Radio Is Dead. Long Live Radio.

CBC’s “Under The Influence” radio program, hosted by Terry O’Reilly, recently devoted an entire show to illustrate, in Mr. O’Reilly’s words: “…the incredible creativity happening in radio advertising around the world today.”

First stop: Hanover, Germany, where a music school used radio to recruit top music students by making their email address invisible to all but those with perfect pitch.


According to O’Reilly:

There is a music school in Frankfurt, Germany called the University of Hannover Academy of Music.

It is an elite school for musicians.

Hannover wanted to recruit specific people: Those with “perfect pitch.”

If you have perfect pitch, it means you can identify a specific musical note without any other external assistance or context.

If you think that’s easy, try it now: Sing an “A” off the top of your head.

Only one in 10,000 of us can do that.

In Europe and North America, some studies suggest that less than 3% of the population can do it. Yet, 98% have absolute colour recognition.

That’s how rare Perfect Pitch is.

So the University of Hannover’s Music Department wanted to recruit people with perfect pitch.

But how could they do that on radio?

By doing this:

Because people with Perfect Pitch can identify every note on the musical scale, the Hannover School of music communicated to them in a way only they would understand.

The music notes spell out the school’s email address.

It was an ingenious use of radio because it did two things:

One: It gave the school heightened awareness and spoke to the creativity of the school. And two: This commercial became the first entrance exam.

Only those with perfect pitch would pass the test by emailing the school.

It was a huge success for the university. Allowing them first crack at the most talented crop of new students.

All done with the innovative use of radio.

Clever, no?

But this is just the tip of the Snickers bar.  Stay with the program and you’ll hear about how all the radio stations in Puerto Rico switched formats one morning to sell that candy bar.  And how Colombia used music on radio to communicate with kidnapped soldiers and send them a message of hope.  And, back in Germany, how radio achieves a new level of intrusiveness in reaching drivers with a powerful Don’t Drink and Drive message.

Terry O’Reilly understands the power of radio – the power of sound, and of human connection.  In response to the question, What’s going to happen to radio?  he replies:

I’m always amused by that question, because the subtext is that radio is in trouble.

To that I say – radio is the ultimate survivor.

It was the first-ever broadcast medium, and it went on the air way back in the 1920s, both in Canada and the United States.

Warren Harding was the first American President to speak on public radio in 1922, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King was the first Canadian leader to be broadcast in 1927.

Radio seemed like a miracle – because it the first time an entire country could hear a live sound at exactly the same time.

Since then, radio has survived the competition of motion pictures, television, VCRs, PVRs and now, the internet.

If I had to put my finger on why radio has survived, I would have to say because it is such a “personal” medium.

Radio is a voice in your ear. It is a highly personal activity. People rarely listen to radio in groups, the way an entire family might sit in front of the television, or go to a theatre to see a movie.

Radio is local. It broadcasts news and programming that is mostly local in nature. And through all the technological changes happening around radio, and in radio – be it AM moving to FM moving to satellite radio and internet radio, basic terrestrial radio survives into another day.

And in the world of advertising and marketing, radio continues to be incredibly innovative.

A couple of my favorite illustrations from the program had to do with Radio’s tackling of the problem of breast cancer.   Every October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month), many radio stations join the worldwide effort to educate their listeners about this disease.

In Israel, radio stations got together with the Israel Cancer Association and did something highly creative.

8am is the highest peak of listenership on morning radio. More people tune in at that hour than at any other hour of the day. And as a result, advertisers pay the highest rates in that time period.

On October 30th, at 8:05am, radio stations in Israel did something they had never done before.

All morning shows broadcasted out of the right speaker only.

They did that to convey the idea of what it is like to lose one breast, to lose one part of a whole.

And to achieve maximum reach of that message, every radio station in the entire country silenced their left speaker simultaneously at 8:05am:

Every station assured their listeners they weren’t hearing a malfunction, that the one-channel broadcast was intentional to bring awareness to breast cancer, and every station urged women to get tested. The project was called “The Day Radio Went Mono.” It generated tremendous awareness, and press in all other mediums wrote hundreds of stories about it. But here’s the important part: The amount of help-line calls increased by 98%. And mammography testing increased by 24%. Extraordinary results – generated by the creative use of radio.

Meanwhile, over in Malaysia, a radio station was tackling the topic of breast cancer in a different way. BFM 89.9 is a radio station in the city of Petaling Jaya that focuses on business news – hence its slogan, “The Business Station.” Working with the Breast Cancer Society of Malaysia, BFM 89.9 wanted to reach their listeners in a unique way during Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. The radio station has a highly educated, successful business audience, but research showed that same audience ignores basic cancer awareness messages. So BFM 89.9 chose to break the rules of radio. They interrupted their regular business news with breast cancer awareness messages – but did it by incorporating those messages seamlessly into their news reports, delivered by the newscasters themselves. Read in exactly the same style:

To BFM’s listeners, it must have come as a shock to be listening intently to business news then suddenly hear that rolling nipples between the thumb and index finger is a way to check for lumps and indications of pain. It was that last line you just heard that makes this campaign so effective. Not only does it give men and women direction on how to check for breast cancer, it highlighted one of the most important aspects of breast cancer: That it can come when you least expect it. It was a brave and incredibly creative way to communicate to an audience that ignores the usual breast cancer messages. And the degree of difficulty was high, because the format of an all-business station makes it difficult to do something fresh and compelling. It was simply a radio idea that was impossible to ignore.

Impossible to ignore. 

Reminds me of Tony Schwartz’s famous observation about God’s gift to Radio: He created human beings without earlids.

Herein lies the real secret to Radio’s power to move people: its intrusiveness, combined with the fact that speech is man’s primary form of communication (whereas print is an imitation of speech).  Three decades ago, David Ogilvy circulated a memo to his employees.  It contained ten points on How to Write.  Writing well was non-negotiable if you expected to go anywhere at his agency.  Point #10:  “If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.”

And that’s something at which Radio continues to excel.

CLICK HERE for full transcript of Terry O’Reilly’s “Under the Influence” broadcast, Radio is Dead.  Long Live Radio.

About Rod Schwartz

Rod Schwartz backed into a lifelong career in radio advertising in 1973 in Springfield, Illinois. He joined the Pullman (Wash.) Radio Group in 1979, where he worked until his retirement at the end of 2022. Since 1991, Rod and his family have operated Grace Broadcast Sales (, providing short-form syndicated radio features to radio and TV stations across the U.S. and Canada. Rod also operates an independent advertising, marketing, and communications consultancy for small business owners and professionals, An avid photographer, Rod shares some of his favorite images of the Palouse at and on his Viewbug gallery.
This entry was posted in Advertising (General), Branding, Business, Communication, Consumer behavior, Copy, information overload, Internet, Ogilvy, Problem-solving, Radio Advertising, Radio Commercials, Radio Production, Storytelling, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Radio Is Dead. Long Live Radio.

  1. radiojoe106 says:

    Excellent article. Thank you On Feb 11, 2013 8:27 PM, “RodSpots – Lessons from the Streets, the Studio,


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