Radio Doesn’t Get Any Respect

24I remember the first radio station I worked for doing an experiment with one of their best clients, a men’s clothing store, to prove the power of radio advertising. Back in the 60s the dominant advertising vehicle in my hometown was the newspaper. This clothing store used both radio and newspaper, but felt it was the paper that drove their sales.

What the radio station did was create an imaginary character, a store mascot, using radio’s “theater of the mind.” The plan was to have the store’s clerks ask listeners where they learned about the store’s character when they shopped the store. This imaginary character was only featured in radio advertising.

What shoppers gleefully told the clerks when asked where they learned of their store’s mascot was “in the newspaper.” Virtually no one said they heard about the character on the radio.

What the store learned was how powerful their radio ads really were. What the radio station learned was how BIG the problem was in the perception of the customer as to what influenced their shopping decisions.

Fast-forward to today. Sean Luce moderated a panel at Radio Ink’s Convergence 15 conference in San Jose in May 2015. Sean shared the radio industry’s gross revenue estimates as compiled by Borrell Associates for 2008 ($14.9 billion), projected 2015 ($10.6 billion) and the projected 2019 ($9.5 billion). For an advertising medium that today can claim not only the best advertising frequency for advertiser messages, but now claim to be number one in reach in America too, this is a very disconcerting trend line.

Meanwhile, the online industry’s gross revenue looks like this for the same period of time: 2008 ($12.2 billion), projected 2015 ($50 billion) and the projected 2019 ($94 billion). Yikes!

As Mark Twain remarked, “History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” I believe what we are seeing is the problem my hometown radio experienced in the 60s only now instead of the newspaper getting all the credit it’s Google or some other online search algorithm or App.

People learn of your product or business over-the-air and then make a mental note to find out more later. They don’t need to remember your phone number (most can’t anyway, so why do radio ads still include them?). They don’t need to remember much of anything but your name. And the next opportunity they have to go online they Google your name to learn more. And Google gets the credit.

Great radio ads will engage the listener, cause them to see themselves doing or using the product or service you envision. Effective ads will stimulate people to know more and they immediately go online and Google you. (Google is now 18 years old. Google dot com was registered in September 1997. It just seems like it’s been around forever.)

Sophisticated advertisers will know what kind of traffic they were getting before they began their radio campaign and when the traffic through online increases they automatically credit your radio station, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, doing things like “tell them you heard it on WXXX” or “mention this ad and get 10% off” are ineffective because so many variations on these types of Pavlov-type tricks are only confusing and annoying radio listeners.

Radio is intrusive advertising that, used effectively, tells stories, builds brands and makes your business something people will want to go online and search for.

Create radio ads that are unique, like Bud Lite’s “Real Men of Genius” ( and you will never have to ask if they heard about you on the radio. And maybe that’s the real problem. Radio’s copywriting. It can’t be an afterthought done by your sales reps or one-armed-paperhanging production person who’s banging out spots for multiple stations and the web. Creating great radio commercial content is a specialized skill (don’t try this at home) and done right will not only benefit your advertisers, but your radio station’s TSL and the advertising rates you can charge for your service.

It’s time radio spent as much time worrying about the content of everything that isn’t considered entertainment as it does its personalities, its records, its news/talk programming.

We don’t have a minute to waste.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales, Uncategorized

27 responses to “Radio Doesn’t Get Any Respect

  1. ws1o

    Every ad I ever produced was a potential Clio candidate in my mind when I first looked at the production order. (And one finally got one!). Because one of the main reasons I was in radio was to create really cool content. At one station we even used to get requests for certain ads, and I had sales people bring me cash to cut spots for advertisers what didn’t want our audience, but wanted our spots for another station! My philosophy was a spot break could be just as entertaining as the music. And that an ad wouldn’t help an advertiser if no one listened to it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on artversnick and commented:
    With so much information coming our way, today, from dozens of sources, nobody remembers where they heard or read something. I don’t. Effective branding with radio drives the business for that advertiser.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. CBS divests itself of radio stations, IHeart Radion can’t make its payments on their debt. What’s the status of Cumulus Radio? Revenues are down. There will be more shrinking and more syndication to cut costs. Radio is where newspapers were circa 2005.


  4. Another trend I see with AM stations is the format changing to Soanish radio. However, that is not a guarantee for survival. Univision the largest radio Spanish network sold off its AM radio network and purchased 40% stake of The Onion paper for content.


  5. Dick..I so agree with your last point about copy. I was lucky enough to work at WHN with the legendary Ruth Myers. She started in her local radio station as a copy writer. She knew the importance of the written word, and a hundred years ago, she worked with me on my writing skills, imparting some of the wisdom she’d learned along the way. I just retired after almost 44 years in NY Radio, and the quality of copy that is both delivered to stations and written in house has deteriorated so much that it must be described as horrible. Selling the spot is 99% of the task, the copy is an afterthought. No one knows the A B Cs of writing copy anymore and it is sad. To think that a 25 year old salesman or a secretary have the skills to write effective copy is absurd. Effective Copy…when was the last time you heard those words in a radio station? Theater of the mind needs a script, not just words on a page. The way radio copy is typed, the way it is spaced, and the sad way it is delivered to talent today, clearly shows that the originator has no respect for what they do, for the words on the page, or for the person who will be delivering those words to the public!


