6 Insider Secrets to Buying Local Radio

The departmental balance inside a radio station plays an intricate role in the media planning of your radio campaign. Understanding how radio operates will benefit you when buying radio. Below is the basic structure of radio stations. Some stations operate slightly different or designate different titles, but this is the general layout.


Commercial radio is like any other corporate driven business; they survive by the all might dollar. In the most simplistic form, the role for of the sales department is to bring in the money, while it’s the role of the programming department to bring in ratings. Your buying experience begins and ends with Account Executives. So lets start there.

  1. SENIOR Account Executive
    Your Account Executive (AE) is your eyes, ears, and voice into a radio station/cluster. It’s VITAL to ensure that they are senior at this group. Senior AE’s understand how to efficiently navigate the internal landscape of their station. Also they will have established relationships with sales managers, the traffic director, and program directors, which allows for better resolutions for any conflicts that might occur during the execution of your campaign.

  2. Negotiate
    There is no set menu when buying local radio. Stations differ in what and how much they can offer. These conditions are directed by your AE and the total amount of money you will potentially spend with this media group. An AE will take your budget and piece together your package with spots, digital ads, and sponsorships. Appreciate the fact that your campaign is negotiable and make sure your AE optimizes your budget. If you want a different strategic approach, they have the flexibility to change it. Also understand that the digital environment is new to the radio industry and they are navigating how to best monetize this front. Pushing for digital “added value” is easy for the AE to get approved. It’s in your best interest to always ask for more.

  3. Media Clusters
    A radio cluster wants to secure as much as your budget as possible. They hate to see dollars go to another station/cluster. Use this to your advantage. If a cluster has the station that targets your demo, and secondary stations that target bordering demos, use your budget to secure more value over multiple stations. How do you do it? When dealing with this ideal cluster, let them know you like their properties but still considering other stations. The AE will rebuttal. Then ask for more value to “win” your total budget. A good AE will use your “total budget” to secure more value through their manager. If one cluster doesn’t offer secondary stations that will benefit you. In that case, equally spread your budget around during your first round of buying, When you go back to buy media again, choose a cluster that has the most beneficial secondary stations. Since you can’t give them your entire budget, leverage “more of your budget.” The AE sees it as a win to take money away from any competitor.

  4. Arbitron’s PPM
    In January 2007, Arbitron introduced to a new form of registering listening called Personal People Meter (PPM). PPM has new rules. What they mean to you?

    • Less is More
      Arbitron used the phrase “Less is more” when the market share points dropped with PPM. They needed to convince media buyers that even though these points dropped, they were getting more accurate returns with cumulative audience (cume) and Time Spent Listening (TSL). Also, PD’s also quickly realized a :60 promo, talking about the latest giveaway was unnecessary and bad for ratings. This goes for a :60 commercial. Strategically, a :30 or :15 with better content, can increase results with copy efficiency.
    • Listening vs. Exposure
      When a meter is on, it’s constantly registering any coded channel in an audible range. Take in account the difference between passively and attentive listening. Example is a consumer sitting in a doctors office reading a magazine with a station on. They may not mentally register this station, but the meter will. It’s something to think about during your next media planning session. Using a station with an active listening audience can increase your spot effectiveness, compared to using a passively listening station that has higher share.
    • PM Drive = Cume
      AM Drive is positioned as the highest valued day-part, mostly due to over branding of morning shows and the impact that had on diaries. Since PPM, radio hasn’t changed this mindset, you are taught to think that this day-part is the most important. I’m not saying this AM Drive isn’t important, but look at the numbers. If a station has higher morning rates, use the cume and TSL breakdown in each day-part to decide which day-part can get you the most return for your dollar. Also, typically, Monday is the worst weekday for listening. These numbers will progressively increase with the week, generally peaking in PM Drive on Fridays. Loading a schedule toward the end of the week can provide higher exposure.
  5. Rankers and Scarborough
    A good AE will provide data from rankings and reports from Scarborough to convince you that their station is the best option for you. Understand that this is their job to present the silver lining of the station. If you see a station ranked #1 for woman 18 to 24, ask yourself what that means to you and if it’s your demo. Also, Scarborough is a great research tool for AE’s to provide you with unbiased data. This data will give you an insight into your audience, but use this data to make an assessment of your consumer, not the decision maker.

  6. Promotion Directors
    The Promotion Director can help you secure airtime by trading your product for on-air giveaways. You will typically receive :10 tags associated with the giveaway. Providing one piece of product per day, with a product valued at greater then $50, is a standard package provided. If you do not have product to provide, buy/use gift cards. With a total investment of $250, you will receive a minimum return of $1500 in on-air time. The market will determine the total value of your return. Also don’t forget to request airchecks!

I believe not utilizing radio in your marketing plan, is a missed opportunity. There is always ways in radio to influence your media dollars to get more out of your investment when you know how the radio world operates.

Please feel free to reach out directly if you have a specific question or need any further insight on these points.

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