by Dan O'Day on November 26, 2014

radio managerPrelude

I’m about to share with you a story about the same Los Angeles radio general manager who once explained in a newspaper interview that he had fired the station’s morning show host because the jock just didn’t have the talent necessary to succeed:

“I’ve taught him everything I know about radio, and his ratings haven’t improved at all.”

But That’s Not the Radio Management Moment. This Is.

Years ago, the general manager of that large Los Angeles radio station spoke up at a broadcast convention session devoted to ratings research.

“Arbitron ratings are worthless. They’re completely inaccurate.

“And I can prove it:

“According to Arbitron, my radio station has had lower ratings for 12 consecutive quarters. How can that be? We haven’t changed a single thing on the station during that entire time!”



by Dan O'Day on November 24, 2014

A Loyal Reader submits a radio commercial for a critique.

“Like to get your thoughts on this one. I’m working from a fact sheet. It’s ‘live’ but actually not, if you catch my drift.”
— Jim Walsh, KLXX/Bismarck

I like the way you geographically place the advertiser: “On the south side of Bismarck, right across from the mall” — that’s exactly the way to do it.

In this spot, you give the location at the beginning and at the end.

But there’s no point in telling people where the advertiser is until after you’ve made the audience want what the advertiser is selling. So delete the first description of the location.

When you say, “Some new menu items to talk about,” you’re telling people:

1.  You’re talking about something because you’re supposed to talk about it, not because you find it interesting.

2.  The topic in no way is about the audience; it’s about the “things” the advertiser wants you to talk about.

The disconnect from listeners continues when you say, “Let’s talk about the burnt ends…a really big thing happening at Big Dave’s.”

Don’t “talk about the burnt ends.” Talk about the diner’s experience when eating the burnt ends at Famous Dave’s. 

Which do you think is more personal and one-to-one:

1) “It’s available as an appetizer or in a sandwich”


2)  “You can get it as an appetizer or in a sandwich.”

Because you don’t identify the restaurant’s “director of operations” by name, why bother to give the person’s title? It would be more conversational and real if you said, “They like to call it ‘meat candy.'”

I did, however, like your little laugh on that phrase, recognizing the silliness of the nickname.

A radio commercial — including a spot for a restaurant —should have a single Core Message. That’s the one thing you want the targeted listener to hear, to understand, and to remember.

This advertisement could have been all about the burnt ends.

But it also talks about catfish, the new brisket burgers, cedar plank salmon (about which you sound very unsure), wilbur beans, the greens, and bread pudding with raisins.

By the time you reach the end of this radio ad, the listener has completely forgotten about the “burnt ends.” (Probably some readers of this critique are realizing they, too, forgot all about those.)

“Even if you have been there recently” smacks of desperation. If they’ve been there recently and enjoyed it, the spot should be enough to reinforce their awareness of Famous Dave’s.

Although one of the radically different things I teach about how to write effective restaurant radio advertising  is to sell the experience the diner has and not the food, you need to create or recreate that experience, not simply say “enjoy the experience.”


Don’t work from the fact sheet or long list of bullet points.

Find out what the one Core Message should be.

If your station’s account executive can’t tell you and can’t or won’t find out, you select the core message.

Get a real sheet of paper and a writing utensil that you hold in your hand (rather than a computer monitor and keyboard) and list bullet points of only the elements that are absolutely necessary to the spot.


  • Famous Dave’s
  • Burnt ends
    • Hickory smoked
    • Texas beef brisket
    • Carmelized in sweet, zesty BBQ sauce
    • Meat candy
  • S. side of Bismarck, across from mall

Then, with an eye on the clock, genuinely ad-lib the radio commercial.

Restaurant Radio Advertising – Reader Discount Price

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by Dan O'Day on November 21, 2014

I was in my first year of radio, working at my second station, in Naples, Florida.

On Saturdays I worked an 8 (or was it 10?)-hour shift, babysitting the network feed.

A few times each hour, I’d pop into the studio and play the local commercials and station I.D.

I spent much of the rest of my time browsing through the station’s record library, immediately outside the broadcast studio.

It was there I came across several LPs by Mike Nichols & Elaine May.

And my world changed.


Photo courtesy of the Dan O’Day collection.

I’d never heard anything like it. Two voices. Two people conversing.

On the surface, a comedy sketch. Just beneath, sharp commentary on our culture and, sometimes, the human condition (aka the silliness of humans).

