Running Short

If you’ve ever run track, you’ll probably agree that the hardest race is the 400 meter dash. It’s running as fast as you possibly can, one quarter mile around the track. Absolutely grueling.

In high school, one of the guys on our team was a contender for the state championship in the event. He won every meet and came close to breaking the state record almost every time. So to help him prepare for the state finals, the coach took him off the 400 meter event and made him run the 800 meters – probably the only race worse than the 400.

The coach (who’d been a 400 meter state champ himself) knew that after conditioning this kid’s mind to run for 800 meters, running the 400 in the qualifying tournament would seem like a piece of cake.

Turns out it worked. The kid went on to win the state championship, and break his own coach’s state record.

Here’s how this applies to you writers and your radio scripts: Start writing 30-second radio scripts instead of 60s.

It’s tough to get a script to fit into 60 seconds. But squeezing a great idea into 30? That’s almost torture.

Sure, 60’s are standard. But I’m seeing a lot of clients who are buying 30s – especially in this economy. Some clients buy them because they’re less expensive. Some buy them based on media buyer’s recommendations. And some buy them because they don’t believe in or care about radio.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do great 30 second radio. Just visit the Radio Mercury Awards site and hear what I mean.

:30s and :60s are different beasts. What works in one might not work in the other. But practice writing a few. Because if you can write a fantastic :30, you’re going to be that much better at writing :60s. Not to mention TV spots, headlines, and concepting in general.

Radio Lessons from a Young Creative

When I was a young creative, I wrote a radio spot that had my CDs and our clients laughing out loud. What made it funny was the way I read it. When we went into production, we tried to find an actor who could read it as well as I did. We found a guy who was pretty close. But it wasn’t exactly how I read it. And it just wasn’t as funny.


If you’re the best person for a spot, jump in the studio after the talent has left and try it yourself. I wish I had. And I’m sure Andy Azula is glad he did.

Working with that talent, he began to read the client information with a kind of newscaster feel. This wasn’t the intention at all. But it was something the client picked up on, and urged us get more of. I was a very young and eager-to-please creative. But we ended up with a radio spot that sounded nothing like the one I’d originally presented.

Stay true to what you want. Don’t let clients or even your own producer steer you in a direction you know you don’t want to go. You want a director or a producer to plus the script – to give you something cool you weren’t expecting or even asking for. But if you don’t know exactly what you want going in, you’re probably not going to get your best stuff.

When this spot was finally produced, the client was very happy. But I wasn’t. And even though he didn’t say anything, I don’t think my CD was, either.

My art director partner – who was involved in the concept, but not in the production – told my CD, “It wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be.” In a kind, mentoring way, my CD told her, “Then maybe you didn’t do your job.”

Radio doesn’t need to be a writer’s-only club. Radio is visual. You can’t tell me art directors have a roll to play. Here is one of my favorite radio spots – co-written by an art director.

Radio Thursday 5/28

Quite honestly, I look for an element of “We can’t do that on the radio, can we?” Even if the commercial is just a single voice and serious, I look for some element of honesty or truth or execution that is mischievous. To me, big, subversive ideas are the key to great radio. The best commercials leave me with a sense of “I can’t believe they got away with that.”

Radio Thursday 5/14

The stuff that works is the stuff that you don’t expect. Well-observed real moments are the source of great writing and great advertising. So watch people yourself and write what you see. Then you’ll never have to write another quiz-programme, courtroom-scene, phone-in, psychiatrist-and-patient or film-trailer pastiche as long as you live and the world will sound a lot better.