Fundamentals of Radio Broadcasting: Promoting the Station

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Promotion is a broad term for advertising. It means providing information about your product and getting people to want to buy it. The product can be a commodity, a service, an idea or concept, an organization, or an individual. In the case of a radio broadcasting station it is the sound. "Selling" the product here means getting people to listen, to hear the verbal messages, and to act upon what the announcer is urging them to do. The verbal message may be in the form of poetry, prose, or a musical lyric; the intent of the message may be to inform, remind, or persuade. A broadcasting station can work toward this end by using its own facilities or those of other media, and promotion can attempt to build a listening audience, market the products of advertisers, or acquire new advertising accounts. Let us look at each of these possibilities for promotion in more detail.


Whether a broadcasting station is commercial or noncommercial, it is interested in building its listening audience. While a noncommercial station may have the support of a philanthropic organization, it still must be heard by whatever audience it intends to reach. In the case of a commercial station, listeners are essential for economic survival. When a station attempts to sell its air time, the price is established largely by the size and buying power of the listening audience. In the next Section we shall talk about measuring the size of the audience, but right now, let us consider ways of building it.

Gimmicks alone cannot build an audience. The station must have an attractive product if it expects to hold onto listeners. We have already discussed some programming concepts that appear to be the determinants of good broadcasting practices. But it is necessary to remember that programming a radio station is not an exact science. Listener behavior is affected not only by the performance of the station, but also by the listener's own individual mood--something over which the station has no control. A particular musical selection may fit in perfectly with a station's format, but might trigger an unhappy recollection in the mind of the listener who would then dial to another station. The best a broad caster can do is to use good taste and judgment and hope that the listeners will stay, once they have tuned in.

On-the-Air Promotion

The mass media-newspapers, magazines, broadcasting stations-have an advantage over other enterprises: they can promote their product through their own facilities. They can use as much or as little of their own space or air time as they wish. There is, of course, a point of diminishing returns. If a station goes to extremes in using its facilities for promotion, it may have an adverse rather than a positive effect upon the public. Furthermore, the air time of a broadcasting station is not free.

The time that is used for promotion could have been drawing revenue from an advertiser. A responsible broadcaster would not want to load up the station with promotional spot announcements, but instead use them with discretion. Most effective is the practice of using promotional spots for calling attention to specific programs or activities of the station.

Promoting Programs

Radio programs can easily be missed. Generally people do not look in the paper for specific radio programs as they do for television programs. Seldom are programs rerun, unless they are exceptionally good. So it is important that, somehow, you let people know when you are going to do something special. The best way is to promote the program on your own station. The motto of good promotion is Plan Ahead. Do not let things just happen without giving notice in advance that they are going to happen. You may put many hours of work into a program and have only a few listeners, because you failed to promote it. Modesty is not called for when you think you have some thing good. Advertise it! A promotional spot in radio is called a promo. It tells the listener what to listen for and when to listen:

Next Tuesday night KFJC will cover the election returns. Our reports will begin at 8 o'clock when the polls close and continue until a definite trend has been established. We'll have reports direct from the county election office, interviews with the candidates, and the results of a study conducted by De Anza College on the voting habits of college students. It all happens next Tuesday night right here on KFJC.

You might want to make a production spot out of this, with music and sound effects in the background. Notice that the important information has been repeated just as it is in any other commercial or public service announcement. Promos are scheduled into the log like any other spot.

Usually they are logged as SP (station promo) or SC (station continuity), rather than as COM (commercial) or PSA (public service announcement).

Institutional Promotion Another type of promotion advertises the station in general rather than a specific program. This is known as institutional promotion, and its purpose is to fix the name of a company or product in the public mind. Even if people do not listen to a station, it is advantageous for it to be recognized-if possible, to become a "house hold word." People all over the country have heard of The New York Times, even if most of them have never read it. Few radio stations are likely to achieve such nationwide reputations, but some are better known than others. KSFO used to bill itself as "The world's greatest radio station--especially in San Francisco." While they may not have had the highest rating in the area, everyone was familiar with their call letters.

