Radio Does Not Have An Effective Strategy — Part 3

(By Ronald Robinson) From time to time, some very bright, experienced, and sincere pundits will drop by with a set of admonishments about generating better ad copy for radio. I accept that many of the points have merit in terms of improving the banal and annoying ad services being supplied by most of radio.

My first (rhetorical) question: It’s 60 years later and radio has yet to figure this stuff out!? This is rhetorical because most readers already have the answer. It is a sorry case, because radio has ignored the preparation of more listenable and, of greater importance, more influential spots. Radio has never made this a priority. Further, neither has radio made detailed inquiries into the on-air presentations of its talent.

Our friend Bob McCurdy, is the most recent pro to recommend an overhaul of the methodologies of spot generation. Many of the points he makes have credibility with me. Others, not so much. But, at least and to his credit, he attempts to open another worthwhile and necessary discussion. My issue is that Bob’s ideas and efforts ignore the underlying fundamentals of broadcast communications.

Electronic media, of which radio is the senior medium, operates on a completely different set of proven, neurological-accessing elements, and almost all are unknown to the radio group. Audiences access electronic media as a sub-dominant hemisphere, brain exercise. Print, meanwhile, is a dominant hemisphere access. While I have provided more detailed explanations of these phenomena, the takeaway for us is that radio is operating under different rules. Some are exceptionally positive for radio and some are severely limiting.

Meanwhile, and I cannot overestimate this point: These neurological elements create the requirement of a fundamental reassessing and implementation of new and different approaches to our ad creation and talent-presenting approaches.

That engaged, radio professionals call for significant improvements in the generations of ads and, I would add, the presentations of the on-air gang, can only be healthy and advantageous for the industry.

Presented in the most simple of terms, radio spots are required to accomplish, at least, the following:
1. Get and maintain audience attention.
2. Generate an emotional response from audience members.
3. Get the advertisers’ names and offer in there as well – if they insist.

Even if some radio practitioners make a solid, sincere effort to up their games as they apply to spot generation, a number of traps remain that would only add limitations to the results of the exercise.

Because of the aforementioned neurological accessing of radio by audience members, a couple of core and fundamental adjustments will have to be made. (There are many more.) They are intuitively challenging, mainly because they are not consistent with radio traditions and the (alleged) newness of the material is subject to suspicion and skepticism. I get that.

Radio is not a direct or one-to-one medium. The justification for retaining that old assumption has been the accurate description of radio being heard by one pair of ears at a time, and at all times. In other words, a singular and subjective experience. I get that too. The trouble under which radio toils is in the assumption that there is a connection to that unknown, unspecified listener. Radio never has, doesn’t now nor will it ever be able to accomplish that impossibility. Life, after all, is only experienced subjectively, and as an individual.

Another assumption that leadership has been making is that radio in general, and the speaker in particular, has the authority to make demands for behaviors from audience members. The only people who actually do have that kind of authority are cops, bosses, border guards, and moms. Everybody else had better make nice or it’s “Bite me!”

Yes, it would be really nifty if radio started applying the many ways that commercial content can be improved. But unless the fundamental changes to radio’s approach, including the ones mentioned above, are undertaken, any of the other improvements suggested will still be undermined and severely limited.

I agree that it is the content-heavy “direct response” ads that require immediate attention, especially since they represent the majority of radio’s ad presentations. Most of them, alas, have little or no creativity about them. Still, to be more effective, major adjustments must be made – even as the painting-over-rust analogy still applies.

Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the ’60s as a performer, writer and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counselor. E-mail him at [email protected]


  1. Thanks, mike,
    As a rudimentally-trained, drum corps snare drummer, I became able enough to maintain some stamina – along with the necessary precision.
    I bring this up because, by comparison, radio is treating drumming like it was about hitting a rock with a stick.
    I expect you, mike, would agree: Even the 1,2,3. approach is almost entirely missing from our (radio) stick bag.

  2. Wotta concept! 1,2,3. Before my company was taken over by the competition, I routinely used those ‘simplified concepts’ to get response for my Clients. A particular Client once made an identical offer to two different audiences and checked response rates by calling the offer by a different name on each Station. After that, I got their entire budget. Typical ROI was about 6 which meant they made several thousand dollars on their Campaign. My one overriding thought in writing ads is: What is in it for me, the listener, to do business with the advertiser? How does their offer make me feel better, look better, live better? Answer that and you’ve got it made!
    Keep up the drumbeat, Ron! If you keep hitting a nail long enough, eventually you might drive it into the board….maybe!!


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