What is Radio Advertising?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

While many people may view radio as a less popular medium than the Internet or television, the truth is that radio still manages to penetrate areas of our daily lives still off-limits to other media. Consumers can listen to radio in their vehicles, in waiting rooms, in many restaurants and a number of grocery stores. Radio advertising targets that captive audience through a series of 30 second or 60 second spots which promote products or services in a memorable way.

Radio advertising still pushes products and services, especially on local AM stations.
Radio advertising still pushes products and services, especially on local AM stations.

Radio advertising is based on the idea of creating an audio-only environment and placing the listener inside of it. A typical radio spot features a professional voice-over artist reading descriptive copy over an appropriate bed of background music. Important information may be repeated several times over the course of the spot, such as contact phone numbers, addresses, website URLs, or a geographical reference. As one spot of radio advertising ends, another spot begins and the process continues until the program resumes.

At some radio stations, on-air talent may be responsible for the production of radio advertising.
At some radio stations, on-air talent may be responsible for the production of radio advertising.

Some radio advertising can be very elaborate, using several different voice actors to perform a short comedic spot or customized music to punch up the most important parts of the advertising copy. Other radio advertising, especially when produced by a local radio station, is more straightforward, with a recognizable disk jockey or business owner providing the voice-over. Depending on the size of the radio station and the client's budget, on-air talent may be responsible for the production of radio advertising or it may be farmed out to a professional advertising agency to achieve the client's vision.

A radio spot may feature a professional voice-over artist.
A radio spot may feature a professional voice-over artist.

Because radio station managers have a limited number of minutes available for advertising during an average hour, radio spots tend to last either 30 or 60 seconds. A station may build in several scheduled breaks during an hour, typically at twenty minutes or so after the top of the hour and twenty minutes before the top of the next hour. If there is enough radio advertising spots available, additional breaks at ten minutes before the hour and ten minutes after the hours may be added. Each break may have two to three minutes allotted for spots, which can be introduced with a station jingle or a longer promotion called a sweep.

Advertisers generally pay for the number of times a particular radio spot is played, or "dropped" in radio lingo. A radio ad dropped primarily during the overnight hours may be less expensive than a similar ad dropped during the popular morning or afternoon drive times. Radio advertising, especially for a popular station with a powerful transmitter, can be a considerable expense up front, but the number of potential listeners within range of the station is often exponentially higher than subscribers to local newspapers or regular viewers of local television stations.

Radio advertising lacks the visual appeal of other mediums.
Radio advertising lacks the visual appeal of other mediums.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


SurfNTurf-A radio advertising agency can really help you target your advertising to reach the right market.

First, you have to determine the demographics of your target market before you seek to advertise on a particular station.

For example, a News station is going to have a different set of listeners then a hip hop station. Once you have narrowed down your station you have to decide which markets you want to advertise in.

The top markets of New York and Los Angeles command $4,000 to $8,000 for a top station per week, while $500 to $1,500 is typical for a market like Myrtle Beach South Carolina.

The frequency also varies. Most advertisements air about 19 times a week. While this sounds expensive it is important to note that many new companies will take the gamble because they will receive not only name recognition over time, but they will also have repeat business a necessary step for any thriving business.

Shari’s Berries became a household name and sold 50 million sets of berries on the Rush Limbaugh show that has a daily audience of 20 million, so the return on the advertising dollars here was well worth it.


Subway11-I like radio advertisement because they usually use jingles that you can’t get out of your mind. Also, radio advertising marketing tends to focus heavily on testimonials.

Here you actually listen to an account of a person that used the product or service and their life was positively affected.

The streaming radio advertising that comes to mind is the ads for the Sleep Number bed. Again, here Rush Limbaugh talks about how effective this product is my offering the listener information on his personal experience on the product.

A ringing endorsement from Rush Limbaugh on radio is the equivalent to an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey on television. Celebrity endorsements like these are a gold mine for radio station advertising which is why they are used frequently when advertising on radio.


Radio advertising marketing is really effective because the ads are so memorable. Like television, the radio advertising rates are highest during syndicated programming with a large market share.

For example, a company by the name of Shari’s Berries wanted to advertise its huge chocolate dipped strawberries nationwide, so instead of seeking local radio advertising, they looked at a national audience.

They began advertising on the Rush Limbaugh show which has a daily listenership of 20 million listeners. The expense was worth it because they just sold 50 million packages of berries and are looking to expand further.

Sometimes the radio advertisement will appear as part of a monologue. For example, when Rush Limbaugh starts to talk about general issues of identity theft, he will slip in the name of Life Lock an identity theft prevention company.

The way he subtlety transitions into this radio advertisement will force you to listen because you did not expect it and thought it was part of the monologue.

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