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This is the most popular thing I’ve ever written. Reprinting it is this blog’s New Year’s tradition.

Hope you enjoy it — complete with the original illustrations by Bobby Ocean.

A Reader Asks:

“Following your advice, we’ve looked for and actually hired part-timers from several unusual places. (One was a waiter our GM had while trying to pitch a potential client, another a door-to-door salesman who came into the station lobby.) But when they get on the air, they seem to clam up and become much more boring than they were before we hired them. When training ‘newly discovered’ part-timers, what are the most important things to start with?”

My Reply:


…about how & why you got into radio, who influenced you, your best radio moments, what you still hope to achieve.

War stories about broadcasting despite impossible conditions, accidentally locking yourself out of the studio, on-air flubs.

Stories about personal connections that have been made with listeners: The girl who called to request her late grandmother’s favorite song…The fan who sent you chocolate chip cookies on your birthday…The listener who berated you for mispronouncing the name of his favorite artist.

radio DJ graphicStories about transistor radios under the bed covers and at the beach. Endless struggles to control the car radio buttons.

“Would you PLEASE turn that down”


“Wait, I want to hear this!”

Novelty records and girl groups and Motown and Stax and Cadence and Elvis from the waist up and hearing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” for the very first time.

Stories about lovesick teenagers dedicating songs back & forth to each other. About children turning on the radio before they’re even awake, feverishly hoping to hear those magic words from their local disc jockey: “No school, snow day….”

About loneliness and a solitary voice reaching out to you. About making a complete stranger laugh or reflect or remember. About baseball games from far away on car radios. About someone driving across town or across country, with only you and your radio brethren for company.

radio DJ graphic

Stories about Larry Lujack and John Records Landecker and Robert W. and Wolfman Jack and Gary Owens and Dr. Don and Kenny Everett (ask someone from the UK about Kenny) and those crazy young jocks who brought American-style radio to Europe in the 1960s by taking to the seas in honest-to-God pirate radio ships (imagine broadcasting under the worst possible conditions; now imagine doing it while seasick).

Stories about bad news and everyone immediately turning on the radio. About sad news and where you were when you heard it. About practical jokes and misunderstandings and mild or wild revenge.

About getting fired, packing up the U-Haul, and being scared all over again.

Getting angry, getting older and “the good old days.”

Static-y voices criss-crossing in the night. Fifteen-hour air shifts, flaky jocks, disappearing engineers.

radio DJ graphic

Stories about legendary radio people you almost met in an elevator at a convention. The major market PD who did you a favor; the request line caller you can’t forget. Practical jokes on the news guy, disappearing stationery, and a bedroom full of promo records that one day will be worth something.

Staying up late talking radio, swapping tapes, “borrowing” ideas, “embellishing” your ratings, deepening your voice, losing your voice, losing your place, losing your keys, losing your cool.

Wire service copy paper, 15-inch reels, pin-controlled automation. Caffeine addictions and junk food and whatever the station could trade for. Old friends, borrowed headphones, uncontrollable sleep-deprived laughter.

radio production graphicRazor blades, splicing tape, grease pencils. Draping the tape edit over your shoulders until it was safe to throw away.

Cue tones, cue sheets, in cue, out of breath.

radio DJ graphic

Slip-cueing, back-announcing, and hitting the post.

Egos, rivals, and friendships.

Imagination, excitement, Orson Welles and Jack Benny and Ma Perkins and Franklin D. Roosevelt and Arthur Godfrey and Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club.

Losing jobs, gaining weight, changing names.

“How do they do that?”


“Listen to this!”

Storz, McClendon, Drake…and Chuck Blore’s Color Radio. Play-by-play and blow-by-blow; sports scores and election returns and Number One on the charts this week.

7-7-7, First Ticket, Hooper, Pulse.

“You don’t look anything like you sound!”

“What am I doing with my life?”


7-day workweeks


“I can’t believe I get paid for this!”

Slow starting turntables, nickel on the tone-arm, the cart machine sticks.

Stories about hotlines, hot shots, skimmers, phantom cume, time checks, time warping, ratings, feelings, winning, showing off. T-shirts and coffee mugs and iridescent frisbees.

