radio microphone

Tips for establishing a radio spot from the Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners

By: Devon Johnson

Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners (HOVMGA) have worked with WFLO, a local AM radio station to produce a quarterly radio spot on gardening. Jackie Fairbarns, “the voice” of HOVMGA shared how they manage the spot and tips for other units interested in establishing radio projects.

To hear some of Jackie’s spots, check the Heart of Virginia Master Gardener website:

Can you describe your radio spot?

Once a quarter, we produce a 5-10 minute radio spot on a gardening subject of topical interest. Spots appear on WFLO, an AM station. They run similar spots each week, but we share the space with other horticulture/agriculture focused organizations, organized by the Soil and Water Conservation District, so we alternate (for example, each of the ANR Extension agents in our area also has a spot). Our spot comes up once a quarter (which is the right frequency for us).

Jackie on the occasion of her first broadcast for HOVMG

How did you establish this relationship with the radio station?

The project was established 15 or 20 years ago. All public media stations are required to provide a certain amount of airtime for public services, and this is one way to take advantage of that requirement.

How do you manage the project within your unit?

Management of the project is up to the person doing it, the previous person was the spokesperson for 14 years, I have been doing it for 2 years. I develop the script and work with the GM at the radio station to record it. He will tell me if it is too long or if I need to add something, but usually the person reading the script has already timed it because you don’t want to waste their time when you get there.

In the past there was a committee for writing the spot and developing the content, so all the spokesperson needed to do was show up and read the text. Right now, the only person on the committee is me. During COVID, I have been able to record electronically at home.

What types of things do you talk about on the radio and how do you choose them?

Topics have ranged from pruning shrubs to growing a vegetable garden. In 5 or 10 minutes you can’t develop a topic very much. Topics are chosen for seasonality as well. For example, last November I talked about maintaining Christmas indoor plants like poinsettia. One year for the D-Day anniversary I talked about victory gardens.

I always end with reminders about things that are coming up: gardening suggestions for the season and a plug for events we have scheduled. I also remind listeners that they can go to the Extension website for more information, or they can call the Master Gardeners and leave a message. Each year I talk about the plant sale and try to tie the plants available at the plant sale to what I’ve been talking about for 5 or 10 minutes, so the idea is that if they are interested, they can pick up a treasure for their own garden.

HOVMGA Plant Sale

What outcomes have you had from the radio spot? What do you hope to achieve?

According to the radio station, they have about 12,000 listeners, all clustered around Farmville, but they do not share how many people were listening during our spot. My philosophy is if only 100 people listen, that’s 100 people that we would not have reached otherwise.

I have had people come up to me and say “Oh you’re that lady on the radio!” and that is a splendid moment. We also have people come to the plant sale and mention that that they heard about it through radio. We list our events on the station’s community calendar, so we don’t know if they’ve heard our spot air or if they saw it advertised on the calendar.

We also post the radio spots on our website as a podcast, so we get double use out of them, and I frequently use the spot’s transcribed text to develop a newspaper article. If you’re going to do a radio spot, you might as well get as much use out of it as you can!

What recommendations do you have for other units who might be interested in radio spots?

The first thing is to contact the general manager who could guide you to whoever would make the decision about the spot. The spot will have to air during one of those times when the station does not have a paid advertiser (they’re not going to put Master Gardeners on for free if they have a paid sponsor to fill that time). The AM station here is willing to do this because they have a lot of air time to fill up, and you can’t have empty air.

We are in a rural area where everybody is gardening, so that’s a good point to use when talking to the manager at the station. It helps if you can show that there are people interested in this topic. If you have figures or evidence to support that—they will listen to those. If the group could bring a sponsor along with them, that would be great as well. That’s another way to get the station interested in your proposal.

I’d also emphasize that our radio spot is a cooperative effort with other horticulture/agriculture focused organizations.  It is probably a good idea to form such partnerships whenever possible since it makes the work a lot less onerous for everyone involved – and it is a good selling point when you approach media outlets.

Perhaps the station will offer you a spot at 6 am on Saturday or midnight on Thursday and even though it’s an odd time, you’re getting it for free. If you reach only 12 people, that’s 12 people who would not have heard about this otherwise.

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