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Monday Memo: Promos 101

| April 22, 2019

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI –Nothing we say on-air can add listeners. Because the only people who hear promos are already listening.

On-air promotion should accomplish two things:

  1. Add Time Spent Listening by explaining why and how to use the station again another time. Mathematically, that’ll move-the-needle even quicker than a bunch of expensive TV spots or billboards, which do invite sampling, but are inviting everyone.  But your listeners already know you and use you.  So with promos, you’re “buying a spot schedule on your own air,” the most-efficient medium for reaching your own listeners.
  2. Enhance recall. I’m not against ear candy, when promos convey the essence of stations and shows.  But be careful that cute, self-amused imaging doesn’t obscure the message.

Remember “It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas?” 

We heard that muted trombone when the grown-ups were talking. That’s how most radio promos sound to real people.

  • What’s with the barking or puking or sinister announcer delivery? And why is it always a man?  I believe his name is Bill Balls.  No wonder actors are doing the voiceover on so many national spots.  Gene Hackman used to do United Airlines, then Matt Damon took over.  Jon Hamm does Mercedes Benz, Tina Fey does Walgreens, that’s Julia Roberts on the Nationwide Insurance voiceover, and John Goodman and Donald Sutherland are doing lots of spots…because they don’t sound like announcers.
  • And about those 70s-sounding whizzers? And that voice-in-a-box EQ cliché?  Too much imaging sounds like an-imitation-of radio, hokey even to grown-ups who are heavy users.
  • Are your promos over-produced? Often when I hear announcer and sound bites intercut, they’re too tight. It all just runs together.  Too-loud background music obscures the message further.  And be subtle with sound effects.  Those sea gulls are supposed to sound like the beach, not a landfill.

Is your station’s imaging boastful?  Or benefit-laden?

A station I often hear pronounces itself “The News Leader.”  Why suggest to the listener that there are other news stations?

It also claims to be “The Station of Record,” a designation no authority has actually bestowed.  Besides being false, this claim sounds dated.  The Internet has made users the authority. When we can read online reviews, movie critics and Consumer Reports, etc. are old school.

Station-centric claims ask listeners to care how we are doing.  Help how they’re doing.  Promo copy is listeners’ instruction manual for using the station.  Don’t squander it telling people that you think you’re mighty.

Worst promo I hear most often?

“If you missed Biff & Bev in-the-Morning, you missed…”  It’s a donut: produced open and close, with an aircheck clip in the middle.

  • I don’t think I have ever heard such a promo that caused me remorse for missing the show being touted. Often the clip makes the personalities sound self-amused.
  • The listener can’t act on this message. This morning’s Biff & Bev show is gone.
  • You send diary keepers a dangerous subliminal message: that they DIDN’T listen. Heck, we want to fool them into thinking they did listen!


  • Talk about the NEXT show.
  • Use “you” and/or “your” as-early-as-possible in copy.
  • Offer a benefit statement, something listeners will realize from listening, i.e., what they’ll take away from hearing tomorrow’s guest, what they can call-in-and-win, anticipated topics.

Does station promo copy contain unintentional put-downs?

Here’s a common misstep I hear in news/talk stations’ on-air imaging: Meaning to give comfort that the station will keep listeners well-informed, promos say “LISTEN AND LEARN,” or offer that listening “WILL MAKE YOU SMARTER.”

  • Language like this can easily sound condescending. People don’t tune-in to get educated.  They listen to cope, because you accompany and entertain and inform and guide them.
  • So, instead, sound enabling, by expressing benefit statements in listener language. “WE’VE GOTCHA COVERED, FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, AND THROUGHOUT YOUR BUSY DAY” says we’ve-got-your-back, without risking the implication that you-need-to-be-smarter.

Holland Cooke ( is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is the author of the witty and resourceful “Holland Cooke: Greatest Hits” from Talkers Books.  Click the ad banner in the right-hand column on this page.  And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America.  Read HC’s Monday Memo each week at, and follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Advice