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In the latest variation on the agency media theme, N W Ayer & Partners' fledgling independent Media Edge unit is merging its national and local TV and radio buying groups into one entity called the Broadcast Department.

Actually, the name "broadcast" is something of a misnomer, since the unit will also buy all cable TV.

But it's precisely such classic category definitions of electronic media that Ayer is trying to get away from because it believes they have grown irrelevant in an era when it's often difficult to tell whether a buy is national, regional or local.

"When you use the word `national,' it can mean a lot of things," said Beth Gordon, managing director of the Media Edge. "There are national broadcast networks and regional broadcast networks. There's cable. There are unwired networks, and then there is spot and local cable. And all of them have different ways of describing themselves as national and local."

Ms. Gordon said the concept blurs even more as new quasi-networks emerge from broadcast group joint ventures, such as the Fox and New World Communications station group alliance, the CBS and Group W TV station partnership, and Tribune Broadcasting and Qwest Broadcasting, all of which have the capacity to reach up to half of U.S. TV homes.

In fact, New World's sales organization recently named an executive to sell ad packages that fall somewhere between national and local spot buys.

"With New World and Fox [stations], we have a group reaching 43% of the country on 25 stations," said Phil Oldham, exec VP of New World sister company Genesis Entertainment. "Now 43% isn't national, but it's not local either."

Those are among the issues that have driven the Media Edge to make its change, Ms. Gordon explained. But she said it will also give the agency's media buyers the flexibility to move budgets back and forth between local and national media to capitalize on marketplace conditions.

"If we are going to be shut out in one area, it gives us the flexibility to move into the other area," she said.

Ms. Gordon said the Media Edge, which bills about $425 million-$325 million in national and $100 million in local broadcast-won't initially move to a generalist system of buyers but will continue to have specialists who concentrate on national and local media buys.

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