As a busy media-buyer I don’t think a day goes by without a thought or a mention on a topic relating to “station start-time.” It is something so basic and engrained in the direct response media world that most of us don’t give it a second thought. From coordinating phone rooms and listing services to explaining to clients when their ad will actually air, vs. the time/day it is booked in our system, station start-times greatly affect the behind-the-scenes logistical nuances of station programming. With 25 years of media-buying under my belt, the start-time annoyances continue on day after day.
What exactly is station start-time and why is it that stations are not universally aligned when it comes to start-times? A station’s start-time is the time at which a station starts its new broadcast cycle for the day. While some stations start at 4am, others start at 5am, 6am or 12am. What’s the big deal you ask? The big deal is, if a station starts their day between 12:30am-6am, any media booked between the hours of 12:30am – 6am for a particular date, doesn’t actually run until the following day. Make sense? In other words, if I book a 2am airing for 12/1 with a station that has a 4am start, then the ad won’t actually run until 2am on 12/2. With hundreds of stations out there and tons of ad space I have to book, you can see how things can get tricky with figuring out when ads will actually air.
I spoke to a few seasoned veterans in this business to get their take on this topic. We all agreed on some form of the explanation below as to why stations aren’t universally aligned when it comes to station start-times.
Once upon a time, stations did not run programming 24/7. If you were around in the 70’s, you may have watched the color bars and listened to the single droning tone for a few minutes in anticipation of a cartoon starting at 5 am. Those were the days when stations didn’t have enough programming or viewers to fill up a 24-hour day. Therefore, station start times varied from station to station. As more stations popped up, the exasperating trend continued.
Prior to 24/7 programming, it was very common to see SMPTE color bars on your TV set. Stations have since filled their time slots around the clock, but station start-times have mostly remained unchanged.
As one of the GSMs of a broadcast station explained, “Before hubs, station groups, and being on the air 24 hours a day, we had sign-on and sign-off. Stations all signed on at different times and that was their start time. Stations continued to use that start time when they went to a 24-hour broadcasting day. Some stations have adjusted to match the start-time of their owned group or traffic hub, but still no standard 12am time for all.”
Nonetheless, there is something warm and fuzzy about stations continuing to use their old start times in this day and age of constant progression. It is a nice bit of nostalgia. One station group, Nexstar, has even brought back the National Anthem at 4am before starting their regular daily programming. I will now smile and think of the past every time I come up against a day-start issue….I hope you will too!