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radio listener testimonials linersA Loyal Reader Writes:

“A while back you posted some information regarding the use of other voices in association with products as far as what was legal. Do the same rules apply to using other voices for station promotion?

“Example—if someone wrote a letter complimenting the station—can anyone voice that for use on air?

“Along those lines, can stations ‘swap’ audio of listeners complimenting the other station and put their own call letters on the audio to make it theirs?

“I have some real concerns about the ethics of these practices, but wondered if you knew if any of it was actually illegal.”

I proudly remain not a lawyer, and my lifelong abstinence from offering legal advice continues here without interruption.

Having said that….

In the first situation you describe, having someone else voice a real fan letter isn’t a problem…as long as you make it clear it’s being read by someone other than the person who wrote it.

U.S. radio stations that “swap” audio testimonials are sleazy, dishonest, a disgrace to our industry…and almost certainly in violation of Federal Trade Commission regulations.

Any radio station that “swaps” or otherwise acquires faked testimonials (if Station A plays real testimonials for Station B and claims they were for Station A, it’s fake) is admitting, “We can’t find any listeners willing to say nice thing about us.”

In such a case, a change in station program management is desperately needed.

Program directors who employ such pathetic tactics are the radio equivalent of spammers: They just don’t have what it takes to succeed legitimately, so they resort to dishonest, illegal tactics in a pitiful effort to survive.

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  • James Rabe March 12, 2013, 10:22 am

    I think for a lot of people, it probably seems like a lot of work to go out and get testimonials…or, unfortunately, grab them from callers (even in the day of digital recordings and file sharing which makes it a 30 second deal….right click, save as, BOOM! done). I’ve done it and while I usually begin thinking I have better things to do, something kinda cool always happens…I end up meeting some cool people, I end up learning something about our listeners (sometimes little things, sometimes big things like being accurate with your teases…if you say three minutes, make it three minutes) and I usually get a good story for the show, a topic starter. I’ve tried having interns do it, but people generally open up more to on air talent, and, hopefully, the on air talent knows how to interview people to get the best out of ’em). Plus, again…your job on air is kinda like running for mayor, every day. Meet the peeps!

  • Anonymous March 13, 2013, 6:01 am

    How about a station that pulls audio from a business phonecall and uses it in a commercial without permission?
    Twenty years ago I was production director for a Pennsylvania CHR powerhouse. A friend in Boston sent me a dub of a commercial from a station in that market – a real guerrilla rocker with ‘tude to spare. I was intrigued by an audio effect in the spot so I called the station and left a voicemail message for their prodo guy, explaining who I was and asking, “How did you do that?” He called back and explained his trick.
    A week later I heard from the Boston friend telling me she heard me in the “new commercial”. Not knowing what she meant, I asked for a copy. There was the snip from my phonecall, asking, ” How did you do that”, to which the local prodo guy added on, “Ha! Guess that’s why you’re still stuck in [city]!” Naturally I called the station and demanded they yank the ad or I’d be filing a complaint.
    Pretty low rent IMO, but I got my revenge: I used to write a column for one of the trades back then, and I published his secret trick. As they say, never tick off the guy who buys ink by the barrel.

  • Dan O'Day March 13, 2013, 9:57 am

    @Anoynmous: Unless the station’s voice mail greeting warned callers (highly unlikely) that the messages they leave might be put on the air, when that Boston radio station aired your phone call they violated FCC regulations.

    If you had filed a complaint with the FCC against that Oh So Important radio station, they might’ve ended up having to eat a $4,000 fine.

  • Neal Angell March 18, 2013, 4:12 pm

    We have a crosstown competitor (I won’t say the name of this large company, but I believe they have their head in the “clouds”) that I suspect does a lot of this testimonial-sharing amongst their stations. They’ll play a lot of positive comments but, oddly enough, they’re very general and in no way local. The promo will go something like:

    VOICE GUY: “WXYZ listens to you.”
    MONTAGE OF CALLERS: “You guys rock”…”Love your station”…”I listen all day at work,” etc.

    Very rarely do you ever hear one of these “testimonials” mention that station’s frequency, moniker, or anything else that would indicate that the comments are from actual local listeners talking about that specific station. I wouldn’t be surprised if this company has hundreds of these generic bits of audio that are passed around from station to station throughout the nation within their organization.


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