, Research, Publishing and Political Consulting.

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