If he were just another guy instead of President of the United States, Ronald Reagan would have to come up with $4 million to $6 million a year to get his weekly five-minute radio broadcast distributed nationally.
According to a recent estimate by the New York-based Radio Advertising Bureau, that's how much an advertiser would have to pay to underwrite Reagan's regular Saturday afternoon message. The bureau compiled its statistics for an edition of "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" dealing with the President as a "media manipulator and propagandist," RAB Vice President Daniel Flamberg said.
The bureau's figures revealed that between 13 million and 15 million people listen to at least part of the broadcast that goes on the air live at 3:06 p.m. (PST) each Saturday. That represents about 30% of the average weekend radio audience.
Locally, the address is heard at 6 p.m. Saturdays in a delayed broadcast over KCRW-FM (89.9 FM), a public radio station in Santa Monica.
Flamberg said the bureau averaged network and independent-station advertising rates to come up with the estimated advertising cost and averaged national Arbitron ratings to figure the number of listeners.
"We calculated the political rate, which is the lowest rate a station may charge. . . ," Flamberg said. "Now, no politician advertises for 52 weeks, but we thought it was a fairly good average. We also factored in an economy discount which is given when you buy a lot of advertising at one time," he said.
Elizabeth Board, White House director of radio and television, took exception to the process Flamberg described in calculating the estimates for "MacNeil/Lehrer."
"No ad agency would make up their advertising rates going by those figures. They aren't really based on anything," she said.
Contending that the Radio Advertising Bureau was simply pulling numbers out of a hat, she called the advertising estimates meaningless: "They could be way off, or on the dot."
The question of advertising fees is made further moot by the fact that Reagan pays no production costs, Board said. "There are no production costs per se. The broadcasts are treated just like a press conference and are covered each week on an alternating basis by ABC, CBS, Mutual (Broadcasting System) and NBC."
The network agreement is to pool resources and send the product out on phone lines. The only charge is a minimal transmission fee asked of those stations that want to receive the broadcast, she said.
RAB President William L. Stakelin said, in a written statement: "While RAB estimates attempt to roughly interpret the value of the President's radio talks in advertising terms, the fact that he invests time and effort to continue the series suggests that he is seeing a return on his investment."