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Radio stations keying in to text-message promotions

It’s happened to everyone. You’re cruising in your car, cranking the tunes, when the radio DJ announces a promotion awarding tickets for a sold-out show to the first fan who correctly answers a trivia question. Answer in hand, you call in, only to get a busy signal — again, again and again.

Soon, that scenario will be as antiquated as dial knobs on TVs. Radio stations nationwide slowly are incorporating mobile text-messaging systems that let listeners respond to promotional campaigns, request songs and interact with advertisers from the keypad of their mobile phone.

For radio station operators, it’s not only an evolution in how they communicate with their listeners, but it’s also generating revenue.

Active-rock station WRAT in Monmouth-Ocean, N.J., first tested the text-messaging waters this past Memorial Day weekend with a rather mild trial. At 6:30 a.m., the DJ offered a prize to the ninth person to text in using a new short code the station acquired from technology partner Gold Mobile. Within an hour, 400 messages came in.

“We didn’t have to spell it out for them,” said WRAT director of interactive marketing Billy Clanton, who admitted to being skeptical at first. “Once I saw how quickly they adopted it, that opened my eyes a bit.”

Since then, the Greater Media station has made text messaging a standard point of communication with its listeners, something radio research and consulting firm Jacobs Media encourages others to do as well. The company conducted a survey of rock radio listeners this spring that found 76 percent of those who own a mobile phone use texting services. Of them, 44 percent text message at least weekly — a 25 percent increase over the 2006 study — while 32 percent text daily.

The firm also found that the vast majority of these users (68 percent) are not only open but willing to communicate with radio stations via text messaging.


“It seemed to be the way technology is going,” Clanton said. “Radio is a relationship medium. Texting, and mobile in general, is a way to communicate with listeners right there in their pocket and keep that relationship going strong outside of just the radio station.”

HipCricket, a company that provides text-messaging services to about 90 radio stations, said text campaigns on the whole get about a 40 percent response rate, which increases to 70 percent when a prize is offered. HipCricket and Gold Mobile provide the back-end technology and the short-code numbers, and also work with radio stations regularly to implement custom campaigns, all for a monthly fee.

The goal is to eventually develop a text-messaging database where the station can send alerts to listeners updating them about new promotions, playlists and other methods to get the audience to listen longer.

“By staying better connected with your current base and being able to get them to listen longer, that drives your time spent listening, and that becomes a very critical factor to increasing your ratings,” HipCricket CEO Ivan Braiker said.

But that’s still a slow-going effort. The Jacobs Media study found that only 17 percent of listeners would opt in to receive text-message alerts from a radio station. WRAT has signed up about 3,000 listeners to its text-message database, which is only about 3 percent of its total base.

So radio stations have focused more heavily on text messaging as a benefit to advertisers. Stations can offer sponsors access to their text-messaging system as a means to push coupons or other information directly to listeners as a way of responding to on-air ads. For instance, WRAT did a campaign with a local grocery store chain that offered discounts on certain products to listeners who responded to the ad via their mobile phone.

Clanton can’t quantify exactly how much the texting capability has contributed to his bottom line, but he said that interactive advertising revenue represents about 20 percent of the station’s income. He credits a large part of that figure to the text-messaging capabilities.

Neither radio stations nor the companies providing the text-messaging technology can predict where the format will go from here. The radio and mobile industries are at their earliest stage of convergence, but all agree that more innovation is on the near horizon.

“Whatever I tell you today will have changed by tomorrow,”

Braiker said. “It’s really a business that is moving that quickly.”

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