What Is Radio?

BluHorn Digital Advertising Media Buying

Radio is an audio-only medium that is considered to be a primary source of advertising.  It’s an engaging medium that listeners often emotionally connect with because of the on-air personalities and the format of the radio station. Radio’s strength is in the power of sound and this power is used to build trust and drive business.  It is a passive medium, unlike television, where listeners can multi-task by listening while they are doing other activities.  Radio can be used by consumers in their car, online, on-site, or in their home. Radio truly does meet the needs of both listeners and advertisers through its diversity in format, demographics, and ethnicity.

Formats such as adult contemporary, alternative, hip-hop, country, urban contemporary, news/talk, sports, and classic rock enable listeners to find what fits their style and personality. This diversity in format enables advertisers to easily target both broad and narrow demographics. When media planners and media buyers utilize radio, they recognize the characteristics of the listeners of each format and will take this into consideration when choosing stations.


Today’s technology has only made radio more accessible.  Because of social media, radio stations and on-air personalities now have the ability to make deeper connections with their listeners. Listeners are literally always connected to their favorite stations, receiving social updates even when not tuned in on the “dial”. Digital technology has increased and enhanced the listener’s experience via downloadable apps, text messages, and e-mail so that everyone can be in the know about their favorite station, artists, or on-air personalities.

Advertising on Radio

While it is believed that most people listen to only one or two radio stations, Nielsen’s PPM research has shown that listeners are engaging with at least six stations per week. This makes radio complimentary to any marketing strategy and media plan because listeners can be reached on multiple stations, multiple times. In addition, because of radio’s lower cost, it is an affordable way to target a captive audience and fill the top of the purchase funnel as well as drive an immediate response such as selecting a place to dine or shop.

Media planners and media buyers alike recognize that radio is a trusted and influential medium to advertise on. Radio is an information resource; news, weather, and traffic updates happen multiple times per hour. On-air personalities endorse local businesses and discuss local politics, root for the local sports team that everyone loves, and will fulfill music requests when a listener just has to hear that new song again.

Though radio is known as a frequency medium, it is also very much a mass reach medium like television. Radio enables the media buyer to reach exactly who needs to be targeted on multiple stations using multiple formats.  In addition, radio plays well with other advertising mediums. Even though it is known as a mass medium, it easily supports and drives awareness when coupled with TV, cable, print, digital, social media, and outdoor (to name a few).

Radio Station Formats

A format is simply what type of music or programming a radio station plays.  Because of the various formats, it is important that the media planner clearly convey the details of the target demographic to the media buyer because each format has its own appeal.  For instance, most people that listen to news/talk type radio are typically adults 35+, more affluent, and don’t often change the station.  This leads to a higher time spent listening (or TSL).  Sports format listeners tend to be male 18-49.  Lite Adult Contemporary stations are known to appeal most to women 25-54.

This comprehensive list of formats from Wikipedia, shows the diversity of stations that can be available in different markets throughout the country, and includes the acronyms that are often associated with them:

Pop/Adult Contemporary

  • Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR)
  • Adult Contemporary (AC)
  • Adult/Variety Hits
  • Classic Hits
  • Hot Adult Contemporary (Hot AC)
  • Lite Adult Contemporary (Lite AC)
  • Modern Adult Contemporary (Modern AC)
  • Oldies
  • Soft Adult Contemporary (Soft AC)


  • Active Rock
  • Adult Album Alternative (AAA or Triple-A)
  • Album Rock/Album-Oriented Rock (AOR)
  • Alternative Rock
  • Classic Alternative
  • Classic Rock
  • Lite Rock
  • Mainstream Rock
  • Modern Rock
  • Progressive Rock
  • Psychedelic Rock
  • Rock
  • Soft Rock


  • Americana
  • Bluegrass
  • Country Music
  • Classic Country
  • New Country/Hot Country/Young Country
  • Mainstream Country
  • Traditional Country


  • Classic Hip-Hop
  • Quiet Storm
  • Rhythmic Adult Contemporary
  • Rhythmic Contemporary
  • Rhythmic Oldies
  • Urban
    • Urban Contemporary
    • Urban Adult Contemporary (Urban AC)
    • Urban Oldies/Classic Soul/R&B Oldies/Old School
  • Soul Music


  • Dance
  • Space Music


  • Big Band
  • Blues
  • Jazz
  • Smooth Jazz
  • Traditional Pop Music

Easy Listening/New Age

  • Adult Standards/Nostalgia
  • Beautiful Music
  • Easy Listening
  • Middle Of the Road (MOR)


  • Folk Music


  • Hispanic Rhythmic
  • Ranchera
  • Regional Mexican
  • Rock En Espanol
  • Romantica (Spanish AC)
  • Spanish Sub-Formats
    • Tejano Music (Texas/Mexican Music)
  • Tropical


  • Christian Music
    • Christian Rock
    • Contemporary Christian (CCM)
    • Urban Gospel
  • Classical
    • Classical
    • Contemporary Classical Music
  • Seasonal/Holiday/Happening
    • Christmas Music
  • Miscellaneous
    • Eclectic
    • Freeform Radio


Spoken Word Formats

  • All News Radio
  • Children’s
  • Christian Radio
  • College Radio
  • Comedy Radio
  • Educational
  • Ethnic/International
  • Experimental
  • Old Time Radio
  • Full Service
  • Radio Audiobooks
  • Radio Documentary
  • Radio Drama
    • Radio Soap Operas
  • Sports
  • News/Talk
    • Conservative Talk Radio
    • Progressive Talk Radio
    • Public Talk Radio
    • Hot Talk/Shock Jocks
  • Weather Radio


Ratings play a big part in determining what formats work best for a demographic.  Radio ratings are generated by Nielsen and research on radio listeners can be found using Scarborough.  The ratings and research data are pulled based on what is known about the demographic. This data, in turn, helps the media buyer to not only determine which stations and formats should be included in the media buy but also, how long people listen to a station, what stations have duplicate listeners, and even simply what are the best dayparts to buy. For instance, a news talk format may have a stronger listenership in the morning while a soft rock station may have a stronger listenership during the day.  So, if the media buyer is creating a schedule to target Adults 25-54 they would likely buy spots in the morning on the news/talk format and spots during the day on the soft rock format.

Ratings have been determined by Nielsen and Arbitron since 1975.  The diary method and surveys have been used to allow listeners to record their habits and stations throughout the day, keeping a record book of when they changed stations and when they stopped listening.  In 2007, Nielsen launched the PPM (Portable People Meter) service. The PPM is a portable device that consumers clip on much like a pager or mobile phone.  The device will gather sub audible codes electronically to make recording listening habits completely paperless and effortless for the user.  All radio ranking information is based on a sample of the population’s habits, and number of users for these data-gathering methods vary based on market size.

Diversity In Strategy

Radio offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to creating commercials. Commercial lengths can vary from 60 seconds, 30 seconds, 15 seconds to even as short as 5 seconds these days! Endorsements, sponsorships, and on-air mentions are available and work well with continuous scheduling, flighting, or pulse buying strategies.

Benefits of Using BluHorn for Creating Radio Buys

BluHorn, a web-based media buying software, gives the media planner and media buyer the flexibility to work without needing servers or storage for saving files. All that is needed is an internet connection!  BluHorn makes it easy for media planners and buyers to create radio buys for any market with or without a rating subscription.  Buyers can easily plug in any rating data from a 3rd party into the system manually. Affordably priced and created for media buyers by media buyers, BluHorn media buying software is an asset to anyone buying media.

Our software empowers a user to organize, analyze and communicate media buys for broadcast TV, cable, radio, outdoor, print and digital.

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