Devaluing Radio


(By Mike McVay) There is no doubt that radio has great distribution. Radio’s reach is one that DSPs wish they had. What isn’t addressed is the erosion of time spent listening or occasions of listening. The degradation of the listening experience is a problem. It’s one that the DSPs have solved and, as such, presents radio’s biggest challenge.

It should be no surprise that radio listening is eroding. The audience listens when they have time and a desire to listen. Digital entities talk about creating sticky content. Be it for a website, a blog, or social media, the desire is to create a stickiness that drives clicks. Shouldn’t radio work diligently to create sticky content?

Case in point: strong programming at night gives you an advantage when it comes to the morning show. 

One can drive across America and hear no air talent 7:00pm-6:00am. No talent of any kind. Not a local personality, not a voice-tracked talent, no syndication, and not even a personality created by Artificial Intelligence. There’s no connectivity to a market, let alone to a listener. A lot of commercials, some music, a jingle and/or an imaging voice announcing a station positioning statement, produced promotional messages, and more commercials. 

It is universally acknowledged that radio airs too many commercials. The 12-minute limit was very much the standard until a few years ago. Things changed dramatically when the unit count maximum was eliminated. Suddenly that 12 minutes could be 24 or more commercial messages in an hour. Radio devalues itself and its selling effectiveness when an advertiser’s message is somewhere in the middle of a 10-unit spot cluster. 

Radio devalues itself when it bonuses commercials to air 7:00pm-5:00am to hit a Cost Per Point for 6:00am-7:00pm. Radio misses a revenue opportunity by not selling sponsorships for the features it airs. Radio leaves money on the table by not selling peak audience hours at a higher rate. Radio sets itself up for failure by not selling the benefit of the demographic and psychographic strength of its audience. Eliminating remote broadcasts takes away a sales tool and an opportunity for an upsell. Remote appearances also act as a marketing tactic to introduce or reinforce your station to the audience.

Where does radio have value? The biggest of the bigs and the most local of the smalls. If you’re at the top of the heap in one of the biggest markets, you likely have strong on-air personalities who create daily tune-in, 24/7 entertainment, and a maximization of the available weekend audience, a large listenership, in a location that is attractive to national advertisers. You’re promotionally active, create events for your audience, and provide experiences that your advertisers want to be a part of. 

If you’re on the top of the heap in a smaller market, you’re one of the most locally-focused stations in your community. Many of the same things that matter in the biggest markets matter here, but on a smaller more appropriate scale. Small markets are selling products, services, and the benefit of a community. It’s not so much about the ratings. It’s about the message the audience intakes that leads to supporting advertisers they hear on the station. Marketing becomes being everywhere and being seen everywhere.

Radio has the value that we in radio place on our content, our message, and our approach to delivering on the expectations of the advertiser and the audience. It’s on us to provide that value.

Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]. Read Mike’s Radio Ink archives here.


  1. Congrats-and thanks to the stations doing it right. Someone’s screaming that AM radio needs to be in cars-and yet some shows are over ‘n over at night -even on big highly rated stations. Do we need some guy whose initials are GN to air over ‘n over from 8pm-5am?

    Radio once had a way to make money for its owners. The abundance of media choices in 2024 has split that revenue pie in more ways than ever. The winners? Those who choose to keep it as an art form rather than a cash register. Mike, your career has been built on the obvious. Too bad some of radio’s “leaders” can’t see the obvious for the trees.

  2. Not a live voice for 11 hours on any station yet we argue radio is so vital we’re on the hill arguing AM must remain in cars.
    Which is it? Can’t have it both ways. Agree wholeheartedly with you Mike.

  3. Great article, Mike. My wife and I recently drove from Dallas/Fort Worth to Denver and back, and I was surprised at how much great local radio there is. A group of stations based in Childress, TX has live talent that can actually relate to and connect with their markets. Fun to listen to. North of Amarillo there’s not much, but a couple of local stations seemed well connected with their towns. A rock station in southern Colorado is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Again, they talk about their local market and the music isn’t programmed from afar. Then came Pueblo and Colorado Springs. Back to generic voice-tracked presentations and 14 unit stop sets. To your point, the stations in the small cities and towns provide clear value

  4. Not Saga markets. In Jonesboro’s Saga market we have three full-power stations and three metro (translator) stations. Four of the six have live/voice tracked talent 7p-12midnight. And, in the event of any crisis or breaking news, we can respond immediately from home if necessary. We do not accept responsibility for the poor decisions of other radio companies. We proudly serve our communities the way Ed Christian led us to, and the way Chris Forgy continues to insist that we do.

    • One of my children worked at a Saga owned station in Clarksville, TN. I saw it first hand. I agree. Saga does it right … at least what I witnessed they do. Very right.


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