Cut Units & Grow Revenue (Yes, I’m a Programmer!)


(By Gary Berkowitz) Let me start by saying I am not a radio sales expert. As a long-time programmer, I like commercials. They are helpful to listeners, keeping them aware of products and services they use and need. They add to a station’s personality (especially when well-produced) and most important, commercials help you sound more local. So, what’s the problem? Let me share this story that sums up “the elephant in the room” for our industry.

The other night, my wife and I were having dinner. The guy sitting next to us, almost out of
nowhere said, “I can’t watch football anymore.” When I asked him why, his response was, “Too many commercials,” and that is the issue. I’m afraid that commercial loads have gotten so high (on both radio and TV) that all advertiser supported media is getting pegged as playing “too many commercials”.

Last week in Radio Ink, John Ostlund outlined his plan for only playing 5 units an hour. Now that’s a bold step. Nobody is going to think that’s a bad idea, as long as you can do it without going into bankruptcy! So with that in mind, I am going to present a few realistic ideas that all of us, need to consider.

It’s about the units. If going forward we expect to be relevant, we simply must cut back on the number of commercials we run. Argue with me, but listeners do not count minutes. They count “messages” or units. The unit counts must come down. You may have a 12-minute commercial load, but that can easily be 24+ units. There needs to be a minute and unit control in place (and yes, 10s and “sponsorships” count as units).

Start slowly. Reduce the minute load by one minute (2 units) an hour. Count everything as a unit. Listeners do. 10’s, sponsorships, mentions. They all count.

Don’t make a big deal about it on the air. Just do it. Listeners will notice as will sponsors. Who’s going to argue that being the second of 4 spots is better than being 12th of 20 spots?

Everything that is not core-product (music, talk on talk stations, etc) is considered a commercial. For example, when you’re running commercial free and insert a station promo, you’ve violated the promise. Listeners think jingles are commercials (no joke, I’ve been told that in focus groups).

Barter can be a problem. Have you taken stock of all the barter you run? Doing a full audit is critical. We’ve discovered many services that we either no longer use, or we no longer need. This can free up a good amount of avails that can be sold for cash.

Yes, creativity counts with commercials. If you have a 12-minute commercial limit, that’s the equivalent of 3 songs. Imagine playing 3 bad songs an hour. That would never work and that’s why commercial quality and creativity is crucial. (That’s a whole other article!)

Yes, personality delivered spots are better. They do not all have to be endorsements, but they should all be sold at a premium.

Advantage: Independents. Chances are the big groups are not going to adapt to this idea. This gives independent broadcasters a clear advantage. Its going to take a masterful sales staff, but the payoff will be worth it. Larger, more loyal audiences, more satisfied clients, and most important, stronger revenues.

Bottom line. Fewer units, more of your main product. Fewer spots will mean better results for your clients. Fewer spots will make for a better listening experience for listeners. Go slowly. Reduce it a minute at a time. Reduce barter. Use those avails for cash. Sell the power of radio. It’s still a strong medium that gets results.

On a final note; If we reduce spots, people like the guy I met at dinner will stop complaining and go back to listening and watching football!


Gary Berkowitz specializes in ratings improvement for AC and Classic Hits radio stations in all size markets. He can be reached at (248) 737-3727 or [email protected]. Read Gary’s Radio Ink archives here.


  1. In the late 60s we ran 10 minutes or 12 units whichever came first in an hour. 6 two unit sets. Depending on what was sold a set could be any combination of 60s, 30s, or 10s, but only two units. Scheduling required an intelligent Traffic Director. Jocks couldn’t screw up because if sold out there was no place to run make goods. Station was very successful. Rates were based on level of sell out and were raised regularly. Somewhere in the 90s Radio people suddenly forgot everything that had been learned from collective experience and a lot of legitimate audience research. So here we are in 2023 rehashing this again at a time when Radio is revisiting over commercialization amid more competition and an auto industry that is eliminating AM from vehicles. The last time too many ads and too much ego centric on air BS was addressed was by a guy named Bill Drake. He did well.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here