5 tips to get you on air with your local radio station

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Listening to the radio will always be one of those simple joys. Radio is beautiful, because as the CEO of iHeartMediaRobert Pittman, said, "Radio is about keeping you company." When driving, working, or going for a run, many people listen to podcasts, and that feels almost intimate as it’s one-on-one. It feels exclusive and quite private, whereas radio is shared. It’s something that can bring people together.

Radio is an old medium. It predates TV. But in America, 93% of Americans are still tuning into the radio versus only 3-5% on podcasts. So, whilst there is the beauty and prevalence of new platforms for podcasts and videos like TikTok, actually, more people are still listening to the radio around the world than any other medium. The big growth with radio, of course, has become the move to digital. There is now an infinite number of programs on the radio dedicated to topics both large and small, and digital radio technologies have enabled broadcasters to start to narrowcast. There’s a slogan of a community radio station in Mongolia, and it says, "Your radio is listening," which is a wonderful and connected view of the power of this medium.

Radio vs. Podcast (Photo from Bunny Studio)

Radio is really about the horizontal exchange of information, and it’s much more participatory between communities. There are radio stations at community levels like in universities or hospitals. The medium itself is still relatively cheap and easy to manage compared to, say, video, and because ultimately, one can listen to the radio while doing something else. With video, you can’t drive a car or operate a machine, but on radio, the conversation between the host and the guest on a program is inclusive. It’s a dialogue at a time when you can’t necessarily have a conversation with somebody. 

There’s obviously the music aspect of radio, and in America, talk radio has been popularized. Talk radio in places like Africa, however, where the technology of cellular communications has not caught up as rapidly and where maybe Wi-Fi and internet are not as widespread is more than just for listening to music. It’s a lifeline for many people in rural areas. A report written about radio in Africa said that radio is like "a vaccine capable of reducing preventable diseases. Community radio is a simple and effective solution to achieve development goals, to prevent fragile states from becoming failed states, and also to help people celebrate their own culture." Radio evidently still has an important role to play, because it is still in people’s lives, even if it’s being listened to on devices different from the ones previous generations were using.

Why radio is still popular today

One of the radio advertising trends as far back as 2018 found that radio is still reaching over 90% of the population. 67% of millennials are still listening to the radio, while only 3% are listening to Pandora or 2% for Spotify, maintaining it as a medium all over the world for communication through advertising, but also through public relations. Because radio tends to be local, with a few exceptions, it lends itself really well to local stories. Another trend in radio is that there is increasing diversity in advertising due to the impact of digital radio channels. In the same way that the internet remembers what people have searched and starts to send them more information that they find of interest, the same is true with digital radio. They play more of what people are interested in listening to. Personalised content or channelisation, which is a form of streaming, is on the radio more and more. 

In America, a radio company, SiriusXM, had a revenue of $5 billion four years ago, which may be something one never would have imagined. That’s bigger than TikTok, so radio advertising is clearly still a booming business. Why? Because radio broadcasts can provide real time information. It can be broadcast 24 hours a day with real or with pre-programmed content. Stations have the ability to reach across borders in a way that perhaps mobile phones can not, like in China where access to the internet is limited.

Radio broadcasts, such as with the BBC World Service, can unite people globally by language. Farm Radio International, which is a charitable organization that operates rural radio broadcasts in 39 African countries, says that radio is still the best communication for the rural poor. It’s ideal for populations where people may not have very many devices and where electricity consumption of a TV may put radio higher up the availability ranking. Also, radio is great for people that are not literate. The internet is great, but you have to be literate and you have to have a screen. So, where illiteracy rates are high, radio can make a great difference in things like campaigns for fresh water or for healthcare.

Preparing to be a guest on a radio show

In terms of radio and PR, radio is a cheaper medium than TV, and so the segments can be longer. What may be a relatively low-level story about an Englishman who lived in China and comes back to the UK after 25 years can he a half-an-hour slot with a DJ. That production time could never have been possible on TV, as the slots are usually short, so one can definitely get more air time with radio compared to other platforms. Secondly, it’s the person on the radio as it is on the TV that matters. If you were to do public relations with a print publication, the Q&A is often sent back and forth, and quite possibly, someone else is writing the article for the client. The PR firm comes in on its own there. The implication, therefore, is that the spokesperson can be authentic, but they must be prepared. A pre-recorded radio interview is slightly less stressful, but if it’s live, the briefing notes both for the spokesperson and for the journalist must be thorough and complete. Even mentioning just two or three key figures can be enough to make a point and drive the message home, because without those, then as it is said in the SPEAK|pr program, there are no proof points or validation. One is simply just rendering an opinion. 

To sum that up, it’s important to research and listen to the programs in advance. Look at the external audience. How far is that reaching? What is the demographic? Is it old or young? Is it men or women? Is it people who have different work experiences? Organize all the information upfront before going to the studio or being live at home as most people are doing now. If you’ve got someone talking about your organisation, who is it that’s the most appropriate and most authentic? If it’s you, prove to others why you are the right spokesperson. The final point is to have some prepared audio available, because the studio may not have the time to prepare an outtake. Have some high quality audio in .mp3 file format ready to share, so that they can slot that in. Like with print, it’s all about making life easier for the journalist. 

People consider radio as almost the poor person of the media world. People like to see themselves in print, because they see the picture. They like to see themselves on TV, because then they feel like a movie star. Radio is the platform where people can’t see themselves, and they can’t show other people. But actually, 93% of people still listen to the radio, so that means it’s higher than both TV and print. It just suffers from perhaps a lower impact and reach. For some applications, especially for community and education-based public relations programs, radio is a real winner. And because there is so much airtime and it’s relatively cheaper to produce, radio stations are always looking for good content, good people, and good guests to come on the show. There’s an old song by The Buggles who sang that Video Killed the Radio Star, but it seems like it hasn’t. Radio is still glimmering to this day. 

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by Rayan Almuslem on Unsplash

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