Radio Shakes Rattles & Rolls the San Francisco Bay Area
Radio Ink October, 2003

John Silliman Dodge

It hits you the moment you get off the plane. Before you get off the plane if you're sitting in the window seat. Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area is a breathtakingly beautiful region. You're not here fifteen minutes and Tony Bennett is buzzing in your ear, "The morning fog may chill the air...I don't care." There is something about The City, as locals call it that gets under your skin and stays there. Not only San Francisco proper—from the high tech campuses of Silicon Valley to the old world charm of the Napa and Sonoma vineyards, the Bay Area truly offers something for everyone.

San Francisco tops so many of America's lists of top places: the #1 vacation destination, most romantic city, most five-star restaurants per capita, most alternative life-style friendly city, most show tune singing cab drivers. It also happens to be one of the best Radio markets in the country. We're young, educated, affluent, and we're always going somewhere in our cars.

Ah, but there's the rub. The trouble in paradise isn't earthquakes. We're used to those. It's this car business. In a recent article in the SF Gate, Chuck Squatriglia wrote, "The Bay Area is notorious for its brutal commutes, but the Census Bureau survey of 216 counties nationwide with more than 250,000 residents paints a vivid picture of just how bad things are. Contra Costa County garnered first place in California's gridlock hall of shame with an average commute of 34.4 minutes. Not only is that by far the longest anywhere west of Denton County, Texas, it's nearly 10 minutes longer than the national average."
So while it might be bumper to bumper where you live, it's bumper to bumper to bumper here in the Bay Area. Well over one million vehicles flood our roadways during weekday rush hours and that number goes up every day. The average Bay Area car commuter spends over an hour each day behind the wheel. If you are a media planner or buyer, this high traffic scenario has very clear implications. Because while it's possible to read the paper, watch TV, and drive at the same time, it's really not advised. California's perfect mobile medium is Radio.

Northern California is the nation's 4th largest Radio market. Over six million people with widely varying backgrounds live in the nine county Bay Area, which makes it one of the most diverse markets in the world. At 11,700 square miles, it's larger than the L.A. Metro. However, according to, the San Andreas fault is slipping at a rate of about 2 inches per year, causing Los Angeles to move northward towards San Francisco. Scientists forecast that L.A. will be a suburb of the City by the Bay in about 15 million years. We have mixed feelings about this, but that';s another story.

As mentioned, the Bay Area population is cosmopolitan, young, and educated. We're affluent, more single and more active than average, and highly mobile. We're "aspirational and acquisitive," meaning we're moving up and we want stuff. But for advertisers, the most compelling characteristic is our unique combination of high traffic and high income. This means more qualified prospects and more TSD (time spent driving), which means more time spent using Radio and hearing your client's commercials. How much more time? The average Bay Area resident spends over 20 hours per week with his favorite Radio stations compared to 18 hours per week watching TV and only 2.9 hours reading the newspaper. (No, that's not a misprint.)

There's nothing wrong with TV and newspapers, but when you run the numbers certain trends become clear. TV viewership is down. Not just fragmented among 500 digital channels but off altogether. Bay Area television network affiliates continue to lose audience to small boutique networks and independent stations. Both large and small network affiliates along with independent stations continue to be fractionalized by cable and satellite programming. Then there's the Web, DVD's, and an increasing array of consumer entertainment options. There's a word for this: erosion.

Newspaper readership continues to fall, but that's not news. That's a trend that's been trending down for some time. While the Bay Area population has grown a whopping 28% since 1990, average newspaper circulation has dropped from 52% coverage in 1990 to only 36% today. Newspapers now reach fewer than 2 out of 5 Bay Area residents. Here's where it gets weird: despite this loss of audience, average newspaper advertising rates have risen over 67%. Take the San Jose Mercury News. In a one newspaper market since 1990, the circulation has decreased 6.2% while advertising rates have increased 94.5%. What's wrong with these numbers? If people read their newspapers fewer than three hours per week, why does print still command 20% of the overall advertising pie? It would be different if print rates were plummeting, but prices are up sharply while demand is going down. Interesting. Why does Radio command just 8% of the ad dollar when those same newspaper readers spend 20 hours per week listening to their Radios? This is beginning to smell like voodoo economics. Unlike newspapers, the rising population delivers more Radio listeners each year. As the population increases, so does the work force. And with more people working, those longer commutes deliver a larger captive audience every year.

