Radio Blog

This page contains blog articles on a range of topics of interest to professionals in radio sales, including everything from selling technique to the state of the industry. If you have an opinion on any issue regarding radio or would like to share some of your sales techniques with others, you can submit an article for the blog here (max 400 words, please).

Commercial Free Lunch?

Whether your station streams its content over the Internet or not, today we have the ability to listen to radio stations from all over the country and the world that we might never normally have the opportunity to hear.

In fact, I would say that a few hours radio station surfing a week should be a required activity for programming and sales people in radio stations everywhere. If you're lucky, you'll come across a station that contains something just different enough to get you thinking.

The other day I was listening to an Australian radio station over the web. Aside from the host's accent and a less format-oriented playlist, it could have been a station here in California. But then I noticed their commercial placement; a commercial break almost every two songs, but never more than two, thirty-second commercials in a break. As I listened longer I realized that this commercial spread was actually promoted on-air as a reason to listen, "Never more than two commercials at a time."

From a listening point of view, it seemed to work - the commercials were on the whole nicely produced, and having them spread so thin allowed them the opportunity to become more of a part of the programming than a 'break' from programming.

It wasn't perfect, but it got me thinking and it opened up some old issues I've had about our attitude to commercials that I have to have a rant about today. It seems more and more as if radio stations see commercials as the enemy of programming. Especially in our love of the "more music, less talk" equation, we seem always to make apologies for commercials, shoving them up together in blocks so that our 'programming' can remain clear and unadulterated.

Let me say right now, I don't care if the surveys tell us that that's what our audience wants. If you ask 100 people if they think their favorite radio station 'has too many commercials', what answer do you think you will get? I can bet if you asked 100 people if they think donuts have too many calories the answer will be 'yes' as well, but I don't see the lines shortening in Dunkin'.

Whether we like it or not, commercials are the lifeblood of the station. We need them, and we need our listeners to listen to them. It seems to me that promoting 'uninterrupted' programming and apologizing for commercial breaks is actually training our listeners not to like commercials.

Instead, we need to be looking at creative ways to make the commercials complement the rest of the programming. Never before has creativity and quality in commercial writing and production been so important. But we also require flexibility in other areas - commercial lengths, placement throughout the hour, the very format of commercials themselves. And we need programming and sales to get over each other and really work together. I'm looking forward to the day when a station's attitude to its commercials is promoted as a plus to its listeners; "The best music, the most personality and the most commercial variety in town."

One thing's for sure; acknowledging to our audience that our commercials are the low point of our output is, in the long term, commercial suicide. It's another step on the slippery slope towards 'commercial-free' zones, opt-out formats and subscription channels.

Be clear about this - radio works because it's free-to-air. We know there's no such thing as a free lunch, but as long as our listeners aren't paying, let's keep giving them a meal to remember without constantly reminding them about the bill.

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Radio Blog