Radio Media Buying For Beginners

I always find it amusing when veteran cable TV buyers ask me “How many Households does this radio station reach?” I then wearily explain that, if they think about it, what they have actually asked me is “How many functioning radios exist in every home, car, classroom, office, retail store, and lifeguard stand in the market where this station is located?” Fortunately, radio is a much more precise medium to buy, and once you understand the basics of Direct Response radio buying, you’ll realize why it’s such a practical medium to test.

Radio is the opposite of TV in that its “PrimeTime” – when it has the most listeners – is from 6AM to 7PM. During this time-period, you can buy any of three Dayparts – Morning Drive (6AM to 10AM, often the largest audience, but not always one who is apt to respond); Afternoon Drive (10AM to 3PM, frequently the largest audience on Music formats and the smallest on Talk Formats, but often the most-cost-efficient and where the audience is sitting near a phone or computer at work); and Afternoon Drive (3PM to 7PM, for many, the most responsive time of day, since we are done with work and thinking about our own needs on the Drive Home. Side tip: Stay away from testing Friday afternoons – listeners are already thinking ahead to their weekends). You may also find cheaper rates in Evenings (7PM to Midnight) and Overnights (12:00AM to 5:00AM), but don’t overpay – that’s when listenership and responsiveness decreases sharply.

Each station is programmed by one of over 30 current Formats. Some of the most popular include Country, NewsTalk, Oldies, Adult Contemporary Music, Classic Rock, and Smooth Jazz. Each format is designed to skew toward a specific Demographic (Adults 25-49; Women 35+, etc). Here is a helpful chart to show you which formats best reach the demographics you target.

Adults 25-54: News; News Talk
Women 18-34: Hot Country; Dance; Urban Adult Contemporary
Men 25-54: Sports; FM Talk (i.e. Howard Stern); Modern Rock
Women 25-54: Adult Contemporary (“A/C”)/Mix Music; Country; Christian Music
Men 35+: Classic Rock; Conservative NewsTalk; Christian Talk
Women 35+: Smooth Jazz; Classic Country; Christian Talk; Soft A/C Music
Adults 45+: Big Band/Middle of the Road music; NewsTalk; Oldies

ARBITRON, the foremost Radio Ratings service, measures audience two ways: Average Quarter Hour/AQH (the average estimated listeners during any given 15-minute interval of a daypart) and Cumulative Number of Listeners/CUME (the total number of individuals who tune in during an average week). These are both good indicators: AQH is a measure of audience loyalty, while CUME is a measure of mass appeal. For example, not everyone likes Rush Limbaugh, so his Cume may not be as high, but with the listeners who do like him, his AQH will be strong. Meanwhile, most people don’t listen to All News for more than 3 to 20 minutes at a time, but ALMOST EVERYONE tunes to an All News station at some point for traffic, weather, sports scores, etc. Therefore an All News station might not be #1 in AQH, but usually will Dominate in CUME.

Finally, here’s how to apply what you just learned – unlike TV, which offers 1,000 channels to flip through, radio offers a more restricted choice – 10 to 12 Preset Buttons in your Car. Now to the biggest secret you always knew – of those 12 buttons, we all spend the vast majority of our time listening to only Two or Three of them!!! So, if you choose one daypart, research which stations in your target demo cost efficiently reach the largest audience (Cost-Per-Thousand/CPM is an important tool for this), and you ONLY buy the top 2 or 3 stations in a market during that daypart, then you have officially BLITZED the majority of radio listeners you are targeting. Best of all, you are forcing them to you’re your spots, even when they switch stations, and creating the illusion that they are hearing you more often, and in more places, then they actually are!!!!

RADIO – nearly 100 years old, but STILL the most innovative technology in Electronic Retailing!!!

About the Author: Joe Rashbaum is the President of THE RADIO SOLUTION COMPANY, a 10-year old, full-service, radio direct-response agency & consulting firm. Joe has guided many first-time radio advertisers, including many DRTV and print marketers, to successful radio marketing. Joe may be reached at (805) 641-9300 or

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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