Is there a style of music you absolutely love? When you hear it, it’s as though it was written or performed on your own personal wavelength?

That’s how it was for me with Nichols & May. They just happened to be on my personal wavelength.

From the first time I heard them, I experienced their performance as a musical style that I loved.

It was a dozen years later before I experienced that sensation again.

I had moved back to Los Angeles. At the time, L.A. had a thriving Equity Waiver (i.e., tiny theaters with little if any budget) scene, and I had subscribed to some service that offered half-price theatre tickets.

One day they offered tickets to something called Sills and Company. I had no idea what that might be, but it was half-price and I had nothing else to do.

Sills and Company was in East Hollywood. On or near Heliotrope Drive. It looked like a converted garage.

It turned out “Sills” was Paul Sills.  I’d never heard of him.

Soon I’d learn he was co-founder of Chicago’s Compass Theater and its successor, Second City.

The entire evening consisted of improvisational “theater games,” played by a company that included Valerie Harper, Dick Schaal, Richard Libertini (who was breathtakingly brilliant at improv), Severn Darden (considered by many to be the ultimate improv genius), Garry Goodrow and Avery Schreiber, among others.

Paul Sills would call two or more players onstage, tell them what game they were playing and then stand on the sidelines, waiting for magic to happen.

That night, I heard that music again, for the first time in more than a decade.

It wasn’t similar to what I had felt when listening to Nichols & May; it was the same feeling.

Only later did I learn that the team of Nichols & May was born in Chicago, as members of the Compass Theater, directed by Paul Sills.

In fact, it was Sills who introduced them to each other, saying, “‘I want you to meet the only other person on the campus of the University of Chicago who is as hostile as you are.’”

The Graduate kissing

Remember the scene in THE GRADUATE when Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Robinson) is smoking a cigarette and Dustin Hoffman summons the courage suddenly to kiss her…and when he finishes, she exhales a cloud of smoke?

That moment was directly lifted from a Nichols & May sketch created years earlier. No one ever accused the film’s director of plagiarism; the director was Mike Nichols.

If it weren’t for those Nichols & May records, I’m not sure I ever would have stopped trying to be a great DJ and, instead, begun writing and performing my own material on the radio.

Probably it’s not a coincidence that so much of my stuff was simple, two-voice dialogue.

In radio, time is compressed.

Unlike film or TV, you’re not allowed several minutes to establish a character or scene. From your very first words, your audience needs to know who and where you are.

By “who,” I don’t mean just the identity of your character. Your listeners quickly should understand the attitude of your character.

Occasionally I’ll illustrate this with the opening of one of Nichols & May’s most famous routines:

With that one line, Elaine told us volumes about her character. That was a woman guided by an obstructive nature, and she’d never voluntarily help a customer.

Here’s the entire routine:

Humor, like music, produces a subjective experience for those who consume it.

I can’t speak for you.

But for me, listening to that routine again today, more than 50 years after it was recorded, is just as exhilarating as it was the first time I heard it outside the broadcast studio in that little radio station in Florida.


Radio host topics As many radio personalities know, I’m a big believer in Show Prep.

Show Prep is not the same as “scripted.”

The more prepared you are before cracking the mic, the easier it is for you to act spontaneously according to the flow of the show and your audience response.

I devote an entire seminar to what I call Contextual Programming, which truly is the only way for a radio station to win the ratings battle in a competitive market.

In that seminar, I point out that sometimes you think you know what your listeners want to talk about (or hear about)…only to have your audience correct you.

How do you know for sure what your listeners are interested in?

They’ll tell you…If you listen.

On the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a British radio host commemorated the event by interviewing two experts on the “conspiracy theories” that surround that terrible moment in U.S. history.

The “experts” heartily disagreed with each other.

The host thanked them for their participation.

Then he opened up the phones:

“What do you think? Was JFK killed by a lone gunman, or was there a conspiracy behind it?”

And he gave the studio phone number several times so listeners could weigh in with their opinions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, not one of the listeners in that town in England seemed to have much of an opinion about whether or not there was a conspiracy behind the death of an American president decades earlier.

No one called.

In desperation, the host started filling time.

He mentioned that he remembers exactly what he was doing when he learned that JFK had been shot: He was watching a TV program called Double Your Money.

And at that, the phones lit up.

You’re an experienced radio pro, right? Go ahead, guess what everyone was calling in about.

