Ray Norman

Radio Imaging Voices: Finding a fit for today's audience.

02.05.22 10:05 AM By Ray Norman

Is your radio station's imaging relatable, warm and real, or are you talking down to your audience? In fact, a more pointed question might be: does your imaging voice even sound like it belongs to a real person?

There's an old saying in sales that goes something like: "People love to buy, but hate to be sold".  Selling, by nature, involves a direct approach to the sell-ee, and, like it or not, often veers towards talking down to the potential customer -- or in the case of radio, the audience.  This is where old school radio imaging could be missing the mark. Is that scary-deep imaging voice with tons of attitude just another too-strong come on, a hard-sell pitch that's talking down to your listeners?

Sure, radio imaging sells your station, and it should be bright, bold and memorable. But a hard core voice approach could come off harsh and abrasive in today's universe of humble and down-to-earth internet stars. Today's social media giants and bedroom pod-casters manage to create and maintain huge audiences with sparse experience and tons of relatable realness. Today's amateur social media personalities are giving Radio a run for its money when it comes to relatable content. And they don't even have a "radio voice"! Remember: today's younger audience wasn't raised on "The Voice of God" broadcasters of decades past. That's worth considering when you search for your next radio imaging voice.

Radio has always been the "real" medium, able to achieve the highest level of intimacy with the audience.  Program directors have always stressed that on-air talent be the "friend on the radio". In the age of social media and DIY YouTube channels, the audience has come to expect "realness".

Your station's imaging should fulfill that expectation, too.

It's easier to engage than to sell

Today's audience loves to engage with brands they like. They're used to being sold on personalities and merch. But when audiences feel the pitch is less than authentic, it misses the mark.  Selling your station brand in the age of social media means you should ask: Is our station imaging relatable and real?

#1 Radio imaging doesn't have to "go hard"

Simply choosing a radio imaging voice that sounds like it belongs to a real person with real, well, feelings, might be a huge step in the right direction. Over-hyped and hardcore imaging voice-over sounds great in the production room - but how does it score on the "realness meter"?  Would a more "normal" imaging voice come across more personal and relatable?  I often feel like a lot of radio imaging is a misfit when juxtaposed with the programming it represents. Bottom line: success in radio branding means being perceived as trustworthy, relatable and engaging. It stands to reason that if your personalities are chill, your imaging voice should be also.  Of course, this might not apply for formats such as classic /active rock, and hard-hitting political talk and sports.  Then again, those old enough to remember when FM radio was coming of age know that, at that time, FM radio was the "cool alternative" (read: chill) format relative to over-the-top rock-jock AM radio. In the those early days, the voice-style and delivery of FM radio was smooth and laid back. And it worked, because it reflected the audience's value system.

#2 Radio imaging can be informative and entertaining

Simply saying the call sign or slogan is selling short what radio imaging can do. And in this golden age of social media, entertainment that's useful and real is king. A station sponsored event can be folded into a sweeper, and explained in greater detail by on-air personalities. Making sure to credit your station as a bringer of great things in your imaging is informative and useful to your audience. And, with a pleasant, upbeat imaging voice, it sells without being hard sell.  Engaging your audience should be done at every opportunity on-air, whether "live", or in produced content such as your imaging and branding.

#3 It's never too late to refresh

Standing out in the "sea of radio sameness" is something I speak of often. Today's audience is more fickle than ever, because they have more choices than ever. And with each passing day, authenticity and realness become more important to today's radio audience.

What worked 6 months ago might be stale now. Remember, you can refresh your imaging approach without changing your format. Success in today's environment is a day-to-day thing. It pays to step back, listen, and evaluate how relatable and real your programming - and your imaging - are.

I know it's a struggle to come up with next month's imaging sweepers. But, a big part of that struggle, I think, comes from feeling like you're walking down same, endless path. If you feel that's true for you, it means you are simply doing today what you did yesterday. And, as Albert Einstein said: "Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result - is insanity".

Being too afraid to test a new imaging approach or voice-style can mean failing to evolve - or at the very least - having your radio station becoming a predictable bore, not worthy of your audience's short attention span.

About Ray Norman

With over 2 decades experience producing broadcast imaging, Ray concentrates on the idea that branding must be unique. You can hear examples here.

Ray Norman