Billboard and Claude Hall and Cashbox and Record World and R&R and Bill Gavin’s green pages.

Floods and tornado watches and power outages and school lunch menus. Lost dogs, lost accounts, lost tempers.

Jiving, shouting, rhyming, whispering. Hiccup remedies, lemon ’n’ honey, and good old-fashioned adrenalin to save the day.

Embarrassed, elated, delighted. Hi-Low, Name It And Claim It, and Dollar-A-Holler. Playlists and station surveys and Good Guys. Q, Zoo, and Boss. Bob & Ray and Mike & Elaine and The Monitor Beacon.

Jingles, stickers, Chickenman and The Oidar Wavelength.

Silly stunts, intense rivalries…Passion.

B-Sides and label colors and songwriter credits. Favorite songs, favorite artists, favorite moments.

Newspaper wars, live remotes, and meter readings. Shouts, stingers, sweepers, stagers, stabs.

Make-goods, live tags, rip ’n’ read and backtiming to the news. Allan Freed and Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie.

radio DJ graphic

Beat the Bomb and Lucky Bucks and Battle of the Bands. Pinning the needle, pegging the meter, riding gain.

Feedback and wrapping the capstan and “Hold on a sec, I gotta go on the air…”

Sign on, sign off, warming up the filament and Compression, Compression, Compression!

Gates board with rotary pots; Automax and Volumemax. Intros, outros, ramps, talk-ups. False endings and records popping & skipping and carts jamming.

Philosophical Differences and late night resume photocopy sessions. Tight board, good pipes, will relocate.

The big break, bad luck, skip waves, skipping town with the air staff’s paychecks.

Cueing past the splice, heavy phones, cue burn. Solid Gold, Hot Nine at Nine, Hot 100. WABC and KHJ and KLIF and WOWO and WLS and making it to the big markets.

Friday night countdowns, Saturday Swap Shops, Sunday drag racing commercials, twin spins, doubleplays, triple shots and instant replays.

Romantic entanglements, broken hearts, big dreams, small wins, and “Garbage Mouth Leaves Cleveland.”

“NO ONE is to touch these carts! And that means YOU!”

“Were you listening when…?”


“What’d ya think?”


“You should have been there.”

Then explain to that new jock:

Now you are there.

What are you gonna do with it?


radio advertising expertHere’s another example of an agency radio commercial that wastes most of its time explaining a concept that the listener already understands…

What is the goal of that radio ad?

What’s the one message you received?

If it wasn’t “When choosing a health plan, make conscious choices with your health in mind,” then you missed the message.

They spent 17 seconds explaining what “making conscious choices with our health in mind” means.

If miraculously you did receive that message, how does it help you?

How do they think most people select their health plans? By playing Pin the Tail on the PPO?

The commercial ends with, “Blue Shield of California. More plans, more doctors, more choice.”


Blue Shield of California offers more plans than its competitors? So I can choose one that most closely fits what I need?

They have more doctors in their network than its competitors? So it’s easier for me to find a physician who specializes in whatever ails me?

Sounds good to me.

But I’m still confused by the concept of “making healthy choices.”

Perhaps they could turn this into a 2-minute spot and spend more time giving more examples.


radio commercial with no messageFirst, let’s sit back and enjoy this radio commercial.

The first 10 seconds of this radio commercial could have been written by a random word generator.

In fact, the entire 17-second opening sentence means nothing.

Believe it or not, after painstaking analysis it appears the sole intended message of this is:

“The United States Postal Service delivers more e-commerce packages to homes than anyone.”



Whattaya want, a cookie?

What’s their point? Perhaps the spot’s ending Call To Action will make it clear:

“See why we deliver more more e-commerce packages to homes than anyone at USPS.com/future.”

Do you think even one radio listener heard that ad and, as a result, took that Call to Action?

Who Benefits from that Radio Commercial?

1) The ad agency that was paid, with taxpayer dollars, to create that…thing.

2) Whichever radio stations were paid to air it.

3) Whatever government department paid the agency and the radio stations, because that department’s goal was to spend its advertising budget to make sure that next year their advertising budget is at least as high as this year’s so they can afford to continue to throw away taxpayers’ dollars to make more worthless commercials.



