Ionia radio station ‘turns off’ negative political ads

Ionia County

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Turn your radio dial to 1430 AM or 92.7 FM, and you will hear a station promo you won’t likely hear anywhere else on the dial.

“You won’t be bombarded with mudslinging, issue arguing ads on this station,” says the voice on the radio.

As in past election cycles, Ionia-based WION will only run political ads for federal office-seekers that they are required to by law. Candidates on the state and local level, from governor to drain commissioner, need not submit copy.

“We’d rather serve our local businesses year around than politicians and issue-pushers who only come to us for elections,” the promo explains.

“This is a bold move to say, ‘we’re going to take this amount of advertising and effectively leave it on the table,’” said local radio veteran and Grand Valley State University communications professor Len O’Kelly. “They seem to be saying this is what our community wants. This is better serving our community to not make this available.”

WION morning show host and station owner Jim Carlyle says the move is a positive trade-off of potential income for happier listeners. 

Carlyle says he hasn’t lost any money, as his regular advertisers don’t get bumped by political ads. But the promo asks listeners for a favor in return.

“Our advertisers need to know you hear them. Please tell your favorite advertiser you appreciate them using WION,” it says.

While many complain about them, negative ads do work. That’s why politicians make them.

But voters don’t express their frustration at the poll, they often express them on the dial. 

O’Kelly says research shows that they’re a real turn-off for listeners. If people are turning off the radio, they’re not hearing other advertisers.

“So, it’s not that they’re not hearing the political ads when they turn off. They’re not hearing the ads for the gas stations, and the restaurant and the department stores,” O’Kelly said. “So all of those businesses see less of a turnout. They then go to the radio station and say, ‘your ad didn’t work’ so we don’t buy it again.”

So if stations like WION find success with refusing political ads, why aren’t other stations doing the same?

“Many other radio stations, especially those corporate-owned, are so far in debt right now, they can’t say no,” said O’Kelly.

Even though the station isn’t running ads, it is still covering the candidates and the issues by bringing in the county clerk to help listeners understand what’s on the ballot and how the voting system works.

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