The Sound of Cash

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If they dare, radio stations can get greedy with the aptly monikered `Cash,' a new microediting device that allows them to create additional commercial time for live radio broadcasts. Introduced last spring by San Jose-based Prime Image, Cash is the brainchild of company president Bill Hendershot. Unlike previous time-compression machines, Cash does not speed up the material or change the pitch. It works by shortening or eliminating pauses, gaps and unnecessary sounds within a live program. Feed the device two numbers -- the amount of additional time desired and the length of the radio segment to which the created time will be squeezed in -- and while the additional commercial spot plays, the live programming goes into an audio delay memory, where Cash microedits it and then outputs it once the ad is over.

Used with moderation, says Hendershot, Cash's deletions will be imperceptible. He believes that a one percent increase of commercial time, or two to three 30-second spots a day, is ideal; when Cash is programmed to push the limits, resulting in four or five minutes of extra commercial time, listeners will get wise to what's going on, as they did during some recent shows on WWDB-FM in Philadelphia. Dennis Begley, the general manager there, said that at first his station was "too aggressive" about using the device, when four minutes of commercial time were added to each hour. Within the first two hours of use, 10 Rush Limbaugh listeners called to complain about a noticeable pace increase in the programming. The calls stopped once Cash was adjusted to add only one extra minute per hour, Begley says.

Used responsibly, Cash, which is now in service at 40 stations across the country, may be a godsend for the radio business. According to Hendershot, the $12,000 device will pay for itself in 60 to 90 days.

But advertisers are wary that overuse of Cash may prove detrimental to the effectiveness of their advertising. "Obviously, this is inevitable in a very strong market where people are looking to get as much money as they can," says Natalie Swed-Stone, network manager at Media Edge, a media buying group. "Advertisers do not want to be in a sea of commercials. Advertisers will be choosing those programs where we know there will be controls and where we know the environment is a quality one."

Gary Fries, president and CEO of the Radio Advertising Bureau, emphasizes the importance of keeping the audience happy. "Each station has to manage its inventory," he says. "The ultimate judge is the listener. If one station outperforms the other, the ratings will equalize the situation."

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