Example of shockingly bad radio advertisingAlthough the season is less than half completed, we have our winner!

First, the radio commercial….

The single most important goal of the story in a story-driven radio commercial —

more important than believability…

more important than relevance…

more important than memorability —

is getting the targeted audience to listen to the damn commercial.

Putting aside for a moment the quality of the writing and the structure of the commercial itself, this spot opens with…

Okay, let’s do this: Go back to the beginning of the spot, play just the first sentence, stop the recording, then c’mon back here.

(No, really. Go re-listen to that first sentence, then we can continue.)

That first line isn’t bad storytelling. It isn’t any kind of storytelling.

It’s a Radio Announcer, reading “It was a beautiful June morning in Southern California” exactly as she reads “Your local Ford dealer proudly announces,” “Now through Saturday, Burger King is offering,” etc., etc., ad nauseam.

If Siri were to hear that line, she’d say, “Can’t you do ANYTHING to sound more like a human being??”

(Alexa would say the same thing — the only difference being she’d also secretly report to all of your contacts what station you’re listening to.)

Whether it’s a true story, make believe, comedic, satirical — the storyteller needs to be able to tell a story.

(At this point, I need to add my usual disclaimer: Perhaps the voice talent was reading the copy exactly as the producer or client told her to.)

With the second line, a male joins in. This guy is a genuine voice actor. I know that not because he sounds like a really good voice actor but because he sounds like a human being.

He might have a radio background. He might even work at the same radio station as his female storytelling partner, although I’m guessing he doesn’t.

If I had to guess, I’d say he’s not a station employee; he’s recording his lines at some remote studio of his own. Possibly he’s been given just his own solo lines without being privy to the entire dialogue.

That would explain why his first line is delivered so much better than his subsequent lines; why his voice jumps around so much more on his next line* while on the next suddenly he’s rushing his delivery to an unnatural pace. He’s being directed to “pick up the tempo” to compensate for an overlong script or a badly paced production.

     *I can almost hear the distant voice of authority telling him, “Um, yeah, that’s good. How doing another but this time hitting the word ‘experiencing.’ You know, to make it more active.”

I could go further with this critique. And I will, because there are other big problems with the spot.

But if you’re in a hurry to get out of here, here’s just one valuable tip for your parting gift:

Beginning a radio commercial with a stereotypical “radio voice” trying to attract the target audience’s attention with a story is 100% as effective as having her deliver her lines with the microphone turned off.

Let’s Talk Testimonials

Recently we promoted the Home Study version of the ACX Master Class for audiobook narrators. (Not a sneaky plug. Registration is closed. Don’t insult me by trying to give me money now to get into the class.)

Someone who was trying to decide whether to take the class emailed me. In her email, she referred to the effectiveness of the class’s testimonials that she had been seeing and reading.

Effective Testimonials:

1) Are true.

2) Are, even if only minimally, stories.

A story takes the listener, viewer or reader on a journey.

“I used XYZ Roof Repair, and they repaired my roof real good. I highly recommend them” isn’t a journey.

3) Are specific.

4) Focus on a specific true story that is relevant to your targeted consumer’s own experiences, desires and fears.

5) Are told by real clients in their own words.

You can elicit those words by asking carefully chosen leading questions.

You can edit (without changing) those words for clarity, brevity, impact, etc.

You can rewrite a punchier, more compelling, more story-driven version and say, “The way I understand the story you just told me, your entire family was huddled underneath this one corner of the roof that wasn’t buckling from the hurricane’s impact, and that was the corner that XYZ Roof Repair had fixed for you..Is that right? Yeah? You want to try just telling that one part of the story into the microphone, so our listeners can get a really clear picture of what you were going through, how scary it was, and what role XYZ Roof Repair played in all of that?”

6. Are believable to your target audience. That believability is bolstered with a true, relevant, believably told story…

…that is related by a believable source.

What Makes a Testimonial Source Believable? What Factors Encourage Consumers to Trust a Testimonial?

It includes the person’s name.


An anonymous testimonial isn’t worth the time you spent making it up.

It includes the city in which the person lives.

“James Smith says…”

“James Smith” probably is the single most common name in the U.S.

