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Radio Looks for March Upturn

National and local radio revenues for the first quarter are flat to slightly up over the same period in 2003, according to Michele Skettino, VP, corporate marketing, Interep.

"First quarter '03 was up 15%," Skettino says. "That's tough to beat. We feel March '04 pacing will be the turning point. It should pace really strong."

Political primaries will have only a small effect, says Maribeth Papuga, senior VP/director of local broadcast, Media-

Vest. "Radio will see some trickle down [of money], especially as TV spots tighten," she says. Traditionally, radio hasn't seen much primary spending. But this year, with so many candidates still in the race, it could be different. "The next two weeks will tell the tale."

Papuga projects first-quarter gains for radio (national and local combined) of 4%-5% but adds that automotive spending is "still slow. February is negotiable. The networks haven't tightened as they thought they would."

Tim Wallace, a UBS broadcast and entertainment analyst, projects 2004 total radio revenue gain of +6%, with first quarter up +4%, second quarter up +6%, and third and fourth quarters each up +7 %.

"I see automotive, retail, and telcoms reasonably strong," Wallace adds, "especially if the economy improves and people start being hired."

The Radio Advertising Bureau's end-of-the-year report notes total radio wrapped up 2003 "slightly ahead" of the 2002, up 1% in total combined national, local and network advertising revenue. National saw the biggest increase, 6%. Local remained flat.