Radio Days

Radio may be the stepchild of the agency world, but many creatives see its potential. Cliff Freeman’s Adam Chasnow is smitten.
TV commercials can take weeks or even months to perfect. But Adam Chasnow, armed with only a script, can make radio magic in a day – take the award-winning work for Hollywood Video.
The Cliff Freeman and Partners copywriter creates calm out of chaos in the studio. “You guys sound great, like famous people,” he tells his cast of celebrity impersonators recording at Kamen Entertainment Group in New York.
Chasnow’s humor keeps the energy level high, even as he pauses for some last-minute rewriting. For each ad in the series, Chasnow shrinks the plot of an entire feature film into a riotous parody.
“Radio seems scarier [than TV]. It’s hard to keep someone engaged without all the visual tricks,” says Chasnow, espousing the medium’s virtues. “Radio is integral at Cliff Freeman; it’s not an afterthought.”
Hollywood Video divides its media budget equally between radio and television, says Jennifer Brauer, the company’s senior director of advertising and creative services. “We are as proud of the radio spots as TV, and radio is just as successful,” she says.
But radio doesn’t get the same respect at other clients and agencies. Often seen as advertising’s stepchild, radio ads are usually produced after the more glamorous TV and print ads – which account for most of an agency’s revenue.
But the bottom line isn’t the only factor limiting the use of radio, which accounted for $2.9 billion of the $79.3 billion spent on advertising last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
“[Creatives] don’t get hired on their radio reel,” says one longtime New York agency radio producer. Cliff Freeman president Arthur Bijur adds they also lose interest in radio because their first experience can be frustrating. Unlike other media, the writer runs the show. “If you walk out of the studio with something good, you get charged up,” but you don’t always get the help you need, he says.
Steve Dildarian, a copywriter at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, even finds radio more challenging than television. “There are few crutches,” he says. “There’s a lot more demand on the writing. It’s a harder discipline.”
A Budweiser spot titled “Selling Out,” which took top honors at last week’s Radio Mercury Awards, is a case in point. Dildarian, along with art director Todd Grant, created the popular ad campaign featuring the overambitious Louie the Lizard and his pal Frank. In the spot, Frank laments that Louie has become a company mouthpiece when he shamelessly promotes the beer’s “born on” dating. Because Louie and company translate so well to radio, Dildarian says, Goodby has produced almost three times as many radio ads as TV spots featuring the lizards.
But even the most enthusiastic creative director feels radio advertising is neglected. “It’s down the food chain for clients,” says radio award-winner John Farquhar, co-creative director of Young & Rubicam, Toronto. “Yet it’s not hard to stand out when so much is lousy.”
Bob Kerstetter agrees. Although he’s won kudos for his radio work, the copywriter and partner of Black Rocket in San Francisco admits he’s not a huge fan of the medium. “It’s the arena. It’s five crappy spots and yours is stuck in there,” he says. “But radio is perfect for some companies.”
For instance, a Yahoo! spot that earned Black Rocket $10,000 at the Mercurys touts the advantages of customizing your own Internet news page. In the ad, an announcer is interrupted by a call from a listener who “orders” a personalized newscast.
Keith Reinhard, chairman and CEO of DDB Worldwide and longtime advocate of radio advertising, was awarded the Mercury lifetime achievement award in ’98. He points out the effectiveness of radio’s impact by citing a DDB campaign for Pep Boys last year. The client wanted to reach buyers at their time of greatest need – during nasty weather. The agency asked station managers to report weather conditions to media buyers, who ran ads at the appropriate times. Sales went up 55 percent to 92 percent in those markets, says Reinhard.
The problem with radio today, Reinhard believes, is that as long as clients don’t demand it, radio will remain an orphan at many shops. But if agencies were ever to get paid strictly on results, he says, they could earn more money from radio – and radio could earn more esteem from agencies.
True, radio isn’t bright on the industry radar, but Chasnow remains optimistic. “I really like radio. And the more I do it, the better I get.” ¡

Making Waves
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, won the $100,000 grand prize at the eighth annual Radio Mercury Awards last week in New York. The only show dedicated solely to radio honored creatives with $210,000, including 11 prizes of $10,000 each. Lowe & Partners took home the most prizes, two for Mercedes-Benz and Amstel Light, and a noncash PSA award for the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Leo Burnett, Chicago, won the Hispanic radio prize for a Coca-Cola spot. Other winners included Goodby for a Hewlett-Packard spot; Black Rocket, San Francisco, for Yahoo!; Cliff Freeman and Partners, New York, for Hollywood Video; Gallucci Advertising, Boston, for American Hard Cider; and John Crawford Radio, San Francisco, for Chevy’s Restaurants. ¡