Dot-Com Companies Hit Public Radio Airwaves

What if you discovered a place where you could reach a well-educated, affluent audience, and there was a guarantee that your message wouldn’t bump up against other dot-com ads? No, it’s not a fairy tale. Increasingly, Internet companies are finding such a wondrous medium — public radio.

Tune in to public radio stations in any major city, and you’re likely to hear something like, “support for this station comes from Salon.com. The twenty-four seven Web network for news, entertainment, and ideas. Salon.com (SALN). Makes you think.” Or perhaps, “this station is supported by Talkcity, a provider of online community services. Helping businesses establish a new dialogue with customers for the digital age.”

“Dot-com sponsorships have become the number one category for us,” said Vincent Gardino, director of corporate development for WNYC, a public radio station in New York City. “It’s an advertising category that didn’t exist a year ago. It was like the atomic bomb going off.”

For WNYC, dot-com companies like CNET Inc. (CNET), Priceline.com (PCLN) , Salon.com, Dash.com, and Kozmo.com now represent 44 percent, or $2 million, of its local underwriting revenue. Before June of last year, only 10 percent of revenue came in from dot-com companies.

The numbers are even higher at KQED-FM in San Francisco, which broadcasts across all of Silicon Valley. Sixty-six percent of that station’s corporate underwriting dollars come from Internet companies.

“We had Yahoo (YHOO) on the air before people knew what Yahoo was,” said Donald Derheim, vice resident of marketing for KQED.

National Public Radio, which produces programming that’s fed out to affiliates across the country, couldn’t cite exact figures, but says there has been an increase in the percentage of corporate underwriting coming from dot-coms.

“Really, it’s a good fit,” said Siriol Evans, a spokesperson for NPR. “The demographics of NPR listeners make them more likely to be Internet users.”

Those attractive demographics are the main reason cited by public radio executives, and by Internet companies that sought them out. More than 40 percent of NPR listeners have made online purchases. WNYC says it’s the top New York station for online shoppers 25 to 54 making more than $100,000 a year. And 71 percent of KQED listeners are more likely than the general population to be heavy Internet users, according to Media Audit.

“They have the most wired listener group of any radio station,” said Dan Kaufman, chief executive officer of Dash.com, which has sponsored WNYC programming and even co-branded its Dashbar for distribution through the radio station’s Web site. “I can’t give numbers, but it’s been very successful, and we’re happy.”

A second reason is, of course, the incredible boom of dot-com marketing dollars overall. “Dot-coms are underwriting a great deal of al of the advertising landscape,” said NPR’s Evans.

Most start-ups conducting ad campaigns are trying to establish an air of credibility, and public radio, with its deep-voiced announcers, arguably lends these fledgling companies a sense of permanence. “It’s the good housekeeping seal of approval,” said Gardino.

But, perhaps most important is the lack of clutter that sponsors of public radio enjoy. On WNYC, listeners only hear five sponsor messages an hour, compared with 18 or 20 minutes an hour on commercial radio.

“That’s extremely effective in terms of reaching people,” said Gardino. “You’re not getting lost in the crowd. This is a market that’s tremendous and untapped.”

Dot-com companies typically want their messages delivered during drive times, the most popular times of the day. For that exposure on WNYC, corporate sponsors will fork over $950 per spot, which means a weekly expenditure of $9500, if your name and tagline is mentioned once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

The impact on public radio stations has been huge. Neither NPR nor KQED divulged numbers, but WNYC said it expected to bill $5 million for corporate sponsorships in 2000. That’s double what the station billed last year, which was, in turn, double what it billed the year before. These dramatic gains, said Gardino, were fueled largely by the dot-coms.

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