7 Important Things to Rememeber When Writing for Radio


I work for one of the biggest broadcast companies in Joburg and on a daily basis I can write plenty of content for our stations (meaning promos, live reads, generic spots and online copy). I’ve been working in radio for 3 years and I have found that these 7 points are important to remember when writing for radio.

1. It’s all about the time

When writing for radio you have to make sure you write to your allocated time. If you’re writing a generic ad for a client and you’ve come up with the most amazing ad ever, but it’s just a little over the time, well then tough! Find a way to keep it awesome and cut out copy or find a new job. When a piece of content is loaded into the logs system it’s loaded in at the allocated time, let’s say that’s 30 seconds. If you’re ad is over (even by a fraction of a second) the ending will be cut off by the system. So learn to time your scripts properly and write to your time.

2. In the fight between money and creativity – creativity will ALWAYS lose.

Some clients just don’t get creativity. You can try and explain it to them, and even preform the ad on the spot to demonstrate how great the ad will sound, and they still won’t get it. In this case you’ll just have to save the awesome script for another client and write the typical, boring live read over music script that the client wants. This will be a bit soul destroying but, trust me, one day a client will come along that will get the creative – eventually.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of production

Some writers think that production is something that a third party does and there’s no need to worry about it. In truth, as the writer, the script is your imagination come to life and adding in your production notes is very important. If you want your vision to come to life, you have to add all the elements to your script and not just hope the sound engineer will get what you were thinking. Also production notes on a script help the client hear it better too.

4. Radio is theatre of the mind

This old adage is very true! No writing is like radio writing. With TV and film you have an image to show the “viewer”, something to go with the words that shows them what is going on. But with radio, the “listener” needs to see it in their heads, and while every person will see things differently, you need to make sure that your message is something they can imagine. This is where adding production notes come in very handy. But remember, production is not the only way to create theatre of the mind, words are still you best asset and telling a story is just as effective.

5. Yes, that info is irrelevant!

The majority of clients don’t understand radio, they don’t understand how short 30 seconds is and they don’t understand why they can’t have their address, phone number, website and the disclaimer all on the same ad with their 7 call to actions and the fact that they have been open for 100 years. It’s your job to let client know that these things are irrelevant to the script. A person is not going to pull their car over to take down you address, phone number, or even your web address, they will most likely Google the clients name. So mention the clients name as often as possible but in a realistic way (don’t have it in ever line, two or three mentions in 30 seconds is enough, people will get it). People also don’t respond to messages the way the used to, we don’t care how long a company has been open, and it’s just a waste of time you could use to highlight a benefit.

6. One Call to Action

No ad, whether it’s a station promo, live read or client spot needs more than one call to action. All it will do is confuse your listener and you’ll end up diluting the real message. If you want people to go in store, don’t tell them to email as well. If you want people to buy your red apples, don’t mention the green ones. If you are doing a competition make sure there is only one entry mechanic, if you want them to sing a song, don’t as them 3 questions as well.

… and most importantly.

7. Write how people speak!

I guarantee you the day will come when you will need to write a conversation (in fact several days will come) and as we have all heard those ads, we know what to expect. As a good radio writer you need to make sure that every ad you write stands out, even the conversations. Most ads with a conversation get the same response – turn it off, people don’t speak like that! When writing a conversation RIGHT HOW PEOPLE SPEAK! if you read back your ad and think, “no one would say that”, then you’ve missed the boat. I know it’s easier said then done, client wants a conversation and, like I said, they want their address, phone number, website, the disclaimer and their name mentioned 15 times, but do what you can to make that conversation sound like it’s real.

That’s my insight into the world of radio advertising. Just remember, it’s a fasted paced industry with short deadlines and many days of craziness. It’s also addictive and once you’re in, it’s really hard to get out!


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