Radio Daze. AM/FM finds itself in a tailspin and I’m already dressed for the funeral.

May 25, 2009


Adweek reports advertising revenue for radio has suffered its worst quarter ever. Obviously, this does not speak well of our industry’s overall health. But the precipitous drop in revenue means my absolute least favorite form of advertising is closer to death. It won’t die, of course, but maybe there will be less of it. One can only hope.

I know I am an anomaly for being both a copywriter and a despiser of radio advertising. I make no bones about it. Frankly, I’ve written about the matter before. I wasn’t always this way. As a novice copywriter I bought into the idea that nothing tests our mettle better than a good radio assignment. It’s just you and the brief. Our words mean so much more, the myth suggests. I won’t dispute the theory but unfortunately it is theory. In reality, most radio assignments are fairly monotonous, either a cheap derivative of the advertiser’s national TV campaign or, worse yet, a local sales pitch.

Off the top of my head I can think of no brand that actually built itself on the radio. Bud Light could make an argument for their “Real men of Genius” campaign. Lord knows it has won countless awards, including the very biggest like Cannes, Andy and the One Show. Yes, the work is consistently funny, if not long in the tooth, but I’d argue the main reason it’s considered so good is because everything else on the radio is so bad.

And clichéd. How many spots feature a smartass wife interacting with her dumbshit husband? It’s like they are the only two characters allowed on the radio. Shrinks and their patients would be a close second. So much for the limitless possibilities, eh?

Mostly radio is just a lot of screaming and yelling. Nothing irks me more than the incessant caterwauling. Prices and phone numbers and web sites, oh my! Here is also the last bastion of singing copy. Worse than jingles (plenty of those as well), singing copy is essentially the tone deaf warbling of what’s being sold.

That radio ads are relentless and interruptive only aggravates me further. Talk radio can be a guilty pleasure but the amount of commercial filler often exceeds the airtime of the talent. I am not exaggerating. Listen to ESPN some morning. If they didn’t have Sports Center updates every 20 minutes I’d get to work knowing more about Cialis than the Cubbies.

No surprise I’ve written few campaigns in the medium. All sucked, save one: a delightful satire of A&E’s Biography for In that campaign, I was able to use Peter Grave’s iconic voice and have some fun with art history.

Currently, my agency uses radio to sell certain new items from Potbelly Sandwich Works. In keeping with the brand, they are quirky and folksy. I don’t hate them. But I must concede that this is due to how much I adore Potbelly. No submarine floats my boat like Potbelly!

A good friend of mine specializes in writing and producing radio advertising: Bart Radio in Seattle. The guy’s very good at what he does and I love working with him. Every time we have collaborated I’ve opened the brief by saying let’s try hard not to make this one suck. Easier said than done. That’s radio.

Adweek article


5 Responses to “Radio Daze. AM/FM finds itself in a tailspin and I’m already dressed for the funeral.”

  1. jphodgins said

    I agree to a point. Radio is full of untapped potential. The ads haven’t changed much in the last twenty years. For the most part, you could listen to an ad from 1980, and it wouldn’t sound much different.

    As for a brand built on radio, take Motel 6 – “We’ll leave the light on.” It’s the only one I can think of, but it’s the prime example.

  2. Rod said

    Brands built on radio?

    Motel 6 comes readily to mind.

    And Geico.

    Remember Snapple’s launch? It became a national brand as a direct result of advertising in talk radio. (Their current “better stuff” ad on TV is limp by comparison.)

    Then there’s Hooked on Phonics, Verbal Advantage, and other brands built on direct-response radio campaigns.
    products originally introduced by radio)

    These are just off the top of my head; undoubtedly there are others. Boston Markets, maybe – brilliant campaign by Orkin and company…

    Nevertheless, I share your disdain for the cliché-ridden drivel that is allowed to pass for advertising on the airwaves.

    We can do better. We must do better.

    Fortunately, I see improvements here and there that are most encouraging, as radio advertising sales/creative professionals embrace a higher standard for their own clients and markets.

    Isn’t this how change often comes about – at the grassroots level, driven by people who are passionate about getting it right?


  3. SRP said

    I love your attitude but good radio has been on the endangered species list a long time for a reason. It’s too damn limited. I’ve judged 30 award shows in my career and in every one the radio sucked, save for Motel 6 and Bud Light. And I even got sick of those!

    • Rod said

      Would you care to hear some truly inspiring examples of radio advertising? Please visit the Radio Mercury Awards website ( and click on “winners.” Listen to finalists and winners from previous years. I believe you’ll find it a feast (for any pair of ears wired to a marketing brain).

      Radio advertising as it’s practiced is often far from the mark when measured against radio as it could be practiced.

      But isn’t it the same with all writing?

      Novelists and ad writers alike have equal access to the same 26 letters. The challenge for the latter is to create a compelling message lasting just 30 or 60 seconds.

      It can be done. But it takes time and effort.

  4. joey from marketing said

    Tell them about the discount, Harry!

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