But ABC executives said they intend to run the program even if no paying sponsors turn up before the 54-minute special airs Wednesday.
"It's got to be the topic," said Lou Severine, senior vice president of sales for the ABC radio network. "They are scared to death of the abortion topic. . . . They just don't want to be involved with any controversy."
Fear of Offending
It is the latest example of advertisers backing way from programs that have either offended or risk offending individuals or groups who are increasingly vocal about their complaints.
The NBC television network, for instance, had to cut prices to find buyers for ad time in the made-for-TV movie "Roe Vs. Wade," which ran last month and dealt with the case that led to the Supreme Court's 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
Advertisers have also backed out of shows such as NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and the Fox television network's "Married . . . With Children" after individuals or groups complained that they were offended by sexual references or profanity in the shows.
The ABC television network canceled two reality-based shows earlier this year because no advertisers signed up.
But Jim Farley, executive producer of the upcoming radio special on abortion, said no one has called for a boycott in connection with the special.
The show will feature Walters as moderator for a panel that will include two people from each side of the abortion question and will invite listeners to call in with comments.
"This is different. This is the news. It will be a straightforward, fair and balanced discussion of the issues," Farley said.
Severine would not identify any of the sponsors refusing to buy some of the six minutes of national ad time on the program. He said the only buyer was ABC's "20-20" television program, which bought a one-minute spot.
He said the unfilled national ad time will be used for public service announcements such as anti-drug or anti-crime messages.
$6,000 Per Minute
The time was being offered at a rate of $6,000 per minute, he said. No effort was made to reduce the price to attract sponsors. "It was never really the money," Severine said.
Philip Giordano, senior vice president at the ABC radio network, said 144 radio stations, including stations in 21 of the nation's 25 biggest radio markets, have agreed to carry the abortion special and should attract an audience of 1.1 million adults.
He said there were some local stations that were reluctant about carrying the program because of the topic.