The Days of The Free Radio Giveaway


(By Ed Ryan) I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record on this topic (kids…a record is a round, flat, disk thing in which musical sound vibrates out of when struck with a tiny needle).

When was the last time you gave away a free radio? Was it before or after those new iPads or iPhones you gave away? How many new listeners did that promo get you?

The stories are hard to ignore over the last few years. The number of radio’s in the home are declining. Consumers have an easier time finding baby formula than they would finding an actual radio to buy today. And, as you’ve been following over the last week on this page, radio listenership is declining, according to the Jacobs Media Techsurvey.

Here’s something I ran across that inspired be to write this piece. Perhaps it will inspire a cool idea for some of you. 100 years ago The Spokane Daily Chronicle used radio to increase subscriptions. According to The Spokesman-Review the paper came up with a promotion to put a radio in the hands of “every man, woman and child” in its circulation area. Wow! Imagine running that promo on YOUR station today. The trick back then was that newspaper subscribers had to get 20 new subscribers to pay for a 6-month subscription (at 65 cents per month).
Maybe instead of ordering those t-shirts, or hats, or stickers, or whatever it is you order from your promotional budget next time (if you still have one), you order a few hundred “collectors item” radio’s with your logo and popular morning hosts signature right on the front. You’ve seen the stories; listeners love that special bond they have with their local hosts. You do have at least one local host that the community loves don’t you? Give them that free t-shirt when they post pictures to their social media pages WITH your cool, hip looking new radio.

Why not create a team of those P1’s and recruit them to distribute your cool, hip looking radio’s to their friends who are not listeners today? Surely you have the confidence that those listeners can be converted to your station. They just need a taste, a sample, a push to come over. Who better to promote you than the people who love you already? Put your tribe to work for you.

I hear what you’re all saying, ‘there goes that old man editor again with another dumb idea.‘ Maybe so. Or, maybe we can do something to “put a new radio in the hand of every man, woman and child in the United States of America.”

And, just a random thought here. When radio station shows are on their local TV stations, why is it that there’s never a radio on the console? Why all the bobbleheads? It’s not like those dolls are ever wearing your radio station’s t-shirt.



  1. Here’s something new.
    How about insisting upon really good programming, instead of the Payola system which usually produces really bad programming. I know it’s a radical idea but don’t let it shock you. It actually works!
    40 years ago a really good musician, Dr. Oscar Peterson (11 honorary music doctorates), hit the nail on the head when he said: “The reason contemporary jazz is so bad is because the critics are in the hip pockets of the record companies”. They still are, even more so. look up the $38,000,000.00 out of court settlement with the NY AG in 2006. That’s just NY. Or see F. Dannen’s little book of 1990 “Hit Men; Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business”. Also 80-90% of college and other 501(C)3 radio stations receive Payola. So decent music gets a double whammy against it.
    Having decent programming and ignoring all the BS cranked out by the industry is the answer to save radio. Boy, is that radical!
    Roger De Vore WVOA radio 5:30-7PM ET Thursdays

  2. That’s a great idea – but wait. Just Google “how to get a free smart speaker”. It took me 3 seconds to discover:

    Get a free Google Home Mini just for having a Spotify Premium subscription
    Buy select Tile products, get a free Google Home Mini
    Buy an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription, get an Echo Dot for 99 cents
    Bundle a Google Nest Hub and a Google Nest Mini
    Build an Alexa skill, get a free Echo Dot
    Bundle a copy of the “Frozen II” book and a Google Home Mini
    Link your utility account, get a free Google Home Mini

    Yes, many “old” things are new again, but there’s this technology out there eating radio’s lunch. The boat is leaking but we’re busy watching the band play. Read the great minds’ comments here and in other websites then look at reality. The folks in charge can’t do something to mess up their revenue and compensation bonuses. This idea, to get the public to sample the product, might do that if it’s not in the budget.

    • “Buy an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription, get an Echo Dot for 99 cents”

      In each one of those examples, the tech company gets something in exchange for the free device. The real product Amazon is selling is a subscription to Amazon Music. If you buy an Echo, they want you to subscribe to Amazon Prime or Music. Same thing with the Fire. They want to make that monthly money from you. They want your credit card number. The free Echo is just the diversion. Same thing with Google. They want you to subscribe to one of their monthly pay services. That’s how they make their money.

      Meanwhile in the radio business, the ONLY revenue stream we have is selling commercials. That’s it. No monthly subscriptions. No buy this and get that for free. Apple doesn’t care about selling music. Their profit is selling computers, phones, and pads. The music is the loss leader. Radio needs to have something to sell besides the spots. That’s the real reason why we’re losing.


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