But for those stations that win the campaign ad sweepstakes, election years do offer a reliable boost. Even KCRG’s Lake, who said the ads are not “just gravy” for stations, had an evocative phrase for the cycle: election-year peaks help to cover the less lucrative “hammock years” in between, with the added revenue going toward capital investment (or, for many stations, helping to pay down debt).
That volatility and unpredictability is something the stations can learn live with, given the money at stake. Prather said Gray has become a favorite for political buyers by fortunate accident—the company’s strategy has been to invest in leading stations in university towns and state capitols, which tend to have stable economies, rather than in battleground states per se.
But he’s not regretting the result. “We think it’s a good business,” Prather said. And he’s keenly aware of quirks in the calendar that make business even better. “The best thing that is the election is on November 6 this year,” he told me. “Those six days we’ll get a huge amount of political—if it’s on November 1 you miss all those days.”
In an election year like this one, are there any drawbacks? Maybe only that the other years seem less sweet.