Lies The Internet Told Me


(By Barry Cohen) Surely, you’ve heard them. They’re rampant. Your sales staff hears them every day. Do you believe them? Should you believe them? Should you pay any attention to them? Should your clients and prospects believe them? Do they believe them? Let’s put them under the microscope, and then we can decide.

Lie No. 1: “Radio is dead. Nobody listens to radio anymore.”

Believe that, and I’ll sell you a bridge in America’s largest city. Let’s start with our friends at Nielsen. The findings are widely published that 93 percent of the U.S population still listens to good old-fashioned, legacy, over-the-air radio. That’s roughly 245 million weekly listeners. Mind you, we are not even including satellite radio — which, by the way, still only has little more than 10 percent of terrestrial radio’s reach.

So break it down. Even if you have a small station with a relatively small audience in a small market, the only real question for the prospective advertiser is: “How many of them do you want to buy from you, and what are you willing to invest to tell them your story and bring them to your doorstep/call center/in-box?” Followed by this question: “What do you think is the collective buying power of my audience, and what are you willing to invest to get your (un)fair share of it?”

Lie No. 2: “Everyone is on Facebook.”

Even with Facebook’s 1 billion worldwide subscribers (at its peak), there are still people who never set up a Facebook account, who are not active Facebook users, and who don’t spend all day on Facebook. The current millennials and the next upcoming generation (“Gen Z”) may not have grown up on radio, but they’re not using Facebook either. Oh, and by the way, there’s no click fraud on radio, and no bots either — just humans, listening.

Have you verified all of your Facebook respondents to make sure they are real people? Finally, if a foreign power can manipulate Facebook content to mislead the American public and disrupt an election, do you still trust Facebook? More important: do you think the buying public does?

Lie No. 3: “You can’t measure your results on radio.”

Wrong again. Even before the newest technology was perfected, you could isolate your responses and attribute them to radio in several ways. Here are a few we like to use and recommend:

• Set up a dedicated phone number that is used only in your radio commercials.

• Set up a dedicated URL that is given only as a call to action in your radio commercials.

• Track ZIP codes that correspond to areas covered by radio stations carrying your ads.

• Make a special offer that appears only in your radio commercials.

• Now, add the new technologies that are appearing on the scene and can help track your responses. Maybe it’s not your medium that doesn’t measure up, but your measurement.

Lie No. 4: “Nobody listens to your station.”

Plain and simple, short and sweet: every station has an audience, large or small. The trick is simply to ensure that your station has the right audience for every advertiser you sell — or you’re doing the client a disservice. In truth, if the audience profile and the sponsor’s customer profile are a perfect match, then it comes down to the message — or more specifically, the offer.

Every medium is simply a delivery system, including the Internet. Each medium and each media outlet is only as strong as the message you put on it. True, Internet technology now allows you to incessantly follow people who searched for a product. How long do you think it takes before a consumer gets tired of being followed? And the technology doesn’t know they’ve made a purchase and continues to track them, and annoy them.

When I served as GM of a small, suburban, standalone AM day-timer, I would look the business owner in the eye and say, “Give me the same budget you gave WXYZ-FM and just as good an offer, and then tell me how much product you sold. It’s not a question of how many are listening to any station, it’s a matter of how many are responding.” The same applies to the Internet. So much for online impressions — clickthrough rates are low. It doesn’t matter how many saw your online ad — only how many responded.

Our main competitor was a full-time FM in the same city with more staff, more budget, and with a rating book. We sold two things: creativity and results. If you understand your audience and what motivates them, you need to stand your ground with full confidence in your station and challenge the advertiser to make an attractive enough offer to bring your listeners in. And you need to know when it’s time to say no to a bad offer, or you’re setting yourself up for failure.

I started my career at two distressed properties, so I learned how to make my medium work, in spite of the obstacles — or the strength of the competition.

Barry Cohen is the managing member of AdLab Media Communications, LLC ([email protected]). He has sold both major-market and suburban radio, served as a station manager, and conducted RAB workshops and webinars.


