Radio PSAs are still a valuable tool

Radio is a medium with incredible staying power, with a reach that continues to grow despite outside challenges from TV and online resources.

Radio is a medium with incredible staying power, with a reach that continues to grow despite outside challenges from TV and online resources. There is no more effective way in getting messages to people wherever they happen to be - at home, in the car, or at work. That is why the PSA is such an important component of radio programming.

PSAs are for on-air use by stations to promote a social message aimed at increasing public awareness or having listeners take action on an issue. PSAs are one way that radio stations perform public service by keeping their listeners involved and up-to-date about community needs, programs, and events.

With the Telecommunication Act of 1996, the Federal Communications Commission no longer requires stations to run PSAs. However, despite no requirements to do so, stations continue to run them as part of their regular programming. In fact, a survey we conducted of 75 randomly sampled stations around the country in late 2007 revealed that 100% still have a public service rotation. Further, the average station says it still needs to fill 24 PSA slots in a typical week, but because it is required to run them, stations have become more selective about the PSAs it accepts.

It's important to remember that an effective PSA involves good content from a verifiable nonprofit organization in the format that a station prefers. Our survey found that 60% of stations surveyed preferred PSAs that ran between 15 and 30 seconds. In the past, PSAs could run as long as 60 seconds, but today, airtime is competitive and messages must be succinct. This does not leave much room for production fluff that takes time away from the central message. PSAs that don't fit this straightforward formula are not likely to be placed in rotation.

Further, stations tell us they prefer to know what is coming their way and to have a say as to what kind of content they receive. Pre-pitching allows the staff to know what options are available and plan their rotation. It also allows the organization pitching the PSA to gauge the types of stations that will review the information for on-air use.

The power of the PSA is that it allows organizations to build and increase their image, and stations to provide important information regarding compelling social issues to their audience. In this way, it is clearly differentiated from advertising or commercial spots. Many times these PSA spots will have a long run, often over the course of one to three months, which provides a great deal of exposure.

Today, the simple PSA can be overlooked when organizations are forming a media relations strategy, taking a backseat to overproduced spots or purchased time. But thoughtful and well-produced PSAs, adhering to the needs of stations and pitched correctly, remain a win-win formula valued by radio stations and their listeners.

Lynn Harris Medcalf is EVP and cofounder and David Beasley is marketing manager at News Generation.

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