5 Ways to Fix The 25% of Your Programming That Sucks

5 Ways to Fix The 25% of Your Programming That Sucks

by Tracy Johnson

Radio programmers obsess over their product. They research it, massage it, edit it and coach it. But they also ignore 25% of it. For most stations, at least 25% of what’s on the air is programming that sucks.

25%? Impossible, you say. We’re meticulous in managing our brand. Yeah? What about the commercials? You do realize that those 15 minutes of commercials each hour represents 1/4 of your overall programming, don’t you? Or,if you have a lighter load of just 12 minutes, it’s still 20%.

That’s a lot. What if one song in every four were a total stiff? Like, tune-out and turn off songs that makes listeners angry stiff? You’d do something about it. If you can fix it, you fix it. A

Yet, programmers are turning a blind eye to commercials. Maybe we’ve given up, sacrificing the stop sets because of those endless battles with sales managers and account executives that are more order-takers than sales executives.

But programmers are the gatekeeper to the sound of the station, and improving the quality of commercials will produce a better sounding station and happier clients.

We can do better. And should do better. In fact, we must do better.

Reducing the 25% of Programming That Sucks

Commercials aren’t necessarily a tune-out. The ads in the Super Bowl are often more interesting than the content surrounding them: the game. The audience looks forward to those commercials, talks about them, rates them and watches them over and over on YouTube.

If that’s the case, why shouldn’t all commercials get more attention in the creative process. Walt Disney once observed how kids reacted to the carousel. One child said, “Why don’t all the horses jump?”. So Disney made sure that all of the horses on Disney rides jumped.

It makes me ask, “Why don’t all of our commercials sparkle?”

There are many reasons (excuses) for radio ads being the way they are. We could rehash it, but instead, let’s examine ways to fix it and make our radio commercials “jump”. Here’s 5 ways to fix the 25% of your programming that sucks.

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Ditch The Facts

Commercials are mini-stories, and stories filled with facts and information are boring! You can’t educate the audience in 30 or 60 seconds. The goal should be to provoke an emotional response that leads them to take action.

Radio is great at causing response, but if the offer is filled with details like, “Call us now at 888-888-8888 or visit us online at www.mybusiness.com. Or come by to take advantage of our friendly staff, competitive rates and unmatched service”, the message is wasted.

It’s The Hook

The most critical part of a story is the opening line. That’s where attention is won or lost. Most copy is written factually, often leading with information about the advertiser. They love hearing their business name early and often almost as much as a PD loves hearing his call letters in a promo.

This, however, is not effective.

It’s far more important to capture the audience’s interest with a compelling or entertaining message. Get them into the commercial, and you have a chance of getting them to the CTA (Call to Action).

Invest The Time

It’s hard to write great copy. It’s not something a production director or account executive can whip out in a few minutes from a fact sheet provided by an advertiser that really doesn’t know what they want.

And here’s the thing: The shorter the spot, the harder it is to write. Each line is important. Each WORD is important. Start with a story, then edit, edit, edit.  And don’t fill that 30 seconds with 50 seconds of copy. Jamming more words into shorter time doesn’t make it more effective. The opposite is usually the case.

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It’s About Audio!

Too many advertisers take on a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to advertising. They use the same copy for the newspaper, television, their online ands and radio. The message should be consistent, but each medium is unique and writing for radio means the words need to be spoken to be heard, not read.

Think about how many commercials you hear that are stiff and formal. You’ve got to write it the way you say it,

What Do You Want Them To Do?

How many times do you hear a spot that either doesn’t ask for an action, the ask is too large (buy your new car today)  or the invitation to respond is vague (we’re standing by to serve you).

The goal for every radio spot should be to inspire an action by creating curiosity to learn more. Direct them to the client’s website or landing page instead of asking for a purchase. This way, the copy can focus more on attracting interest and less on yelling at the audience.


It’s easy for programmers to throw up their hands and give up. Don’t. If 1/4 of the music on your station was running listeners off, you’d take steps to fix it. Immediately. Commercials are part of your programming and make up as much as 15 minutes each hour. Can you really afford to have that much programming that sucks?


Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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