The days of Edward R. Murrow reporting from rooftops in war-torn
London are long gone. 'Most cities now have only one radio station that
makes any reasonable effort to cover the news,' says Mike Cox, member
services director for the Texas Press Association.
Many channels depend on other media for news leads, and often disc
jockeys - not reporters - rotate among control rooms, reading headlines
on sister stations.
'USA Today is the assignment desk of choice for many organizations,'
jokes Donn Pearlman, senior managing director at Minkus & Dunne
Communications in Chicago. Thus, daily reporting can become a game of
gossip with errors introduced through repetition, according to Gus
Weill, CEO of New York's PR21.
So when a time-sensitive story heats up, don't put radio on the back
burner. During a crisis, radio can go live within minutes - faster than
TV crews can set up remote trucks and hours before newspapers hit the
Between 6am and 9am on most days, radio journalists are too busy reading
the news to do a lot of reporting. The best time to contact them is
before 6am or late morning/early afternoon for evening drive time.
Michael Hill, president of News/Broadcast Network in New York, says
pitching between 3am and 5am can make the biggest impact.
Michael Paul, president of Manhattan's MGP & Associates PR, says he
often uses radio and wire services to redirect stories after the 11pm
news. For instance, when a pro football player client got arrested for
DWI, Paul arranged apologetic 6am radio interviews. The client came
across as humble and sympathetic before the next print or TV news
Getting up early and casting a wide net can help catch listeners, but
don't expect to find them all in the same pond. Audience fragmentation
in radio can be both a blessing and a curse. Twenty or more stations may
compete in major markets, but format specificity lets PR people hone in
on targeted groups. News and talk listeners are generally decision
makers, and are often reporters, Pearlman notes. 'You might only hit
3.5% of the audience, but it's the right 3.5% to reach.'
Turner advises PR practitioners to study ratings to get a feel for
audience shift. News and talk stations often get the best ratings in the
morning, for example, while rock and easy-listening channels tend to do
better in the afternoon.
Contacting a plethora of local stations isn't always a chore, as many
are often owned by a few big parent companies. A common newsroom may
serve two to five sister stations, says Steve Turner, principal at
Solomon/Turner in St. Louis. Asking reporters to share a story with
affiliated stations can give it longer legs.
Don't bother pitching your story to radio if you can't give details and
sound bites (radio people call them 'actualities') within an hour or
two, advises Darrell Azar, Austin bureau chief for Houston's KTRH.
'Saying, 'We're going to have something for you in four or five hours,'
is like saying 'No comment,'' he says. 'News-papers can wait six hours
to get the real story. Radio needs it immediately.'
The telephone lets you place news-quality actualities quickly and
cheaply from just about anywhere.
Having the right phone numbers may be the key to successful radio crisis
communications. Receptionists don't work at 5am, so maintain media lists
with direct extensions, cell numbers and e-mail addresses. You might
also want to keep news hotline (and even music request-line) numbers
handy to increase your chances of getting through.
Even if you have a spokes-person at the scene of a breaking story,
manning the phones is still important, Azar says. Radio stations may not
have the resources to send reporters to the field, or they might not be
able to get good audio outdoors, so they often rely on office phone
calls as a backup. If a radio station gets a reporter to the scene of
breaking news on time, 'the station still needs somebody at the office
who can feed them quick information,' Azar says
Live radio can get dicey when a reporter calls seeking an on-the-spot
interview. Paul advises that you don't put your client on the spot when
this happens. Instead, give yourself time to prepare your spokes-person
by promising to call back in 15 minutes. But if you get in a pinch,
coaching clients during a live radio interview is infinitely easier than
during live TV spots. Without the cameras watching, media trainers can
pass notes or whisper message points to clients, Paul says.
To compensate for the absence of facial expressions or hand gestures
during radio interviews, Weill trains his clients to speak loudly and
emote. Cox suggests standing up for better voice projection, even when
talking into the telephone receiver.
PR people who know radio reporters merely as faceless voices on the
phone might be surprised to find them hungrier and more receptive than
other journalists. 'Radio reporters seem very warm and open to building
relationships because they often are put on the bottom of the totem
pole,' Paul says.
1. Do have details and sound bites ready before you pitch from
2. Do ask radio reporters to share your story with sister stations and
3. Do monitor all-news and talk stations during crises so you can
respond to erroneous information or negative comments
1. Don't overlook radio because of individual stations' small market
2. Don't let radio reporters read your story from the morning paper or
find out about your client from disgruntled callers
3. Don't grant a live interview unless your spokesperson is well