Airways Advocacy: Becoming a Radio Talk Show Guest

Talk radio is a powerful strategic tool in grassroots advocacy, one that is too easily discounted by diocesan/statewide Catholic school parent organizations. Talk radio grabs many legislators’ attention, while educating your whole community. This allows you to shape public debate. It is one of the quickest, easiest, and least expensive ways to get an issue out to the public.

Flooding the airwaves with calls during a radio talk show is very effective. Taking center stage by becoming the main guest is better yet! Here are five steps to the guest’s chair.

First, become familiar with the radio talk shows in your area. Listen to them. Determine which ones are serious and "issue driven" and which are mostly concerned with celebrities and "fluff." Determine which are truly concerned with a balanced debate on community concerns, and which are merely "free-for-alls" where the moderator, guests and callers shout and argue with each other for the sake of argument. Determine from program content which stations are conservative, liberal, or moderate, and which may be more amenable politically to your issue.

Target in particular those radio talk shows that air during weekday "morning drive" or "evening drive." “Morning drive” is the rush hour period between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. when people are most likely to have their car radios on as they drive to work or are taking children to school, or at home listening to the radio as they prepare to leave the house. “Evening drive” is during the evening rush hour period between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. These times have the largest listening audiences, and your message or issue will have the greatest possibility of being heard. Radio talk shows also tend to air many public affairs talk shows on the weekends, both early in the morning and late at night.

Secondly, ask to be a guest on the program to discuss your issue. Find out the name of the person on the radio talk show who is responsible for booking guests and make a personal offer. They are sometimes known as "talent coordinators" or "guest coordinators." On some talk programs, the producer, associate producer, or production assistant is the person responsible for booking guests.

Draft and mail a letter to the "guest" or "talent" coordinator on organizational letterhead explaining who you are and outlining your organization's background. Explain the issue in the letter, and whenever possible, explain how it impacts the local community.

Your third step occurs a few days after you have mailed your letter. Follow-up with a phone call to the guest coordinator to ask if the letter was received, and if you will be considered as a guest on the program. If they say "no," remember that "no" isn't necessarily forever. Offer to keep them abreast of your issue (you should have radio and television public affairs talk shows included on your media list anyway). Send them your organizational newsletters, issue papers, news releases, media advisories, calendars of events, and notices. They keep such materials on file, and may call you to be a guest on their program when they produce a program focusing on your Issue.

Fourth, when they finally say "yes" to your request, find out when the program will air, and whether you will be the sole guest or if you will be on with an "opponent" - or better still -if they will pair you with a legislator who has drafted a measure pertaining to your issue. Knowing the program’s set-up in advance helps you become better prepared for it.

Finally, if the radio or television program will be live and include listener or viewer call-ins, discover in advance, if you can, the call-in phone number, and (in advance) rally your own constituency or those of other advocacy groups to call up and ask questions or make comments in support of your point of view. If you can't get the number in advance, notify as many advocates and members of your organization as possible that you will be a guest on an upcoming radio or television program, and ask them to watch it or listen to it and to call in as soon as they announce the audience phone number.

When Calling-In on Talk Radio, Remember...

  • The key concept to grasp in talk radio is "talk." It is a conversation between the host and the caller. Think of it as calling a friend and persuading him/her to go to one movie and not another.

  • Identify two or three main points you want to focus on, have them ready before the phone call and repeat them, don't get in over your head.

  • Call early on in the program. You will probably be put on hold. Callers from car phones and pay phones often get priority.

  • You may be screened. Tell the screener generally what you'd like to say. Avoid getting too specific about your position in case the show is trying to stack public opinion on the issue.

  • Be knowledgeable about your issue. Prepare what you are going to say. You will probably have about 30-60 seconds to make your point. Think in sound bytes and begin with your most important point.