Radio advertising has been around for almost as long as radio itself. The first recognized form of radio advertising occurred in 1922. Businesses were given the opportunity to underwrite or finance broadcasting in exchange for mention of their brand or product on-air.

In today’s world, radio advertising is a critical medium for businesses to share their product or brand with their target market.

Expenditure on this type of advertising can be comparatively lower than for other mediums. It also offers proven efficacy in regards to brand awareness, promotion and sales. It makes sense that radio advertising should be included in all comprehensive advertising strategies.

So what does this mean for you as a business owner?

And how can you use radio advertising to your advantage?

Before we get stuck into the nitty-gritty, let’s have a look at what radio advertising is and what it is not.

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What is radio advertising?

Radio advertising is a sub-category of the over-arching audio advertising industry. At one time, it was a stand-alone industry. However, with the advent of digital audio services over the internet (e.g. music streaming services and podcasts), it now belongs to a much broader market.

As with all audio advertising services, the key point of difference for radio is that audio is the primary (and often sole) format used to communicate a message. There is no visual support, unlike television that uses moving images, or print publications that use still images. It’s what is heard not what is seen that is important.

Advertising in this way can incorporate spoken words, jingles, songs, and sound effects. Advertising can be narrative-based and emotive, or clinical and informative. Often the type of approach taken can lead to association building for the consumer, and this can be used to the advertisers’ advantage when developing their ad.

To differentiate from other forms of audio advertising, radio advertising takes place specifically over terrestrial radio broadcasting networks. It can occur over both FM and AM networks.  It is commercial radio, however, that is primarily responsible for much of the radio advertising market.

What does this mean for you?

Recent trends in advertising suggest that radio remains a cost-effective, broad-spectrum approach for brand awareness, product promotion, and sales conversions. You can read more about recent trends in radio advertising here. To maximize the saturation of your brand or product within all the other advertising noise, radio advertising needs to be part of your game plan. And not only does it need to be part of your game plan, but it needs to be executed well.

How can I use radio advertising to my advantage?

If you’re still reading this article, it probably means that using radio to advertise your business, brand or product is something you’re keen to pursue. There are a few key steps you should consider before you get underway with your radio advertising journey. And if you’ve already started, or tried it in the past with no discernible success, it’s never too late to make changes.

So, how can you create a successful radio advertising campaign?

Have clear intent and objectives

This point applies to all forms of advertising, but especially so for radio. What are you trying to achieve? What do you want the outcome of your advertising to be? Can this be measured, and if so, how?

There are three main reasons that businesses advertise. These are:

  • Brand awareness – letting the consumer know who you are and what you offer
  • Promotion – information regarding a specific event, product or deal
  • Immediate response – wanting the consumer to act on the information provided

The way that you engage with radio advertising will change depending on what your objective is. To put your advertising dollars to best use, be clear on what you want to achieve.

radio ads and audio ads

Make decisions based on your objectives

So you know what you want to achieve, but now what? The next step is to think about the three R’s. These are:

  • Reach
  • Repetition (or frequency)
  • Radio time

Let’s break it down more.


There are two factors that determine a radio stations’ potential reach – broadcasting range and demographic.

Broadcasting range determines if the network provides national, regional or local coverage. Demographic determines the typical “listener” of that radio station. For example, a talk-back station that focuses on current affairs is going to have a different audience than a top-40 latest hits radio station.

So, for example, if you owned a florist that was wanting to expand deliveries state-wide, using a regional radio station would be most appropriate. A radio station whose audience was wage-earning, dating males would be even better!


Repetition, also known as frequency, is how often a particular ad is broadcast over radio.

You can choose to have an ad played once a day, seven days a week for three weeks, or you could choose to have an ad played thirty times a day for two days only. The possible combinations are restricted only by your budget. There is, however, a (not-so) secret formula!

This formula, as outlined here at Leighton Broadcasting, is called the 21/52 schedule. This translates to 21 ads per week, 52 weeks per year per station. This is particularly recommended if making sales is your objective.

The reasoning behind this formula is that only after 20 exposures to the ad will someone make the plunge to part with their money. Obviously having the right reach is important too, but if you don’t expose that audience to the information often enough, you’ve probably wasted everyone’s time and your advertising money.

