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Wizard of Ads

Local Radio, For Real


Dear Mr. Williams: My name is Erica. Im 35 and have spent the last decade in radio. I have enjoyed a great deal of success as a salesperson and as a sales manager. Ive always wanted to buy my own radio station, and in April I will close on my first one.

I have been raised in the industry, learning from you, and admire your wisdom and foresight. What would your advice be to me someone not afraid to be different and take risks to be the bes damn small-market radio station owner? I know everyone elses answer is, Be in digital, but lets be real. Few seem to know what that really means, and I feel I have that part under control. Currently, Im focusing on being hyper-local and hyperaccessible. If I were your daughter, what would you tell me to not forget?

As you asked, Ill make two points as if speaking to my daughter:

1: Everyone around you will want to share deeply felt opinions about what you should do. Dont let these people mess with your heart and mind. Unsolicited opinions are the junk mail of life. Ignore them as best you can.

2: You mentioned hyper-local and hyper-accessible. Ive done that. It works.

Twenty-six years ago, I operated KICK-AM in Springfield, MO for about three months. It was a dying station that was losing money, and I was thinking to purchase it. I agreed to take over and cover expenses for 90 days in return for the freedom to experiment with a few hyper-local ideas.

I gave the sales staff a rotating schedule so that each hour, 8 a.m.-6 p.m., we could feature a live report called in by one of them. If you see a sidewalk sale in front of a golf shop and they have some cool stuff for sale cheap, call it in. If a pizza joint creates a weird new pizza, call it in. If tropical plants are being sold out of a semi-truck in a parking lot, call it in. To the listener, it felt like local news. But it wasnt hard news. It was the kind of stuff a friend would mention to a friend.

Sales staff would call in to an answering machine, letting them do two or three takes, if needed, to create a clean run. If the thing the audience should know about involved a business, my sales rep would get the owner/manager to go on the air for 90 seconds to answer a few questions. When they were done, the sales rep would tell them the dial position and the exact time to listen to hear themselves on the radio. (These people would often call their friends so they could listen, too. Do this delayed, not live.)

1. The audience likes hearing whats happening around town.
2. Businesspeople love to hear themselves on the radio.
3. Radio has never given away free samples. Why is this?
4. We never talked about anything during these breaks that wasnt exciting. No insurance agents, etc.
5. We never did a second break for the same event.
6. Not every call-in involved a prospective advertiser. This really is for the audience. These features shouldnt feel to the audience like they are constantly being sold something.
7. Nothing opens doors like saying, Im going to call this in to the radio station and make sure our audience knows about it. Would you be willing to go on the air with me?

Hourly call-ins made us sound like we were everywhere, involved in everything. When you mention a particular item at a sidewalk sale or rave about a weird new pizza, you can bet the retailer is going to get a lot of questions and comments about it. And everywhere they go for the next several days, someone will say, Hey! I heard you on the radio.

The outcomes were these:

-- Other stations looked selfish, tight-fisted, and greedy compared to us. We were helpful and generous.

-- The call-ins always got quick results due to the urgent, limited-time nature of the things we featured.

-- Having seen results from just one live ad, many of these people were open to talking about a schedule when we popped in a day or two later to ask, Did anyone hear you on the radio?

In the end, I chose to be an advertising consultant based in Austin rather than a station owner in Springfield. But this little experiment was extremely successful. We opened a lot of doors, made a lot of friends, and sold a lot of airtime on a station that had a very small audience.

Radio people will tell you this is a horrible idea. I know so because thats what they told me 26 years ago. Now go back and read the first of the two points I made earlier.

Best of luck to you, Erica.


Roy H. Williams is president of Wizard of Ads Inc. E-mail:

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