BROOKE GLADSTONE: In this closing week of the campaign, swing state voters have been swamped with phone calls, mailers, billboards, print, TV and radio ads in a last ditch attempt to -- in the parlance of the day -- close the sale. The Bush campaign has found a new way to reach the masses: sponsoring local radio traffic reports. Now, in many markets, news of the three-car pileup causing the backup on the interstate is brought to you by Bush-Cheney '04. OTM's Paul Ingles has more from the swing state of New Mexico. [TAPE STARTS]
ANNOUNCER: 105.1 The Range! It's Misty Miles with the Morning Stampede...
MISTY MILES: We have a new roll-over wreck, I-25 near San Felipe. Both directions are going to slow down because of it... [TAPE ENDS]
PAUL INGLES: If you commute, traffic reports have long been "must-hear" radio. Get early word of a tie-up, and chances are you can avoid the delay. And advertisers know that traffic reports are turned up and tuned in by listeners, so they've hopped on board as sponsors, getting a 10 second live spot at the end of each update. [TAPE STARTS]
MISTY MILES: This report is a service of Sonic. Drive in for the new double patty-melt toaster sandwich. Two delicious all-beef patties and your choice of smoky cheddar or pepper jack cheese with grilled onions, served on Sonic's thick Texas Toast... [TAPE ENDS]
PAUL INGLES: Along with fast food menus, new car deals and department store sales, in recent weeks, traffic report listeners in six swing states have heard from a new sponsor. [TAPE STARTS]
MISTY MILES: This traffic report is paid for by Bush-Cheney '04 Inc. Just one year after the first World Trade Center attack, John Kerry proposed slashing America's intelligence operations by 6 billion dollars, which would have weakened our defenses. President Bush approved this message. I'm Misty Miles. There's your Morning Stampede on 105.1. The Range. [TAPE ENDS]
KEVIN MADDEN: One of the great things about this particular way of advertising is it breaks through a lot of the clutter.
PAUL INGLES: Kevin Madden is a spokesperson for the Bush-Cheney campaign. He says the ticket is sponsoring traffic reports in Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and here in New Mexico.
KEVIN MADDEN: You tune in, and you listen to the message, and you take that message with you. So it's a very unique form, since it's never been done in a presidential campaign to our knowledge, and it's a very effective form of advertising.
RICK FRISHMAN: Personally, I think it's a brilliant idea.
PAUL INGLES: Rick Frishman runs a PR firm in New York called Planned TV Arts. He also worked in radio for many years and wrote a book titled Guerrilla Publicity. Frishman personally crawls through big city traffic four hours a day and thinks the traffic report messengers lend some credibility to the political message.
RICK FRISHMAN: Yeah. A lot of these guys have been on the air for like 30 years, and they have saved our, our rears so many times -- that these are the guys we - we're tuning in for. So, if he reads some copy afterwards, it's a, a political ad -- I sort of trust him. It's almost subliminal, it's so short. As I'm driving, listening to traffic, and then by the way, I just heard, you know, Kerry slammed and I didn't even realize it.
PAUL INGLES: That may be because the same voice giving the traffic news slides right into a live read of the Bush ad. That's how Metro Networks does all their spots. Metro is the Westwood One company that provides local news, traffic and sports reports for over 2,000 radio stations nationwide. In order to do the messages live and skip the rule requiring that the candidate's voice approve the message, Metro appealed to the Federal Elections Commission for a waiver. FEC Chairman Bradley Smith wrote the advisory that cleared the path for Metro to have its way.
BRADLEY SMITH: One of the keys to this opinion is that traffic reporters are often flying above the traffic and broadcasting live, and they simply don't have the ability either to have the candidate there with them to make the speech or even to plug in a little tape to do it.
PAUL INGLES: Not all Metro reporters do their updates while flying or driving. Many are in a local office or a radio station. Still, Metro's applying the waiver to all their traffic reporters. Although the Kerry-Edwards campaign has so far passed on traffic sponsorships, spokesperson Laura Capps insists that her side is keeping pace on the radio.
LAURA CAPPS: We're reaching out just as in many creative ways as they are. We have a lot of celebrities that are talk-- calling in to pop radio. Sheryl Crow's doing that for us today in Nevada, for example. We have celebrities who have recorded PSAs that just remind people to vote, and we think that's really the important -- we know that it's just about getting people to the polls and we'll be victorious if, if we do that effectively.
PAUL INGLES: If the onslaught of advertising doesn't sour some voters so completely that they stay home Election Day. With virtually every commercial break loaded with national and local political attack ads, and now many traffic reports getting the Bush-Cheney tag, even the disc jockeys who have to hear every one of these spots, are admitting to political fatigue. Bobby Box, morning man at Albuquerque's oldies station, KABG, got honest with his listeners last week. [TAPE PLAYS] BOBBY BOX: We're proud of our, our advertisers... You know, I know it's getting a-- it's a-- it, it's getting a little old. You know, the-- I approve this commercial line. But still, what are we going to do? Every four years? I think we can live with it just a little longer. And then, voila! It's over. Magic. It's gone. It disappeared. Just like the illusionist does, with -- I'm talking about David Copperfield. We have a pair of tickets for that show coming up... [TAPE ENDS]
PAUL INGLES: One can only hope Tuesday's voting rolls out as smoothly as that segue from Bobby Box. For On the Media, I'm Paul Ingles in Albuquerque. [TAPE PLAYS] BOBBY BOX: Stay there. We love you. Here's Frank Sinatra from Big 98.5. [STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT UP, THEN FADES] [TAPE ENDS]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, two kinds of fright night -- one has vampires, the other -- [FIENDISH LAUGH] Exit polls.......
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media, from NPR. [FUNDING CREDITS]