Radio Is NOT Immediate!

by John Pellegrini

For as long as I can remember, decade after decade, everyone from station owners to General Managers to Program Directors to salespeople to even us production people have all made a big mistake concerning the concept of radio.  I, myself, have made this mistake on countless occasions.  This mistake has caused endless grief, attitude problems, temper tantrums, depression, even firings and lawsuits.  In short, this mistake has been the single cause of more of radio’s problems than any other reason.  This mistake is responsible for virtually every bad decision that has ever come down the pike, with the singular exception of the reintroduction of disco.

This mistake has ruined the way we in the industry perceive radio and has taken this one time credible medium and turned it into a national joke.  This mistake is the reason why so much radio around the country sounds so amateurish.  This mistake is the reason why commercials sound like crap, why promotions sound stupid and phony, and why there is so much boring drivel being passed off as “entertainment.”

What is particularly amazing is that the mistake is all encompassed in the use of one simple word (in fact, one simple spelling mistake):  IMMEDIATE.  You’ve heard it; you’ve used it.  I’ve heard it; I’ve used it.  “Radio is IMMEDIATE.”

WRONG!!!  I am now going to set the record straight.  We have been embracing the wrong word.  Because somewhere, sometime, decades ago there was a stupid spelling mistake that took radio from its glory days down the road of stupidity and poor sounding programming.  Yes, a simple spelling mistake that’s very easy to make, because the correct word is very close to Immediate.

You see, radio is not immediate, radio is INTIMATE.  Almost the same number of letters.  In fact, they even sound alike.  But there is a BIG difference in perception.

What are we describing when we say radio is “immediate?”  Do we mean that we get the news faster than television?  Hardly.  Even if I was stupid enough to believe that nonsense, all I have to do is turn on the TV any time there’s a major late-breaking story, and there it is.  Network interruptions, local interruptions, all the big news gets on TV just as fast as radio.  You might say that radio can report any story quickly, but let me ask, is every story worth broadcasting immediately?  Of course not, so why bring it up?

Here is my point once again:  Radio Is Intimate.  Think about that for a moment or two.  What do we do that television cannot do?  We can speak one-on-one with our listeners.  We get inside our listeners’ minds.  Television is a medium that talks AT you, not to you.  Television is pictures and dialogue being thrown at you.  In fact, TV doesn’t even need you because many shows already have their own in-studio audiences.  TV programmers come up with a show that they hope people will WATCH, but seldom participate with.

Radio is exactly the opposite.  Good radio inspires listener participation.  Good radio gets personal with you.  Good radio is INTIMATE...not immediate.

Time to address the subject that I’ve always considered to be overused and overrated:  Theater of the Mind.  Another mistake we in radio have made is to have the audacity to think that we invented Theater of the Mind.  That’s a load of doody.  Theater of the Mind has been in existence for centuries.  It’s called, “The Written Word.”

When you read a book, do you just simply see the words printed on a page?  Of course not.  Your brain comes up with images or pictures of the characters and the locations.  Wait a minute!  Am I trying to tell you that radio is the bastard stepchild of the book?  YES!!!!  Exactly!  Radio does what books do.  Radio gets inside your head and tells you a good story, or educates you with information like a textbook.  Radio is the written word coming to life.

Now, what kind of a moron would publish the very first thing an author writes?  Can you guess the answer?  NONE!  Nobody ever publishes the first draft of anything.  Authors always revise, edit, and review all of their work until it is the best it can be.  Can you now guess where I’m going with this?  Why do we, the offspring of the book, think that we can just broadcast the first thing that comes to mind when we write commercials?  Are we somehow gods among writers like Shakespeare, Voltaire, Hugo, and others that the first thing we put down is perfection or, at least, more than satisfactory?

Apparently we do, hence the audacity and stupidity of the “IMMEDIACY OF RADIO” attitude.