So where's the good news for media planners and the advertisers they represent? In a million-channel universe which medium is the steadiest performer of the lot? It's Radio. According to the latest research from Arbitron, Radio still reaches more than 94% of the 12+ population each week. This is more meaningful because that number has held steady over recent studies despite the increasing media and entertainment options available to the consumer. Let's drill down further.

We know Radio is the American medium of choice. We know that increasing congestion in our cities will only increase commute times and in-car Radio listening. According to the 2000 Census, San Francisco has the third worst commute in the nation, trailing only New York City and Chicago. Oakland is only 12 seconds shorter, giving it the fifth worst commute. And as we mentioned, one of our Bay Area counties tops the "Worst in the West" list at 34.4 minutes. That's a lot of Radio listening time.

Time-spent-listening is just one measure of success. Let's consider ad recall. We pulled a few stats from the Radio Ad Effectiveness Lab or RAEL, which is supported with funding provided from Radio industry companies including the Radio Advertising Bureau and Arbitron. RAEL works with advertisers, agencies and broadcasters to increase understanding of how Radio advertising works, to measure its effectiveness, and to increase confidence in Radio as an advertising medium.

Assuming that ad recall is a reasonable proxy for effectiveness, several studies show that Radio is about 80% as potent as TV-a single Radio spot averages 80% of the recall effectiveness of a single TV spot. You know what television costs. You know what Radio costs. So consider the wisdom of shifting some of your television budget into Radio. You spend zero extra dollars, you increase your effectiveness, and the client thinks you're a very bright bulb. Which you would be if you made this move.

Moving beyond recall into response, several more studies show that Radio purchased at equal weight moves product as well as or better than TV. Different studies show that 100 GRP's of Radio deliver more sales at less cost than 60 GRP's of TV. We can see it all coming into focus here; dollar for dollar Radio has a greater ROI than TV. Assuming that return on your client's investment is your primary criterion for success, it's clear that using Radio as a support tool or a last minute bolt-on is just plain insufficient. That strategy doesn't capitalize, literally or figuratively, on the medium's proven strengths. Those include:

  • Low comparative cost
  • Hyper targetability
  • Frequency
  • Closest medium to point of sale
  • Integral medium to an active lifestyle
  • Portability
  • Flexibility
  • High-speed production
  • Immediacy
  • Personal, one-to-one medium
  • Creative possibilities

With recall and response well documented, let's talk targeting. In addition to zeroing in on zip codes, you can use Radio with laser-like precision to pinpoint lifestyle and values groups, age groups, or whatever combination of criteria you choose. Radio is extremely flexible in this regard. No matter what community you're after in the greater Bay Area-Latino, African American, Asian, gay & lesbian, upscale, midscale, downscale, Radio slices and dices better than a Ginsu knife.

In addition to the powerful San Francisco market stations, you also have an opportunity to target individual markets within the larger region. Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, San Jose and the Silicon Valley, and the Far East Bay all have vibrant economies, rapidly growing populations, and unique listening preferences. Let's take a closer look at these embedded markets.

The North Bay: Santa Rosa and Sonoma County

Drive up scenic Highway 101 just fifty miles north of San Francisco and you enter lovely Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County and home to well over three-quarters of its residents. High education and personal income factors, combined with a growing population and a favorable climate make Santa Rosa and environs a great place to live and do business. In fact, Sonoma County is the only California region to make Forbes Magazine's list of the Top 25 Best Places for Business.

Sonoma County's effective buying power exceeds Marin County, its higher profile neighbor to the south. And Santa Rosa consistently outranks both San Francisco and San Jose in certain sought-after demographic groups: young upscale singles, young middle class families (the so-called Landed Gentry), and mid-level white collar couples. These are attractive targets for advertisers.

The South Bay: San Jose and the Silicon Valley

Drive 50 miles in the opposite direction from San Francisco and you arrive at the world famous Silicon Valley and its centerpiece, San Jose, birthplace of the high tech revolution and home to a Who's Who list of technology giants. The Silicon Valley is the most populated area in Northern California. It offers the most jobs, enjoys the most retail sales, and has a very affluent consumer base all its own.

