Radio Dazed. Why I can’t stand advertising on the radio.
October 22, 2008
I loathe radio advertising. As a teenager, vainly reluctant to turn the dial from my favorite station (The Loop), instead enduring the echoing screams from SMOKING U.S. DIRTY DRAGSTRIP. SMOKING! SMOKING! SMOKING! As a man, navigating between sports and talk, desperately trying to avoid the hard-up pitches for sexual enhancement.
Radio is like ditch weed. It makes you wince and gives you a headache. It’s cheap.
I know this sounds like sacrilege, coming from a copywriter. Believe me, I’ve heard the defenses. Radio is theater of the mind. It’s voices only we control. Pure prose. Copywriters are supposed to love the medium because it’s our words and little else. No art direction. No stage direction. No client interaction. But I don’t care; I hate it.
Start with the volume. Every spot seems to shout its message from the top of a radio tower. LOW INTEREST MORTGAGES! INTENSE SEXUAL EXPERIENCE! REAL MEN OF GENIUS! Yes, even the arguably brilliant Bud Light campaign resorts to loudness. It has to. It’s radio.
And the clichés. Knock. Knock. “Who’s there?” I know -a dumb ass character in a radio commercial. You’d think every conversation in the world took place on one’s doorstep. Why? Because it sets the stage damn fast: two people, with one having to state his or her cause. Plus doorbells and knocking are easy to create and recognize. And what about all the shrinks? “Tell me about your dreams,” starts the spot. The remaining character (patient) is then given a soapbox to rant and rave, a necessary evil when exposition is critical.
While TV commercials are guilty as well, nowhere are the STUPID HUSBAND and NAGGING WIFE more apparent than on radio. We know these people from their voices alone. The man is a clueless dope. The woman is a whiny bitch. Sometimes they make up and then we get my favorite cliché: using words no one ever uses anymore. When was the last time you called your wife “honey?” Certainly not in a conversation about reliable pain relief.
Writing radio has its charms. The author goes it alone, which has a certain poetic machismo. But it’s not worth the result, which is almost always terrible. I’ve written plenty of radio campaigns. So far I have liked only one of them: a series for Art.com featuring Peter Graves in his iconic “Biography” character. It was cute. The rest all sucked.
Radio doesn’t have a foothold anywhere in popular culture. No one talks about radio commercials around the water cooler. Not even ad people. Radio doesn’t have a forum like the Academy Awards or the Super Bowl.
Speaking of accolades, without exception, radio is the category NOBODY wants to judge at awards shows. Talk about purgatory. You’re in a room, staring at the walls, and expected to listen. And listen, and listen and listen. By the 15th commercial I’m ready to shove chopsticks in my ears. Unlike pizza (even when it’s bad it’s good), radio is the whine of a mosquito.
Look, I’ve chuckled at the occasional spot. I just don’t think those rare exceptions are worth the vast, remaining blitzkrieg. Do you?