Radio time

This one ties into reach, but it’s a little more specific. While reach looks at the audience of a given radio station, radio time looks are what time of the day certain audiences are listening.

As a general rule for radio, peak listening times are in the morning between 6 am and 10 am, and again in the late afternoon between 3 pm and 7 pm. The reason for this? The daily commute between home and work and back again.

If we look at the florist situation once more, both these time-slots would be relevant for the target market. The AM slot for those wage-earning, dating men to order flowers to be delivered at their beaus work, or the PM for them to pick up an order on their way home and handover to their date that evening.

The other, off-peak broadcasting times might not capture as many people by way of numbers, but they may be more suited to your target audience. For example, the daytime slot between 10 am and 3 pm is going to catch those at work, particularly in jobs where listening to the radio is part of the routine (think building sites or retail), while the late-night slot (from midnight to 6 am) might capture shift workers, late-night gamers or insomniacs.

Finding the sweet spot

Hopefully, now it’s clear why knowing your objective before beginning a radio advertising campaign is so important. You want to maximize your reach to the right demographic. You want to hit your audience with the optimum exposures of your information to meet your objectives. And you want to have them listening to the ad when it’s most relevant to them.

So wouldn’t it make sense to have ads playing on all radio stations at all times? Sure – if you were made of money. But the reality is that most businesses, including yours, have this thing called a budget.

So where to spend the money?

Production vs spot expenditure

When it comes to radio advertising, there are two main areas that dictate what you will have to spend. The first is the production of the advertising material. The second is spot expenditure (which includes the 3 R’s outlined above).


Radio ad production costs can vary greatly depending on how you decide to approach this. A breakdown of the costs associated with audio ad production can be found in more detail here, but the main things to consider are:

  • Script development – do you do this yourself or engage a professional writer?
  • Audio recording – do you purchase your own audio recording equipment and software, use the radio stations’ equipment and software, or outsource the recording.
  • Voice hire – do you use your own voice, access one through the radio station or hire a professional voice actor.
  • Length of ad – longer ads cost more to produce than shorter ads

Obviously, as with most things, the DIY approach is likely to be the cheapest option but it may not yield professional results. Using the services offered by a radio station may eliminate much of the stress around recording the ad, but the level of quality and cost will vary from station to station. Outsourcing the script writing and/or ad recording using a service such as Bunny Studio can provide a straightforward, reasonably priced solution that results in a creative, professional advertisement for you to use.

radio advertising ads

Spot expenditure

On top of the production of the actual ad, radio stations generally charge on a per-spot basis. This means that an ad that runs six times a day for two weeks at $100 a spot will cost you $2400.

There are variances with how much a “spot” costs depending on the station (national will cost more than local), along with which period of radio time the ad runs (high-peak spots will generally cost more than off-peak spots). You can learn more about spot expenditure here.

As you can see, having a clear and defined intent and objective when it comes to your advertising campaign will help you decide where to spend your money.

Money well spent

As with all forms of advertising, there are errors that can happen when it comes to producing and broadcasting your ad. This article by Business Town gives some ‘streetwise’ advice for those new to the radio advertising industry.

The key takeaway is that your job isn’t done once you’ve handed the ad over to the radio network. Do a little quality control and if you can, tune in to the station and time slots your ad is meant to be played and ensure it’s:

a) played when it’s meant to be played


b) played in its entirety.

Where to next – how to source radio advertising

If you decide to outsource your radio advertising production requirements, your options include:

  • advertising agencies (a quick google search will reveal those relevant to your location)
  • online writing, voice and audio platforms (such as Bunny Studio)
  • radio stations (national, regional, local)

If you decide to produce your ad in-house, you will still need to contact the relevant radio stations to arrange the broadcast of your ad. There are also radio advertising consultants who can do the hard yards for you when it comes to arranging a radio ad broadcasting contract.

It’s a wrap

So, there you have it! A crash course on the in’s and out’s of radio advertising. In terms of reach, exposure and conversions, radio has as much, if not more, potential than other advertising mediums.

The cost can be negotiated to your budget, and often times the lower-cost solution is also a better solution in terms of a business’s objectives.  And while it might not be as glamorous as its advertising counter-parts, radio has stood the test of time with steady listenership and engagement.

If you haven’t already made the radio part of your advertising campaign, you’re running out of reasons not to!