Call letters can be a significant factor contributing to the individuality and identity of a station. The selection of call letters is subject to the approval of the FCC. There are certain criteria that must be met:

One is that all stations east of the Mississippi begin with W and those to the west with K. Another is that there must be no two alike. A third, of course, is that the combination of letters must be in good taste-the FCC would not permit obscene or suggestive words. Within these limitations, stations try to pick for themselves call letters that are easily remembered and pertain in some way to their region, local environment, affiliation, or style of programming. Examples would be KCBS, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco; KJAZ, which programs jazz music; and KGMS, the good music station in Sacramento. Our own station in Los Altos Hills uses the call letters KFJC, standing for Foothill Junior College. When we became known as a Community College, we considered changing our call letters to KFCC, but we were afraid the Commission would not approve.

The main purpose of call letters is to provide clear identification of a broadcasting station. The FCC requires that this identification be made at least every hour, but it does not set a maximum number of times that the call letters can be used. Some stations make a policy of using the call letters frequently so that the audience always knows what station it is listening to. But over-usage does tend to get tiresome, especially when the call letters are attached to time, weather, news-briefs, and almost every other statement an announcer is likely to make. Some stations prefer to focus attention upon their frequency rather than the call letters, on the theory that it is important for the listener to know the location of the station on the dial. Both frequency and call letters can be promoted in a variety of ways. Pronouncing the combination of letters as a word is one of the more common methods. For example, KABL becomes "cable." In other cases, stations will use rhyming words or slogans. Perhaps the most popular course of all is to incorporate the call letters into a musical jingle. One station in San Francisco used a clever device to associate the call letters with the frequency. Their position on the FM dial is 101 megahertz and they selected the call letters of KIOI. They identify themselves unofficially as kay-one-oh-one. Their legal identification on the hour, of course, still must be K101.

Promoting Personalities

A station may or may not wish to invest heavily in the promotion of their on-the-air personnel. Some that do are well rewarded. As the fortunes of the personality rise, so do those of the station. It is certainly to the advantage of a station to employ a popular disk jockey whom everyone wants to listen to. The disadvantage is that the personality becomes very expensive and often is wooed by other stations. Some disk jockeys have the power to command large audiences and possess the ability to retain their listeners even when they move to a new station. Before a station makes a big investment in any one employee, it must be certain to have the individual under a strong contract. One such disk jockey, Don Sherwood, had to agree that when he left KSFO, he would not go to work for any other radio station in the San Francisco Bay area.

Some disk jockeys try to do their own promotion. However, a radio personality of purely local standing has limited resources in this direction. Since networks do not carry disk jockey programs, there is no chance of obtaining nationwide recognition. Also fan clubs are rare for the D.J. But there are other things radio personalities can do for their own promotion. Sometimes they will have made, at their own expense, their own musical jingles and signatures. D.J.'s who pay for these productions themselves will probably not include the station call letters in them. The jingle is the performer's own property and can be taken along to another station.

Another opportunity for the enterprising D.J. is to make personal appearances. The qualities of a good disk jockey generally include those of a good master of ceremonies. Stations like to have their air personalities go out into the community to be the host or hostess on ceremonial occasions. Sometimes the D.J. can pick up extra money by playing records at dances and discos. These kinds of opportunities are available in the small, rural communities as well as in the larger metropolitan areas.

Often small, local stations will sponsor dances and perhaps even broad cast the Firemen's Ball or the Grange Hall Social.

The station can profit from the popularity of a disk jockey. It is always good for a station to increase the size of its listening audience.

But more directly, the popular D.J. can attract sponsors. A D.J. with a unique and appealing style may be sought by local merchants to do their commercials. The merchant may request that the D.J. do the announcement live and give it a special treatment. In this case the advantage is to the station rather than to the D.J. On other occasions the merchant may request that the spot be recorded so that it can be used on other stations.

Under these circumstances the D.J. would receive a talent fee. This fee can range from just a few dollars to a considerable sum. If the spot announcement is to run often and on a number of different stations, the announcer's contract may provide for residuals. Residuals are fees paid to the performers on a recording based on the number of times it is played on the air. An announcer who becomes well known in the broad casting industry can make a good living working for national accounts.


