Ask the Experts – why is imaging important today?

Staff Writer

Radio Today's 'Ask the Experts' is where we pose your questions to a revolving group of industry experts. As always, if there's a question you want to ask (and you can remain anonymous if you like), shoot it through to us here.

The experts this time around include some of the biggest names in radio production, not only in Australia but from around the world.

Your question….

"As someone who is relatively new to radio, and have a major interest in production, I wondered what your experts see as the main reasons why ‘imaging’ is important these days."

So what do the experts say….


Dave Foxx : New York's Z100 Creative Services Director

  • Image is nearly the only thing that sets one radio station apart from others. The music itself is merely our calling card, that gets the listener to tune in. Keeping the listener interested enough to continue listening is the key to a successful station. The "interstitial programming," (what plays between the records) is key to that purpose.
  • The personalities are our main tool to grow an audience, and that MUST include the personality of the radio station, which IS the imaging. It is the one part of the radio station that is constantly on 24 hours a day.
  • Unless a radio station has a rather large budget to support outside advertising like billboards, television and other non-traditional media, the only place a radio station can tell its story is through the imaging. If research shows that what the audience craves most is variety, imaging is the simplest, most direct way to convince the listener that variety is this station's hallmark.
  • Good imaging (versus bad imaging), in concert with the personalities, creates an emotional bond with the listener, promoting a sense of brand loyalty, critical to the long-term health of any radio station's ratings.
  • Properly placed imaging can set the listener up to listen THROUGH a commercial stop set, giving real value to advertising clients who are much more likely to have their message heard. Happy clients are more prone to spend more money, which makes everybody happy.

Quantifying the importance of imaging is really a difficult exercise until you think about how the listener actually uses your product. For most, a radio station is merely wallpaper to decorate his or her life. It's a companion during a lonely car ride, something to take the hard edge of reality off of doing homework or menial chores. For a few truly "active" listeners, it's the life of the party or the soundtrack to a fun occasion. In ALL cases on a music driven station, the imaging is the emotional link between the big emotional chunks of music. Everyone who listens to music radio is almost always looking for some kind of emotional validation. Good imaging does that.

One final thought on imaging: It must ALWAYS be true to the brand you are trying to create. This might seem obvious, but it never ceases to amaze me how far off-track some imaging gets. Once you decide WHAT your radio station IS, never lose sight of that in your imaging.


siDesHoW – Mike Andersen : Triple M Imaging

  • Imaging gives a station a clear personality and attitude – You've got these big stars on air in breakfast and drive, cool music and jocks across the day and awesome tactics and events. Imaging is what ties it all together with one clear tone and feel.

    What is the character of your station? Is it the cool kid, the smart ass kid, the smart kid?

    Imaging cuts through quickly and lets people know what you're on about fast.

    If someone tunes in to your station and listens to the breakfast show for 3 hours, they get a clear understanding of what  your station's all about. But what if they tune in for 10 minutes just after 9am?

    You can't have your breakfast show and jocks on after every song. So imaging does the heavy lifting in between. It's highly scripted, cleverly edited and finely tuned production that says stuff in very little time, in a very clear voice.

  • Imaging makes up so much of the on air time – It's everywhere on your station. So it needs to be spot on, and be sending the right message.

    If you've got everything else, like the shows and the music perfect, but have imaging that's not quite right hitting after every song, at the top and tail of every ad-break, out of news, all weekend, and through the night… You're just undoing all your good work.

    The simple fact that imaging takes up so much of the time in an average hour makes it important.

  • Imaging adds content – Image producers are the extra on air talent radio stations have hidden away in dark studios. Imaging can add content anywhere on a station.

    It could be a clever, funny sweeper, a well written music feature or a cool music mash up. It's added content created by the imaging department.

  • Imaging builds hype – Nothing builds anticipation for a massive tactic, or a new show, or a world premiere of a song like imaging. Just whack a big hit and drone under something and you've got goose bumps.

    Imaging can also turn shit into strawberry jam when required.

    On a day when the breakfast show falls a little flat, imaging can create something out of nothing. The right script, some clever use of music and a little creative editing… And somehow it was still an awesome show!

    Or on the other hand, if the breakfast guys had a killer show, imaging can be used to highlight it and take it to the next level. Recapping 3 hours of radio gold into 45 seconds of amazing imaging can give someone the essence of your station immediately.

  • Imaging is the radio station in a nutshell – Imaging is the quickest and easiest way to give a person an idea of what your station's all about.

    If they're only listening to 10 minutes you've got to give them the gist of it, so they come back later to check it out properly.

    Use of scripting, editing, music, etc. it all goes together to give a listener an understanding of how your station is different from the others.

    Imaging is concise and straight to the point. It's like punching someone in the face. They know what you're trying to say pretty quickly.


Martin Kubitzky : Imaging at ARN Adelaide

Imaging on radio is about making the bits between the songs/commercials/announcers entertaining and engaging.

Roy H Williams – the wizard of ads – once said that “good creative should seek to inform rather than entertain” now that may be true of radio commercial creative, but GOOD imaging (promos, intros etc) needs to not only inform but also connect the listener in a manner that, in the first instance inspires them to listen and take action at the same time delivering the message in a clear, concise AND entertaining fashion.