    Liked by 2 people

  6. danhughes1

    Radio revenue was higher in 2008 than in 2015, but 2008 was a presidential election year and 2015 was not. Isn’t media revenue astronomically higher in election years? A more fair comparison would be 2007 or 2009 vs 2015.


    • I hear your point Dan, but the bigger issue is the trend lines.

      Also, radio has never been as impacted by political as other mediums, much to its chagrin.

      You’d have to ask Gordon Borrell why those years were chosen for comparison.


  7. Steve Faul

    Long time listener, first time caller. I agree with your comments and love great radio commercials, but let me ask… Does great writing and stellar production really work when you’re nuking the listener with a 12 unit spot break?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Steve, thanks for stopping by and for contributing to the discussion.

      My opinion is NO. Everything has its tipping point. Stopsets can’t be a “bottomless pit.”

      There are radio stations that don’t run more than two units in a break and you know what, when the the two ads come on, they are almost like a little oasis of information in an ocean of music. And when the station is careful to insure its advertisers are talking about things their listeners want to know about, they are quite effective.

      Real PDs monitored everything that would go on the air and made sure everything worked in concert to provide a great listening experience.



  8. JL

    One-armed paper hanger is right! When there are no full time production people – with jocks doing on-air work, imaging, making pubic appearances, updating station web sites AND writing copy, producing spots and promos AND entering cart numbers into the system that actually puts spots on the air – you get what you pay for: Half-assed thrown together crap. Except for a few rare exceptions that’s radio as we know it today. Not saying it’s a good way to do business – in fact it’s pathetic – it’s just the way it is.


  9. James Heckel

    As a NY Air Awards finalist (for Resorts Atlantic City) all I can say is if you make your spot entertaining, listeners are less likely to change the station.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ace O'Dale

    I’ve been out of the biz for about a decade but I keep tabs on the field. When I worked at KRLF-FM in Pullman, WA (Ops to PD) we believed the ads were every bit as important as any other programming element. As a small market station, perhaps we could play with the production a little more.

    I specifically remember a body shop we had pains-takingly worked with to bring them on the air suddenly deciding that radio just wouldn’t work for them; insurance referrals and direct mail were the way to go. (Turns out they had talked to some other shops who had “tried” radio.) We made them a deal that we would give them a free month just to see the power of radio.

    We interviewed some satisfied customers for a series of testimonial spots – no longer than :30 in length. When I talked with the owner at the end of the month, his jaw hit the floor when I walked in. He said they had been on every single radio station in the area. But this was the first time they had ever had customers come in and say they heard about them on the radio.
    It really works when done thoughtfully and right.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Curiosity got the best of me so I looked up Cumulus Media. Dick, This story has all the points we have been discussing in weeks.


    • Yes, I follow all of the biggest radio operators quite closely and since that story was written the CEO was replaced, as well as others, and the new plan is attempting to stop employee turnover, improve moral, improve programming and improve sales. It’s a Mount Everest challenge to be sure. But I’m rooting for them to turn things around.


  12. Very well put, Dick. So few radio companies these days employ professional copywriters. The job these days is farmed out to the overworked “Production Director” who is at the beck and call of anywhere from 15-60 salespeople and their “assistants”, who seemingly want to know 10 minutes after the order comes in “when the spot will be done”. I assist in the process by helping the Prod Director out writing copy as needed. But I do this either while in the middle of other projects (like being on the air), or in the 60 minutes per day I am “given” to voice track, do production and, yes. write spots. Is there any wonder why radio creative is so bad? And yet, broadcast companies seemingly want to try and cut the agency out of the process. Radio is not, and should not be, a retail store. Real creativity takes time and thought. Why do the people at the top not realize this? Why do they steadfastly refuse to understand that better quality ads sell and are retained by the listener better than the “75 seconds crammed into 60 or worse” screamer ads?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jerry Stevens

    Creative sells and that’s why when I was in radio we used to train people to sell with spec ads. It remains a mystery to me why we had such a hard time persuading salespeople to do it that way. If it weren’t for the fact that I learned to write my own radio copy, I’d probably have starved as a salesperson. The truth is that I’ve been out of radio for years and most radio ads are still terrible.


    • In my Capstone Class we were talking about using spec spots to sell radio ads as we discussed Barry Drake’s excellent book “40 Years, 40,000 Sales Calls.”

      I came up through programming before moving into sales so I learned the craft of writing and producing radio ads, so when I went into sales, I was almost a one-man ad agency and I used specs extensively and that made me quite successful at that stage of my radio career.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Here’s a funny story, when I was at WCCC a sales guy came to me and asked for a spec spot for a little business he was pitching, and he said the guy might like something funny, so I said “Sure” (I love producing funny ads). I spent a few hours putting together a really nutty Honeymooners parody spot, with all kinds of sound effects, canned laughter, ’50s-style sitcom music, and busted my ass to get the voices right. So the salesman brings it to the guy and he loved it and bought a big schedule. I said to the sales dude, “Wow, he musta been a Honeymooners fan, huh?” The sales guy says, “No, the guy is from Pakistan and he never heard of the Honeymooners, he just thought the ad was funny as hell!” Guess I should have written for TV….(PS, the spot later got my first Clio nomination)

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Pingback: Radio Creates Traffic | DickTaylorBlog

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