In a curious move, the syndicator of Rush Limbaugh’s program has announced that they are suspending certain national commercials that normally air during the show for two weeks.
According to radio-info.com, Premiere Networks sent a memo to the traffic managers at all its affiliate stations telling them that they were making a change for the weeks of March 12 and March 19. Here is the text of the memo sent to stations:
“We are suspending the requirement to run barter spots for two weeks, March 12th and March 19th, for our News/Talk affiliates only.
“Please replace/re-traffic any Premiere barter spots immediately. Contractual requirements to run barter spots are being suspended for these two weeks only. Replace them with Lifelock and Lear Financial or a local spot of your choice.
“This suspension does not apply to in-program commercial provided by Premiere within any of its live news/talk programming.”
To better clarify what is happening here, it is important to understand what kinds of ads run on radio stations, and particularly within the Limbaugh program.
Normally, a talk show is offered free of charge to a radio station, with the deal stating that the company providing or syndicating that show gets a certain number of commercial spots to air during their own show. The rest are free for the local stations to fill from their own client roster. Thus, you normally hear a mix of National and local commercials in a show. You will also occasionally hear public service announcements because stations are required by the Federal Communications Commission to run these.
Limbaugh’s program is different. Premiere Networks charges stations to use the Limbaugh show. They also still have national ads within the show itself, often voiced by Limbaugh. In major markets, this nets Limbaugh millions of dollars a year. However, since smaller markets could not afford this for long, there is an arrangement to run additional “barter ads” to offset the subscription cost. These barter ads are what the memo is referencing. As for public service announcements, usually you would rarely hear a PSA in a program as thickly advertiser-laden as Limbaugh’s.
When asked about the purpose of this move, Premiere responded:
“This memo was sent to traffic managers of news/talk affiliates as part of Premiere’s overall strategy to update our processes and services to better meet our clients’ needs.”
There have been reports lately there have been a large number of unpaid PSAs for the United Negro College Fund, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Save the Children, the American Heart Association, Feeding America and other causes. Then, the American Heart association asked for its PSAs to be excluded from the Limbaugh time slots. There are also occurrences of dead air during commercial breaks.
How any of these incidents might factor in to Premiere’s decision to pull barter ads is anyone’s guess. Some are calling it a sign that the talk radio giant has had his bell rung by recent advertiser boycotts following his remarks about Sandra Fluke, even after an apology. Limbaugh has incited the wrath of his detractors before, but this is the first time his syndicator has been forced to take a step like. They say it is due to an “overall strategy to update our processes and services”.