Radio-Hed-Logo-2By Jeffrey Hedquist

“C’mon, give me twenty!” I was just thinking how my Army drill sergeant and the woman who three decades later led my poetry class used almost the same command. Tough ol’ Sgt. Blades at Ft. Benning had me hit the ground for pushups whenever he felt I wasn’t pushing hard enough. Diane Frank, my gentle poetry mentor, would circle one of my ordinary phrases and say, “Push it further. Think of twenty more ways to say this.” “Twenty!?! How about 5 or 6?” “No, twenty. You can do it.”

Drove me crazy. Made me a better writer.

How does this apply to radio? Your audience is awash in advertising messages raining upon them from every possible direction. What could possibly pique their interest? They’re like fish. Really bored fish.

The words don’t have to be unusual, just unusually juxtaposed. Combine them in unexpected ways to spark interest, to surprise, to seduce. What are you casting into that pond of listeners? A flashy lure that catches the sun, a delicate fly that dances on the surface of the water, or stink bait?

I’ve written before about the importance of your “audio headline” (Radio And Production February, 1998). Listen to the first few words of your commercial. If they’re ordinary, they won’t capture your audience’s imagination. Time to push it. Come up with twenty more unexpected ways to open the spot.

Set a timer. Give yourself 5 minutes. You’ll be amazed at the dramatic, shocking, intriguing or funny approaches waiting below the surface.  You don’t necessarily have to access a thesaurus, although that might help. Think of some twist on the familiar to pull people in.

It’s easy to write, “At Downtown Jewelers we’ve got just the gift for that anniversary…” But it might take some pushing to write, “She didn’t think you’d remember. She worried that after 10 years, you’d lost the spark…”

Instead of, “Dr. Robinson makes your dental visit painless…” How about, “The loudest sound in the room was my own breathing, I could feel my heart beating, my palms sweating, and that was from just thinking about the dental visit… then I remembered Dr. Robinson at Gentle Dental…”

It only takes seconds to write, “Metro Transit has the solution to your commuting needs…” Push for a few more seconds to get, “Lost keys, morning panic, phone ringing, half a bagel, sip of coffee, traffic crunch, hair pulling, pressure rising, or… read the paper, sit in comfort, watch the scenery, get some work done, take it easy… on Metro Transit.”

Don’t give up too soon. Sgt. Blades’ approach was brutal. Diane’s is much more gentle. You can visit her at

C’mon, push it, and pull in your listeners.

©1997–2007 Hedquist Productions, Inc.