“James Smith of Lake Worth, Florida” is inherently more believable than simply “James Smith” because if someone really wanted to verify that that James Smith exists, trying to track down every James Smith in Lake Worth clearly is a more realistic goal than locating the right one of the approximately 33,000 James Smiths living in America.

Not that the consumer will try. But consumers take comfort in knowing they could try if they wanted to.

The person’s occupation.

Why does including the testimonial giver’s occupation add to the testimonial’s trustworthiness?

Once again, because it’s specific.

“S., Europe” engenders far less trust than
“Erick Van Broeck, Taxidermist
Antwertp, Belgium”

I haven’t seen the data to verify this, but a direct marketing colleague of mine (D.K., Ohio) insists that the most universally trusted occupation is….No, not attorney. Not doctor. Not radio station sales manager. It’s…


How High Does this Radio Commercial’s Testimonial “Story” Score in Trust Building?

Let’s see. The testimonial is from “Mr. and Mrs. J.P., Southern California.”

I’ll let you do the scoring on that one.

How Well Does this Radio Commercial’s Testimonial Story Relate to the Targeted Listener’s Own Experiences, Desires and Fears?

The person who emailed me about the ACX Master Class and volunteered a couple of reasons why she found the class’s testimonial videos so effective said:

“I have spent money in the past on equipment and classes with few meaningful results and no real support. Your testimonials are strong and don’t seem rehearsed and so many of them mention having been told by other people that the recording and editing are a nightmare. That’s probably my biggest fear….”

Of course as you read that paragraph, you would’ve found it more believable if I had cited the person’s name, location and profession.

But I’m not using it as a testimonial; I’m using it to help illustrate the effectiveness of a testimonial’s sounding “real and not rehearsed” and as reflecting the problems or worries the viewing (or reading) consumer is having.

That person believed and could identify with and be reassured by the true stories she was hearing from real people.

In our videos, every person is identified by name, profession and geographic location.

You’ll notice most those same attributes in every one of our print testimonials — almost all of which are accompanied by photographs of the individuals we are quoting. Those photographs are there to provide even more reassurance that those are real people.

Meanwhile, here’s the story told by the radio ad you just listened to:

“An anonymous couple somewhere in Southern California had a plumbing problem, the company they called came out and fixed it, and then a few months later they had another plumbing problem so they called the same company to come out and fix that problem, too.”

That is the most compelling rave review they could find for this spot? That is memorable and trust building?

Imaging a similar “testimonial” for a restaurant: “One day Mr. and Mrs. J.P. of Southern California felt hungry, so they went to XYZ Restaurant and ate something. A few months later, Mr. and Mrs. J.P. felt even hungrier, so they returned to XYZ Restaurant and ate something.”

Shall I wait while you grab a pen to jot down all the restaurant’s details?

Let’s return to the actual “story” this spot tells.

The mysterious Mr. and Mrs. J.P. had a clogged sink. The plumbing company sent someone to their home to unclog it. “A few months later, a much more (unspecified) intensive problem turned up in the bathroom. They worked up a plan, and a repair was made.”

I assume Netflix already has won a spirited bidding war for the screen rights to that riveting true story.

And yes, I did notice the sinister plot line lurking just beneath the clumsy words: They call a plumber to unclog their sink…and, purely by coincidence, a few months later a much bigger, undoubtedly more expensive plumbing problem appears in that same bathroom?

That cinches it. That’s definitely the plumber I’d want to call.

But Wait. They Still Have One Last Chance for this Testimonial to Have at Least Some Value.

The anonymous couple “felt so good about the experience to sit down and write us an email.”

Wow! Actually writing an email — that’s huge.

And did you hear that jaw-dropping declaration that Mr. & Mrs. J.P. ended the email by saying “they would use” that plumbing company on “future services and recommend them to anyone who needed plumbing repairs”?

Restaurant translation: “I’d eat at your restaurant again and I’d recommend your restaurant to people who happen to be hungry.”

Just When You Think They’ve Scraped Every Last Drip of Dumbness from this Radio Advertising Message

Understandably, they want to maximize the value to the advertiser of that unforgettable real-life customer experience.

