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Recession Over? Not on the Radio!


Men: do you want to be bigger and thicker where it counts?

Would you like a longer, more powerful sexual experience?

And speaking of you know what, are you standing over the toilet waiting for your flow? Waking up in the middle of the night to urinate?

Once upon a time, it was advertising about women's flow that raised questions of taste on broadcast media. But lately its men's plumbing issues that have invaded radio in major metropolitan markets, leaving a lot of people saying, "I can't believe I just heard that."

Of course the 10-year-old recognition of ED, the condition that once dared not speak its name, is a big reason for the urological realpolitik.


But so are lowered standards for advertisers caused by the recession including the "streetwise word that has become a synonym for 'lousy'" used in Nicorette gum commercials according to The New York Times' Stuart Elliott.

Acoustically, radio was already going downhill when callers to news talk shows abandoned land lines and began contributing "thhh....wwwwrrr...ppppllll" from their cells until the host cut them off. While turn-down-your-radio;-you-can't-hear-yourself-while-you-talk radio was never high art, at least it was equalized and modulated before cell phones and didn't sound like a kazoo or geiger counter was on the other end.

And now, as major advertisers evaporated with the recession, the quality of advertisers is changing as a slew of marginals who station managers would once not have accepted, have taken over the airwaves.

Hiring professional voice talent to read an ad probably costs less than one well-placed spot on a major radio flight but I-recorded-it-myself! spots, once limited to car dealers and roofing companies, now run for loan companies, heath care providers, restaurants and products. Many have "I'll break your kneecaps," Chicago-style elocution.

Reciting the phone number has always been the payoff for direct response radio ads and it's often repeated twice. But only since the recession have phone numbers on radio ads actually become the ads, so many times are they repeated. No copywriter costs there!

And speaking of obnoxious, "Are Your Toenails Yellow And Ugly?" "Are Your Teeth Broken and Missing?" "Do You Suffer From Bladder Incontinence?" ads, normally buried in the back of "personal care" catalogues, are radio front and center these days.

Of course the recession brought out legions of debt consolidation and credit counseling companies promising to make "the collection calls stop." But in between are offers for EZ mortgages and loans of the sort that got us in to this mess. (See: learn from experience; not.) Stations are also shamelessly turning over entire hours of programming to financial analysts selling proven investment strategies and hawking the only safe place for your money right now (gold.)

And speaking of outsourced content, ABC Radio Networks now inflicts the sappy The Huckabee Report on listeners by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who's discovered, like Sarah Palin, it's more fun to be a talking head former governor than governor, leaving you more time to write your memoirs and hunt.

Another source of recession-era unpaid content are public service announcements or PSAs that tell you you're a bad parent and or you may be suffering from lupus. Some state departments of health have also been running H1N1 scare radio spots because they bought too much vaccine and can't get rid of it.

The recession has had one good effect on radio ads, though. Some advertisers like Geico and Netflix have amped up their satire.

Netflix runs a mock quiz show in which the contestant anticipates the question like a mind reader.

Host: if you multiply...
Contestant: the square root of 19
Host: Correct

But other hilarious ads aren't supposed to be hilarious like the My-Mother's-Choking-On-A-Donut OnStar security system ads. Their combination of driver abulia and hysteria and deadpan OnStar dispatchers - Sorry you swallowed a bee today, Ma'am - make them cherished burlesque moments on an otherwise bleak landscape for many radio listeners.

It seems just a matter of time before "I've run out of gas - what do I do?" and "It's raining! Help!" ads will follow the "I've locked myself in my car and I can't get out!!" ads.

Though maybe the latter should be "I've locked myself in my car and can't stop the radio commercials!"

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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