Direct Response Radio Buying Basics – The Ups and Downs of Buying Local Vs. Network

How to test your direct-response offer the proper way on radio? Be Forewarned – there are MANY ways to screw it up!! With more means of testing than ever, the clutter can get confusing. While there are some very decent radio sales reps out there, their agenda is still to sell THEIR stations, so they are a limited source of expertise at best.

Assuming your offer is compelling, and your patience is reasonable, there can be a successful formula for you. Here is a breakdown of most popular means of testing Direct-Response Radio, both what they mean, and the various Pros and Cons of each medium.


There are about 11,000 radio stations in the United States, about two-thirds of which except advertising. Each of those stations feature one of 40 or so current formats, all of which are specifically programmed to reach a specific demographic target.

PROS: You can test many stations relatively inexpensively, while building frequency, either through rotators or keying in on one daypart (segment of the broadcast day). If a station tests well, you can likely duplicate its success on many stations with similar formats across the country. A good local station rep can also be a key marketing partner – they have 24/7 of broadcast time to bonus you extra spots, offer added promotional value, get you :10 liner mentions, even cut rates to help reach your CPO or CPL goals. Finally, listeners spend much of their time between only 2 or 3 stations. If you buy the three most cost-efficient stations in your target demo, you can OWN the radio audience for an entire market!!

CONS: If you test a station that does not work, or a schedule that is not favorable, that doesn’t mean radio failed – it does, however, means you need to start from scratch. You may also have tested the wrong daypart, or not purchased enough frequency to get a true beat on the station’s audience. Also, if your test is market-specific, the market you need may be heavily oversold at the time you want to test, compromising your ability to make a direct-response-friendly media buy.


A radio network is cluster of stations, from as few as Two to as many as 1,000-plus, all contracted to run your spot. Most spots run on a “wired” network, i.e. simultaneously on all affiliates which carry a specific program, such as Rush Limbaugh or Dr. Laura. Some networks are “unwired”, which means they are not united by a specific program; they are merely a cluster of stations who agree to run spots during a specified time-period.

PROS: The ultimate means of using Reach to target an audience, networks can offer you hundreds of thousands if not millions of simultaneous listeners nationwide. Accordingly, CPMs are generally lower than those in local radio. You can also look at results from a network buy, see which affiliates/markets/regions generated the most leads, and then narrow your next buy to target those specifically successful areas.

CONS: Most networks only offer the chance to buy 2 or 3 hours per day, so you don’t get the sort of frequency your offer might need to make an impression. Network spots are usually much more expensive than local, so there can be budget limitations to what you can buy. Most Networks are talk-based, and relatively few are Music-based. Accordingly, if your product is best suited to a non-talk format, the pickings may be slim for where you can test on the network level. If you do find a successful network format that is not Talk based, rolling out can be a challenge.

And Finally, Let’s Not Forget One Final Advantage BOTH Mediums Share IS…

Live Reads and Endorsements of on-air personalities!! What other medium allows the very “star” (whom we tune into for information or entertainment) to say nice things about our offer? While this usually costs a bit more, the results can be worth it. Regardless of whether you test local, network, or Satellite, personality reads should be on your list of test options to consider.

Joe Rashbaum is president of The Radio Solution Company, a radio direct response agency and consulting firm celebrating 11 years of success. Reach him at (805) 279-3391 or inquire below.

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