Less Is More

When I was a market manager for Clear Channel, the company president introduced a new concept for reducing our commercial load, he called it “Less Is More.” It sounded good on the surface, however instead of reducing on-air clutter it introduced shorter length commercials. Each of my radio stations now aired ads that were as short as 5-seconds down to 1-second in length. This meant more ads could be run in a spot break. For example, the time it would take to run four minute length commercials, with Less Is More stations could now run six half-minute commercials or twelve 15-second commercials etc. Listeners don’t consider the length of a commercial break, but the number of different elements that air in a break.

Radio Commercials

If there’s one thing radio listeners tend to always agree on, when it comes to improving the radio listening experience, it’s reducing the number of commercials. That means the number of ads that air in a single commercial break, as well as the total number ads broadcast each hour.

Clear Channel recognized this listener issue, but by introducing shorter length ads, the “Less Is More” initiative added more elements to each stop-set. To the radio listener, the amount of clutter increased and in essence, made their favorite radio stations less listenable.

Commercial Free Radio

It was in 2008, when New York’s CD 101.9 WQCD dropped its Smooth Jazz format to switch to playing rock music with the new call letters WRXP.  Not finding any radio station in the greater New York City area that programmed the Smooth Jazz format, I would search online and discover Sky.FM.

They offered more than one flavor of Smooth Jazz music programming and it quickly filled my appetite for this musical genre. They only stopped the music twice an hour, once to tell me that I could hear this music without interruption by becoming a premium subscriber and the other announcement was about how they were looking to hire more IT personnel.

Those were the only two announcements and they lasted about 30-seconds in length, but over time, it was like Chinese water torture; so, I went online to find out how much it would cost to become a premium subscriber, learning it would cost me only $49/year. But that wasn’t all, that fee also increased the audio quality of the stream .

I was hooked and remained a subscriber, only leaving the service when I got my first Amazon Echo and Radio Tunes (formerly known as Sky.FM) wasn’t available on the service.

Recently a reader of this blog, told me that he listened to commercial free Radio Tunes on his Amazon smart speakers and I’m a subscriber once again.

My wife Sue loves Pandora and for Valentine’s Day 2022, I bought her Pandora Premium. This is their top service, it’s commercial-free and offers listeners the ability to ask for any song and immediately hear it. Plus she still can listen to any of Pandora’s wonderfully curated channels and skip any songs she doesn’t like.

Repetition Breeds Acceptance

I often hear people say they get tired of hearing the same songs over and over. Yet, successful radio stations often employ strategies that can seem counter-intuitive. They achieve the more variety music position by playing fewer songs. They reach a larger audience by targeting and focusing on a more narrowly defined audience.

By subscribing to Pandora and Radio Tunes we didn’t eliminate music repetition, we eliminated the programming elements that interrupted the music. It’s the music repetition of our favorite songs that actually attracts us.

In fact, I remember when Sirius and XM were still two separate subscription satellite radio entities, the most listened to commercial free music channels on both of them were HITS 1 and Top 20 on 20; both of which had the highest music repetition.

Dave Van Dyke, the President & CEO at Bridge Ratings Media Research, said that globally there are 3.6 music streamers for every paid subscriber. So, don’t completely count commercially supported radio out yet.

Great Radio Ads

When I was managing radio stations in Iowa back in 1999, my two sons came to visit. Before they left, they made what you might think is an unusual request, they wanted to know if I could make copies of the radio commercials my stations aired and put them on a cassette to bring back with them to New Jersey.

I also remember being at a house party and the radio station providing the music entertainment was largely background, until they stopped the music to play some commercials, and everyone would hush the conversation so they could listen. Yes, the radio ads this station created were that good.

I’m a graduate of The Wizard of Ads Wizard Academy in Austin, Texas. Roy H. Williams has been teaching radio folks for years about what makes an effective radio ad. Following Roy’s lessons, my advertisers have been very successful.

Radio commercials aren’t bad.

Bad radio commercials are.

Radio’s secret ingredient is the radio personality. Great radio talent has been effectively telling their listeners about all types of businesses, products and services for decades.

I need go no further than radio’s greatest salesman, Paul Harvey.

I own two BOSE Wave Radios because of Paul Harvey. What makes this so amazing is that I listened to him broadcasting on an AM radio station, but Paul was selling me a radio that would play FM stereo and CDs with the highest fidelity.  

While Paul Harvey was a news commentator, he called himself a salesman. His audience knew that he used the products and services he advertised. Harvey personally wrote the radio commercials he would broadcast.

Among his many accolades, the one Paul Harvey was most proud to have received was being named “Salesman of the Year.”

Paul Harvey loved his advertisers, saying “I am fiercely loyal to those willing to put their money where my mouth is.”

Creating great radio, means leveraging the power of the medium to deliver an engaged audience for its advertisers. That means reducing the number of ads in a commercial cluster and reducing the number of ads per hour, making sure every ad is about the listener and their life.  

