It’s a little hard right now to link to the actual results, given Arbitron’s recent sale to Nielsen. But one of Arbitron’s last research projects revealed that more than 239 million Americans aged 12 and over listen to radio in an average week, spending an average of more than an hour and a half doing it. So…objectivity aside….it appears that radio’s viablity as a medium is not one being questioned in today’s tumultuous media landscape. But it occurs to me that, unfortunately, the creativity that was once a hallmark of effective radio ad campaigns is missing in action.
When I started in the business as a young writer, things were very different. There were several legendary independent radio production companies doing exceptional work. Dick Orkin and Bert Burdis were (not surprisingly) working as “Dick and Bert” -the reigning kings of creative radio, offering their writing and production services to clients of all sizes and scopes, from local car dealers to national brands. Shortly after, they split to form The Radio Ranch (Orkin) and Bert, Bars, and Kirby (Burdis). Both companies, along with numerous other firms designed along the same lines and offering similar services, thrived.
The ability of these companies to coax a lot of memorability out of 60 seconds of air time was admirable. Their creative abilities to come up with concepts was terrific, but I especially admired their vocal talents and ability to produce excellent spots with impeccable timing and editing. I am fortunate enough to have, on my reel, spots written by me, but performed by Orkin and produced by his company. (This is unusual, because for a lengthy time, Orkin’s company refusedto permit his voice to be used on any spots they themselves had not written.)
But somewhere along the way, something happened, and I am not sure what it is. My guess is sheer economic reality hit, and high end advertisers saw no logic in paying extra creative fees for something their agency of record should be able to accomplish quite nicely. And the smaller advertisers, when faced with a budget squeeze, returned to putrid jingles and smiling company owners delivering the sales pitch. …most often in commercials they wrote themselves, or were produced by local radio stations under time and budgetg constraints by people not hired for their skills in that direction.
Once upon a time, I could easily recall a wondeful radio spot I had heard on the way to work. Now, I simply draw a blank. I still hear Orkin’s voice on rare occasions, such as in spots for “yourcitynamehelpwanted.com” in multiple markets. But they don’t have quite the zing or freshness they once did. (Okay, maybe none of us do!) But at least the attempt is there. SOMEBODY wants good radio advertising. And certainly there are still exceptions, with people still trying. Can’t end this without pointing you to one place to hear at least a few: the annual Radio Mercury Awards. (The Little Caesar’s campaign you’ll find here is interesting.)
Radio was once the favorite medium for copywriters. Sure, you didn’t get the fancy production trips to LA like you did with TV. But you were in total control. Bosses paid less attention, so ideas got through “cleaner.” Art directors had no real role. It was you, the talent, and the studio engineer. (More than once, I was ultimately asked to “voice” the spot myself, since, as the writer, I best understood the intended timing, inflections, humor, etc.)
Statistics say you continue to listen to radio on a frequent basis. When you do, appreciate the rare “entertaining” commercial when you hear it. And please let ME know about it! If I receive any good candidates, I’ll let you know about them here!