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NBC Turns to Radio for Leno Tune-in

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NBC is putting big promotional bucks behind its prime-time bet on Jay Leno. Leading up to Leno's Sept. 14 debut at 10 p.m., NBC Universal is turning to an ambitious radio campaign as part of its overall push.

Working with Horizon Media and Katz Marketing Solutions, the campaign could be NBC's biggest radio tune-in effort yet.

Airing in two waves, the first set of radio spots breaks Sept. 8-11. Those ads serve as teasers, aimed at getting potential viewers to think about the upcoming Leno debut. The second wave, airing Sept. 14-18, is the call to action. Both waves emphasize Leno's brand of comedy.

The first radio flight airs in 12 top markets, including the 10 markets where NBC has owned-and-operated stations. In a nod to Leno's new 10 p.m. time slot, the spot airs adjacent to morning traffic reports on the :10s, with 15 seconds of Leno comedy bits followed by a tag reminding viewers to tune in to Jay at 10 p.m.

Beginning Sept. 14, the first day of Leno's new show, phase two broadens the reach of the campaign into the top 25 markets. Once again timed to air 10 minutes after the hour in morning and afternoon drive, Leno comedy bits are introduced by local personalities as "Comedy from Jay at 10 after the hour" (or 9 after the hour in the Central time zone.)

Both waves are designed to maximize tune-in with creative radio approaches that will resonate with potential viewers. "The first [wave] was finding mundane moments in everyday life that could use a laugh from Leno, such as sitting in gridlock while listening to a local traffic report," said Ken Grayson, senior director, media planning for NBC. "The second was closely aligning Leno and the comedy with the number 10 to highlight his time slot."

NBC has often turned to radio to create clever tune-in campaigns for its TV properties. Last year, the network worked with Katz to rebrand top stations as Chuck-FM. In 2007, for Heroes, the team used unorthodox ad lengths with a classic theater-of-the-mind approach in a daylong schedule. Each campaign won AdweekMedia Plan of the Year awards. Three years ago, NBC sponsored an hour of commercial-free radio to promote My Name Is Earl.

None of the campaigns, including NBC's latest radio push for Leno, is easy to execute. They require extensive coordination with individual stations to change programming clocks and prep programmers and personalities. For the Leno campaign, Horizon, Katz and NBC worked months in advance.

"The radio industry is recognizing the need for flexibility," said Bob McCurdy, president of Katz Marketing Solutions, the marketing division of Katz Media. "We can transform the medium to perfectly complement a promotion."

Radio isn't the only media promotion NBC is using to get the word out on Leno. Two weeks ago, NBC began airing cinema spots across National CineMedia's network, including ads on popcorn bags adorned with the movie rating "J-10: Jay Leno's new show has been approved for all audiences...because life needs more laughter."