Tomorrow has always been better than today.

And it always will be.

-Paul Harvey


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9 responses to “Less Is More

  1. Dick’s thoughts are highly relevant, as usual, and ring bells for me, a radio guy when spots went from 60s to 30s. In the 1960s, Stan Freberg held that a 30 was 80% as effective as a 60, so management packed double the spots in an hour. This in the day before cart machines let alone automation, when all spots were read live or slip-cued on ETs, doubling the frantic manual work. When I started a production company, our success was due to producing better spots for dozens of stations, usually mini sitcoms with comedian-actors that received more attention than the typical copy. A few were re-aired for my station’s 70th Anniversary Special, and listeners said they still work! But I’ve personally been “messaged” enough for a lifetime, so today listen only to subscription radio.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You Robin for joining the discussion and sharing your story.

      “Everything in moderation. Nothing in excess.” These words have been attributed to many wise individuals over time, including Socrates some 2,500 years ago. The covenant with the radio listener was having a proper balance between information, entertainment and commercialism.

      When things get out-of-whack in today’s radio world, the listener has ample alternatives.


  2. Brian

    As I remember Paul Harvey, his approach to selling struck me as always suggesting I use a product rather than shoving it down your throat in a high intensity pitch. The content was there, but his magic was also in the delivery.
    As a listener you didn’t mind the commercial break because you knew you wouldn’t be assaulted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember when Paul Harvey came on and said, “Stand By For News,” that I would always crank up my radio to hear “Page Two.” That would be his first commercial break and I never wanted to miss it.

      Yes, Brian, Paul Harvey didn’t ever “ram down your throat” anything. He used the power of persuasion which is what a well written radio advertisement does.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing that thought.


  3. Dave Mason

    I’ve been reading lately about climate problems in the world and how we MUST address them before it’s too late. AM/FM operators should be hearing the same thing about the state of broadcasting with the same urgency. Radio (AM/FM) has competition in many areas from the dashboard to the home stereo and seems to be doing little to address it. Its competitors (streamers, satellite, podcasters) in some cases are doing a good job-but lack the live and relatable immediacy of locally created entertainment. Fun commercials, short commercial breaks and their favorite entertainment will always win. I was part of that company that introduced “Less Is More” and realized early on that the $5 “blink” spots didn’t add much to the revenue and they were tough to sell. I’m glad it didn’t last much longer than the man who created it, but it seems like the 15 unit stop set still exists with 60s and 30s. The issues you bring up, Dick -MUST be addressed before it’s too late-if it’s not already.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dave, publicly, people tell me my articles are like me saying “the sky is falling.” Privately, those same people tell me to keep it up, because they can’t and these things should be front and center. Many are in leadership positions in the radio industry.

      When it comes to climate, scientists have bench marked the tipping point, from which there is no return. I’ve never heard anyone in radio bench mark our industry’s tipping point. But KNOW, there is one.

      That’s what keeps me up at night. (And should be keeping radio’s leadership up too.)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspective on this subject.


      • Dave Mason

        Well, sir, thank YOU for saying what you need to say. Radio (AM/FM)’s “tipping point” will be when those other services become as easy to hear as AM/FM is now. Many already stream their music in the car, many don’t. Many tire of the irrelevant nonsense (worthless chatter, horrible commercials) and as we know there are alternatives. None have reached what AM/FM can offer. Yet. When they do..the point will be tipped. AM got “tipped” when AM receivers started sounding like CB radios and music migrated to FM. It was tipped some more when general appeal radio started being replaced by niche broadcasting. AM has all but fallen over now that there are translators buzzing up and down the FM band. We KNOW what’s wrong, but if the industry leaders can’t say what’s wrong-and offer up ways to fix it, we may soon be living up to that saying a lot of us don’t like hearing…”nobody listens to the radio anymore”.

        Keep up the fight. I’m in your corner along with thousands of us.



  4. Dick,

    Enjoyed your last blog, as its subject is near and dear to my heart, as someone who’s sold and created radio advertising campaigns for businesses for nearly 50 years. You and I share a mutual appreciation for both Roy H. Williams, who’s been a mentor for nearly 20 years, and for Paul Harvey, the greatest radio salesman that ever lived. Fortunately, there are some great legacy recordings of the latter preserved online. Because we also share an affinity for engaging and effective radio commercials, I thought you might get a kick out of this , sent to me by my client Don Frei last week. Don paid to run a selection of these spots 3 times an hour on 5 radio stations in the market, and I guarantee NO listener tuned them out.

    Enjoy your insights, Dick.



    Rod Schwartz Co-owner/Creative Director at Grace Broadcast Sales

    P 888-472-2388 M 509-592-0148 W http://www.gracebroadcast.com E rod@gracebroadcast.com A 225 SW Skyline Dr. | Pullman, WA 99163 [image: App Banner Image] … Get the latest IdeaGr@m

    Liked by 1 person

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