The Silicon Valley offers a host of successful radio stations to target this metro area which was recently renamed the "San Jose San Francisco Oakland Market." Standing alone, San Jose is the 11th largest city in the country. And growing bigger every day.

The Far East Bay

Soaring prices have made Northern California the most expensive real estate market in the country and that has pushed consumers farther and farther away from downtown San Francisco. Today hundreds of thousands of people in search of affordable housing and other suburban amenities have made their home on the eastern side of mountains that flank the San Francisco Bay. This is the newest embedded market known as the Far East Bay.

This region experienced double digit growth from 1990 to 2000, and has emerged as a significant commercial area with more than 1.25 million people living and shopping east of the mountains. The Far East Bay is a different region with different traffic, different weather, different politics and different lifestyles. It presents another distinct marketing opportunity.


This is already a pretty convincing case and we haven't even touched on Radio's greatest strength. What about all the creative possibilities? I'm sure you've heard the phrase "theater of the mind." With just the right mix of music, sound effects, and well-written dialog delivered by professional voice actors, I can transport you anywhere in the universe and show you anything I want you to see. You like elephants? Not a problem. You want to scale Mount Everest? Consider it done. You want to show the product on top of Everest with the elephants? Radio can do this. Conversely, if you want to watch eyes roll, just insert those items into your TV production budget. I make superior pictures with Radio because I hire the best cinematographer in Hollywood: you. I stimulate your rich imagination to make mental movies, better movies than any director can make, and I put all the cash I would have spent filming elephants and Everest into the schedule to achieve more reach and frequency.

But wait. Just in case you still need to see pictures, Radio has the Web. Every station has a web site that can coordinate with your campaign to show all the pictures, audio, video, coupons, maps, and as much depth and detail as you'd like. And here in the Bay Area we use the Web more than just about anybody.

Designing the Perfect Mass Medium

As an exercise, let's design the perfect mass medium. From a consumer point of view it would be available to everyone. Receivers would be so cheap that you could afford multiple units. Reception would be nearly universal. This medium would be wireless and portable so you could take it everywhere you go. It would be so popular that you would spend more time with it than any other medium. And this medium would have such programming variety that there was truly something for every audience-young and old, urban and suburban, white collar and blue, everyone under the sun.

From a marketer's perspective, our perfect mass medium would be efficient, flexible, targetable, easy to buy, and highly affordable. On a bang-for-buck basis, it should be so effective that including it in the media mix would be a no-brainer. And such a strong, consistent performer that it's often the primary component in the buy. Ads shouldn't cost an arm and a leg to produce-you want that money to go into the schedule. Ads shouldn't cost an arm and a leg to buy because more money in the schedule means more reach and frequency. You should be able to adjust your media plan or your creative on the fly because that's how quickly your opportunities change. And you should be able to buy just the geographic, psychographic, and demographic slice of consumers you want without paying for anything or anybody you don't need.

It turns out that we don't have to design a thing. This perfect mass medium already exists but for some reason we're only allocating 8% of our advertising budget to it. It's time to move Radio forward in the media planning process. Far forward. You still want a balanced mix so you can leverage each medium for its strengths. You want some TV, some print, some Radio. You clearly want more Radio than you've bought in the past because as we've illustrated, Radio is a high value, high octane performer. Radio moves. Moves as in moves goods and services. Moves as in travels with the mobile consumer. Moves as in motivates and captivates. Charles Osgood is a lifelong fan. Charles says, "Television is OK, but Radio is magic."

California has always been the land of opportunity. With all of our upwardly and outwardly mobile consumers, it still is the land of opportunity for media planners and buyers. Now that you're armed with the facts and you see Radio for what it is-an efficient, effective, 52-week medium-it's time to go to your senior account people, your creative directors, your key accounts and decision makers and flex your muscles. It's time to use your influence to make Radio part of the engine that drives both the creative and media selection process.

One final theater of the mind exercise and then we'll wrap. Picture more than one million cars idling in Bay Area traffic every weekday morning and evening. Picture all those drivers and passengers listening to your latest commercial. Picture your client's success and all the congratulatory phone calls that follow. Now picture one more phone call-the smartest call of the day-to your favorite Bay Area/Northern California Radio rep.