Imaging reflects the brand of the station, what the station is about and who they are talking to.

Imaging is the colour between all the other stuff.

Imaging is the glue that binds all the elements of station together.


Jeff Thomas : Owner/Sound Designer of Killer Hertz and has built audio brands for stations like KIIS FM L.A. and Capital Radio London

  • engagement / connection .. get their attention and keep it
  • brand / identity .. who's cool, who's not
  • energy / flow .. making every segue a killer
  • fashion / creative .. show your passion
  • texture .. sonic light and shade


David Konsky : 2Day FM Imaging

Radio is a medium designed to connect with your listeners.

When talking about “modern radio” imaging, it’s essential to align content with branding that connects – audio that sets the tone and feel for the station.

Within CHR radio imaging for example, it’s all about taking ownership, creating hype and noise around the biggest artists, the biggest events and the biggest prizes that engages the listeners.

Last year 2Day FM gave away 1 million dollars on air. People may forget what was said, what we did, but they will never forget how it made them feel then and there as we reflected through the imagery of sound.

As a medium that is theatre of mind, imaging has the ability to evoke emotions. Whether it be the pure adrenaline and excitement of winning, topical current affairs seizing, or a show content piece helping out individuals and communities in need – imaging is the conduit to deliver a story and to give listeners a sense of belonging – after all they aren’t buying a product, they are buying a brand.


Michael Lee : co-founder of Brown Bag Productions

  • It provides one of the only on-air links between a basically unidentifiable corporate entity and the listeners.
  • It is the main opportunity for on-air branding and conveying the "spirit" of the station.
  • When done creatively, it offers more than branding and hype. It provides information and entertainment for listeners.
  • As the budget for, and importance of, air personalities decreases the significance of imaging increases.
  • Listeners today are smarter than ever before. And how a station communicates via imaging gives a sign, especially to younger audiences, of how relevant it is.

My only other comment is that imaging producers will really come into their own when radio management recognises them as essentially station content producers, meaning that their skills can serve shows and programming rather than being limited to the traditional sweeper/promo realm.


Dennis Guthrie : Head of Vision and Audio for SCA, Gold Coast

  • It’s the most powerful sales tool a station has to sell a promotion, on-air show, feature or opinion.
  • We have the ability to evoke emotion and tell stories that every listener can place their own pictures too.
  • When crafted well it’s the most effective way of taking a week long story arc driven across a breakfast show and compile it into a 90 second masterpiece that informs all listeners how great the week has been.
  • Selling a station message thru imaging is no different than selling power tools to a weekend handyman….Identify the demo you are selling to….. find a hook that gets them connected and make it real.
  • Imaging is as important today as it was 30 years ago when i first started imaging 3KZ in Melbourne at the young age of 21…If you get it right it should tie together all the other elements of the station…the music….the on-air talent……the features…….Make your imaging fun and interesting. There are no rules to creativity once the message your trying to sell is relevant to your listeners.
  • Great imaging doesn't happen by accident it starts with great content……maybe a great script….a great promotional idea…..or a great breakfast show piece… me if the content is not great a production person will struggle to make it anything more than just another average promo. When you receive a script with the words written across the top…SAVE ME THIS IS CRAP……Please send it back where it came from and request a rewrite.
  • Imaging is important when it's selling a message the whole radio station believes in. Imaging is a small and very important part of a successful station and when every other element on your station is scrutinised as much as the imaging is you will have success.
  • If most Content Directors, Consultants and Image Producers believe that imaging is important…let’s make sure that one day that Commercial Radio Australia recognises that fact and we see a radio producer receive radio's highest accolade…induction into……Radios Hall Of Fame……..My Vote….Nigel Haines…..Great Producer for many years and still 'Kickin it'.

    Note..These are my own personal opinions and do not represent the opinions of SCA.


Andrew Biggs : Production Manager at Arabian Radio Network, Dubai

It’s the Difference
Whether you work in the deserts of Arabia, the beaches of Australia or the concrete jungles of New York there’s one consistent with all radio stations: There’s plenty of em. Most markets have a top two or three stations that target the same demographic and are playing almost exactly the same music.

What’s the major difference to these stations? Their Imaging.

Because they’re so similar in format, they need a unique voice. This comes in part with the announcers on-air and Imaging goes hand in hand with that and in my opinion, even more important!

It’s our responsibility to come up with a unique sound for the station that can be captured in 5 seconds of audio in a sweeper… or in a promo that both sells the music, the station but that unique sound that a listener won’t get anywhere else. It also has to convey the message of the promo clearly so to elicit a response from the listener that either invests in the promotional idea, or wants to hear more by staying ‘tuned in’.

The script style, the voice, the sound and the tools and tricks you use are the difference from the guy across the road doing the exact same job. What you do, as an Image Producer defines the sound of your station, makes you better than the competition. You have to not only think of ‘making that promo sound cool’ but think of the reasons WHY you are making that promo sound cool. What will make it a cut above everything else on-air and be the voice of your station.