Unfortunately, the technology doesn’t exist that would allow the advertiser somehow to record Mr. and/or Mrs. J.P. actually telling the story in their own voices.

Thank goodness the spot’s creators still found time to add not one but two Calls to Action:

1) Read the testimonial for yourself at the company’s website or

2) Just call the advertiser at their toll-free number, and somehow that will allow you to read that testimonial “and more.”

I’m guessing “and more” includes a thoughtful comparison between the writing of the testimonial and that of Shakespeare’s earliest works — y’know, before he sold out and started writing popular stuff.

I went to the company’s website in search of Mr. & Mrs. J.P.’s testimonial. I couldn’t find it. That doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means I couldn’t find it.

If I lived in a “single consent” state, where it’s legal to record a telephone conversation if at least one of the parties to the call is aware of and gives consent to the recording (which essentially means it’s legal to secretly record your telephone conversation with someone else), I might call the advertiser’s toll-free number and say, “Hello. I’m calling to read Mr. & Mrs. J.P.’s testimonial and more” and share with you the results.

But I live in a dual consent state, so I can’t record such a conversation.

Finally, to that one person who is reading this and mumbling, “You don’t know nothin’. That’s a branding commercial”:

No, it’s not.

{ 1 comment }


A Loyal Reader sent me this radio spot.

The reader added, “Instead of answering the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ it focuses on ‘What’s in it for the babysitter?’
Frankly, I couldn’t care less if my babysitter is inconvenienced if I write her a check for her services. If she doesn’t like it, I can find a new babysitter (and her sarcastic attitude indicates that she’s annoyed with the job, anyway).”

Dan’s Response:

Loyal Reader is correct.

(Effective) Radio Advertising Solves Problems.

As Loyal Reader points out, the only problem illustrated in that commercial is “the check you’re handing me and {shudder} the days it will take to clear.”

Let’s assume that, for babysitters, that’s a genuine problem.

But this radio ad doesn’t target babysitters.

It speaks to people who employ babysitters.

What problem does “pay your sitter easily with Zelle” solve for the employer?

As Loyal Reader suggests, if I were paying that babysitter I’d be looking for ways to make the experience even more annoying for her:

“Because odd-numbered years are unlucky, I’ve dated this check January 13, 2023. Please don’t try to deposit it before then.”

A Few More Structural Criticisms

The opening line of your commercial is the commercial for the commercial.

It’s your one opportunity to command the attention of the targeted listener — in this case, a bill-paying parent (or, more broadly, people who pay personal bills via check).

On a scale of 0 to 100, how successful is this opening line at commanding the attention of “people who pay their personal bills via check”?

Did I hear you say, “Minus 50”??

The Actual Target Audience

This campaign should be trying to reach:

– People who’ve never heard of Zelle but could find it to be a useful money-transferring tool

– People who are at least somewhat familiar with the product but haven’t become persuaded it’s something that would benefit them.

Does the Call to Action send them someplace (e.g., the advertiser’s website) that might show them how much better their lives will be with Zelle?


The Call to Action is, “Look for Zelle in your banking app.”


“Do you use a banking app? No, we don’t mean a debit card. Well, yes, if you log into your bank account online then technically you’re accessing a banking application, but we’re really talking about either mobile or desktop apps. What? No, not actually on your desk. In this instance, ‘desktop’ refers to what you see on your computer monitor…”

…and if the advertiser is lucky:

“You do use a banking app? Great! Go log into that app now and look for ‘Zelle’ and do whatever it tells you to do to sign up for it. Never mind why or how that possibly could benefit you. Just do it! Our 30 seconds are almost” —

— “…an Early Warning Services Trademark.”

Yep. We’re all familiar with “Primacy” and “Recency,” right?

The final words of your commercial have the greatest chance of being remembered, of reverberating in the prospect’s mind even after the spot has ended, of making a lasting impact on the targeted listener.

And what’s the Big Important Thing we really, really want the targeted listener to remember?

Right. “…{mumble mumble} Trademark.”

Overheard in Zelle’s Executive Suite

“How’s that radio campaign doing for us?”

“Great! I just heard it this morning.”

(High-fives all ’round.)

Download free radio copywriting audio seminar here.


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