RADIO REPORT: FAITH IN BETTER CREATIVITY - Two voices reading from a ropy script. You know, it’s a radio ad. But, Richard Kilgarriff asks, does radio advertising have to be the poor cousin to TV?

In a former life I produced the Virgin Radio Breakfast Show Nowadays, where nob gags once ruled the air, other, cleverer, nob gags have taken over.

That said, the Evans Thing is a ray of sunshine in the poptastic kingdom of commercial radio. When Capital’s balloon burst and Branson gave ET back to the people, the funny little men who run Virgin Radio were allowed to think big again and the sales floor at Virgin Radio is rumoured to have made its first pounds 1 million in a day. The switchboard went wild, the dams burst under a flood of Beamish Red and

the Sky opened up its wallet. It was the dawn of a new age of creative excellence.

That’s rubbish, that is. What about the adverts?


’Hello. I’m posh/camp/mad and I have a proposition for you.’


’Oh, hello. I’m working class/straight/ sane. What was that telephone

number again?’

Sometimes two voices, other times three. But always crap.

Everyone, it seems, is desperate to make advertising on the radio


Especially the Radio Advertising Bureau which is paid to, er, make radio

advertising better. Its admirable attempt to promote radio by

publicising the achievements of individuals is great for the monthly

winners. However, by appealing to the professional vanity of creative

talent - with lines like: ’Who says no-one gets famous on radio?’- is

the RAB back-handedly apologising for the medium it seeks to champion?

Instead of saying, ’radio is great’, it seems to be saying, ’radio is as

good as TV, honest’, when, clearly, in financial terms at least, it

isn’t. Radio’s edge is that it is cheap (unlike ET) and fun (oh, all

right then, just like ET).

The D&AD/RAB workshops for agencies and colleges, guided by the

experienced ears of Mandy Wheeler, creative director at Wheeler Sound

Productions, at least concentrate on the craft of non- commercial radio.

But radio needs the talent which usually follows the money into film and

TV. Purists will argue that top creative people will be able to write

top radio commercials.

But most of the time only durability on a Chris Tarrantuan scale reaps

material rewards in radio. That, and being a middle manager who will bow

and scrape to his masters.

The expectation that good ideas happen quicker in radio because, as John

Hegarty, creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, once put it, ’radio

comes in under the radar’, is a fundamental flaw in producing and

directing radio advertising. Radio is ’a field waiting to be reaped’,

(Hegarty again).

With many radio commercials it sounds like this has been taken as an

excuse to roll about in the hay.

A fresh approach is required. Commercial Website designers acknowledge

the need to entertain as well as persuade in new media. They don’t

expect a quick creative holiday and neither should the designer/director

of radio advertising. The same artistic and directorial scrutiny that

applies to visual media can also be applied to radio. Otherwise, all you

have is two actors reading from a script.

Tim Delaney, the executive creative director at Leagas Delaney, bought

into the comic genius of Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones to make the

classic ’firrips’ commercial for Philips. ’No script approval’, Jones

says, ’just talent’. The result, as Delaney described it, was ’almost


New talent in advertising needs time and room to prove itself and radio

is the place to do that. That’s how BBC TV uses radio to break and

develop comedy and how network TV should use cable.

That said, radio stations are partially to blame for a lack of

inspiration in advertising. In a busy market they are generating a safe

world of over-researched programming, where every stall begins to look

and sound the same. In a multi-channel, multimedia environment,

broadcasters can no longer rely on formula to shift the schmutter. ET is

an alien worshipped by people who don’t see the point of pushing back

the boundaries of radio.

So what chance has colourful commercial creativity got when the medium

is painted magnolia?

Richard Kilgarriff produced the Virgin Breakfast Show from August 1996

to April 1997; and is now head of development and strategy for Rapture

TV, a new cable channel for teenagers.


’The first exercise on the D&AD radio course was to point at objects and

call them anything other than what they actually were. It sounds easy,

but you try it. By the fifth object, I was stuck. Despite a choice of

half a million words in the English language, it’s still hard to call a

desk anything but a desk.

’Back at CDP, I realised how vital this game would be to me: not at


I can point at objects around my office shouting out silly names until

Tim, my art editor, drives a scalpel deep into my skull. But it doesn’t


’The fact is that this course won’t teach you the secret of writing

award-winning radio scripts. It can, however, teach you about producing

radio commercials. How to create atmosphere, build characters, cast and

direct actors etc.

’The course also reminds you to respect radio. Far too often radio

briefs have no time, no money and a list of ’mandatory inclusions’ that

a chorus of angels conducted by St. Peter himself couldn’t save from

sounding crap.

’With a bit more time and consideration, radio commercials can be

excellent. Just remember, every year a jury gathers to hand out a D&AD

pencil for radio creativity.

Tad Safran is a copywriter at CDP

’They say that a picture paints a thousand words, but creative radio ads

can turn a precious few words into the most vivid of images.

’However, we listeners could be forgiven for thinking that radio is a

failing medium, full of people with slightly too interested voices,

telling us that food really does cost less at Sainsbury’s and that we

really can with a Nissan.

’We fail to understand why this medium is awash with poor ideas and

bolted-on products when radio has the capacity to take us anywhere, show

us anything and let us meet anyone.

Its potential knows no limits.

’Through a hugely successful combination of exercises, discussions and

demonstrations taken in a recent D&AD radio workshop held for our course

at Bournemouth University, our understanding of radio as a powerful and

versatile medium in which creativity knows no bounds has increased


’Now, if we were asked to paint a picture of the recent workshop - we’d

simply paint 22 people enjoying one of the most stimulating and

informative lectures. And we could do it without even lifting a


Tom Woods and Richard Poulton are second-year students on the BA (Hons)

creative advertising course at Bournemouth University.