Spending on the 2014 elections has been unprecedented, with a significant chunk of around $4 billion in federal political spending going to TV ads boosting or bashing different candidates. It's been a bonanza for local stations, especially as more and more advertisers have driven up prices throughout the year. But it's left the conventional advertisers in some especially competitive areas with crowded markets, like Anchorage, watching their usual slots go to higher-paying political customers and dealing with a rising sense of frustration.
"As you know, it's supply and demand," Halcro said. "Now, with all the third-party money coming in, some of these stations are getting paid three or four times what's on the rate card for these ads. So there's no capacity for a business to run any kind of sustained campaign. You might get one or two spots in prime time, but not enough space to actually get out a sustained message."
Chris Miller, a car dealer in West Virginia, is one of the business owners feeling that squeeze. "It's the success of local businesses that allows everything to exist, that allows the tax dollars to be created, that allows the country to run," Miller said. "And here we are, in a dire grab for votes every two years, getting in the way of that."
Advertising in his state's 3rd Congressional District has been running strong for the entire year, since Americans for Prosperity and House Majority PAC, two outside groups, got involved back in the winter. Plus, the state shares media markets with Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's reelection fight has featured extremely long-running, expensive advertising, and later-developing West Virginia races have also featured heavy spending.
"Every two years, it makes buying media incredibly difficult," Miller said. "Especially on the border between Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, you get everyone piling in.
"We local advertisers end up getting bumped off, and if you want to compete and keep your name in front of people, you end up paying astronomical rates to do it," Miller said. He and other car dealers blame some sales trouble this fall partly on an uncertain economy and rising health care costs for their consumers, but not being able to advertise properly has also played a big role.
On a recent Monday in Denver, the 6:00 local news broadcast on CBS featured three commercial breaks in a half hour, enough time for 15 30-second TV ads in the state that's seen the largest amount of late Senate advertising. Fourteen of those 15 slots were taken by political ads, for everything from the Senate race to an expensive state ballot initiative on gambling. The 15th ad? An internal promo for the channel's evening news team. There were even more political spots on the next half-hour newscast, which featured an extra commercial break to jam them in.