  1. A lot of these sound like tired old “nuh-uh” arguments. The numbers seem to be spun because, come on, ask a bunch of people at an office or wherever, and lots of them, LOTS, say they rarely listen to radio, especially at home. The number of people who even own actually radios in the houses is dwindling. That’s just true. I still do a show at a college station and when I tell friends (of all ages) to listen, a surprisingly large number of them say they don’t listen to the radio much any more, and so on. So just saying that tons of people still listen is disingenuous. Even I don’t listen as much as I did in the 1970s and ’80s. There are so many choices now, like podcasts and such, and radio has gotten tedious and canned sounding. Generally speaking, radio broadcasters have dropped the ball. It’s too expensive or too much trouble to keep creative, interesting, quality programming on the air. They reduce overhead by slashing talent and automating everything, and then when they need more help to stay profitable they cry to the FCC to let them consolidate more, close offices and studios, and hack away at anything that serves the community. A few independents are doing it right, but the big guys–who own thousands of stations–don’t get it.

    And as the Mr Nadel above says, I can only think of 1 or 2 people I know personally who have not at least set up a Facebook account.

    Nothing wrong with being a cheerleader for radio, but let’s at least be credible about it.

    • “So just saying that tons of people still listen is disingenuous.”
      They’re not “just saying” it, they have documented research that proves it. Which is more than you have. As for sounding canned, compare it to online radio. Name all the hosts and personalities on Spotify or Apple. They have no financial reason not to provide creative content. They just don’t. They don’t have to slash talent or automate everything because they never did it any other way. BTW no company owns “thousands of stations.” Nothing wrong with being credible.

  2. I was with you until point #2. Then I stopped reading. I am an old fashioned baby boomers, but you cannot tell me ” still people who never set up a Facebook account.” What are we talking about here – 0.001 %, if that many. Invalid arguments turn me off even if the rest of the article is 100% valid.

  3. I, too, found your article an interesting read with some valid point and some that I found, uh, not-so-valid.

    Radio is an industry firmly grounded in yesterday. It was a single sentence in your article – “The current millennials and the next upcoming generation (“Gen Z”) may not have grown up on radio – could not have been more accurate and radio’s response has been to ignore that fact and tout instead, as you have, “that 93 percent of the U.S population still listens to good old-fashioned, legacy, over-the-air radio.”

    People are out of the habit of radio and that reality no one in the industry wants to talk about. Instead, the industry touts ‘cume numbers’ which is about the same value as Facebook likes.

    Until radio wakes up, its deep sleep in fantasy will become even more detrimental to the business and sustaining it.

    • I don’t know that the industry, whatever that is, is ignoring the growing use of multiple sources of media. Why do you think companies such as iHeart and Entercom are so focused on their online presence? That fact annoys a lot of boomers, who feel their emphasis on these new platforms is ignoring AM & FM. I think everyone who works in radio knows that they can’t just depend on any one platform to reach the audience.

      • The big companies just throw together canned, cluttered conglomeration web pages that have almost nothing to do with a real radio station, and they have cookie cutter tweets and Facebook posts. It’s at best a lame, half-assed attempt to seem vaguely relevant.

  4. Barry- Thank you for this read. I found some of your points interesting. While i do not agree with you on all of your points one of the biggest things and problems I see is selling in traditional media is selling against against digital. In reality the consumer has and uses many vehicles in their buying decision, radio, tv, newspapers, bill boards and digital. It is not a single advertisement that makes someone make a buying decision. (Seee coke, Pepsi, Progressive as examples ) Why sell against any other type of advertising…. why not just show the benefits of radio. We can learn some things in this space from the Googles and Facebooks of the world. You do not see them ripping apart traditional media to offer their services, instead you see them promoting what they offer. Just my point of view, hope you have a great year.

    PS: Google Analytics is a great tool to show lift to your radio advertises. This is another way to track success

  5. What a fabulous idea, Barry.
    I long for the day when a radio rep can say, “We are a creative and effective advertising agency – operating out of our radio station.”
    An’ I ain’t taken no drugs today, either.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here