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MU Expert Suggests Politicians Shouldn't Overlook Radio Ads

July 10, 2008

Story Contact:  Kelsey Jackson, (573)882-8353,
Marvin Overby, (573)882-2130,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As candidates spend thousands of dollars on television ads this election year, a University of Missouri professor suggests that politicians shouldn’t overlook the power of radio ads. Marvin Overby, a MU expert in campaign advertising, said that radio ads can have benefits that television advertisements do not have.

“Radio advertising is both considerably less costly to produce and can be narrowly tailored to the audiences of particular stations,” Overby said. “Americans are very loyal to particular radio stations. The segmented nature of the radio market permits a level of focused political dialogue that speaks to very particular audiences about topics of specific interest and delivers these messages in a language that particular listeners find attractive and accessible.  Such messages can also ‘fly below the radar’ of political opponents, avoiding potential political backlash.” 

In a recent study, Overby found that males, younger people and more religious citizens are significantly more likely to report that radio ads were important to their voting decisions than were other citizens. In addition, groups often marginalized in the political process, including the young, the more religious, the less educated and racial minorities, are more likely to report receiving important political information via radio. 

Overby also found that exposure to radio and television ads seemed to have very different effects on citizens’ attitudes about the political process. In general, more exposure to television had a greater negative effect on people’s trust in government, while greater exposure to radio ads was strongly associated with a more optimistic assessment of the political process, Overby said.

“Television stations often run back-to-back ads from competing candidates. Radio stations don’t typically engage in this practice since their listener demographics tend to be very homogenous.  Americans seem to dislike the messy, conflictual give-and-take that you see in television and prefer the single, monotonic messages they hear on radio,” Overby said. “In this manner, radio ads enhance the democratic experience rather than detract from it.”

Overby has been a member of MU’s faculty since 2002. He teaches courses on American government, legislative processes and southern politics. His research focuses on American politics, congressional politics, legislative organization, minority politics, Southern politics and campaign advertising. Overby has published articles in the American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, American Journal of Political Science, Party Politics and American Politics Quarterly. He also is the co-author of Cobblestone Leadership: Majority Rule, Minority Power.