"We are in the communications business, the business of conveying messages
to the human brain," said the late David Sarnoff, founder and president of RCA.
"No man is wise enough to know which avenue to the brain is best. Therefore,
the sensible idea is to make all avenues available for carrying the message."
In short, a sophisticated promotional effort, even for the most fledgling charity
organization must target the electronic media to effectively reach the audience
you want as contributors and volunteers. This article will show you how to tap
into the great world of radio.
UNDERSTANDING THE MEDIUM OF RADIO
Radio is the oldest of the electronic media, and it has a number of
characteristics that are important to understand if you want to use radio
properly in your promotional campaigns.
First, radio is the medium that brings you closest to your audience. Radio can
make you feel like you're having a chat with millions of listeners, just as
President Franklin Roosevelt had his famous "fireside chats" with the nation, via
radio, during the Depression. For listeners, radio calls the senses into active
involvement with the message to a degree that television doesn't. The mind's
eye goes to work, creating images to go along with the inflection of the voice
on the radio and the pictures painted by the words. Old-time radio dramas and
comedies had that effect, con, luring up vivid pictures in the minds of families
gathered around "the wireless."
The possibilities for you and your charity to give mental pictures to your
audience, and to capture their interest in deep and probing ways, is powerful.
I speak with experience on the ability of radio to link speaker and listener. I do
a weekly radio commentary on KFWB, an all-news station in Los Angeles, and I
am a frequent guest on talk-radio programs across the country. I am also
frequently interviewed national and local radio-news people for comments on
Hollywood culture, the media, and marketing and publicity.
The response I get from people who hear me over the radio airwaves is quite
extraordinary. Invariably I find people grappling with the content of my
comments far more when they've heard me over the radio than when they've
seen me say something on television. A listener who has heard me on the radio
will typically ask me to explain, elaborate, or provide justification for some
point I made. In contrast, people who have seen me on TV are more likely to
give me a simple comment, such as "I saw you on TV!" without pursuing any
issue or stance I may have taken on the television show.
Second, radio is a fast medium, allowing you to get out a message quickly.
While it took five months to get word back to Queen Isabella about the voyage
of Columbus, and two weeks for Europe to hear about Lincoln's assassination,
it took only 1.3 seconds to get the word from Neil Armstrong that a person
could walk on the moon. Today, it takes less than thirty seconds to let the
world know about anything, from the latest turn in Middle Eastern diplomacy,
to a report that Madonna had her baby. The speed of radio is useful to keep in
mind whenever you have a timely announcement that you believe you must get
Third, radio is still largely unfiltered, allowing ideas to be tested and tossed
around in robust debate. While some of the hosts and callers of talk radio
sensationalize their messages, or are pure-and-simple wacky, radio at its best
offers a modern-day equivalent of the old town-hall gatherings, where
everyone is free to give vent to their opinions and complaints and the
marketplace of ideas is at its most vibrant. This can be useful for charities and
nonprofits that can benefit by tapping into the collective social conscience of a
community through discussion and debate.
Finally, radio is still a regulated medium that is supposed to carry a modicum
of public-interest fare. According to the Communications Act of 1934, the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is empowered to issue radio-
broadcasting licenses "if public convenience, interest, or necessity will be
Although these words are interpreted very broadly today, many radio stations
see themselves as having a social responsibility to broadcast interviews,
feature stories, and public-service announcements (PSA'S) designed to promote
local charitable ventures. This is obviously a significant advantage for charities
and nonprofit groups.
DESIGNING YOUR RADIO STRATEGY
Tapping into your local radio network is actually not difficult. The first step is
to become familiar with the radio stations in your area. Which ones have
public-interest segments or programming themes that are compatible with the
message you're trying to get out?
The only way to discover which stations are best for you is to systematically
listen to every station in your community. To save time, a good approach is to
apportion out the listening task among many members of your organization.
Each person can be assigned a few stations to listen to and report on. I
recommend that you listen to each station over the course of a week, studying
and getting familiar with their announcers, their style and type of
programming, and the audience they appeal to.
After listening to the stations, begin making contact with the program
manager at each station. Begin by calling the stations and asking for the
program manager's name. Then write a letter to the person, asking about the
station's policies on feature programs, special interviews, and public-
information spots to profile a charity such as yours.
In most cases, you will receive a reply letter spelling out the policies. Pay close
attention to every point and nuance that the manager includes in the letter you
get back, because if you submit material for use by the radio station, it must
comply in form with any rules or parameters that the station has given you. For
example, you can't expect station personnel to rewrite a press release or a
public-service announcement that is longer than station rules dictate. You
must take note of those rules from the outset, and make sure any
announcement you send the station abides by them.
When checking out radio stations, don't be put off by a radio station's
emphasis, whether it is an all-music or mostly-music format, or all-news. All
of these formats potentially provide some opportunity for a charity to get its
message broadcast. Even all music or all-sports formats often make space for
spot announcements during breaks for advertising.
To improve your chances of being of interest to a station, you must therefore
be closely in tune with the station's audience. You need to figure out their
interests, their age ranges and demographics, so you can make your pitch in
language that they can relate to and with examples that draw them in. If it's a
sports-oriented station, for example, sports analogies would make sense.
Look for the second part of this article, next week.
Michael Levine is the founder of the prominent public relations firm Levine
Communications Office, based in Los Angeles. He is the author of Guerrilla PR,
7 Life Lessons from Noah's Ark: How to Survive a Flood in Your Own Life.
GuerrillaPR.net is a resource for people that want to get famous in the media,
without going broke. http://GuerrillaPR.net Michael@guerrillaPR.net