Did Digital Kill The Radio Star?

Radio is DEAD…some say! We have been hearing the statement “radio is dead” from not only haunters but general business owners for the past few years. Statistics show and radio execs will tell you –

“Radio delivers 10 to 1 ROI, 29% lift in Google searches while reaching 93% of Americans weekly – Live, local and personal with massive scale.”

These are really good stats about the radio industry! But, why does radio appear to not be working as it once did? THAT is a loaded question. There are several reasons why, and we will touch on ALL of those reasons in this blog.


Time Spent Listening (TSL) – is defined as the amount of time the average listener surveyed spent listening to each radio station in a week, as well as radio overall. This is the time they spend before they flip to the next station. People don’t listen to radio as long as they once did. In fact, for the most part, TSL is half or less than what it was 10 years ago. We did a personal test in a major market pulling TSL for Adults 18-34, and found that most stations that used to be in the 7 to 8 hours a week TSL category had moved down to 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours. That creates a huge issue with frequency. And radio is a frequency medium! This is especially strong in top-40, pop and rock radio formats. And the contrary is true for news talk, sports, Christian and Spanish language stations, as they have all held on to TSL better than the others.

Personal Devices “Smart Phones” – If you look back to when you got your first iPhone or Android phone, it was most likely about 10 years ago (when radio’s TSL began to decrease). Think about driving in your car back then. You had maybe three choices of entertainment: Radio, your CD player and satellite radio – that was it! The smart phone changed all of that! Apps and downloadable music platforms like Pandora, Spotify, YouTube and iTunes let consumers have access to any playlist/music and or podcast of their preference in the car via direct cord connection or Bluetooth. Not to mention with the rise in popularity of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, consumers now are being constantly called back to those platforms via notifications on their mobile phones.

Creative (Commercials) – We often inform our clients and prospects that creative and messaging is responsible for 50% of a campaign’s success. Sadly, commercials are often the last thing discussed and this is especially true with radio. It does not appear as if radio is taking steps to evolve in the areas of creative for their clients. In fact, as a result of declining sales they have cut their creative departments in half over the past 10 years while continuing to employ the same amount of sales people. Radio is run by executives that are data and numbers driven. These executives have always had a hard time understanding that the creative message of a radio spot is just as important as the latest ratings. Not only that, but the way creative for radio was done 10 years ago must change to match the lower time spent listening.


Like the line in the song by the Buggles ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’: “We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far.” This is true, radio can’t rewind to a time before smart phones and the internet. But radio can be proactive and strengthen the creative resources offered to their clients by building up the creative departments. Unfortunately, we don’t see this ever happening. However, business owners can take charge of their own creative and messaging.

Over 20 years ago, there were only a few places a local business could advertise – TV/Cable, Billboards, Print and Radio. Needless to say, if you advertised, regardless of whether or not the creative was good or not, people would most likely get the message. In this day and age, consumers are spending time in so many different areas due to mobile phones and the different types of digital media, the creative for radio must be simple, to the point and entertaining. With the primary purpose being to brand the business’ name and provide a simple message. This would then result in driving consumers to Google for a search or to the businesses’ web domain. A radio commercial is not a place to promote hours of operations, addresses, social media pages or a phone number (unless easy to remember)! People don’t carry around a pen and paper ready to write down all the details.

Here are some examples we have put together to give you an idea on how you, the business owner, can take charge of your own creative:

This is an example of what a BAD haunt radio ad sounds like. If your ad sounds anything like this…you’re doing it wrong.

Don’t: (dramatically pitched voice) 13th Street House of Jump Scares is waiting for you! We are the scariest haunted house in the area. Now open Friday, Saturday from 7 until midnight and Sunday’s from 7 until 11. Like us on Facebook or follow us on twitter. Pick up discount coupons at Joes Pizza and Joe Mamma’s Café. Call 800-562-3462 or go to our website www-13thstreethouseofjumpscares.com for more details…if you dare! (creepy Thriller laugh out) 

Do: (creepy voice but not dramatically pitched down) This Halloween, 13th Street House of Jump Scares opens for a new year of fear. 13th Street House of Jump Scares ranked by Buzzfeed as one of the top 13 haunts in the nation. 13th Street House of Jump Scares!!! (customer testimonial drop) “it was so terrifying”. 13th Street House of Jump Scares NOW OPEN! Tickets at 13thstreethouseofjumpscares.com


Instead of saying “we or us” say the name of your haunted house whenever possible. The name of the business is more important than anything, especially for a haunted house with stiff market competition on the airwaves. People are listening to radio less, remember? When your ad hits the air it needs to get the name of your haunt and message across as easily as possible. Don’t just say you are the scariest haunt, use a third party quote from a media outlet source and or a customer testimonial. No reason to give the business details like hours of operation. Just tantalize listeners enough to go to your website for more info. Use a “fearworm” (a creepy rhyme or toon) to help people remember the name of your attraction. Try to refrain from using the same “demon/monster” pitched down voices every haunted house in the market is using. Be different, stand out – After all standing out is what advertising is about!

Take a listen to this example of a spot FearWorm produced for our client Dungeon of Doom in the Chicago / Milwaukie market https://youtu.be/vVgO6YxbyRw. We use three contrasting voices and a “fearworm” to help them stand out, while building their own identifiable brand that will transcend from year to year. Notice the message is simple and fact-based. Our main goal with this campaign (especially for radio) was to get people to remember the name of the haunt and a simple message… “Dungeon of Doom – Where nightmares loom”.


So, is radio dead? No! But, the way people consume radio has changed. At FearWorm we still use radio, but we buy it differently than we did 10 years ago. Now, we may only buy one or two of the “Top 40/Pop” formats in the market, but we dump the entire radio budget on them in order to maximize our frequency with not only radio spots, but promotional mentions as well.  We also consider platforms like Pandora and Spotify to be a new form of radio, so you better believe we buy a ton of Internet radio, too!

Halloween is a giant tidal wave every haunted house can benefit from. Be your own advocate when it comes to your advertising and creative or hire someone that can help build and protect your haunt’s brand in not only radio but in the ever-changing and expanding advertising space. 

Wanna talk about your radio buy? Contact us today to start your Fearworm journey and dominate your radio market.