One method of building an audience commonly used by radio stations is to hold contests. This method is controversial and shunned by many station managers, because it is expensive and does not always produce lasting results. The propriety of using contests to gain listeners is also questionable. Some consider it to be tantamount to bribery or pandering. Supporters of contests, however, regard them as effective in merchandising products as well as increasing the size of a listening audience. A contest may draw listeners to a station and hold them until the payoff. But it is the quality of the station's regular programming that will ultimately determine its rating.

Any contest must, of course, be conducted within the legal limits set by the FCC and state and federal statutes.' In order to avoid being classified as a lottery, a contest must meet certain criteria. The contest may offer prizes of cash or merchandise; it may be based upon chance; but it must not require monetary consideration of the participants. In other words, neither the station nor the sponsoring merchant may re quire any fee or purchase of tickets or merchandise as a condition of eligibility to win. Qualifications, such as age, may be imposed, but there must not be entry fees of any kind. A merchant can require that contestants come into the store for application blanks but, again, may not require purchases.

Most radio contests require that participants call or write the station. This draws attention to the station and also serves as a monitoring device for estimating numbers of listeners. In addition, it provides the station with a mailing list that can be used for future promotional campaigns.

The chief expense of a contest is the cost of the prizes. A station can offset this cost by giving advertising time to the contributors of prizes.

Here again, the station must weigh the value of its own air time. The spot announcement that is used for promoting the donor of a prize constitutes revenue lost to the station. A station may want to utilize its own facilities to defray expenses, but not to its own detriment.


Building a large listening audience is only one part of the goal of a commercial radio station. Another is marketing the products of the advertisers. The two are often related, but they are not identical. A message may be heard by a great many people, but unless the listeners buy the product, the advertiser is wasting money. It is entirely possible that a participating sponsor may be selling a product that does not appeal to the radio station's listeners. For example, banks and insurance companies may not be helped by advertising on a rock and roll station, regard less of the number of listeners it may have. From a marketing point of view, the station with a smaller, more affluent audience may produce better results. A commercial station needs to get results for its advertisers; just reading the messages on the air is not enough. That is why stations offer other marketing services in addition to spot announcements.

Off-The-Air Promotion

The broadcasters that are most successful commercially are those that consider themselves to be in the merchandising business, rather than in the entertainment business. Off -the -air promotion can be good for the station and for the sponsor as well. Bumper stickers are commonly used by radio stations as promotional devices. The stickers give the call letters of the station and perhaps a slogan for further identification. As an incentive for people to put stickers on their cars, the station and/or the sponsor may offer added benefits. A sponsor may give a discount, for example, to customers who have certain stickers or identifying symbols on their cars. Sometimes the station itself will give prizes to motorists selected at random who are displaying the stickers.

A practice that is gaining increasing support is to pass the cost of promotion on to the consumer. There was a time when advertisements had to be given away, and people had to be paid to display them. No longer. The public is quite willing to buy tee shirts, beer mugs, book covers, ice chests, and a variety of other items that display advertising logos, not just at cost, but at a profit to the manufacturer. All over the country people are volunteering to become walking billboards and are willing to pay for the privilege.

Trips with D.J.s A promotional device that is popular with disk jockeys is for them to take trips with listeners. Both the D.J. and the listeners who are selected get expense--paid weekends to some vacation resort. This is an expensive operation for the station, but it has proven to be successful in gaining and holding listeners. The attraction is that people have to listen to the station in order to win. They must hear their names mentioned on the air and must call in within a certain period of time. The vacation provides the added dimension of establishing a very close rapport between the listener and the radio station. The individual who gets to know a D.J. personally is going to become an avid fan. The trip may be financed by the radio station for the sake of obtaining listeners, or it may have the backing of a commercial enterprise. Airlines or travel agencies, for example, may wish to sponsor such an endeavor, or at least share the expenses with the broadcaster. Often the arrangements are made by an advertising agency, which works out all the details and sells the "package" to a station and a sponsor, jointly.