Imaging defines the difference between the competition, instantly.

It’s the Brand
Everyone knows what the Nike ‘swoosh’ looks like. You can picture the McDonalds ‘M’ in your mind right now. Think of your favorite Radio Station on-air right now, and you’ll be able to rattle off a jingle or mimic a sweeper that plays on that station. Imaging is the brand of radio.

That’s why it’s called Imaging in the first place! It creates an “Image” in your mind of what the station looks, feels and sounds like instantly. It defines the tone of the station, whether it’s irreverent rock radio or easy listening music… the Imaging reflects that in seconds for a lasting memory with the audience who, for better or worse, will remember it for years to come.

When you make a promo, you’re defining the brand of your station and the style of the promotion. If you’re helping people by giving money to charity, then your promo-sound will be more emotional, tugging on our heart-strings and prompting a heart-felt response from the listeners. If your promoting the latest big blockbuster film, then, if you’re me, you can go to town with an epic-sound full of your best tricks and music choices. Whatever the promotion is, you’re defining the brand of the station and the brand of that promotion. The sound you create defines the response you want from your audience. Whether you want them to get excited, cry or laugh… it’s all in your hands.

It’s second only to music
Announcers will hate me for this, but Imaging is heard more than their witty banter on most radio stations. In fact, next to music… Imaging is the most played-thing on radio.

Almost all stations will have clocks where sweepers link songs. Music demos break-up ad-breaks or provide samplers of “what’s coming up” on-air for the next hour. Your promos will herald in the next big promotion or on-air contest and if you’re a breakfast imaging producer, then saddle up son… because your daily promo gets played out sometimes more than our fancy image promos! Again, Imaging defines the difference between stations.

We get to make a mediocre on-air break sound incredible… we get to turn a brilliant on-air caller into an extraordinary piece of radio that gets quoted around water coolers and in pubs. “Did you hear that bit from the X Breakfast show this morning?” …if you didn’t, then it’s okay because you’ll hear it replayed later on… and we’re responsible for it.

Got a breaking news story or the All Blacks won again this weekend? Your News or Sports theme will announce that piece of info… and it’s sonic id or music logo gets to be ingrained into people’s memory that when they hear it, it’s time to listen up. News and Information is constantly popping up in research as to why people still listen to radio… because we can break it faster than any other medium. The good news if you’re an imaging person, is your work is directly responsible to let people know that information is coming.

When the apocalypse arrives, your news theme will herald it in on radio, so it had better be good!

It’s the most creative thing on radio
I’m obviously an Imaging guy, so I’m biased on this… but I always get jealous when I get audio from a colleague because it ALWAYS sounds so much more creative than mine. Ask Grant Brodie to send you a promo and you’ll almost always end with your jaw-dropped.

We live in radio environment of client-sponsored things, station liners approved by two departments and if you work in a country where social trends are a little tighter… announcers are always having to get the more risqué things approved first, before doing it on air. Furthermore, most radio stations have shows that will collectively plan together, all compromising on a particular subject they want to talk about and Talk stations get the crazies put on air as callers, the announcers have to play the happy medium. Imaging, has somehow escaped this rapid control of all things radio and gets to be the most creative thing on-air.

Who writes and produces all the imaging? More often than not it’s just you …if you’re lucky your PD gets involved on the writing. But more often than not, how a sweeper sounds, how a promo finishes or what edits to make that breakfast promo really pop are up to one person. The Imaging guy. Sure, you’ll get told “add more pssft-whizz-powwww” by a PD now and then. But the best feedback you’ll ever get, is either none at all (win!) or a smile and “that was great” (epic win!) …and that’s down to how creative your skills are. So be as creative as you like with your imaging, because no-one is stopping you!

It’s how people know to tick the right box in the diary
Let’s get down to brass tacks here, it’s how punter a knows to tick the ‘Awesome FM’ box in the latest survey diary. They hear a song, then a sweeper… and tick the correct box. What you do as an Imaging guy directly defines sales results, pay rises and the hiring and firing of staff. So no pressure. Good news is, you have a wide variety of talented guys all around the globe sharing their ideas, their skills and their examples for you to get inspired from and put into your own work.

Furthermore, it makes it even more important that your work stands out on-air, because in the glorious fallibility of radio research, sometimes your great promo or sweeper will stick in someone’s mind, even when they THINK they’re listening to your station, when they’re actually listening to the competition! That’s why your work always has to be the best sounding thing on air, you tell people what station their listening to, even if they’re not. You tell people how they can win that car. You tell them what the secret sound might be. You tell people why the breakfast show was funny this morning… and more importantly, you’re telling people why they should keep listening and tune in tomorrow.

In a market that is full of new stations, rebranding stations and changing on-air shows your imaging should be the consistent, creative message that lets people know who their listening to and why… and all the best stations do just that. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s why it’s the best job in the world.


Any thoughts? Leave your comments below.

And as usual, if you have a question you want to ask our revolving group of experts (they come from all area's of radio), let us know here and we'll get it sorted for you.


Comment Form

Your email address will not be published.

Recent comments (0)
Post new comment


See all