Radio is Overloaded

Radio Spots as TissuesThe other day I was flipping through the dial and every one of the ten stations I flipped to was in commercial at the same time. Yesterday, I was air-checking a new morning show and between the commercials, traffic, weather, and canned commentaries I listened for 30 minutes without so much as a “good morning” from the new personality.

Tragic. Opportunity missed. Quarter-hours lost. Radio listener’s discouraged.

I listen to quite a bit of radio. I love radio. I should say I WANT to love radio, but I am increasingly dissatisfied with the return on my investment of time.  Gang, we got a spot problem. There’s way too much clutter. We’re strangling content to squeeze blood from a turnip. Enough already.

I know I’m not the first to bring it up. I just watched a talk Jerry Del Colliano gave at Talkers 2014 and he brought it up too.

It was also a discussion in the #SRCHAT (Sports Radio Chat) on Twitter last night too.

That last one caught the attention of many on the chat. We are willingly sacrificing what’s best for the listening experience to accommodate a revenue model that was introduced in 1921.


Let that sink in.

The same year radio began to sell spots; World War I ended, Warren G. Harding was inaugurated as President, and KDKA created the first radio news room and broadcast the first ever baseball game on the radio.

Radio commericals have had a good run. But, the time has come to rethink the way we monetize our content. We don’t need to eliminate them altogether, but we need to value our platforms at a much higher rate, creatively collaborate on projects with advertisers and be willing to say “no” a whole lot more often to spots that don’t match our brand or meet our production quality standards.

(Insert a spit take from GMs and GSMs across the country)









The more we load up our hours with limitless units of :05s, :10s, :15s, :30s and still even :60s, the faster we’re pushing the next generation of radio listeners to competing audio content providers.

Think about this. The #1 thing in every research project radio has EVER conducted (hyperbole intended), commercials are what listeners react the most negatively too. And you know what we say? “Oh, they always say that. Just ignore it.”

I’m afraid we can’t ignore it anymore.

It’s going to take creativity, guts, leadership, ideation and innovation. Raise your hand if you have an idea. The solution isn’t going to likely arrive from the corner office. I’m looking at the board ops, producers, talent, reporters, street-teamers, and sales assistants. We need to start asking different people how we can solve this problem. So, I’m asking. Do YOU have any ideas?


  • Co-branding opportunities / strategic partnerships (studio, phone lines, text, street team, events, etc.) I know this is happening in some stations already but usually it’s undervalued and tragically it’s often flighted-in instead of signing an annual.
  • Multiplatform solutions or coordinated Brand Takeovers (audio, video, text, web, stream, podcast, app)
  • XAPP Media – interactive online/mobile spots
  • Creating exclusive online stations for partners co-branded with radio station featuring exclusive promotions/access/messaging for partners. (Listen to the Jones Honda Hits Music Channel on for your chance to win a trip to the Honda 500)
  • Invest in great copy writers.

Add your ideas in the comments below or email me at

  1. Dick Taylor
    September 10, 2014 at 6:14 PM

    Larry, I don’t disagree that radio has a major clutter problem. The John Hogan “Less is More” initiative only exacerbated the clutter problem (kind of like when the government passes a clean water act that does quite the opposite, but I digress). The first radio ad was sold by AT&T’s radio station WEAF in August of 1921. It was about a 10-15 minute ad for a condo developer. The reason AT&T sold the ad, was it was trying to figure out how to make money to pay for the costs of operating its radio station. GE, RCA & Westinghouse ran radio stations up to that point in time for the same reason Kodak made cameras. (Kodak wanted to sell film & receiver manufacturers wanted to sell radios.) But in those early days of radio, no one really knew what a viable model to support this new medium was. New York City tried a tax on all radios sold to support its public station WNYC. (That tax lasted until 1995.) It wouldn’t be until 1928 that of all the business models tried, that the sale of radio advertising would be shown to be a viable business model. In 1921, there was about 1 radio in every 500 households in America. By 1926, there was 1 radio in 6 households. In that same year the first plug-in radios came on the market replacing battery powered receivers that were in use at that time. And radio would become more important in the households of America than having a telephone, a vacuum cleaner or an electric iron. Radio was powerful. Today, we see other new developments enjoying that adoption and use by not just the next generations, but by those generations that grew up on radio (like me). It’s not just too many ads, but ads that don’t fit with the format, ads that don’t talk to the listener, ads written by people who shouldn’t author a text message, etc. Every radio research report I’ve seen speaks to the POWER of the personality to the listener, but today’s broadcasters have done a good job of sun-setting these invaluable assets. No one ever fell in love with a distribution system. They fell in love with radio personalities and radio stationality. While radio thinks going digital and streaming is the future, they better look at the pure plays that are already occupying that space and realize they ARE NOT play 10-spots in a row and yelling at the listener. They are placing commercial content that fits the formatics programmed and limiting the message load so that each one cuts through. Ads on pure plays actually become a little oasis of information in a sea of music that fits your mood. The landscape has changed. Radio has a TON of advantages. But it won’t, if it doesn’t leverage them. As Steve Jobs said so well when he came back to Apple in 1985: You’ve got to start with the customer first and build things the customer wants. Not build things first and then try to figure out how to get someone to buy them. Radio is doing too much of the latter and it used to be good at doing the former.

    • September 10, 2014 at 6:28 PM

      Thanks Dick, it’s great to have the whole history in order to move forward. I appreciate the thoughtful response and look forward to radio folk starting withe “jobs to be done” for consumers as we reinvigorate the medium.

  2. Rick Starr
    September 11, 2014 at 7:07 PM

    This is not new. In the 1960’s stations were carrying 16 to 18 minutes of commercials, plus promos, irrelevant chatter, etc. and then a guy named Bill Drake (along with his partner in crime) invented a format that allowed a maximum of 13 minutes of spots an hour. More than that, it permitted a total of two units in a break (whether it was a :60 & :10, :30 & :30) of never more than :70 seconds. And the format beat established stations in virtually every market where it played. 13 minutes meant the programmers were back in charge, and the sales guys had to jockey for inventory and push rates. It’s not really that complicated, but for some reason nobody in the business gets it.

  1. December 29, 2014 at 12:09 PM

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