Let’s put a stop to this bull-crap once and for all.  Radio is not immediate.  Radio is INTIMATE!  Radio talks to people on a personal level, the way only a good book can.  Radio puts you right in the middle of the announcer’s thoughts.  Radio is INTIMATE!  I’m going to keep screaming that until everyone gets it. 

For radio to work correctly, you’ve got to understand this very point.  For a commercial to be successful on radio, you’ve got to get intimate with your audience, so that they have a real reason to go out and get your product.  Stupid ideas like an hourly countdown of the clock before a sale starts do not inspire anyone to do anything except turn off their radio.  Immediacy is no reason to buy radio advertising.  If a store or business owner has any sense, he or she would tell a salesperson using that line to get lost.  Why would I want something that was thrown together in less than five minutes broadcast as a representation of my business?  Oh yeah, that makes my store look real professional.

Radio stations spend millions annually on research, data, surveys, and more to determine exactly who they are, what their image is, and who their listeners are.  Then, they turn around and tell their advertisers that they can put an ad on the air in less than an hour!  What kind of outright theft is this?  No wonder ad agencies think we’re all a bunch of grade school dropouts.  Only someone who “done gradyated from da 6 grade” would think that conducting business with our clients in this fashion is doing them a favor.

It’s time to wake up and smell the jet fuel.  Radio is not Immediate.  Radio is intimate!!!  Radio is far superior to television in both intellectual capacity and the ability to motivate, inspire, interest, and captivate its audience.  The very concept that you can put a spot on the air that took less than five minutes to create from start to finish is exactly what is killing the industry.  It is exactly why radio is not respected, is not thought of seriously, and is always looked upon as the last resort by the advertising agencies, because they know that’s how we sell radio to appeal to our clients.  And that’s what they think we do, twenty-four hours a day, with every single advertiser that we have.

This is also the reason why so many business owners say, “Radio Advertising doesn’t work.”  Why should it work when the owner was convinced by the salesperson that we could get the word out about his sale right away on the radio.  “Just as soon as I get back to the station, I’ll call you with your commercial.”

I can already hear the salespeople around the world yelling at me for that one!  “Hey, half the time it’s the clients who call us and demand these last-minute ads” they cry.  “You’re making it look like it’s all our fault!”  Well, let me ask you, where did your clients get the idea that they could do that?  Newspapers and television stations don’t allow it.  They have very long deadlines.  Why should we be the exception?  And it’s not just salespeople who are guilty of this practice.  We all are.  Program Directors who get a “brilliant” idea and insist the production person drop everything and get it on immediately.  General Managers who decide that we’ve got to cut corners to beat our competition, so we’re going to prove we’re better by being faster.  Sales Managers who, at the end of the month or quarter, discover that sales quotas have not been met, so hurry up and sell some spots and get them on today!  Production Directors who put things off until the last minute because they were busy telling jokes to the morning guy to use on the air.  Or, even worse, Production Directors who bought into this “immediacy” nonsense right from the start.  Everyone does it.  And it’s time to stop it!

Radio will never be respected until it learns to take itself seriously.  How can you take any business seriously that puts out (broadcasts) an inferior product (commercials and promos) done without planning or any form of quality control, the majority of the time?  And for the worst of all reasons?

Repeat after me:  “Radio Is NOT Immediate.  RADIO IS INTIMATE.”  Continue repeating this until it finally sinks in.  Repeat the following to all your clients:  “We do not write and produce commercials quickly.  We do not get your sale on the air the same day.  You do not decide to have a sale in your store or business and do it on the same day.  Neither do we.  We take our time.  We come up with ideas, decide which is the best, and we give you the best commercial that we can which will achieve the RESULTS YOU WANT!  This is the INTELLIGENT BUSINESS APPROACH.”

If a business owner wants to argue with that line of thinking, then make sure they pay you cash in advance for everything, ‘cause chances are, they aren’t going to be in business too long themselves.

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