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
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’,
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.
D&AD RADIO WORKSHOP REVIEW
’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
’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.