Wachovia, Radio, and Watching for Bank Tells

Two of my favorite semi-unusual places to watch for bank tells — signs that a particular banking institution is struggling — are Bankrate’s 1-year CD page, and Mediaguide’s weekly radio spending numbers. In the case of Bankrate, the indicator is if a new low-rated bank suddenly moves to the top of the rate charts after not having been there in recent history. A sudden need for semi-secure deposits doesn’t have to mean anything, but it can.

Turning to radio, recall that daytime radio’s audience is large and much more middle America, loosely speaking, than other media. As a result, it was the place to watch over the last three years to see the rise of HELOCs, deranged new subprime lenders and all the inventory of rotten exurb houses coming to market. All of these folks were relentless advertisers on radio.

Now, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of the above. Instead, radio advertising is almost entirely inhabited by chain restaurants, car repair, and insurance companies. Now and then, however, a bank pops in, and it’s usually worth watching, as it was last week.

Check the following figure showing the 3101% increase in the number of Wachovia Bank ad plays week-over-week as the struggling bank went from 594 on the list of top advertisers to number 7. Wonder why that might have been ….