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Which Radio Station Should I Advertise On?

The typical marketing region has dozens of radio station formats vying for advertising dollars. Almost every radio salesperson will tell you that their station is the perfect match for your product or service and, like anyone else whose primary objective is to get your hard earned money, their sales pitch can usually be taken with a grain of salt.

Two Factors

Before purchasing radio advertising consider two very important factors. First, you need to determine if you have enough money for a sustained advertising campaign. If you do not have enough funds to effectively saturate the station’s airtime for a minimum of three months then look for other ways to advertise. On most stations you can expect to spend a minimum of $1,000 per month just to break onto the air with low saturation. In large markets and popular stations consider spending upwards of $2,000 per month. The average listener will need to hear your ad several times before they respond so it may take a while before you see sustained results. One of our clients offering a service product advertised on radio for about 6 months with low saturation and received minimal results during the campaign, but then the customers trickled in for about three years afterwards and eventually more than paid for the cost.

In addition to budget, one must consider station demographics. Each station has a specific audience attraction. We’ve seen many businesses led astray by persuasive sales people and spend thousands of dollars reaching a target audience that that could care less about their product or service. The rest of this article will focus on many of the popular radio station formats and their demographics.

Classic Rock

Unlike some genres where it is easy to classify the listeners, classic rock draws a varied crowd determined by local market demographics and the specific  station’s song selections. Much of the success of a classic rock station depends on how well it researches the local demographics to determine the style of songs that are popular and playing songs that appeal to both men and women. “Harder” style music tends to draw a higher male audience while softer rock brings more females. A classic station that appeals to the broadest group of people by both gender and age will play a broad range of songs dating across a few decades as well as a few different genres mixed well. Most classic rock stations are not the top stations in their markets by number of listeners, but may reach your target demographic at a lower cost depending on the song mix. Before advertising on a classic rock station make sure the sales person shows you their recent ratings to make sure the audience is a fit for your service or product.


As mentioned above, the harder the rock style the more the station will appeal to men. Usually this demographic hits ages 25 to 44 with younger audiences gravitating towards rap, new rock, urban and contemporary stations.

Pop and Top 40

Pop and top 40 stations appeal to a broad mix of demographics as they tend to play current top artists and softer rock tunes. Some of the artists have large fan bases which helps to attract listeners. Drive times are the most listened to periods during the day when the listener’s attention is focused on the station. At other times throughout the day these stations are often played as background sound in businesses, offices and non-chain retail stores. If your product or service is geared toward females, especially teen females, consider pop and top 40 stations. 

Adult Contemporary

Similar to pop stations, adult contemporary strongly hits the female market. For national appeal think about advertising with syndicated shows such as John Tesh and Delilah.

Talk Radio

Talk radio has really made inroads in listenership since the late 1980’s. The typical demographic is educated, middle and upper income males. Usually talk radio audiences are loyal and utilize the advertisers they hear. In our experience service industries have reaped the benefits of advertising to this audience.  Even if you do not agree with the political views expressed, this audience should not be overlooked. If your product could reach a national base look for a station that has a large audience that listens online. As a tip, should you disagree politically, don’t get into a political discussion with your new customers or they are likely to stop doing business with you!


Country and new country remains the number one radio format in numerous markets across the country according to Arbitron rating service. Many stations have almost exclusivity in their regions. Arbitron reports that the country audience ranges in age from teenagers upward, but older country, as expected, has older listenership.  Ask to see a song list to determine which station to use for your advertising in a market with competing stations. Look for new songs and current popular artists if you desire to reach a new audience and older artists and songs to reach an older audience. If two stations are identical compare costs versus number of listeners.

Oldies (now called Classic Hits)

In the 1990’s you could travel just about anywhere and hear an oldies station. Lately stations have either dropped this format or added songs to their mix from more recent years to attract a broader, more lucrative audience than the older than 45 male listener they were known for. Stations that have modernized their format usually attract close to equal gender mix.


In most U.S. markets there is little competition between ethnic stations. This means that if you want to advertise to a Hispanic or other ethnic demographic then you simply need to contact the respective station in the region you desire to reach. In you happen to be in a market with competing stations compare number of listeners to cost. Unless you have large pockets, pick one station, don’t try to split small advertising budgets on more than one station at a time.


Religious formats are varied from mostly talk to mostly music, and then the type of music varies too. However, overall, the average listener to religious stations is a working, middle-age mom.

            The gospel format primarily reaches an African-American Demographic.

         Southern Gospel radio stations are most popular across the southern United States’ “Bible-belt” region, usually have loyal audiences and may attract a larger male audience than other religious formats.

          Contemporary Christian audiences are primarily female and, like rock stations, the harder the music style the more male listeners are attracted.

Christian stations claim to have loyal audiences.  Many stations are not-for-profit and therefore do not allow advertising per se. Businesses can either sponsor segments or become day sponsors and in return the station will talk about the business when notifying their listening audience who the sponsor is. The problem here is that your business may only be mentioned once or twice per day, so cost versus airtime will probably be very high.


Radio stations with an urban format attract large African-American populations and young adults. Although they may not be the number one or two station by number of listeners in a geographic market, they garner a large share of the African-American listeners in the region thus potentially making them the number one station for the African-American demographic in the region.

Radio is Long Term

Remember, most of the time advertising on radio can be a long term, expensive proposition. Few companies see a return enough to cover the money spent within the first few months and most returns are after three months. A business owner cannot expect customers to tell them how they found their business unless they are asked, so put this question somewhere in the sales process.

Hopefully this run-down of popular radio stations will help you determine which station should garner your advertising budget. Because we are not always our own target market, often the station that we should advertise our product or service is not the one we normally listen to. Consider other stations, but don’t be persuaded by pushy sales people into an advertising boondoggle.


Published: March 1, 2015


Some information in this article was obtained from

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