View Full Version : radio ads synchronized?

02-10-2005, 12:43 AM
It seems to me that commercial radio stations synchronize the timing of their advertising. Whenever one station is playing ads, the other stations seem to be doing the same thing. This cannot just be coincidence - it happens way too often. So, my question: do the radio stations explicitly get together and arrange this in order to please the advertisers (I can't just switch stations whenever the ads come on in search of music)? Why isn't that illegal? Companies are not allowed to collude on fixing prices, are they allowed to collude on this kind of thing?

02-10-2005, 01:37 AM
This is just a foggy memory, but it may point somebody in the right direction. About 10 years ago, my media prof told me that radio stations virtually synchronized their advertisements because their ratings were all being measured the same way by the same company and they did not want to be playing commercials when they are being rated. IIRC, he said that they were being measured in 15 minute increments throughout the day. I have no idea how radio stations are monitored.

02-10-2005, 01:41 AM
I was part of an Arbitron survey for radio ratings and their monitoring system was to give me a diary and tell me to fill in what I was listening to every 15 minutes.

They sent me a buck as an incentive and another buck when I sent the diary back.

Is there another ratings system?

02-10-2005, 01:52 AM
Don't know about the top markets, but it's certainly not the case in smaller markets. I've worked in and out of radio for close to 40 years - currently on a production retainer (they pay me to come in and record commercials) at a big Class C (100,000 watt) FM in a smaller market. I've heard absolutely nothing from anyone in the buisness about such a thing.

Consider, though, that the FCC dropped the limit on number of commercials per hour in 1985. See handy chart (http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/mediatimeline.html)
And, when the Teleommunications Act of 1996 dropped all limits on the number of radio stations any company could own, we ended up with giants like Clear Channel owning 1200 radio stations. often up to four in the same market.

So - no limits on number of commercials per hour, and more stations operating by satellite feed, doing the same things at the same time.

Consider also that a spot cluster on Station A can be 4-5 minutes long, and there will probably be four or five of them in an hour's time. Now consider Station B doing the same thing. You hear an ad on Station A, and immediately switch to Station B, hearing another ad. But is it the first ad of the cluster, the middle, or the last?

Suppose also that you're listening to Station A and tolerate the first ad without switching. Maybe it's cute, funny and new to you. And the second one isn't too bad. But the third one really gets your goat and you switch, landing on another commercial on Station B. Again, is it the first ad of the cluster or the last or somewhere in between?

If the stations were perfectly synchronized, playing ads at the same time, and both played five minute spot sets, then there would be a five-minute window when ads would be playing simultaneously.

But if the stations are operating with spot sets at different times, you still have a huge chance of landing on a commercial when you switch, due to the overlap in times. If you switch at the first sound of a commercial and run into a commercial on the other station, that station could have started its spot set up to 4 minutes earlier, and you still would land on a commerecial when you switched.

02-10-2005, 02:04 AM
I was part of an Arbitron survey for radio ratings and their monitoring system was to give me a diary and tell me to fill in what I was listening to every 15 minutes.

They sent me a buck as an incentive and another buck when I sent the diary back.

Is there another ratings system?
You did all that work for TWO dollars?

02-10-2005, 02:46 AM
Dunno about where you live, but a lot of the commercial 'local' radio stations here in the UK are networked and are actually owned by large companies; typically, this allows them to do all sorts of things like:

One DJ runs six different stations from a single studio; he'll play a track or two, then hit a button for a fifteen second sweeper - depending on your location (i.e. your proximity to which transmitter), you'll hear a different station ident; obviously though, a system like this means that jingles and ads must remain synchronised. Typically this is only done on the graveyard shifts and for special shows like the chart rundown (which they might buy in anyway) - slots with a lot of listener attention, like breakfast and drivetime are still usually presented live by individual DJs, although the ads still seem to remain synchronised, probably because it's easier to just do that all the time if you need it for part of the day.

02-10-2005, 08:43 AM
When I was programming radio we had a simple rule of thumb.

When station X starts its commercial sweep, we want to be playing music.

When we start our commercial sweep, we want station X to be in its commercial sweep.

Since there are only 60 minutes in an hour, multiple commercial sweeps and multiple stations X, you can see the limitations to this rule of thumb. Eventually, we all wound up pretty close to each other.

02-10-2005, 08:56 AM
It's not the commercials that ticks me off...it's the fact that the two biggest classic rock stations in LA will run the same commercial at the same time. there is no escaping it! Since they are both major network affiliates, I think the advertiser just bough "top of the hour" slots on both, and I pay the price.

Mangetout, that reminds me of the old SNL skit where Dan Ackroyd played a DJ who was doing AM and FM simultaneously. Funny bit. :D