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Heymatt:
I just passed the Christ-of-the-Andes-sized sign that SDSU planted alongside I-8 and it was flashing an ad for an event at State’s Viejas Arena. A minute to the east, I passed a series of outdoor boards advertising the Barona Casino. I thought that Ladybird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act prohibited advertising alongside interstates. Was the act buried along with Ladybird?
— John Mann

Curiously, those big signs by I-8 are subject to the same regulations as would be a 4x4-foot plywood sign for a mom-and-pop business. This may be cold comfort, since I gather you’re not crazy about the billboards, but they’re all inspected and legal. The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 has been amended and challenged more times than I care to count, but it remains in effect today. It never prohibited billboard advertising outright, it just established regulations. Any sign erected by a California highway that’s not on the premises of the business it represents has to apply for a Caltrans permit. The Caltrans Outdoor Advertising Program monitors highway advertising for compliance to state and federal standards. And there are a lot of regulations.

There are regulations that govern the acceptable distance of a sign from the roadway and from other signs. There are rules that indicate the acceptable size of signs. Some words and phrases are prohibited — e.g., it’s unlawful to imitate government highway signs or to direct traffic. There are laws that prohibit advertising on “landscaped freeways,” and there are exceptions to those same laws that allow advertising on landscaped freeways in certain places provided, all in strict (or stricter) compliance with the HBA.

Heymatt:
We all know dogs, cats, and other animals get fleas, but how do they originate? Do they just hang around outside looking for a customer? How do they mate?
— Joseph Wayton

Fleas are persistent and annoying to get rid of because their life cycle helps them avoid eradication. They breed on the host animal, creeping around, sucking blood like little vampires, and getting up to acts of wanton hedonism with each other like they’re starring in a Hieronymous Bosch painting. Their eggs aren’t sticky, so the ova end up dropping off the host animal and landing wherever. The baby fleas hatch and slime around, eating whatever organic material they can find. They pupate and hatch into regular fleas, which utilize their astounding jumping ability to bounce up onto a new host, be it you, me, or the nearest passing canine. That “on-the-dog-off-the-dog” lifestyle makes them harder to get rid of and it also explains how Fido, of whom you take the greatest care, gets fleas sometimes. All it takes is a few eggs dropping off a stray or wild animal and the fleas do the rest when Fido goes out for a walk.

Heymatt:
Since political season is coming up and we will soon be deluged with political advertisements, I was wondering if you could use your vast influence to tell us how much a typical TV ad costs.
— Peter J. Michael

Ads are sold in 30-second blocks, and a spot during the daytime, when potential voters are least likely to see the ad, can sell for a couple hundred dollars, even in a big city. As the day wears on, the prices go up. Afternoon spots can be twice what the daytimes are. Ads during the local nightly news program can be up to $5000. For a slot during a fairly popular TV show, the cost bumps up to eight, maybe even ten thousand. Regular-season football games, which have high viewership, sell ad slots for about $13,000. The biggest charge I could find was during prime TV, where hugely popular shows like Two and a Half Men command whopping sums of $30,000 or more for a half-minute of airtime. Yeah, that’s a thousand dollars a second if you do the easy math. Take that, dentists, doctors, and BMW mechanics!

Right now, spending on the presidential campaign is only high in hotly contested swing states such as Ohio, Florida, and Colorado. The San Diego affiliates of the major networks don’t even have campaign spending reports for the presidential candidates — but you can bet that Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner have been dropping lots of cash on local ads!

If you want all the information, and I mean ALL of it, cruise on over to http://stations.fcc.gov and have a look at the public records. Formerly, these records were all kept in paper files in the stations’ brick-and-mortar buildings, but they’ve been digitized and uploaded to a central website for easy public access. It’s a bit hard to navigate, but once you get the knack of it, the information’s there. It’s only for broadcast TV, not cable or satellite, but the data reflects overall trends as reported by the Washington Post.

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