On Thursday, September 4, viewers by the millions tuned in to see Republican presidential nominee John McCain make his acceptance speech. But those watching KNSD, Channel 39, the NBC affiliate in San Diego, got an abrupt surprise when, immediately following the speech’s conclusion, the TV station switched from the network’s convention coverage to a 30-minute infomercial for the San Diego Regional Airport Authority.
Titled “A Piece of the Sky: San Diego and Its Airport,” the program provided a lavishly illustrated history of Lindbergh Field’s 80 years and extolled the virtues of expanding the present airport complex — which the authority had, ironically enough, tried unsuccessfully just two years ago to shut down in favor of relocating to Miramar. (Voters rejected that plan, and the authority is now calling Lindbergh “one of the best in the world in terms of customer satisfaction and convenience.”) The show also praised a variety of local-establishment favorites, such as the convention center and downtown redevelopment, all paid for with taxpayer dollars and the subject of controversy among many.
Of course, according to bills and other records obtained from the airport authority under the state’s Public Records Act, the hype came with a hefty price tag. In a September 12 memo to the authority’s corporate services director Tony Russell, marketing deputy director Cheryl Brown pegged “creative development” costs at $14,034 and production costs at $82,885.08. (There were a few last-minute extra expenses, such as $535 paid to a video-editing company “to remove ‘Wine Scene’ ” from the show. A total of $7000 in “post production overages” was incurred, according to an invoice.) The authority paid KNSD $60,000 for airtime. Another $39,750 went to Cox Communications to air the show on its Channel 4 Padres station. The grand total for the PR effort, the memo says, was $196,669.52.
In an August 18 memo, Brown maintained that the authority was actually getting a bargain. “Both Cox Media and KNSD TV 7/39 provided proposals that allowed for the airing of the documentary at well-below market rates with enhanced promotional possibilities.”
In addition to the one-night airing of the documentary, the media buy included 61 10- and 30-second spot commercials, 21 of which ran during NBC’s Olympic coverage, according to the records.