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From radio to audio, by Publicis Media’s George Chivi

By George Chivi, senior manager – consultancy, Publicis Media.

Nearly a century has passed since the invention of the transmission of radio signals. In its reign as a dominant form of media, radio was responsible for Orson Welles’ broadcast of ‘War Of The Worlds’ (which ironically led listeners to believe aliens were actually going to invade the planet), announcing Allied victory in World War Two and Martin Luther King Jr’s iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech. With the construction of the highway system and the rise of the service economy, radio played a dominant cultural role in news and entertainment.

Smart thinking and new technologies have taught the established medium of television some new tricks. Find out how to grab viewers’ attention at our Campaign Online Briefing – TV 2021: Changing Channels


The first official radio ad in history was by an AT&T subsidiary that paid $50 for 50 minutes of airtime.[1] Over time, advertising on radio morphed to include live reads and short-form commercials. Today, radio advertising is an endangered species. Its advertising format is akin to the ‘Skip Ad’ button you find on YouTube. To complicate matters, WARC reported a record dive in radio ad spending in 2020, the most in its forty years of monitoring.[2] The covid-19 pandemic only further accelerated this media trend and as the global populace remain locked in place, digital usage superseded traditional channels. Voice assistant usage grew by nearly 10% above projection[3] and podcasting climbed 16% in the United States in 2020 alone[4].

With decline comes change – the transition from radio to audio. The fall of radio means the inverse rise of audio with slight differences in the actual definition of each. Radio is the wireless transmission and reception of electric impulses or signals whereas audio is the transmission, reception or reproduction of sound. According to Canadian radio host and producer, Paolo Pietropaolo, “radio is ephemeral – it’s there and gone. Audio is like gold; you can mold and craft it”[5]. The former is live, listened to once and is background noise; the latter is malleable and is active. Whereas radio was static to a specific channel, audio is available across channels.

As peak radio begins a slow decline, podcasting is now becoming a rising player. As the smartphone took hold over the past decade, the digitization and centralization of radio content transitioned natively to mobile. Driven by celebrities like Joe Rogan and Dave Ramsey, podcasting became a gateway to connect with these influencers. As advertising theorist, podcaster and popular professor Scott Galloway puts it, “whenever someone comes up to me and they say, ‘Oh hi, Scott …’ and they start talking to me as if they know me, and I don’t know them, it’s [because of] the podcast. Because with a podcast, you’re in someone’s ears, and it’s as if you’re having a conversation, and they begin to believe they know you”.[6] This conversational element is now scaling an entirely new industry. Advertising on podcasts is nearly akin to radio with natively spoken elements, timed commercials breaks and product sponsorships. Moreover, just like the radio, podcast ads can be avoided with the 15-second skip button.[7]

In 2021, we have moved into social audio. This is the convergence of social media and traditional podcasting platforms into a more two-way, open and conversational ecosystem. Clubhouse was the beginning of a domino effect that fused sociability and exclusiveness. Today, different companies have competing propositions in this space. These include: Swell (asynchronous recorded audio clips that are shared), Spotify (with ‘Locker Room’, a live sports audio app that will complement its podcasts), Facebook (driving ‘Hotline’ which will use video, presentation formats and recording) and Reddit (recently unveiling ‘Talks’ which will live within subreddits, or communities, with engagement via talk, listen, raise hand and emoji features). Advertising options are still vague but some opportunities like sponsorships of ‘rooms’ are already becoming a norm. With the data held by these tech platforms, deriving data signals will be dependent on a brand’s alignment with its platform of choice.

The audio space is competitive and fragmented but one where opportunities abound for advertisers. Not every brand needs to be on Clubhouse, but every brand needs an audio strategy. To miss this boat is to become like Russia’s famously abandoned radio station ‘MDZhB’, a ghost channel that for three decades has been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone with no known source! As fans of the stations admit, they have absolutely no idea what are they listening to. With the pivot from radio to social audio, voice democratization is becoming more engaging and personalized. Incorporating these elements into your brand’s strategy is crucial. To conclude – do not become a radio station.


[1] https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/history-advertising-no-160-first-radio-commercials/1381044

[2] https://www.arabianbusiness.com/media/455311-middle-east-ad-spend-to-drop-by-29bn-as-coronavirus-bites

[3] https://www.emarketer.com/content/voice-assistant-and-smart-speaker-users-2020

[4] https://www.emarketer.com/content/analyst-take-the-outlook-for-us-podcast-ad-spending-in-2021

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFXM7dKIWDU&t=2s

[6] https://www.ft.com/content/33a2b0c6-83c5-11ea-b6e9-a94cffd1d9bf

[7] https://www.wsj.com/articles/podcasting-has-an-ad-skipping-problem-too-1468605850