The Marketplace of Not-So-Free Ideas!

Readers and fans often ask, “How do you get your ideas?”

Well, at the risk of being thrown out of the Thriller Writer’s Guild, (we take an oath not to reveal the secrets of our craft), I will let you into the rat’s nest of mis-wired synapses that are my brain.

The Internet being a wonderful thing, I often listen to a small radio station out of New Hampshire.  In the old days, it’s A.M. signal probably didn’t make it to Vermont on a windy night, but with wi-fi, I get it in New York better than those folks on the west side of the medium sized New England town.  

The station has about 5 sponsors.  Within an hour, you’ll hear the same 5 spots twice. Plus a whole lot of ‘Free’ Public Service Spots (a sure indicator that they are filling unsold time.)

Then something political happened last week.  One presidential candidate suddenly surged ahead in the poles.  And now the local plumber who’s spot featured his kid saying, “My Dad’s the best ‘Pulumber’” is gone and non-stop, wall to wall, political ads, attack my ear buds.  

Pop quiz!  What’s the biggest Political Action Committee in America? Hint, it has 3 letters and it starts with an N.  (Insert Jeopardy countdown theme music here for 10 seconds.) If you said NRA (National Rifle Association) you are wrong.  Try this one, NAB! The National Association of Broadcasters.  If you doubt their clout, research how many times Presidents, from both parties, make sure they speak at the annual NAB conventions, usually held in Vegas in the spring.  Why? Money!  

This election year the estimates of how much will be spent are up to at least a billion and probably twice that much.  Did you ever stop to think where all that money goes? The lion share, by far, goes to TV and Radio time purchases.  This is true for every election year, but really a Broadcaster’s payday in a Presidential election year!

Okay, so where’s the plot?  What idea has this obscure and not too interesting fact sparked?

We would all be surprised at just how small, relative to the U.S. population, the sample size of “national polls” are. To a lesser degree, on a percentage basis, state-wide polls may be somewhat larger but usually still not more than a few hundred.

So it could come down to 30 people who might say, ‘I like the challenger’ where before 30 others have said ‘I like the incumbent.’  In a sample size of 300, that means the challenger just shot ahead by 10% in that state.   Campaigns usually freak-out at anything over the margin of error (3-5% nominally) So what happens? Millions in ad dollars flow in to the “battle ground state”.  Which may not have been a battleground before, but now that there is a big separation in the polls, it’s now considered in play!

That being the mechanics of the scheme, my plot goes like this, most of the polling is done by colleges and/or professional polling services, many pollsters are part time and most interviews are done by phone.

In the plot, I’d focus on the owner of my little A.M. station, which is just barely making enough ad revenue to pay commissions to their salespeople and squeaking by on the electric bill to power the transmitter.  I’d give him a son in college. Guess what, he’s a poli-sci major, and guess what-what? He’s got a part time job for $12 dollars an hour being a pollster.  He makes 50 calls a day.  One day he skips the calls and just checks off the challenger on about 30 forms. Boom! The polls change, the campaigns freak. Millions of campaign dollars now flow in to New Hampshire’s TV and Radio… and DAD!

It’s the perfect crime, there are no regulations or laws regulating polls so nothing is illegal here.  Junior’s little 12 bucks an hour job is leveraged to $300,000 in new income to the station.  

In the book, I’d probably make the father the owner of a group of stations across the state, maybe 10, so we are talking 3 million here.  And I’d have the son get into a fight with his dad and threaten to go public with his dirty deed. When the son shows up dead. When the political windfall is revealed, suspicion falls on the father and a big court case ensues. The above NAB/Elections ‘corruption’ is stumbled on and brought in by the Prosecutor.  All of a sudden, high-priced, superstar, New York lawyers descend on this little town. They are being paid tons representing the big networks, who are protecting hundreds of millions in political ad revenue. Spoiler alert!  In the end, the killer is found to be the owner of 5 TV stations in the state, protecting his $15,000,000.00 additional income.

Okay so maybe it’s a subplot, set against a larger story, but hey, it’s an idea born out of an observation from everyday life.

In The Eighth Day, I have the greatest rigging of a Presidential Election ever.  And, it to, is also a subplot that dove tails into the main plot in a big way!  

Don’t forget to vote Nov 6th!

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