Oops. Sorry, you’re wrong

You made the mistake of “knowing” you can predict the radio audience reaction.

You immediately and confidently guessed, “They called in to say what they were doing when they heard about JFK’s death.”

That’s what I would have guessed, too. But that’s not what they called for.

They called to say, “It wasn’t Double Your Money. It was Harry Worth that was on the telly that night.’ ”

And for the rest of the hour listeners phoned called in to argue about what was on television when the news of Kennedy’s death was announced.

I don’t care how much preparation you’ve done for your show. If the audience tells you they’re interested in something else (and it fits your overall programming), you’re a fool if you don’t listen to them.

When you interview celebrities or politicians, how can you know beyond the shadow of a doubt what questions your listeners would most like to have answered?

Well, you could ask them.

But I don’t mean at the beginning of the show, begging for callers.

I mean the Tuesday before the interview, tell your listeners that you’ll be interviewing that person on your program on Thursday…and if there’s something they’d dearly love you to ask that person, they should e-mail or text you with their question.

Either you or a producer or an intern can quickly glance through the questions, and you’ll discover two things:

1.  A few really good questions you wouldn’t have thought of.

2.  An obvious demand by many listeners to hear the answers to one or two particular questions.

I am not saying that you should slavishly ask whatever questions are suggested by your listeners.

I am saying that if you give them a chance, they will help you program your show so that it’s more relevant and more interesting to them.

     CONTEXTUAL RADIO PROGRAMMING: The Only Way To Win in a Competitive Market



by Dan O'Day on November 17, 2014

Italian restaurant radio commercial
Jimmy Hill
of Bristol Broadcasting submitted two radio commercials for critiquing.

“I’ve produced a 5-unit campaign for this client. Although the client insists that these spots are effective for them, I have serious doubts that I’m hitting the mark with respect to what I’ve tried to follow after reviewing Dan O’Day instructional pieces.”

Here is one of the spots from the Italian restaurant’s radio campaign.

Before I begin this critique, let’s return to your statement that “the client insists that these spots are effective for them.”

If the client truly means “effective” — if it’s driving traffic to the restaurant and increasing his business — then keep on doing it.

I suspect, however, that what the client actually means is, “I like those radio ads, and people have told me how funny they are!”

If that’s the case, you still should keep doing it, because the client is happy.

But I doubt he’s actually making a positive return on his advertising investment.

The “lame imitation of The Godfather” is a trite, nonsensical approach to advertising an Italian restaurant.

Effective restaurant advertising sells the experience the guest will have when dining there. I suspect the real dining experience at Vito’s doesn’t include oddball mafiosos.

Much of the dialogue of the “Godfather” imitation is incomprehensible to the listener. 

A radio commercial for a restaurant should have a single Core Message — the one thing you want the targeted listener to hear, to understand and to remember.

Here are the potential core messages in this spot:

  • Private party & banquet room. (I think that’s what I heard on the fifth attempt.)
  • Pizza
  • Pasta
  • House salads
  • Some sort of special offer on Tuesdays…which I simply can’t decipher
  • Canoli
  • Monday is Something-or-Other Day; I can’t understand the special offer.
  • Daily house lunch special

Which of the above is the one thing you want to communicate? Whichever it is, why are all of the other elements there to compete for the listener’s attention?

I like the line, “Leave a tip, take the canoli.” Not as an effective selling tool but as a funny take-off on the line from the movie.

“Next to the train station on Main, downtown Kingsport” — That is exactly how you should identify the location of a retail establishment.

You didn’t include their street address or phone number — good!

But the biggest problem isn’t the lack of a Core Message. It’s this:

What The Radio Audience Pictures Is What The Audience Will Remember.

I pictured:

  • A big, thuggish actor imitating a movie mafioso
  • Someone doing a Marlon Brando imitation
  • The opening scene from THE GODFATHER, “the day of your daughter’s wedding”
  • A cannolo. (I pictured just one. You might have pictured two or more connoli.)
  • A fish wrapped in newspaper (from the “sleep with the fishes” line)

I didn’t picture any of the many things this advertisement attempted to sell.

Why not?

Because all of them were presented as dialogue (either by the characters or by the announcer).

In a radio commercial, you can’t rely on words to carry your sales message. The pictures you paint in the listener’s mind are what the listener will remember.

Like so many radio spots, this one left the listener with mental images that don’t include the product or service being advertised.

Radio Advertising for Restaurants


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