Radio Killed the Video Star: 5 Reasons Why Broadcast Radio Marketing Still Beats All

By Michelle Gunn, PhD in Direct Marketing on June 16th, 2014

Look, there’s no need to sugarcoat it: Radio is older than dirt. Older than bubble gum. Older than canned beer and Bob Dole and twelve dog breeds now officially recognized by the American Kennel Club.


As an advertising channel, radio’s been around since Betty White was teething. In August 1922, AT&T (yes, our own AT&T) pioneered American radio advertising when their New York City station, WEAF, began selling time for “toll broadcasting.” Its first commercial was a 15-minute real estate spot for apartments in Jackson Heights, Queens. (Sounds a little closer to the long-format TV infomercial than any latter-day TV spot, doesn’t it?) Broadcasters, wary of offending listeners, remained slow to embrace radio as an advertising medium. But by the end of the decade, ad airtime was parceled out in blocks determined by the length of the program.

And now, nearly a century later, the arrangement hasn’t changed all that much. Sure, the media buys are infinitely more complex, sophisticated, informed — and, of course, expensive. But the general pay-per-play premise remains the same.

To recap: AM/FM radio as a medium is a Tin Lizzie with a horn that makes an “ah-OOOga” sound. Digital streaming radio like Spotify and Rdio, meanwhile, are the flying Delorean right before the end credits of “Back to the Future.” So, why isn’t terrestrial radio rusting in the junkyard?

Simple. Radio works. Here’s why:


    In 2013, US terrestrial radio reached roughly 93% of adult listeners each week, versus 29% that listen to online radio. Also, AM/FM radio remains the dominant form of daily audio listening (69%), beating out iPods/MP3s (11%), satellite radio (9%), CD players (6%) and Internet streaming (5%). While Pandora and her brethren have muscled in on broadcast radio’s share, there’s still no denying that terrestrial radio still holds the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World. Simply put: Radio outperforms all other mass media at delivering a high percentage of users who actually receive the message.


    Playlists have their place. But broadcast radio creates a powerful emotional connection — in part because, when you listen, you’re enjoying the same content at the same time as countless other individuals. In short, you’re part of an audience: actively and consciously participating in a collective experience. And that experience creates a sense of community. The emotional nature of the medium lends itself to creating demand, selling, and communicating calls-to-action.


    Radio doesn’t mind playing second fiddle. In fact, it works as a natural “multiplier” of other media, increasing recall of TV, newspaper, digital ads, and the like. And it has proven successful in driving consumers to advertisers’ websites.


    Here’s where everyone pipes up with their “Yeah, but.” Don’t folks just switch the station any time they hear an announcer and a jingle? Nope. You might be surprised to learn that radio listeners have a low level of ad avoidance and generally stay tuned through commercial breaks. Factor in the fact that listeners usually stay tuned for a long period of time and remain fiercely loyal to their few favorite stations, and you have yourself an excellent platform from which to build brands and drive sales.


    Hey, speaking of sales, know what’s going at bargain-basement prices? Radio spots. AM/FM radio costs peanuts to produce, which makes it easy to adapt to various formats. (Station talent reads are cheaper still.) And it’s less expensive to buy than other major media, in turn allowing advertisers to spend the extra cheddar for maximum reach and effective frequency.

Confessional Booth: Our copywriters love writing for radio. Radio allows for exceptional creative freedom. Unencumbered by visuals, a radio spot allows the listener to draw on their own experiences, emotions and imagination to create his or her own mental theater, if you will. Of course, the script is only a part of the recipe. Voice talent, sound design, and music are all a part of the creative vision that — when executed the right way — bolsters the brand and impels the listener to take action. And when it’s all said and done, isn’t that what our job is all about?

Okay, it’s your turn to sound off. Do you think broadcast radio still rules? Or is it just hobbling along? Don’t be shy. Tell us what’s worked for you — or what hasn’t — when it comes to advertising on the airwaves.

 Want to learn more? Contact our experts today!