Radio: The Original Social Medium


(By Barry Cohen) Sales managers, raise your hands: How many of you are looking at your downtrodden, well-meaning, well-trained salespeople who return from a day on the battlefield, scarred by the big objection? Your clients are increasingly moving their money out of radio and onto the Internet — with more and more of it going to (yes) social media. Your clients have drunk the Kool-Aid. They’re so scared not to be there that they’ve even committed a chunk of their budget to hire a specialist — a social media expert. What to do?

Well, even though you sharpened your spears and arrows (and your antenna), you may still be missing the mark. You need to tell your clients that everything they love about the Internet (and social media), you have right in that little box with the speakers in it. You see, radio has always been a social medium. In fact, it was the original social medium.

People refer to how many followers you have online. Well, radio stations have rabid followers. Years ago, I worked for a suburban Rock station, and at one of the many station parties, a listener approached the owner and asserted, “You think this is your station? Well, it’s our station!” He could not have paid him a higher compliment.

In Internet parlance, we always hear people talk about how interactive social media is. People have been interacting with their favorite radio stations for years, by phone, sending letters and postcards, showing up at events, e-mailing. Just tell a listener he or she can win a prize, meet the talent, enjoy 60 seconds of fame on the air, and they will interact with your station. And sponsors have always capitalized on that interactivity. You’ve got a captive, motivated audience. It’s your moment!

Every day you hear Internet sages talk about influencers. Radio personalities and newscasters have been influencing everything from what soup you buy to the outcome of elections since the 1920s. It doesn’t get any more influential than that.

We all know the Internet is fast. And today, speed is important. Once again, folks, welcome to radio, the king of all copy-changers. Live reads can change in minutes. And yes, we’ve been doing that for years on radio, too.

Let’s not forget what occurs when we combine influence and speed: We can change the course of a consumer purchasing decision at the last minute. True story: I was hired to manage a station in Virginia. I was keeping my home in New Jersey and taking an apartment near the radio station. I needed a microwave oven for the apartment. I was on my way to the nearby K-Mart, heard a spot on the car radio for a sale at an appliance store 10 miles down the road, turned the car around and purchased the microwave there instead.

People claim they love the flexibility of the Internet. On radio, you can shape your message for each audience; you can pick your time of day, day of the week. You can even change your message to match the weather. I sold a ski shop a radio schedule during a 50-degree winter with no snow. How? By promising the owner that his commercial would only air if it snowed and if the snow stuck to the ground — and he would only pay for what aired. No risk, all reward. It snowed the next week, and we had his dollars (and his confidence) before anyone else.

What else do your clients love about the Internet? That things go viral and you can share them. Well, folks, radio has been viral and shared for a long time. In 1979, in Trenton, NJ, WTTM-AM afternoon personality Bo Weaver decided to do a one-man protest over the Arab oil embargo. He nailed himself into the studio and played the same song over and over again for hours. Even the switchboard at the competing station across town lit up with phone calls. People called friends and family. The story hit the wire services and went coast-to-coast and even overseas. Now, that’s viral.

So, what else do people love about the Internet and social media? We often hear that it’s audience-driven. Well, so are the most successful radio stations. That’s why we do audience research. We program for our communities, not for ourselves. When I was hired to do a turnaround, we had no research budget. So the entire staff made callouts to local residents and asked them what they wanted to hear, and we took their suggestions.

Maybe the our new tagline should be “Radio: It’s Everything You Love About the Internet.” It doesn’t get any more social than that.

Barry Cohen is the managing member of AdLab Media Communications, LLC ( He’s sold both suburban and major-market radio, served as a station manager, and has presented RAB workshops and webinars. He is the author of the book 10 Ways to Screw Up an Ad Campaign and co-author of Startup Smarts. He can be reached at [email protected]


  1. I love the enthusiasm for radio and the examples of Can’t Miss Moments like the ski schedule only if it snowed, however radio is going to encounter more revenue migration if we try and position ourselves as something that we are not and no advertiser perceives us to be, which is Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.

    We have an amazing value proposition and story of our own without grasping for straws.

    We focus too much on trying to cannibalize other radio buys instead of going after other local media such as print and TV and increasing our available pie.


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