In broadcasting not all business is conducted on a cash basis. Occasionally the barter system is used. A trade -out is just such an arrangement. A station may run spot announcements for a company and receive a product or a service in exchange. It is not uncommon for re sorts and hotels to contract for advertising time and then make accommodations available to employees of the radio station. This practice must, of course, be done through the sales department of the station. It is illegal for station personnel to make their own private arrangements with commercial enterprises and receive favors, without having such transactions cleared through the accounting department. This type of under the-table operation is referred to as "payola" and is a violation of federal law.


Marketing a sponsor's product means, in the first place, acquiring the advertiser's business. It is not sufficient for a station to provide quality programming and gain large numbers of listeners; the broadcaster must also make these facts known to those who are in the business of buying air time. Local sales representatives will carry the word to the local merchants; national representatives will make it known to the larger ac counts. But to broaden the scope of coverage, radio stations often advertise in periodicals. The most widely read magazines are those with national circulation. But, of course, a local broadcasting station does not need national coverage. To accommodate local and regional advertisers, magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated offer special rates for limited coverage. The advertisement will appear only in those copies of the periodical which are distributed in one or another particular part of the country. (In other words, each issue of the magazine is made up in several different versions.) In this way broadcasters can get the attention, not only of advertising agencies, but of potential listeners as well, without the enormous expense of unneeded coverage. To sharpen the focus of the promotion campaign, the broadcaster will also advertise in the trade journals. A trade journal is a magazine published for the benefit of the people in a particular industry or profession. For radio and television the most widely distributed trade magazine is Broad casting, which is published weekly and distributed nationwide. In most states there are other trade publications serving the local regions. They are valuable assets to broadcasters because they are read by advertisers as well as by people in the radio and television profession.


In addition to trade journals, broadcasting stations that try to maintain a high degree of professionalism actively support and call upon their professional associations. These are organizations which can provide considerable help in feeding information to broadcasters and looking out for their interests. The most influential broadcasting organization in this country is the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which has been instrumental in formulating public policy as it pertains to the broadcasting industry. While NAB is open to anyone, it is primarily an organization for commercial broadcasters. Noncommercial stations are represented by CPB-the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is a private, nonprofit corporation, established to foster the growth and development of the nation's noncommercial radio and television stations.

College stations have their own association, the Intercollegiate Broad casting System (IBS), which has been extremely helpful in aiding in the establishment and development of college radio' In addition to the associations mentioned above, there are numerous local and regional organizations to which broadcasters can turn for advice and assistance.

The promotion of the industry as a whole may not be felt at the grass roots level immediately, but in the long run it has been largely responsible for the success that radio and television stations enjoy.


Promotion is important to a radio station. It means developing the influence of a station by building a listening audience and helping sponsors to sell their products. Stations are continually trying to get people to listen.

They do this by improving their programming and by thinking of gimmicks to gain and hold the attention of listeners. Contests are successful in doing this, but may not have long-lasting effects. Individual disk jockeys advance their own fortunes as well as the stations' for which they work by extending themselves to the community. They can also pick up extra money by doing commercials for large advertisers. A radio station can promote its own cause by utilizing other media in addition to its own facilities. Bumper stickers and tee shirts are common devices and popular among listeners. Broadcasters often use periodicals for advertising their stations, particularly the trade journals. Radio and television stations also rely on professional organizations to promote and enhance the industry as a whole.


Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) Institutional promotion Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)

Promotion spot Promo Residuals Station continuity (SC) Station promo (SP) Talent fee Trade journal Trade-outs


1. Plan a contest suitable for a radio station promotional campaign. Be realistic about the prizes to be given away. Plan all aspects of the contest. Consider the qualifications of the contestants, what they need to do to win, how their entries will be judged, how the prizes will be awarded to the winners, and how the station will announce the winners. If the contest involves a quiz, write the questions and answers. If it is a puzzle, be sure it is not too hard or too easy.

You want some winners, but not too many. Estimate how many people would be interested in such a contest and how many listeners the station could expect to draw.

2. Write a promotional spot announcement for the contest. Give enough information so that people will be able to understand what it is about. Be sure to tell when it starts and who is eligible.

3. Go to the library and get a copy of one of the professional journals or broad casting trade magazines. See what advertisements the periodical contains. Are the advertisements directed to the listener or to the sponsor? See what other information there is in the magazine that might be useful to the radio broad caster.

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