Ray Norman

How to get more value from your radio station's imaging service

14.01.22 03:09 PM By Ray Norman

If you struggle to keep your station's imaging fresh, consider this: Writing radio liners and sweepers should be a team effort. If you're slow to update your imaging, it might be because you're going solo, and putting all the pressure on yourself. It's easier to just put it off, right? But here's the thing: creating radio imaging that's compelling and relatable to your audience really takes a team approach.  It also takes a keen awareness of your market, local customs and even colloquial verbiage particular to your area. It all comes back to understanding exactly why your audience is listening to you, and what they expect to get from a relationship with your radio station(s).

Radio listeners are looking for an intimate relationship with your station. If you don't provide that, your audience is better off jamming to music on the streaming service of their choice. Clearly, it's what happens during your breaks that separates you from a zombie playlist.  Question is, are you making the most of these breaks? Is your station imaging compelling? Does it promote what you're about? Do your imaging sweepers promote specific dayparts or programming? Do your liners and sweepers even have a recognizable, identifiable sound that separates you from the pack?

Voice tracking faces the same challenge as radio imaging: how to make the most of a break in the programming that listeners are actually here for. The tried and true old school approach of having the program director stay on top of air talent with weekly "aircheck meetings" goes a long way toward the goal of maximizing what is communicated around and in breaks, but face it, your station's personalities can only be corrected in hind site. On the other hand, you have a direct hand in crafting any and all radio imaging. Liners, sweepers and drops should be approached just as on-air talent approach what they're going to say: with forethought and care.

Getting bang for the buck from radio imaging services

If you start to think of your imaging voice as part of that "personality team" that makes your station unique, you can begin to craft sweepers and liners that are more compelling, more relatable and more entertaining. And you only need to update your radio station's imaging  once a month to keep your audience on their toes. Ah, but do you really update your station imaging each month? Well, I'm here to tell you that at least some of you do not. As a radio imaging producer and voice talent, I sometimes wonder if I've been forgotten. Yeah, you probably know what I'm talking about, right? Sometimes 3 months go by, and it's like "oh crap, we need to send Ray something!".  And yeah, I do sometimes send reminders––sometimes in the form of "suggestions" or other ideas for radio imaging. I do this (and post articles about it) because I care that what I do creates a strong value to the radio stations who use it.

The question is, why is there often a lag in radio programmers updating their radio station's imaging content? I mean, most radio imaging services are monthly, right?  Well, according to my very unscientific but well informed opinion, it's because program directors are usually the only ones writing radio imaging sweepers and liners––and they dread writing fresh radio imaging every month. If this applies to you, first let me say I do understand.  Writing new sweepers and liners every month ain't easy, and that's exactly why I don't offer radio liner writing as a service. Hey, I'm only one man, and most successful writing of any kind involves a team.  Which brings me to the idea that, if you're struggling to write imaging content for your station(s), I have some ideas on how you can take that load off, without spending more time or money.

How may writers does it take to write a set of radio imaging sweepers?

You might picture famous writers  chained to a word processor (or typewriter), spewing words onto paper in dark solitude. That's the image, but it ain't exactly so. Professional writers have an editing team of some sort.  Internet writers who opine daily have––and need–– editors. And when it comes to television and film, there are not only large writing teams, but usually at least 3 layers of "revision and approval" to get through before something sees the light of day. So, why are you attempting to write radio imaging by yourself?

Going back to the heyday of pop radio, there have been liner services, intended for not only radio imaging, but as one-off content for on-air personalities. But those services cost money, and don't specialize in localization (content that will resonate with a particular community or region) Essentially, I have always viewed those services as more like one-liner joke services than a solution to creating compelling radio station imaging. Mainly, I think this because a radio liner or sweeper should always be an investment in branding, and a cute one liner doesn't necessarily fulfill that goal. Of course, that doesn't mean you should exclude using such liners, because if you're imaging voice is reading them, the fact that it's your imaging voice reinforces your brand. The point I'm going for here is this: rather than try and write next months imaging liners by yourself, (or paying a service to do it for you) why not create an "imaging team" ?

You've no doubt got more than a few creative people at your disposal:

  • Your Production Director
  • Your Morning team and afternoon drive people
  • The 7-midnight jock who wants to move up
  • Your Promotions Director

If you get any of the above folks together for a brainstorming session to write next month's liners,  you'll create synergy, bring fresh ideas, and vet imaging content as it's created. How they react to this new monthly meeting idea will depend on how you frame it. My suggestion is to let them know up front that you want to do something outside the box and creative. You might be surprised at how a team can come up with ideas that no single individual would ever think of.  I find such brainstorming generates ideas and content instantly––and so you should have a method to document content as it's created. What you get from that meeting will be all you get––and that's the magic. Whether you come up with everything you need in that meeting, or just a few ideas, keeping it lively, getting what you can out of it and moving on, will prevent it from becoming a task you and your team dreads. On the same note, I don't think assigning the task of writing sweepers like it's homework will work at all, because the whole point is the synergy you get from a team brainstorming session. 

A plan for radio imaging updates

I'm sure that there are more than a few radio imaging services and voice talent who're thinking "ya know, I kinda don't mind when a station forgets to send me stuff". But trust me, that erodes the value of what radio imaging is capable of. For you programmers, here are a few ideas for how to get more from your radio imaging:

  • Create a fun, energetic "writing team" to tackle the task of updating your imaging.
  • Schedule a specific time (session) to write station liners and sweepers.
  • Write imaging content that gives the audience a reason to keep listening.
  • Make sure each imaging element reinforces your radio station brand.
  • Promote your on-air personalities! Let the audience know what they're about, and what they're up to.
  • Write sweepers and promos for the BIG stuff (trips, big prizes etc), but don't invest in Wendy's lunch coupons. Small ticket items work best when on-air talent spring them on the audience in the moment.
  • Keep radio imaging local. Make a list of specific people, places and things that make your market unique, and fold those into your liners and sweepers.

All of that to say this: Creating your station's imaging liners, sweepers and promos should not be a randomly approached process. Instead, identify and understand specific goals your radio imaging is designed to reach, then create a team and a process to achieve that.

About Ray Norman

Ray learned how to create station branding in the pressure cooker of local radio, where he wore many hats, including but not limited to: On-air jock, serving hot dogs at remotes, driving the remote van, and of course producing sweepers and liners as production director. Ray now has over 2 decades experience as an independent producer of broadcast imaging. You can hear examples of his work here.

Ray Norman